There are many ways for lawmakers to show their contempt for the people they govern. They can break promises, waste our money, lie to our faces, and on and on. But to me, the most well-meaning attempts to help people can wind up being the most insulting – and the most destructive.
Two different bills, seemingly unrelated, brought this to my mind this week. The first is the “Motor-Voter” proposal (IP1) which automatically registers people to vote as soon as they get a driver’s license. Currently, you have to check a box to register to vote at the DMV, which, to a certain class of legislator, is considered a terrible obstacle to vast swaths of citizens helplessly clamoring for their voices to be heard at the ballot box.
This, of course, is nonsense. Worse than nonsense, it presents a vision of Nevadans as a people literally too stupid to check a box. It sees a large group of adult men and women too incompetent to fill out an extra part of a simple form they’re already filling out anyway – and then… wants those incompetent thumbs heavier on the scales of government?
I think there is legitimate (albeit overhyped) concern of inviting some low level fraud in a state where non-citizens can easily get driver’s licenses. (I thought Democrats were concerned these days with foreign influence on our elections, but that stuff changes so often it’s hard to keep up.)
But the real problem with IP1, and similar measures to make registering to vote too easy, is that it asks nothing of our citizens. Registering to vote ought not to be difficult, but it should at least require some affirmative decision to engage. And the truth is that it is not difficult. If you can get a driver’s license in the first place, you have requisite skill set. And if you just can’t puzzle out how to get it done, then chances are you probably aren’t exactly going to take the time to study candidates or issues, and make informed decisions at the ballot box, making our overall voter pool, well, dumber.
Worse, like the parent of a teenager who still packs his lunch every day and sets his alarm for him before school, it actually teaches us to be ever more dependent on the government for things we really should be doing for ourselves. It helps atrophy our individual sense of responsibility for our own lives, all while inviting us to have more influence over the lives of our neighbors.
The other bill -- a set of them, actually -- seeks to improve consumer protections and increase regulations against payday lenders.
Now, I personally believe there is a special place in hell reserved for these types of institutions. They’re predators who rely on folks making bad decisions when they’re at their most vulnerable. They enable addicts of all stripes, keep families impoverished with outrageous interest rates, and reinforce and encourage bad financial habits. For every sob story their army of lobbyists provide about a payday lender helping a middle class family through a one-time expensive emergency, there are countless legions of poor folks who get trapped in a cycle of getting loans to service loans, with the lenders sucking away at meager paychecks like a spider keeping a fly alive just to feed off of it as long as possible.
At some point as a society, we have to accept that freedom means freedom to make poor choices, and even to fail. The nice thing about failure, though, is that it is its own life lesson. The consequences of past behavior inform our future behavior, at least that’s true for men and women, rather than boys and girls.
Whenever I’ve made this point to one of my liberal friends, the inevitable retort (said in the tone of voice once reserved exclusively for the town busybody church lady) is, “That’s all well and good for you, Orrin, but those other people don’t have your advantages.” Translation: We college-educated-know-it-all-hippies must come down from on high and take care of the plebeians of the lower classes who can’t be trusted to take care of themselves. For the supposed champions of “The People,” they sure don’t have a very high opinion of them. This condescending attitude is how you end up with a President Trump, people.
I’m all for true safety nets, and for consumers protected against out-and-out fraud. But if you can’t afford a loan, don’t seek one. And if you do, don’t complain when “they” gave you what you asked for. But when government takes it upon itself to habitually protect us from our own consequences, we’ll never train ourselves out of doing dumb things. Folks who aren’t expected to grow up never will. And long term, that’s worse for society than the payday lender vultures.
Modern progressivism can never “work” in the long run, because it rests on two mutually incompatible presumptions. First, that “the masses” should have more power, and second, that those same masses are too stupid to make their own choices, and must be guided and parented by their government. Only one of those things can be true. I pick the first, because if it’s the second, then we should just quit now and give kings and queens another go.
All lawmakers need to approach any proposed regulation with the underlying assumption that the people of Nevada are grownups, capable of managing their own lives, and responsible for the consequences of their own actions. This will go a longer way to truly serve Nevadans than any other “help” they could possibly devise.
Orrin Johnson was a political columnist for the Reno Gazette-Journal in 2015 and 2016. He biegan blogging in 2005 for his law school’s Federalist Society chapter and in 2007 started his own blog, First Principles. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @orrinjohnson.