“It looks good on paper” is an timeless phrase used to describe an appealing abstract concept unworkable in practical application—or worse. To avoid wastes of time, money, and energy, in the real world the phrase is often heard and heeded. In the political world, however, it is seldom heard and almost never heeded. Why? Because politicians can use governmental coercion to happily waste the time, money, and energy of others—namely, you.
Simply compare and contrast two examples: In the real world, the Titanic looked great on paper, but has come to symbolize the dire consequences of human hubris; in the political world, Obama Care remains the law of the land.
Presently—alas, perpetually it seems—the quintessential example of a failed political idea said to “look great on paper” remains socialism. As previously noted, much of the misplaced faith in the concept stems from socialist politicians’ ability to finesse abstract theories and impose their real world failures upon others. (President Obama can still choose his own doctor). Obviously, it’s understandable why Leftist politicians retain their dogmatic insistence that socialism is both feasible and desirable. Less obvious is conservatives’ seeming inability to persuade vast swaths of the public that socialism is neither.
Conservatives too often play on the Left’s turf. In endeavoring to counter the Left’s lullabies about socialism, conservatives stray into the political world’s abstract arguments and talking points; and, ever a practical people, real world Americans tune out this debate and turn on Netflix. How, then, to explain to practical people the undesirability of an infeasible theory that “looks great on paper?” (After all, practical people ordinarily don’t mind “free money” as long as it is coming from somebody else.)
Typically in such conversations, conservatives start at the end by citing socialism’s failings and failures abroad: “Anybody here remember the Soviet Union? . . . No?” But, because most Americans have never experienced the ravages of socialism, this approach leaves the Left the luxury of retaining sundry, false arguments not only as to why socialism failed in other places but also as to why it could work here.
Taking a different tack, many conservatives do try to address socialism’s unworkable means rather than unattainable ends: “They’re going to give some bum your money!” This approach does prove more efficacious when applied to those practical folks who deem themselves at risk of becoming the Left’s piñata for funding a socialist spending spree; however, given the decades-long stagnation in real wage growth, this argument can expect an increasingly diminished return.
In addressing socialism’s unworkable means, conservatives are on the correct path but in too narrow a lane. Conservatives’ arguments against socialism must be enhanced by real world examples possessing concrete salience to a broader audience—and there are a plethora of possibilities. From these, I offer three that explain what socialism means to you and me.
- “The Man is going to pick my iTunes?” Amidst the communications revolution, no one would allow the government to program their iPod, choose their Facebook friends. or select their Twitter follows. Why in God’s name would anyone let government choose their doctors and treatments?
- “Dude, you’re in my garage.” Insidiously, government has rendered taxation as painless as possible by taking your money before you touch it. But money, being fungible, translates into concrete expenditures people have felt—for example, their new car. Who among us would let the government saunter up our driveway and speed off in our new SUV in the name of “social justice”?
- “Merge, [expletive of choice]!” Speaking of cars, the greatest argument against socialism is the humanity’s failure to merge. Be it getting in line for Kid Rock tickets, scrambling for Black Friday bargains, or rotting in rush hour traffic, practical people don’t dig ceding ground just so some jackass can get ahead at their expense. Ergo, if a socialist thinks his ideology “looks great on paper” because everyone will be enamored of forking over their hard earned bread so all can feast in an arbitrary and illusory Nirvana of economic squalor, it’s likely that the socialist in question rarely descends from his ivory tower of abstractions.
Conversely engaged in the real world, Americans daily perform practical acts they pray will advance their pursuit of happiness by enhancing their hearths at home. Therefore, if conservatives simply provide such concrete, real world examples debunking the mountebanks and mendicants of socialism, an ever practical people will scrap it in favor of ideas that “look great on paper” and have proven their benefits in the real world:
Those written in the Declaration of Independence and United States Constitution.