I guess we did build that…
Today, Richard Cohen published a piece in the Washington Post that inspired me to write a little rebuttal. Not that Richard will ever read this, or that he ever should, but it should still be said: The left is far more obsessed with the dynamics of, “you didn’t build that” than the right. They worry. They fret. They spin. And when all of that retching and writhing fails to deliver the supposed intellectual crescendo and uniform backlash against conservatism they expect, they do what they think they do best: They insult. Cohen opens his piece with an anecdote about how his friend in the Army used public schools, government loans, and an Army medical education to get to where he is. The message is without the government, we’d be nothing.
Cohen misses two marks an article that reads like a flurry of pseudo-intellectual haymakers. The first is before his friend’s use of government services, the second is during. Arguably, there could be a third after he became a doctor, but since the focus of the opening paragraph is how his friend ascended on the strong back of government, let’s address those, shall we?
First, did his friend have an option to go to private school, and bypass it for public school? Or was private school cost-prohibitive due to public schools pushing less expensive options out of the market, much like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security have made medicine and retirement more expensive? If this case is true, and the option was not available, did not the hand of government force the outcome Mr. Cohen is now touting? And as far as the Army paying for schooling this doctor, I can guarantee you there are Soldiers who are very grateful for this man’s education, and I am willing to pay for that. I can also guarantee you that the Army is getting their money’s worth out of him. The military tends to find ways to do that.
Second, and this is the “during”, does the fact that we created public schools and government services ensure that all the students there will perform so admirably? Of course it does not. If we treated education like healthcare, shouldn’t every student pay a certain amount of federal and state tax to recoup said investment? Oh, wait, they do. And the payback from individuals such as doctors and Army Officers is greater than the initial payout (in a monetary sense for most doctors, and a sacrificial sense for Army Officers, since they are paid by the government). See, Mr. Cohen assumes that because we have such educational infrastructure we are able to produce such wonderful students. The truth is, his Army Republican Doctor friend has it right, and is the very reason we can produce such infrastructures. This temporal and causal abnormality is not just common, it is critical to liberal thought.
So why did this piece strike me so? The answer is yet another temporal abnormality. The left is forced to make end runs around its own proud logicians to compensate for something they could have dropped in a hot second. Yet here we are, revisiting the errouneous sound bite that won’t die. And why? Because the left doesn’t think this was a mistake, or a slip-up, or even a significant line in the speech. This is a universal truth to them! It was supposed to be a throwaway line at best. Their incredulity in this matter is not based on the fact that they are still defending this line, but that it had to be defended at all. And when they challenge our logic, they just hurl insults and invective, and don’t even realize the logical fallacy they have set themselves up for. Instead, we have excuse after excuse after excuse. And to what end? The phrase, “doth protest too much, methinks” comes to mind. It is critical to the liberal telos to illustrate not just the value and virtue of collectivism, but to reduce the value and virtue of individualism. Maybe we conservatives are crazy, and maybe society is better off for all public investment has given us. But if that’s the case, how do we account for the idea that public school produces more prisoners than doctors? Hey, Mr. Cohen, we built that, now didn’t we?
As a celebration of his 100th birthday, and because I found this sublimely illustrative, here’s Milton Friedman: