Critics call the Republican Party hypocritical for convening in a government-built arena.
By William McGurn, WSJ Opinion, August 28, 2012
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|Apologies to liberals and/or innumerates whose heads are exploding|
Ever since Republican convention officials announced their We-Built-It theme for Tuesday night, pundits have been gleefully pointing out that the GOP festivities will be held in an arena constructed with 62% government funding. Just shows what hypocrites these Republicans are, goes the received wisdom.
Maybe not. It's true that the Tampa Bay Times Forum was originally constructed with $86 million from local taxpayers. It's true too that the Tampa Convention Center just two blocks away, where reporters covering the GOP gathering will be working, offers an even more egregious example of government subsidy. Still, it's also true that finding a sports facility these days that would meet a convention's needs and hasn't in some way been underwritten by government largess is no easy thing.
Which provokes the great unasked question: What does it say about America circa 2012 when even those campaigning for less spending find themselves the beneficiaries of that spending?
Lord knows Republicans have more than once dropped their own snouts in the federal trough. How often have we watched the same Republican who decries the expansion of some welfare program happily go on to vote for more federal funding for ethanol? This brand of imposture was vividly on display in the highway and farm bills passed in the 2000s by a Republican House under the leadership of then-Speaker Dennis Hastert.
Nevertheless, the hypocrisy Republicans now find themselves accused of is of a different order. The idea behind the snarks about the publicly financed Tampa arena is that people are somehow guilty of hypocrisy when they benefit from an environment they did not create and might have opposed on principle had they had the chance.
Back in February, the New York Times gave us a taste of this when it profiled a hard-working tea partier who turns out to have used the earned income tax credit, to have signed up his children for federally subsidized school meals, and to have an 88-year-old mother who twice had hip surgery paid for by Medicare. "Even Critics of Safety Net Increasingly Depend on It" ran the headline, implying that people such as this man are phonies or too stupid to realize the contradiction.
It's not only people at the lower ends of the income scale. In college, this columnist paid tuition with student loans guaranteed by the federal government. I deduct my mortgage interest on my taxes. I drive on highways improved by President Obama's stimulus. I do and have done all this even though I believe that prices would be lower and most people would be better off if we didn't have these subsidies.
Or take Paul Ryan, who's become the newest example. This month the GOP's vice-presidential candidate found himself accused of hypocrisy when the press found that he'd sought stimulus funding for his own congressional district—after having voted against the bill.
Surely the real issue here is whether people have any meaningful choice. Because government funding tends to crowd out private funding, it leaves fewer and more expensive options in its wake. Generally that means you have to be as rich as Warren Buffett or living in the most inaccessible Ozarks backwoods to be in a position to forgo federal dollars.
That goes for institutions as well. In education today, almost every university, private as well as public, is heavily involved with government, not least through student loans. The rare, noble exceptions tend to be small liberal arts colleges such as Grove City or Hillsdale.
The same goes for medicine. Americans used to start up private hospitals all the time. Does anyone imagine you could build a hospital today to serve the entire community and keep it all private? If not, haven't we lost something?
The political reality, alas, is that the existing dynamic works to the advantage of those who want even more government. That's because it imposes an impossible standard for purity.
Under this standard, a congressman who votes against a spending bill that passes is deemed a hypocrite unless he then stands aside as federal dollars are doled out to everyone but his constituents. In like manner, a husband and wife who believe the government should get out of housing face the same charge if they take the mortgage-interest deduction on their taxes. Almost no one can meet that standard, which is the whole point of initiatives such as ObamaCare: Where once federal programs targeted the needy, they now are designed to implicate us all.
So here we are in Tampa in August of a presidential-election year, where the advocates for small government find themselves in the dock because Florida officials once spent millions of taxpayer dollars to subsidize the wealthy owner of a hockey team. Definitely there's a "gotcha" here. It's just not what the champions of Big Government think it is.