Commentary

It Takes a Hillage

More than two million people have viewed a video on YouTube that mocks Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton as an Orwellian Big Sister. It’s a “mash-up” of the 1984 Super Bowl commercial that portrayed IBM as Big Brother. In the new version, Hillary is on the big screen, droning on about “a national conversation” and “we’re all part of the solution…the American team” until a young blonde woman throws a sledgehammer into her giant image.

The creator of the video was anonymous. But he was discovered to be an employee of the company that created Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign website. The company fired him, presumably for creating a much more effective anti-Hillary ad than anything the campaign and its consultants had produced officially.

The image of Hillary Clinton on a giant screen reminded me of one of the proposals in her book, It Takes a Village.

The book epitomizes the nanny state in contemporary America. Beginning with the sensible if overused proverb that “it takes a village” to raise children, she ends up calling on all 300 million Americans to raise each child. Of course, we can’t possibly all take responsibility for millions of children. Clinton calls for “a consensus of values and a common vision of what we can do today, individually and collectively, to build strong families and communities.” But there is not and — let’s be honest — cannot be any such collective consensus.

In any free society, millions of people will have different ideas about how to form families, how to rear children, and how to associate voluntarily with others. Those differences are not just a result of a lack of understanding each other; no matter how many Harvard seminars and National Conversations we have, we will never come to a national consensus on such intimate moral matters. Clinton implicitly recognizes that when she insists that there will be times when “the village itself [she means the federal government] must act in place of parents” and accept “those responsibilities in all our names through the authority we vest in government.” She fundamentally rejects the American tradition of liberty. She says that government must make the decisions about how we raise our children.

And what about that giant screen? Even when the government doesn’t step in to take children from their parents, Clinton sees it constantly advising, nagging, hectoring parents: “Videos with scenes of commonsense baby care — how to burp an infant, what to do when soap gets in his eyes, how to make a baby with an earache comfortable — could be running continuously in doctors’ offices, clinics, hospitals, motor vehicle offices, or any other place where people gather and have to wait,” she writes. The childcare videos could alternate with videos on the Food Pyramid, the evils of smoking and drugs, the need for recycling, the techniques of safe sex, the joys of physical fitness, and all the other things the responsible adult citizens of a complex modern society need to know. Sort of like the telescreen in Orwell’s 1984 — or the YouTube video.

When President Bill Clinton announced that by his own authority he was issuing new regulations on tobacco and smoking in the name of “the young people of the United States,” he said, “We’re their parents, and it is up to us to protect them.” Hillary Clinton told Newsweek, “There is no such thing as other people’s children.” These are profoundly anti-family claims. Instead of recognizing parents as moral agents who can and must take responsibility for their own decisions and actions, the Clintons would absorb them into a giant mass of collective parenting directed by the federal government as Big Sister or Big Nanny. When everybody is everyone’s parent, no one is a parent any more.

Too often these days, the government treats adult citizens as children. It takes more and more money from those who produce it, doling it back to us like an allowance, through a smorgasbord of “transfer programs” ranging from Head Start and student loans to farm subsidies, corporate welfare, unemployment programs, and Social Security. It doesn’t trust us to decide for ourselves (even in consultation with our doctors) what medicines to take, or where our children should go to school, or what we can access through our computers.

Many conservatives want to be your daddy, telling you what to do and what not to do, and many liberals want to be your mommy, feeding you, tucking you in, and setting your curfew. But the proper role for the government of a free society is to treat adults as adults, responsible for making their own decisions and accepting the consequences.

And that’s why the image of a nagging, hectoring Hillary Clinton on a giant telescreen seems altogether too real.

David Boaz is executive vice president of the Cato Institute and author of Libertarianism: A Primer.