Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Cutting Nick some slack

Posted by Craig Westover | 6:22 AM |  

Wednesday is my Pioneer Press column day, and I usually rise early to make sure my new column is posted on my site. Wednesday is also the day I try to update my site -- file articles on specific topics for easy reference. (I am kind of proud that a large percentage of visitors to this site view multiple pages, some spending 15 minutes to half an hour or more.) I highlight a new post and pick a “Golden Oldie” -- another concession to vanity, a favorite post I pull out like a picture of the kids from the wallet. I also update the “Thought for the Week.”

This week I also checked Nick Coleman’s column.

Nick has been taking his shots on my site and all around the Internet this past week for his exploitation of what must now journalistically be referred to as the “alleged” book shortage at Maxfield Elementary School in St. Paul. His “I will be addressing this in more detail” threat in his e-mail to me is what drew me to today’s column. He doesnt write about Maxfield. Let’s cut Nick a little slack.

Although his column today rings of Nick’s somewhere a dog is barking style, give him credit -- he didn’t overtly exploit the homeless today and, in fact, set up a justifiable contrast between the glitz of the Holidazzle Parade and the plight of the homeless that ought to give one pause for thought. “In Minnesota,” says Nick, “we should be able to celebrate the holidays -- and take care of the needy.”

He’s right. The question is why can’t we?

Although Nick would disagree, I think the answer lies in my column today and in the Charles Murray quote that is the “Thought for the Week” --

“When government takes away a core function [of communities], it depletes not only the source of vitality pertaining to that particular function, but also the vitality of a much larger family of responses” . . . . David Boaz adds, “The attitude of ‘let government take care of it’ becomes a habit.”
What Murray and Boaz are driving at, and what Nick’s column describes, is the result of and illustrative of the danger of emphasis on the “public morality” that I described in my December 1 column --

In a local newspaper article lavishly praising the documentary film "WELLSTONE!" there appeared this remarkable statement: "Like Illinois' Democratic Senate shoo-in Barack Obama, he [Wellstone] cared more about public morality (the policies that define a culture's decency) than private morality (the actions that determine an individual's character)."
As I noted in that column, collective morality is insidious. It robs individuals of the necessity of making individual moral decisions that build individual character. When government uses force to impose pseudo "public morality," it destroys authentic morality that otherwise naturally governs the voluntary interactions of individuals one with another. It robs recipients of government largess of their self-esteem. It robs coerced benefactors of their natural ability to be truly benevolent. It robs society of its moral vigor.

Quite simply, we don't take care of the homeless because we don't have to. Government will do it.

Homelessness is a real problem that conservatives can’t simply shrug off because Nick Coleman writes about it. As much fun as abusive argumentum ad hominem can be, that is a tactic best left to others. Just as school choice really is about “the children” -- giving kids from poor families a choice and a chance like children of the well-to-do have -- “homelessness” is about people not programs.

The solution to the homeless “crisis” doesn’t lie in more government, but less. The solution lies in returning to civil society the responsibility for taking care of its own. That cannot happen as long as government reinforces the attitude of “let government take care of it.” It cannot happen when government actions destroy a community’s ability to act compassionately -- witness the Bloomington smoking ban impact on charitable gambling. It cannot happen as long as we believe that more taxes equals more compassion.

Where is the virtue in A and B getting together to rob C for the benefit of D?

A real solution for homelessness can happen -- it will happen -- only when government gets out of the way, trusts the basic compassion inherent in all human beings and within the limit of its authority, enables civil society to function as it should.

To amend Nick’s Christmas thought -- It was government that made the pregnant Mary and her husband Joseph travel to Bethlehem to be taxed; it was a compassionate innkeeper that provided them shelter.

Update: With all due respect, the Big Trunk's Powerline post on Coleman's column is the stereotypical “eat your young and wash them down with the tepid tears of orphans” conservative response that plays into the hands of liberals and ultimately hurts the conservative cause. I much prefer the Elder-like response -- "The Citizens Are Doing It For Themselves." [Brian "Saint Paul" Ward also deserves a little love for "No Thanks Necessary."]