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The Age of Hope and Shame

What’s the difference between righteous and self-righteous? Last Wednesday, President Obama stood alongside victims of gun violence and spoke about the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey bill, which would have expanded background checks for gun buyers. Obama’s insistence that America has seen “too many tragedies” of late is righteous (“characterized by uprightness or morality,” according to dictionary.com). But he went on to describe a moral split that posited on his side “those who care deeply about preventing more and more gun violence” and on the other, “those who blocked these common-sense steps to help keep our kids safe.” That, and his declaring opponents “shameful,” is self-righteous (“having or showing an exaggerated awareness of one’s own virtuousness or rights”).

There was never an open policy debate after the Sandy Hook shooting. There was only an inarticulate pledge to act. Little wonder nothing will be accomplished. And after Obama’s speech, there would still be no debate. Liberals echoed his self-righteousness through social-media memes. Because nothing says, “I sincerely care” like an infinitely clicked-on Photoshop collage of young victims captioned by a partisan message. 

Liberals don’t have an exclusive claim on either child welfare or common sense. And they’re not the only ones who can point to horrifying realities and place blame on policies they don’t like. Take the conservative cause of shrinking the welfare state. It may not lend itself to the easy emotional shorthand of anti-gun legislation, but that’s because few are paying attention. Amid last week’s multiple nightmares, one could have missed a New York Times story headlined “More Children in Greece Are Going Hungry.” Published the same day Obama made his “shame” speech, the report by Liz Alderman describes Greek “children picking through school trash cans for food; needy youngsters asking playmates for leftovers; and an 11-year-old boy, Pantelis Petrakis, bent over with hunger pains.” This is the latest byproduct of the Greek disaster. The Times quotes Dr. Athena Linos, who heads a food-assistance NGO, as saying: “When it comes to food insecurity, Greece has now fallen to the level of some African countries.” Talk about shame.

The Greek collapse is a direct consequence of the unbridled welfare state. The country was brought down by nationalized healthcare, exorbitant pensions, early retirements, a massive public sector, and all the other mathematical impossibilities that progressives mistake for virtue. To paraphrase Margaret Thatcher’s famous line, the Greeks ran out of other people’s money. The danger of the welfare state isn’t theoretical, and there’s a new generation of hungry Greek children to prove it.

Does that mean that those Americans who’ve been calling for the United States to follow the European social model don’t care about hungry children? No, they’re not monsters. Rather, they don’t see the connection between what they advocate and what’s unfolding—between what they think of as “welfare” and what’s actually its opposite. It would be unseemly and offensive, therefore, for leading conservatives to denounce big-spending liberals as shamefully indifferent to child suffering.   

Liberals, on the other hand, must shame their conservative opponents because emotion is nine-tenths of the liberal law, as post-Sandy Hook discussion shows. On the left, intentions dominate. Failed liberal policy could never be justified by a sober consideration of facts.

After the Boston terrorist attack progressives like Salon’s David Sirota “hoped” that the suspect would be a white American. Such musings put liberals on the high road of good intentions. No Islamists meant no “shameful” war against Islamists. But objective facts (outcome) shattered these hopes.

The Obama years are the years of hope and shame. That’s what’s left once you’ve hollowed out the space traditionally occupied by informed debate. Liberals, led by the president, merely hope that gun laws and background checks will stem gun violence. There’s no debating the merits. So when people disagree, it can only be attributed to shameful intentions, not thoughtful misgivings about effectiveness. Liberals hope that expanding the welfare state will do more good for more people. The facts of Europe don’t apply. So when conservatives disagree it’s because they’re shamefully indifferent to human suffering, not concerned about an unsustainable initiative. Obama hopes we’re no longer in a war on terror but engaged in a cleaner-sounding war on al-Qaeda. If you think a recent string of terrorism attempts in America demonstrates otherwise, shame on you. Without self-righteousness liberals have no case.



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