The Top Ten Things Santa Claus Forgot to Give Me

December 26, 2011 • Commentary
This article appeared on Forbes on December 26, 2011.

Santa Claus came and went. Truth be told, I’m a bit disappointed. He didn’t leave me even one of my ten favorite gifts. I guess I have to wait another year. Maybe after next year’s election Santa will be more forthcoming.

Top of my list is for Americans to stop confusing Uncle Sam with Santa Claus. The idea of some rich guy from far away showing up to fulfill one’s most devout desires is really quite attractive. When people expect the government to do the same things quickly get ugly — and quite expensive. No wonder economist Lawrence Kotlikoff figures that we face total debts and unfunded liabilities totaling some $211 trillion, 14 times America’s annual GDP. We’ve been racking up the red ink in the belief that someone else would pay the bill.

Next, I wish the people of the world would stop confusing Uncle Sam with Joan of Arc. It seems everyone everywhere expects America to show up and save them. The South Koreans desire to be defended from the North Koreans. The Japanese want protection from China. The Afghans in government want to keep the Taliban out of government. The Europeans expect Americans to buy the expensive weapons necessary to allow them to take credit for tossing out a North African dictator. The Israelis insist that the U.S. bomb their enemies. And so it goes.

It’s kind of nice to know that most everyone — except the cuddly North Koreans and their new dictator, informally known as the Cute Leader — trust Americans with guns. (Too bad liberal congressmen at home don’t do so either, but that’s another story!) However, the result is a big expense, with the U.S., despite its $211 trillion in debts and liabilities, spending as much on the military as the rest of the world combined. And it means Americans are constantly at war dying for things which are pretty hard to explain to the families of those doing the dying. Such as creating a strong, honest, and competent central government in Afghanistan, a country which never has had a strong, honest, and competent central government, at least in our lifetimes. And a country where it wouldn’t make any difference to America if there was a strong, honest, and competent central government.

Number three is that Washington stop lecturing other nations about democracy while sucking up to corrupt thugs who jail anyone foolish enough to support democracy there. You know, like the Saudi royals. It’s a great scam — they promote ascetic Islamic lifestyles at home while enjoying licentious playboy lifestyles abroad. The U.S. also supports crooked autocrats throughout Central Asia. A little hypocrisy might be necessary in international relations, but American officials tend to engage in ostentatious hypocrisy, which unfortunately is noticed around the world.

My fourth wish is for my conservative friends who claim to believe in individual liberty and limited government to stop campaigning to toss people in jail for smoking marijuana and stop glorifying participation in deadly and destructive wars. It may be stupid to use drugs — though not obviously more so than to use alcohol and tobacco — but that’s not a good reason for filling America’s prisons. War is the ultimate big government program. Not to mention the fact that killing people always should be a last resort, not something to engage in when one has a midnight brainstorm after consuming a quart of one’s favorite ice cream, which probably explains most of Newt Gingrich’s crackpot pronouncements.

Number five on the unfulfilled Christmas list is that my liberal friends who say they believe in “choice” apply the same principle to issues other than sex. Like choosing to engage in economic acts among consenting adults. To use one’s own earnings how one wishes, even if that means being selfish, greedy, obnoxious, and just not very nice. To purchase firearms to defend oneself from criminals. To engage in even “offensive” free speech. In short, to live pretty much as you’d like so long as you aren’t violating other people’s rights.

Coming in sixth place is my desire that conservative Republicans who have trouble staying married or staying faithful to their wives — and especially who have trouble doing both — shut up about family, marriage, fidelity, religion, morality, and especially Western civilization. I used to hope that they would just slink away if they were on their second wife. But Santa consistently refused to provide that gift, so I’m now asking for less. Could Republicans shut up about these things if they were caught cheating on their second wife? (I call it defining deviancy down, or “Newting” for short.)

At seven is my hope that my fellow Christian believers will get over their feelings of persecution. Yes, much of elite culture is unreservedly hostile. More ominous are occasional legal attempts to limit religious activity. However, the First Amendment remains a powerful bulwark against state interference, a protection lacked by people in other lands. Christians need to do more to reclaim the culture instead of just complaining about its decline.

Moreover, hundreds of millions of believers in nations as diverse as China and Pakistan, North Korea and Iran, and Burma and Saudi Arabia face brutal, sometimes murderous persecution. George W. Bush’s needless war in Iraq and this year’s “Arab Spring” have unleashed successive waves of new persecution against Christians and other religious minorities. I have stood amid the rubble of wrecked churches in Indonesia and Pakistan. Christians in such nations know what persecution really is. In contrast, yesterday, Christmas Day, tens if not hundreds of millions of Americans safely attended religious services of all kinds.

In eighth place is my wish is that members of the bipartisan War Party stop smearing their opponents as isolationists. There is something strange about people who joyously propose bombing, invading, and occupying nations around the globe claiming to be internationalists. The real internationalists are those who argue that the best forms of global involvement are not slaughtering other peoples. No doubt, there are a lot of bad folks whose deaths make the world a better place. Saddam Hussein for one. But it is not clear that the benefits of his death outweigh the tragedy of some 200,000 Iraqis killed in the ensuing civil strife. And it certainly wasn’t America’s place to decide that “the price is worth it,” as then UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright described her view of the deaths of Iraqi babies due to U.S.-supported sanctions.

Wish number nine: partisans of all stripes should stop demonizing their opponents. Bill Clinton had a pretty disreputable marital life. Nevertheless, he was a smart guy, interested in policy, and with great but sadly unfulfilled potential. He also managed to stay married, in contrast to so many holier‐​than‐​thou Republicans. He deserved to be impeached for committing perjury, but he was not the president most deserving of that fate: think Richard Nixon, who shamelessly abused the trust placed in him.

George W. Bush was a big spender who made tragically foolish international decisions. He was a poor decision‐​maker who should have stayed a baseball owner. But his personal life was exemplary; he treated people decently. He was a bad president, not a moral monster. There are lots of reasons to disagree with Barack Obama on policy. But he is bright and engaged, has suffered no hint of personal scandal, is known for treating staff well, and gives no sign of being anything other than a patriot. He is liberal, yes, but certainly not a “socialist thug” as one embittered conservative columnist described him, let alone the evil incarnate that so many conservative emailers suggest.

All of these presidents deserved determined opposition from people who believe in limited government and individual liberty. However, none deserved to be targeted by an increasingly vicious political campaign of personal destruction.

Last but not least, to paraphrase that great political philosopher Michael Jackson, everyone should look at the person “in the mirror” before rushing off to demand some politician somewhere do something. Compassion originally meant to “suffer with,” as Marvin Olasky explained in his book The Tragedy of American Compassion. Compassion should require giving of oneself, both money and self. Compassion should not mean stealing from others, even for alleged good works.

Reform of all sorts should start at home and in community with our friends and neighbors. Children must be raised, morality must be taught, needs must be met, lives must be healed, problems must be solved. There is a role for government, but it should be the last resort. We live within concentric rings of people and institutions. At the center are individuals and families and we move outward as we relate to and cooperate with others. The national government is the outer ring, like the planet Pluto in our solar system. We should go there only after everyone and everything else has failed.

These ten seemed like pretty reasonable wishes to me. I don’t know why Santa was so uncooperative. He didn’t give me even one of them. But there’s always next year! I’ll mail my letter to Santa earlier next time. Maybe then Santa Claus will make an appearance at my house next Christmas.

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