October 20, 2004
Kerry's Real Gaffe
By James K. Glassman
Did you catch John Kerry's gaffe in the third debate?
No, not the one about Mary Cheney being born a lesbian. That abusive and cynical outburst produced gasps in living rooms around the nation and certainly cost Kerry votes.
But there was a more serious gaffe in the debate. It revealed how Kerry's vision of government is at odds not just with that of George Bush but with that of America's founders. In answer to a question about gay marriage, Kerry said: "Because we are the United States of America, we're a country with a great, unbelievable Constitution, with rights that we afford people, that you can't discriminate in the workplace. You can't discriminate in the rights that you afford people."
"A gaffe," as columnist Michael Kinsley once wrote, "is when a politician tells the truth." In this case, Kerry's gaffe is an inadvertent statement of what he--and many on the left--believe is the truth but is actually false and dangerous.
The key phrase was "rights that we afford people." This was no mistake. He said it twice.
Kerry believes that the United States government, through the Constitution, "affords" rights to Americans. My dictionary defines "afford," in this context as "give, grant, confer." In other words, we fortunate, benighted Americans have a country, a government that grants us rights.
That's an utterly inaccurate reading of the great documents of the founding of this nation. Our government does not grant us any rights at all. On the contrary, Americans start off with rights, and it is we who grant the government certain limited powers to protect those rights.
Where do our rights come from if they don't come from government? They come from God--which may be why John Kerry doesn't get it.
The Declaration of Independence makes the relationship between citizens and government crystal clear. "We hold these truths to be self-evident," it says, "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights." (In other words, God gives us rights that can't be taken away.) "Among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"--which is to say, everything.
Now, what's the job of government? The Declaration says that it is "to secure these rights." And, to make sure there's no misunderstanding, the document emphasizes that governments "are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."
This is no small matter. Alexander Hamilton, who is being honored in a wonderful exhibition here at the New-York Historical Society, wrote in 1774, "That Americans are entitled to freedom is incontestable upon every rational principle. All men have one common original: they participate in one common nature, and consequently have one common right."
Hamilton was 19 at the time. Kerry, who is 60, has another view, befitting the senator rated farthest left by the National Journal.
Kerry sees government as a great benefactor, bestowing gifts on us (paid for with our own money), as long as we behave in ways that government approves.
Bush, on Oct. 13, eloquently expressed the opposing vision: "I believe the role of government is to stand side by side with our citizens to help them realize their dreams, not tell citizens how to live their lives." The founders would agree.
From these two different visions come different policies. Bush wants lower taxes because "it's your money." Kerry wants higher taxes so he can build, for example, a nationalized health care system.
Bush will preserve Social Security for people now getting benefits, but he thinks "younger workers ought to be allowed to take some of their own money and put it in a personal savings account." In an "ownership society," people are free to control their own assets, their own destiny. Government guards that freedom.
In the debate, Kerry offered no plan to save Social Security. Instead, he blasted Bush's reform as "an invitation to disaster." He doesn't think that Americans can make decisions about big things; he wants government to grant rights and benefits.
Don't get me wrong. I don't think government should be passive. George Washington's Farewell Address, which Hamilton largely wrote, states, "In a country so extensive as ours, a government of as much vigor as is consistent with the perfect security of liberty is indispensable."
Government's job is to keep us free, which is what George Bush has been trying to do--in foreign policy and domestic.
James K. Glassman is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
Does it matter that 40+% of the population don't give a rat's ass
I figured the fine folks here would.
ETA: I like your sig. I have a feeling that phrase will become part of the list of Arfcom phrases, right up there with "more thrusts per squeeze", "I'd hit it", "Get both" and "It's a trap!" At least I hope so.