Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Someone to Watch Over Us

When the big snowstorm that had been forecast to put the mid-Atlantic and New England states into a state resembling the North Pole failed to materialize, conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh were quick to hit the airwaves with warnings about how the liberal nanny state was strangling the life out of American freedom.

Yawn. Rush Limbaugh would blame liberal big government for people growing old if he could get away with it. There's no appeasing motivated skeptics, and the money that Limbaugh rakes in from people who want to advertise to his audience is plenty motivational. And it's likely that many of the other conservative commentators that mimic him are hoping for some of the same motivation themselves.

But this isn't to say that the United States hasn't taken on the role of public nanny. It's just that it's not big-government liberalism (despite its somewhat paternalistic outlook) that's the cause of it. Instead, I suspect, it's the never ending hunt for a good shepherd. Big snowstorms can be nasty - even deadly. And although the number of people who die in blizzards in the United States every year is fairly small - on the order of a couple of dozen, in a society that always looks for someone to blame for things that go wrong, you can bet that someone examined many, if not all of them carefully, looking for a way that someone with deep pockets could be sued into providing a payday. And while I know it reads like one, this really isn't a knock on lawyers - this is, after all, their job.

And so what we end up with is not just a government apparatus that seeks to protect the citizenry from bad things - it also seeks to protect itself from liability claims. Consider the landslide the decimated a chunk of Oso, Washington about 10 months ago - the state and county are now facing lawsuits claiming that government didn't do enough to protect people from the possibility of a slide. (But note that the state and county aren't being charged with concealing information. The complaint is that they should have done more to warn people.)

As long as a significant number of people believe that one of the primary purposes of government is to protect us from the vagaries of life, there will be a part of our government that devotes itself to that task - either because they believe it too, or to protect themselves from the consequences of failing to meet that expectation.

No comments: