What is America’s Real Choice in the Upcoming Presidential Elections?

by | Nov 6, 2000

The voters face a clear choice in tomorrow’s election — it’s just too bad the candidates don’t want to admit that fact. Underneath all the muddled rhetoric on the campaign trail, everybody senses what this election is really about. It’s not fundamentally about “trust” or personality or even prosperity. It’s about bigger government vs. smaller […]

The voters face a clear choice in tomorrow’s election — it’s just too bad the candidates don’t want to admit that fact.

Underneath all the muddled rhetoric on the campaign trail, everybody senses what this election is really about. It’s not fundamentally about “trust” or personality or even prosperity. It’s about bigger government vs. smaller government. Gore wants more government intervention in our lives, while Bush promises less.

Oddly, however, the candidates have been trying their best to obfuscate this central issue.

Take Social Security and Medicare, the biggest of the big government programs. These are the strongest bastions of paternalistic government. If individuals are regarded as incompetent to take care of such basic needs as retirement savings and medical expenses — if we are prevented from providing for ourselves and instead made dependent on a government program — then what area of life can’t be brought under the umbrella of big government?

And here’s where voters ought to find the clearest choice between individual freedom and government controls.

The left wants to keep expanding Medicare to cover Americans over the age of 55, to cover children, to cover prescription drugs, and so on. The left’s approach is to keep expanding Medicare and supplementing it until government takes over the entire health-care industry and provides “universal coverage” — the liberal catchphrase for socialized medicine.

Some on the political right, by contrast, propose to privatize Social Security. They want to minimize, phase out, and, in the most consistent proposals, eliminate government-provided retirement benefits — allowing people to accumulate and rely on a much larger nest egg of personal savings.

So if this would be a clear alternative, what are the candidates proposing?

Gore says he wants to expand Medicare just to cover prescription drugs, making this big government program a lot bigger. Bush’s response: He also wants to expand Medicare, but he’ll make the program only a little bit bigger.

On the other hand, Bush proposes a minor, partial privatization of Social Security, which would allow workers to retain a small portion of their payroll taxes by investing in private retirement accounts. But no, Bush says, he doesn’t want to privatize the whole program; Social Security is “sacred.” The only reason he wants to privatize a portion of the program is to preserve the rest of it.

By contrast, Gore wants to preserve the status quo on Social Security — with all of the new taxes that will eventually be needed to prop up the program. But even he has flirted with a small, “me too” program for expanding private investment accounts.

That’s the basic pattern: neither candidate will pick a side and stick to it. Bush says he’s for smaller government and often gives the impression that he wants to privatize Social Security and prevent the expansion of Medicare. But he won’t state these positions or argue for them openly. Instead, he keeps to the middle of the road and offers some minor, timid reductions in government’s role, paired with a reluctant acquiescence in the expansion of government.

Gore, on the other hand, clearly wants to expand the government’s control of the economy and implement socialized medicine. But Gore won’t state this to the general public or argue for it openly. (Indeed, he recently declared that he doesn’t want to “return to the era of big government.” Please remind me: When did we leave the era of big government?) So he too keeps to the middle of the road and proposes some relatively small expansions of government, paired with a few concessions to the free market.

After all the equivocations, however, the overall impression remains: Bush is the candidate of smaller government, Gore is the candidate of bigger government. And to the extent it means anything at all, this election comes down to a referendum on that issue.

Bush is far from an adequate representative of free markets and small government; he is too pragmatic and too eager to reassure liberal critics that he is “compassionate” (at the taxpayers’ expense). But in this context, in a contest against Al Gore and his myriad proposals for expansion of government, Bush does represent more freedom from government controls. A Gore victory would be a moral mandate for more government intrusion in our lives; a Bush victory will represent a moral mandate for protecting us from government power.

For that reason alone, I’ll be voting for Bush tomorrow. I’ll be voting, not so much for the man, but for the anti-big-government stance that he represents.

Robert Tracinski was a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute from 2000 to 2004. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Mr. Tracinski is editor and publisher of The Intellectual Activist and TIADaily, which offer daily news and analysis from a pro-reason, pro-individualist perspective. To receive a free 30-day trial of the TIA Daily and a FREE pdf issue of the Intellectual Activist please go to TIADaily.com and enter your email address.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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