In the South, political perspectives are as likely to be shaped by conversation between friends at the corner store as they are by The Washington Post or CNN. Most of us who take the time to vote make the decision based on the information at our disposal, cast our vote at the polls, and move on with our lives. The choice belongs to us, and we know our interests better than anyone else.
Or do we?
The political left seems bewildered by southern conservatives who, in their opinion, "perennially vote against their own best interests." What the left really means is that the best interests of lower and middle-income voters lie in government programs like Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Progressive liberals view higher enrollment in these government programs as a sign of protection, stability, and security for the common man.
That position is evident in their remarks. AARP CEO A. Barry Rand argued, "every dollar in Social Security benefits paid out generates about $2 of total output for the U.S. economy." In other words, having more people on Social Security is better for America. President Obama recently defended the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act by arguing that forcing people from their "substandard" insurance plans into government exchanges would provide them with "quality comprehensive coverage." The idea is that taxing or regulating by government fiat promotes equality and betters society. Any negative impact on an individual is merely an inconvenient side effect of the liberals' great society.
The working-class southern conservative is an unacceptable anomaly for the political left. The southern conservative drives on public roads, may receive a Social Security check, and might even work in a government job. A common explanation among liberals is that many such conservatives are low-information voters without the intellect to understand the "progressive" vision. If they truly grasped the government benefits they utilize, they would drop their conservative ideas and fall in line.
Many liberals build the narrative of two extremes: government controls that improve society or unpredictable free choices that leave many behind. From there, Americans are left only to embrace either a society planned by elites for the benefit of the common good or planned by the elites for their own benefit. The left fancies themselves as the former type of planner and conservatives the latter.
One of government's most basic functions is supporting liberty and opportunity rather than assigning it. Accepting government's useful role in our lives is completely consistent with simultaneously rejecting its control over us. Nowhere is this concept better embodied than Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.
Many government programs were designed to provide support when people needed it most. That design should be protected, but those programs must always be our insurance rather than our aspiration. Who, other than those seeking to control society, really sees anyone's best interest as dependency on an impersonal government?
American society has succeeded where so many other planned societies have failed because it has provided the common protections people need to thrive without dictating their choices and futures. Rejecting a planned society is not an endorsement of cold anarchy but rather a shift of control from politicians to the people.
Most southern conservatives are willing to support public servants, but they bristle at the concept of political parents. They appreciate a government that can help people get back on their feet, but they reject government that creates perpetual dependency. While they may enjoy the benefits of public infrastructure, they abhor being told what kind of car the government would prefer them to drive. They do want a strong national defense, but they are not willing to be constantly monitored by their government in exchange for a loosely defined "security."
Progressive liberals may never understand how their societal altruism easily crosses into arrogance when they substitute their vision of the "good" society for the judgment of free people. Southern conservatives will likely continue to confound liberals, but most of us do not suffer from a lack of understanding. We simply refuse to be pawns in someone else's American dream.