Neil Steinberg Just Writes Bad Columns

Were I to ask you what color seat you would like on your bus trip to Cleveland, you would probably reply, “But I’m not going to Cleveland.”

Were I to insist, fanning a few fabric swatches before you — maroon, a powdery blue, hunter green — you would answer, “It doesn’t MATTER what color, because I don’t want to take a bus to Cleveland!”

Sadly, this simple logic escapes us when it comes to matters political. We fall to debating specifics — the color of the seat — ignoring a key overarching fact: Some of us want to take the trip; others don’t.

The original intention of this column was to look at the state of Illinois with a cool, dispassionate eye and ask: Is Bruce Rauner right? Are we really much worse off under Gov. Pat Quinn? Rauner points to our 8.7 percent unemployment, second highest in the nation. The Quinn people, however, observe that when he took office, it was 11.4 percent. Rauner focuses on the bloat of government, Quinn on how much has been cut.


Me, I’m Democratic by breeding — my parents are Democrats; my father, in fact, worked for the government, NASA, for most of his career. And by choice. I make that decision by what I call the Baby Conundrum. If you find a baby on your doorstep, you either a) raise it yourself b) take it to the nearest church or c) call the cops.

To me, a) is strange and nobody would do it; b) is theoretical and while Republicans pay lip service, they never call their church to report a fire. The rational person answers is c). You want a government that cares for abandoned babies (fetuses aren’t babies, your Pavlovian bell isn’t ringing) and schools them and treats them when they’re sick. I’ve never heard an argument that explains why that logic falls apart as they get older.

Chicago Sun-Times, March 30, 2014

Dear Neil,

Thanks so much for inspiring me to blog again. I had a list of various topics that was accumulating on my desk for quite some time and quite frankly, I was just being intellectually lazy by not sitting down and doing the hard work of getting my thoughts down on the computer. Then you come along and write one of your more insipid columns and viola! – I am inspired to shake off my lethargy and point out all the flaws in the words that pass for arguments you submitted to your editors at the Sun-Times (shame on them for publishing such dreck – but then their paper used to be worthy of reading every day – today not so much).

I know you think you were being clever and thoughtful in this column – “step back dear reader and try and look at the big picture like I do: ‘Is government good or bad?’” In philosophical argumentation, this could perhaps be considered a species of the classic “straw-man argument”, although really it is just a foolish question having nothing to do with good arguments for American politics and public policy. In the abstract “government” is never all good or all bad – unless you believe in anarchy, which most conservatives and Republican reject, then sometimes government is “good” and sometimes it is “bad” and sometimes it can be both at the same time (and our Founders were acutely aware of this danger which is why they set up a system with so many checks and balances so that both any good or bad done by government would in theory be limited).

So then when you say, “If you think government is a good thing, in the main, then you’re a Democrat. You want preschoolers to get that cup of free morning gruel, want rehab clinics for drug addicts…selling tainted meat, then you want the USDA to be on them like a cloud of hornets” you are basically being ridiculous (and sloppy with your descriptions, e.g. the government doesn’t give “free morning gruel” to all preschoolers – just the poor ones in Head Start, which of course has been shown to provide no educational benefit to kids, but at least they get their gruel!!!)

As for whether or not that list of services can only be provided by some level of government (e.g. how did Americans manage to survive all those years without a state or federal emergency service agency – I mean did they actually help one another or something?) — that’s precisely the question to be answered. Yes Neil, you need to expand your imagination and think to yourself maybe churches and other private charities can do more for those in need. And maybe not every solution to a “problem” should be “fixed”; at times the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And it is not like small government conservatives have never heard of the dreaded “tainted meat” argument! Do some research next time when you want to list important government-run public goods!!

Then you present your “Baby Conundrum” as if this is a hard question for conservatives/Republicans. Of course we would choose (b) — why wouldn’t we want to drop off a baby with a church-run orphanage – especially one that tried to place their charges with loving parents (i.e. a mother and a father). Why bring up the non-sequitur of a fire department? First of all, in many small towns there are volunteer fire departments and very few professionals – they can’t afford to pay for a fully-staffed, unionized department. Second of all, what the heck does putting out fires, which I agree is a perfectly appropriate use of local government powers, have to do with the question of the provision and care of orphans? Try and stay focused Neil – your mind tends to wander when you attempt to prove the “rational answer” to your poorly constructed questions.

As for the Affordable Care Act – well, people of good will can certainly agree to disagree on what the law will or will not accomplish and who it will eventually help and/or hurt. Obviously, I think the law is a mess and is only making our health-care system worse than it already was; although what this has to do with my imagined positions on “race and women” I can only wonder (e.g. are you talking about the way the Democratic party stood for segregation and eugenics during the first half of the twentieth century? I agree it is a shameful record for Democrats and liberals – I wonder how you sleep at night living with such a history.)

Finally, this business about religion being a “private matter” – this is apparently the approved new Democratic/liberal talking point. Too bad that’s not how the Founders conceived of the First Amendment, that’s not how religious people like Martin Luther King Jr. conceive of their religious beliefs, and that’s not how anyone goes about their life – everyone uses some sort of personal philosophy or belief system to inform their public decisions and opinions. While we guarantee the diversity of religious practice (even though your Jewish beliefs are false, you are allowed to practice them thanks to the First Amendment), we also guarantee through the First Amendment the right of a free people to use their religious beliefs to inform their moral outlook and “make [their] neighbors/employees do what they don’t want to.” Indeed, Neil, you do the same thing every time you go to the polls and vote for your favored legislation that your neighbor doesn’t want enacted – that’s how democracy works and unless you reject living under a government whose policies you don’t agree with (e.g. by refusing to pay taxes) that’s how you and religious folks have always lived together in this country.

Maybe it is time to go back to reporting — your column days are numbered.


About Fake Herzog

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