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Should Conservatives Oppose a Welfare State? Why Charles Krauthammer is Correct and Andy McCarthy is Wrong

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How, he asks, can Krauthammer say that these are “great achievements,” and that conservatives accept them? Unlike Krauthammer, McCarthy, like many of the Hillsdale College group of conservatives and those from the Claremont Institute as well, believes that the Progressive Era of Woodrow Wilson and FDR’s subsequent New Deal were both the start of “the centralized welfare state,” which McCarthy says no mainstream Republican accepts. McCarthy argues not against “social welfare for the truly needy,” which he asserts should be left to the states and most likely private charities, rather than to the central government, which is intrinsically an abuse of the U.S. Constitution.

Krauthammer, as he makes clear himself, moved from Left to Right because he dissented from the big-government liberalism he once adhered to. As he writes in an introduction to his new book, excerpted in NRO, first he began to change his views because of the foreign policy of the Democratic Party, whose adherents “went even further left” than they had been in the '60s by the 1970s and '80s. On domestic policy, he writes, the Democratic Party  “remained true to itself. I changed.” What changed him is his understanding, based on empirical evidence, that “the results of the Great Society experiments started coming in and began showing that, for all its good intentions, the War on Poverty was causing irreparable damage to the very communities it was designed to help.” So now, he writes, he supports “a vision of limited government that, while providing for the helpless, is committed above all to guaranteeing individual liberty and the pursuit of one’s own Millian ‘ends of life.’"

What Krauthammer understands, and what Andy McCarthy disagrees with, is that liberalism developed programs with wide bi-partisan support that did things like end child labor, and instituted programs like Social Security, which at its start was not meant as a welfare program but as aid to elderly retirees that would be based on funds taken from their own paychecks that would be given to them upon retirement, and that seemed to be feasible when the average age of death was 62 years.

Now, as he tells Jon Stewart, the current programs are fiscally impossible to sustain, and are bound to bankrupt the government and produce even more insoluble problems in the future. He makes a distinction between the early programs that he finds defensible and positive, while McCarthy believes that all of them are “prosperity killers” and basically unconstitutional and unnecessary.