Friday, August 22, 2003

Rights and Reason: 'We Can Do Better'

Vermont governor and presidential candidate Howard Dean spells out his agenda in today's Wall Street Journal:

Promising a "compassionate" administration, President Bush pledged to "recover the momentum of our economy," "reward the effort and enterprise of working Americans" and confront economic problems now, "instead of passing them on to future generations." Instead, he's offered tax cuts that don't address our needs, and saddled our children with debt for generations to come. On this president's watch, the federal debt has grown by over $1 trillion. That's the rough equivalent of putting $3,500 on the charge card of every American.

How did our nation come to this place? The answer is simple--the economic policies of this administration are aimed at ideological goals, not help for the average American.

We can do better. As president, my economic policies will be focused and clear. I will begin by repealing the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, and using the revenues that result from the repeal to address the needs of the average American, invest in the nation's infrastructure and, through tax reform, put money in the hands of those most likely to spend it.

The task of meeting the needs of American families begins with health care. My plan will not only insure millions of Americans who are without adequate care today, it will reduce costs for small business, states and communities--freeing up funds that can be used to grow businesses and meet other national and local priorities.

An important part of my program for a full-employment recovery will be extending a helping hand to states and communities. My policies as governor kept Vermont strong fiscally; but all over America, the financial resources of other states and cities are strained to the limit. Teachers are being laid off, highways lack repairs, firehouses are closed. Instead of tax cuts that have not created jobs, we need to make investments in America. I will increase federal aid for special education, and provide more temporary help to the states--for homeland security and school construction and infrastructure modernization. And I will increase the availability of capital for small businesses, so that they can invest in new technology and create more jobs.
Dean believes that allowing the people who create wealth keep their fruits of their labor is a foolish ideological flight of fancy, but redistributing it to “average American[s]” is not. By Dean’s account, respecting the individual rights of wealth creators is not a “national and local priorit[y].” Nationalized healthcare is.

How does one defeat a candidate like Dean? I do not think it is enough to show that Dean is “impractical,” one must also show that he is immoral. Dean and his supporters do not understand humankind. Dean believes that one man’s need is a mortgage on the life of another, and that claiming this mortgage is the moral course. To thoroughly expose the viciousness of Dean’s proposals, one must name and attack its moral premise. One must defend egoism.

That ought not to be hard in a nation dedicated to the individual’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The trouble is that Dean’s opponents, the conservatives, share that same premise as Dean at root. That makes me reluctant to write Dean off as the George McGovern of 2004. How can the conservatives attack Dean’s national health care plan when they themselves support things like prescription drug benefits for seniors? Both sides ultimately differ only in degree, and on that question, it is conservatives that looks like hypocrites. Dean’s candidacy is a strong candidacy, if only by the weakness of his opponents.

There is of course an antidote to today’s conservative impotence and that is Objectivism. Yet it remains to be seen if and when Objectivists will play the full role they ought to in the nation’s intellectual and political life. Will Objectivists sit out another election? Will they even attempt to set the terms of the debate to questions that ought to be debated? It remains to be seen.

If politicians like Dean are foolish and evilly inspired, what are those who do little or nothing to defend themselves against them?

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