Gratitude for military doesn’t excuse misuse of state power – Critics of senators miss the mark

Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives morning show on Fox News 1450 AM 96.7 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not those of St. George News.

OPINION – Two Utah senators are taking plenty of heat for comments they’ve made regarding government policies that would favor current soldiers or military families.

State Senator Scott Jenkins rose in vehement opposition last week to Senator Luz Roble’s proposal for a property tax exemption for Utah National Guard soldiers who have been away from home for a certain number of days.

Meanwhile, Senator Casey Anderson is facing criticism for questioning Senator Karen Maynes over her bill to extend unemployment benefits for spouses of military members who are forced to move.

Both senators are being accused of hostility and ingratitude toward members of the armed forces. But these accusations are entirely unfounded.

In both cases, the senators are actually making a correct stand on principle. They are opposing the forced funding of specific new benefits for the military and their families, not opposing the military itself.

The rhetorical misdirection being wielded against these two senators is a clever fabrication. It’s similar to the kind of contrived outrage that surfaces when advocates of government-run schools accuse their opponents of being against education itself.

The fact that a firestorm of controversy has arisen over these issues illustrates two deeper problems that plague our society today:

The first problem is the presumption that doling out favors paid with taxpayer money is within the realm of proper government.

The second is the growing confusion among otherwise patriotic Americans that blurs the line between showing respect for those in uniform and worship of the symbols of the state.

In both cases, the grandstanding and seeking of political advantage are obscuring the real principles at stake.

In the case of the property tax break, the question isn’t whether Utah’s National Guardsmen are getting too many perks from their service; it’s whether the state should be using public monies for charity. Those seeking to ease the considerable burden on active duty soldiers and their families may mean well, but using the force of government to pay for that benefit by taking the money from taxpayers is wrong.

Suppose I walked up to you at an ATM, pointed a gun at you and politely asked for the money you’d withdrawn. Even if I were taking that money from you for the noble purpose of paying for my ailing mother’s surgery, I would still be considered a thief. I would have taken something, by threat of force, which did not belong to me.

Such an act does not magically become moral when carried out by government.  French economist and philosopher Frederic Bastiat said it this way, “if the very purpose of law is the protection of individual rights, then law may not be used … to accomplish what individuals have no right to do.” Immoral acts do not become moral when performed by government.

In no way does this preclude grateful fellow citizens from freely donating charitably to military families in need. It simply recognizes that taxpayer money, collected under the threat of force, is not government’s money to give.

Members of the National Guard are still citizens like the rest of us and should not be exempted from the duties and responsibilities of citizenship. When they take the king’s money off the drum, they temporarily become the king’s property. With that service come certain perks and certain sacrifices.

Political opportunists have learned to use the honorable individuals serving in the military as an expedient prop to promote an unhealthy adoration of the state. In the years since 9/11, the military has assumed a more prominent role in American life. It’s common to hear people say, “If it weren’t for the military, we wouldn’t have any freedoms.”

But if freedom truly originates from a military source, the highly militarized North Korea should be the freest nation on earth. It’s ironic how the more our nation’s policy makers have sent our troops abroad to protect our freedom, the less freedom we seem to have here at home.

To the extent that our armed forces are defending our freedoms, they are worthy of our deepest gratitude. But this gratitude cannot extend to excusing the improper exercise of government power, even when it’s well intentioned.

Thank goodness for two legislators who understand that difference.


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Copyright 2012 St. George News.

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