The government cannot give you anything that it does not first take from someone else. The truth of that statement is undeniable and, to the founders of our nation, that fact was the foundation for the contractual relationship they created among the thirteen sovereign states and their sovereign citizens. That contract is known as our Constitution.
In the Constitution, the phrase “general welfare” had a specific and defined meaning. The federal government was allowed to perform only those functions specified in Article I, Section 8. These “enumerated powers” fulfilled the needs of the thirteen states best achieved by acting in unison rather than as individual entities. The concept was very simple. Each of the thirteen states contributed and benefited equally based on an agreed formula. In other words, the “general welfare” favored no single state over another, as the government could only perform actions that served to benefit all.
Adhering to this concept prevented groups with self-serving requests and desires from obtaining funds from the general treasury to further their own specific purposes. Our founders recognized that this would create division and animosity rather than unity and cooperation. Having agreed in advance to the enumerated powers of the federal government, and, as long as it performed only those functions, the federal government would only be promoting the true “general welfare” and not the fortune of any specific state, group, or citizen.
At the beginning of the 19th century, when immigration from Europe was at a peak, the essence of the “general welfare” concept was easily recognized. Each immigrant who came from Europe desired to become an American and, through hard work, achieve success as part of the American Dream. America of that era was truly a melting pot. The individual flavors combined to produce an American whole, the entirety of America. Because all blended into one American population, the “general welfare” applied to all equally.
The melting pot, however, does not serve the purposes of politicians who seek to amass and retain power. In our country today, the concept of the melting pot has been discarded for that of the salad bowl. Each vegetable component, while part of the entire salad, is still easily recognizable as unique. For example, a politician may give special benefits (usually monetary) to the lettuce by taking it from the celery. The tomatoes, jealous of the lettuce, demand special dispensation for themselves which is then taken from the onions. While the lettuce and the tomatoes flaunt their financial advantages, the celery and onions, aggrieved by having to pay for the benefits of the others, become angry at the lettuce and tomatoes. Soon, the salad bowl is in turmoil.
This is the basis for identity politics. Members of one group are given special treatment regardless of true need only because they are members of the selected group. The politicians who arrange the transfer of wealth have essentially purchased the loyalty and votes of the recipients, who will always vote for that politician to avoid losing the monetary benefits they have gained. Eventually, the recipients come to believe themselves “entitled” to the benefits, and a government-created “right” has been created.
“Government is a broker in pillage, and every election is a sort of advance auction in stolen goods.” H. L. Mencken
Unfortunately, this scenario has become an increasingly prominent part of the budget process in Cherokee County. Special interest groups come to the commission seeking financial support that comes from general county funds. Often, the requests are justified with the promise of great potential benefits for the county and its citizens at some point in the future. The basic fact remains, however, that each time special dispensation, favors, or funding is given to one group, it must be taken away from some other group or from projects that benefit all the citizens of the county. These projects are most assuredly not part of the “general welfare”, no matter how worthy or promising they may be.
The budgetary process for Cherokee County must be viewed as being no different from what we all face in our individual homes and families. There are required expenses that must be paid first without fail in order to provide the necessities of life. After necessities are met, the “wouldn’t it be nice if” category of expenses can be dealt with on a priority basis if sufficient funds remain.
I have stated before in these budget discussions that my two priorities are public safety and education. Public safety includes the Sheriff’s Office, EMS, fire-rescue, sanitation, etc. Education includes the public school system, charter schools, home-schooled children, and Tri-County Community College. Those are absolute necessities as are other expenses that are mandated by state and federal law. These items, required of government, benefit everyone equally and, therefore, truly are part of what we would consider the “general welfare”.
Giving money to a designated group based on group characteristics is an inherent contradiction to the principle of the “general welfare”. Identity politics is responsible for the massive growth of government on all levels, its increasing control over our lives, and the steady erosion of our individual freedom. On a national level, the resulting discord and anger is tearing our nation apart. At the local level, this type of interpersonal and inter-group discord will have a devastating effect on our citizens and should be avoided.
To that end, the commission must maintain a focus on funding essential programs and services that truly fall within the scope of the “general welfare” of the county’s citizens.