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Gary M. Galles - Contributor

Mr. Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University. [go to Galles index]

A Divisive Unity
Unity under Kerry?...
[Gary M. Galles] 8/2/04

Although most pundits have concluded that the Boston Democratic infomercial was mainly to tell Americans that John Kerry went to Vietnam, there was a major subtext: Blaming President Bush for dividing the country and claiming that under Kerry, America would again be united. Even allowing for the usual convention puffery, that is patent nonsense.

You cannot unify America about Iraq when many consider what has been done as necessary and others consider it unforgivable. You cannot unify America as "One nation, under God," when some vehemently object to any such use of the word "God." You cannot unify America about abortion when some view it as murder and others consider it almost a sacrament. You cannot unify America with policies whose common thrust is taking from some against their will to give to others. As long as government is involved in such choices, political unity is impossible.

Los Angeles Times political cartoonist Michael Ramirez may have captured this best with a caricature of a Democratic convention delegate holding up a placard that says "Unify America," while wearing a shirt saying "Republicans Shove It!"
Political disunity is inherent in disagreement over what the government should do. If I believe wholeheartedly in "A" and you believe wholeheartedly in "not A," there is no unifying position possible on the subject--only the question of whose preferences will dominate. To claim otherwise is knowingly to mislead.

Though they were played down at the convention, Americans' "A" versus "not-A" political disagreements are most obvious in international, military and anti-terrorism policy. However, the Democratic Party's domestic platform is also replete with policies that inherently create disunity.

Raising taxes on "the top 2%" to give things to others will not unify the support of that 2%. Therefore, those who disagree are pilloried as undeserving, so their disagreement can be ignored and unity proclaimed anyway. Neither such a policy nor such attacks create unity, except among those who expect to share in the largesse.

Higher minimum wage and pro-union platform planks cause similar disunity, by their nature. Unions use government coercion to deny others the ability to compete for those "good" jobs, forcing them elsewhere, pushing wages down in those areas. That harms all non-union workers, as well as customers of unionized firms. Higher minimum wages cause similar harm to customers and those displaced. The vast majority of Americans, who are harmed, are not unified behind such policies.

Similar effects also follow from the many strands of protectionism endorsed, however camouflaged behind labor and environmental standard smokescreens.

America could only conceivably be politically unified behind a federal government that did not go beyond those things that benefit all. But that list is very short. As the Constitution spells out, it consists in little more than defending people and their property. After all, national defense is essentially such protection against foreigners, and the justice system is similar protection against our neighbors.

Unfortunately, however, with today's mind-set, even a government restricted to those very limited areas that advance the "General Welfare" would not create unity. That because a great many want to benefit themselves at others' expense and such a restriction denies them that. They would be unified only in eroding the barriers that restrict the government from coercing others on their behalf.

It is a great challenge to name an area in which Washington does not have a deep, expanding involvement. And in every such area, its power is used to rob Peter to pay Paul. While that continues, every group claiming that if only they are put in power, they will exercise it to advance American unity, is being disingenuous.

Only reducing government power over Americans' lives could ever unify Americans. But what was promised in Boston was only the unity of 50% plus one, for expanding the use of that power in their favor. That is not the unity our Constitution promised; it is the tyranny of the majority our founders tried to prevent.

copyright 2004 Gary M. Galles




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