Send Natalie Merchant to reform humanity?

By Michael R. Allen
web posted May 1999

Why do people always gravitate toward areas where they have no ability? So many people in today's world have become what they really should never have been: Bill Clinton is president, John Kenneth Galbraith is an economist, and Jack Kevorkian is a prisoner. Most problematic are those celebrities who become political activists.

I have always enjoyed the movie roles chosen by actress-director Lee Grant, The Swarm and For Women Only notwithstanding. I know that she was a supporter of George McGovern's 1972 campaign for the Oval office, but her valiant stand against the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1951 allowed me to give some respect to her political sentiments.

That is why I was dismayed to read of her latest political cause - though I cannot say I was surprised. Apparently looking outside of the Long Island world of the governess, she has noticed that working women need help with child care, and that changes are needed in that area. Fine. Where is her private program she is going to make with her own money out of the kindness of her heart?

It looks like her kindness lies entirely in her intentions, not her charity: "We are living on a '50's schedule in a '90's world, and neither the workplace nor government has caught up with the crisis." Maybe this wouldn't have happened if George McGovern had been president, but free-spenders George Bush and Bill Clinton didn't stop the "crisis" either. Grant must be calling for more money from the federal government. Doesn't she know there's a war on?

There are other singers and actors who have pet projects that call for more federal - and no Hollywood - money to be given to every sick kid and cute puppy from Santa Fe to Hartford. Among these is musician Natalie Merchant, who has announced on her website that she is initiating the Humanitarian Reform Movement. It is not hard to guess what this movement aims to do: exactly what it cannot, make people better.

It is unfair to malign a group based on its name and general political philosophy, but that unfairness has never hindered anyone in the media. I will go beyond the leftist flavor of the Merchant message and explain what the movement is.

Ms. Merchant is proud to read The Nation, that 130-year-old bastion of free thought which, incidentally, smeared its own retired editor, the venerable leftist Oswald Garrison Villard, for opposing World War II. Corresponding to her love for this publication, she has set up a special website where young writers at The Nation can display their writings online. (One imagines The Nation is too profit-oriented to put its articles online for free!)

In these articles run the typical gamut of welfare-state advocacy, with this month's focus being on "Children and Welfare Reform." While there is no shame in supporting children and their welfare, government involvement in the lives of children has never been of any use to a free world. Phony claims of abuse by parents, social workers' testing of new ideas on kids, and the padding of Health and Human Services employees' salaries all seem to result from the continued involvement of the State in the lives of children.

The writings on the site claim that by increasing the Head start budget to $3.8 billion and enforcing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights children will be healthier and happier. These conclusions seem to run against the aim of a movement trying to better humanity. How do people benefit from world federalism passed without public debate and stealing more money from parents to go to Head Start? The only thing that would get better should these laws change is government.

It is extremely easy for the famous and wealthy to ask for other people's money to be appropriated for the good of society. It seems that none of the rich and famous, from Ted Turner to George Soros, wants to let anyone attain the wealth that they have. Too many people achieve success only to start using their influence to further cripple the free market and the free society.

Should humanity need reform, it ought to get rid of government rather than let it be manipulated by Natalie Merchant and ten thousand statist maniacs. What kills more people, steals from more people, taxes working moms, puts curfews on kids, and pollutes more than the world's national governments? The idealism of Natalie Merchant would be much more admirable if it avoided being the usual clamor for more transfer of wealth. Wealth creation, after all, is responsible for every improvement in the lives of the poor.

Alas, the wealthy people of the world do not see that they are best at helping themselves with their talents. But, judging from how many times government has capitulated to the demands of celebrities, maybe political activism is what they are best at doing.

Michael R. Allen is the editor-in-chief of the very fine monthly magazine SpinTech.

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