Observing US:
A column about America,
by Marylaine Block
originally published by
Fox News Online, 1998-2000

#3, June 3, 1998


by Marylaine Block

Since Americans tend to operate by the principle “I will do what I jolly well want to do when I jolly well want to do it,” we are generally impatient with restrictions and limits on our behavior, and prone to impassioned demands to “get government off our backs.”

But let me share a little secret with you: hardly any of us really wants that. Not even the Unabomber, who did, after all, use the public library.

Government, after all, has the power to control other people’s behavior, and virtually all of us, whether we are liberal, conservative, or even libertarian, would like to do that. We just want to control different things. Indeed, the main difference between our political parties lies in whose behavior, and what kind, we would like government to enforce or control.

Liberals would like to compel businesses to pay decent living wages, use fair hiring practices, and treat their customers ethically. Liberals want to unleash OSHA inspectors, IRS agents, and environmental protection agents on business, because of a deep-seated suspicion that the easiest way to maximize profits is to treat workers badly, stiff the government on taxes, and dump toxic industrial waste in the air and water where taxpayers will have to clean them up.

Conservatives, on the other hand, trust the goodness of the free market, which they are certain is self-correcting. Unleashed, the market will surely bring forth infinite new inventions, jobs and a veritable paradise of consumer goods.

What conservatives don’t trust is other people. They want the government to control the behavior of people who are Not Like Them. For conservatives, government is the great jailer who will imprison killers, thieves, dope-dealers, and prostitutes, and rid the streets of the too-visibly-homeless.

Liberals and conservatives alike want government to enforce a moral code, though not the same one.

Conservatives want government to force women to carry their babies to term, and force schools to teach creation science. They want government to protect children from pornography and drugs.

Liberals want government to force parents to support their children, and force employers and rental property owners to select workers and tenants without regard to race, religion or ethnicity.

Only libertarians truly want the government to pass NO laws restricting the freedom of speech, press, religion, and the right of assembly. Conservatives want the government to punish pornographers and flag-burners, want principals to restrict what can appear in student newspapers, want libraries to put filters on internet terminals. Liberals are more likely to want the government to control hate speech, tobacco advertising, and media invasions of privacy.

Liberals want government to limit our right to own Uzis, conservatives our right to own dirty movies. Where liberals want government to pay for public schools for everybody’s kids, conservatives want government to help them pay for private schools for their own kids. Liberals want government to provide public transit, while conservatives want government to build more roads to the suburbs and shopping centers. Liberals want to control smoking in public places, and conservatives want to control what people wear.

Of course we don’t want government off our backs. We simply want to put it firmly on somebody else’s back.

Isn’t it nice to know that in a country as big and diverse as ours, there’s something we can all agree on?

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