Being Right Doesn’t Always Win Elections


At the Grand Forks Herald, opinion editor Tom Dennis uses the occasion of President Obama’s second-term inauguration to argue that Republicans haven’t been winning a lot of elections of late because they aren’t sufficiently caring. After referencing one of Scott Hennen’s columns here on SAB, Dennis writes that the problem with Republicans is that we have to little compassion as measured by support for hugely expensive social programs.

Simply put, the GOP’s dream of an unfettered free market not one that most Americans really want to come true. That’s because while capitalism creates great numbers of winners, it also creates whole armies of losers — and often within one person’s own lifetime, given the ease with which, say, medical emergencies or just the onset of old age can vaporize a lifetime’s savings.

Sure, the logical response is for people to plan — to buy health insurance, sock money away in 401(k)s and so on. And most people will try to do just that.

But many of them will fail, human nature and life’s uncertainties being what they are. Moreover, many others never will amass the resources even to try. (It’s a lot easier to talk about overcoming a disadvantaged childhood than it is to do it.)

What happens to them? What happens to the people who lose at life’s game — and that includes most Americans once they reach their 80s and 90s?

Since the 1930s, our country has answered those questions this way: We Americans want a floor beneath which no one will fall. Charity isn’t enough to build it, as life in the 1920s and earlier proved. But government is; so, let’s work together to get the job done.

That’s a pretty sentiment, to be sure, and this conservative could buy into it, if it weren’t for that pesky reality of cost.

In 2011 Social Security, Medicare and other mandatory social spending (as well as the interest we must pay on our national debt) added up to $2.25 trillion, or roughly 62% of our national budget.


That same year, total federal tax receipts were $2.3 trillion. Which means that we’re pretty much already in deficit spending territory before we can even start talking about everything else the federal government does, from the military to national parks.


Compassion is all well and good, but then there is this other thing called “math.” Are conservatives losing elections because the public doesn’t see them as sufficiently compassionate? I think that’s probably true for the time being (though the gloaters should keep in mind that these things tend to be cyclical). But does that mean conservatives are wrong to point out what we can’t afford?

Unfortunately, being right doesn’t always win you elections.

How compassionate is it to sentence future generations of Americans to unpayable levels of debt so that current generations of Americans can enjoy a cushy platform of social entitlements? Will our children and grandchildren be happy with this political death pact we seem to have made with Social Security and Medicare when those two programs sink into insolvency, leaving them with nothing but the debt?

“But we can tweak the programs!” Dennis and others might respond. Sure, we can make Americans pay more into them while giving them even less back. Does that sound appealing? And remember, roughly 15% of the wages paid to every American worker (both the employee and employer shares) is already going to these programs.

Social spending in America is out of control, but for the time being anyone who talks about that will be called cold and uncaring and exiled to the political margins for raining on the entitlement parade. But one day, there will have to be a reckoning, because the path we’re on is unsustainable.

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • mickey_moussaoui

    Gen x’rs like to point at Boomers and say it’s our fault but they elected the jackass obama, not us. You voted for it – you own it.

    • Rob

      Because Mitt Romney would have fixed Medicare and Social Security?


      The problem with those programs isn’t ideological. It’s mathematical. We can’t pay for them, but we also can’t reform them because of attitudes like yours.

  • Roy_Bean

    When you build a floor beneath which no one will fall you also build a ceiling above which no one will rise. From John D. Rockefeller and Henry Ford to Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, more prosperity has come from those who rose above the ceiling of the left than has come from all the government programs ever developed.

  • SigFan

    We will never fix these problems until the entire system collapses of it’s own weight. And that will happen sooner rather than later. Once that occurs we are in for decades of hard times and the country may never regain what it once had. It might be possible to avert that disaster, but in order for that to happen people need to wake up and realize that they have been fleeced, that they have to forget about the government fulfilling what it has promised and take responsibility for their own lives and well-being. That too will result in hardship, but it might prevent a total failure. The problem is that IMO there aren’t enough people left with the spine and common sense to do it.

    • Rob

      We’ve got so many people, even people who are quite conservative otherwise, who say “well I paid into it I should get mine.”

      The problem is, if each generation gets theirs, we’re gonna go broke. That’s just the math of it.

      I’d rather my generation take it in the shorts, but fix things, so perhaps things will be better for my kids and grandkids.

      • SigFan

        One possible way to offset the loss for people is to allow those who are willing to opt out of SS and Medicare to do so but exempt their personal investments and retirement accounts from future taxes. If they would do that I would sign off in a heartbeat.

  • yy4u2

    Things won’t change until the self proclaimed winners like Tom realize/wake up that their ideas produce more losers instead of really helping anything but their own egos. Perhaps the Toms of this world have a lot of money, time, etc and feel they haven’t worked all that hard for it.

    Whatever the case, the Toms feel they know what people need. Have they ever asked these so called poor what they needed? Have the toms figured out the talents and local resources that could be used? Did they ask if those they think are poor might actually be content?

    The Toms of the world will never be content. They are the collectivists. They have failed millions of people.

  • WOOF

    Pay SS tax on all taxed earnings,
    keep benefit system the same.
    Simple solution.

  • borborygmi

    The unfetterered free market is pure fantasy and fairy dust. It doesn’t exist, can’t exist except in the small scale. It is not a reality anymore then the perfect Communist society can exist (there will always be a leader or with power) some animals are just more equal then others.