Evil. Demented. Morally bankrupt. Brutal. Horrifying.
These are all descriptions that have appeared in opinion articles by liberal pundits in the last week. Were they used to describe North Korea’s oppressive reign of terror? Or maybe the desperation and degradation Venezuela’s socialist government has brought upon its people? No. These morally charged words were used against fellow Americans over disagreements in government funding priorities.
Last week, Trump released his first budget outline and it contained proposed cuts to various programs. This has led to exaggerated claims that Trump wants to kill Big Bird, starve the elderly, and eliminate art. These are great talking points, but bear no resemblance to reality.
There is a fundamental disagreement between conservatives and liberals over the role and responsibilities of the Federal Government, and I have seen little evidence that many liberals understand the conservative argument. Too many liberals conflate wanting something to exist with wanting the Federal Government to pay for it. This is how they can draw a straight line between opposing the government forcing employers to pay for birth control and wanting to outright ban birth control. This is how they can say opposing government run healthcare means the Republican plan is for sick people to die quickly.
And this is how they can say Trump’s budget means he wants the little old lady across the street to starve.
I could, as other conservatives have done over the last week, make the argument that this funding from the Federal Government is not needed. I could point out that Sesame Street has a deal with HBO, so Big Bird is safe. I could mention that only a small portion of the funding from one of the agencies Trump wants to cut goes to Meals on Wheels, and the money that would be lost is only a small portion of the funding that some Meals on Wheels programs currently use. I could reel off statistics showing that federal funding for the arts is a small fraction of what private businesses and individuals contribute. I could go through each one of these programs and demonstrate they would survive Trump’s budget using facts and figures.
But that is being done by other people and is not my interest. I have a more fundamental question to ask, namely, why is any of this the Federal Government’s concern? Why should Washington be involved in children’s TV shows? Should Senators and bureaucrats really decide what art deserves support? From my limited knowledge of the program, Meals on Wheels appears to be a fantastic organization, but why is it the Federal Government’s responsibility to fund local nutritional support programs? Americans give hundreds of billions of dollars to charities each year. And if government support really is vital, let local and state governments pay for local and state programs.
For conservatives, the argument is not that children should not watch educational TV shows, or that art is worthless, or that the elderly should go hungry; the argument is that it is not the Federal Government’s place to direct these things and they are better left to private organizations or local, and therefore more accountable, government.
A debate about resource allocation would mean liberals have to defend every dollar spent and account for its effectiveness. But there is so much waste, duplicative programs, ineffective spending, and special interest giveaways that they could not possibly do that. It is much easier to simply impugn the other side’s motives.
“If the Federal Government cuts block grants that mostly fund corporate welfare but also provide a small portion of the Meals on Wheels budget, then State Governments might have to make up the difference rather than provide lavish benefits to government employees” is not a winning argument. “Trump wants your nana to starve” is so emotionally charged that stopping to look at the facts seems ludicrous. Trump is trying to starve little old ladies and you want me to take time looking at statistics and the actual budget proposal? No, we need to act now!
This, incidentally, is why so few of the news reports mentioned that most of the federal support for Meals on Wheels remains intact in Trump’s budget. Meals on Wheels receives funding from a variety of sources, so the details are not precise, but it looks as if the program Trump wants to cut accounts for approximately 1% of their budget. There was not time even for reporters to check all the facts before alerting the country to the impending elderly famine.
Perhaps all of the programs that Trump wants to cut are great and deserve to be supported. If so, liberals are welcome to donate their money to the organizations of their choice. But if they want to force other people to pay for them, they should explain why my money, against my will, should be taken and given to these programs. They should make that argument on the merits, without employing false and emotionally charged accusations.