Is Your Ox Getting Gored?

Posted on July 6, 2017


Not too long ago I was chatting with Kip Tyner, the Tuscaloosa city councilman. Kip’s ox had just been gored by the proposed new Trump federal budget which was going to eliminate many Amtrak lines, including all of them running through Alabama and much of the Deep South.

Part of Kip’s plan for rebuilding his district of greater Alberta from the tornado of 2011 is to encourage new initiatives and infrastructure to develop the area. This includes building a new railroad station to replace the old Norfolk Southern Railway one downtown. If Amtrak service is eliminated in Alabama, so is the need for a railroad station, a key element in the improvements economically that Kip wants for his district, and for the city in general. His ox got gored.

The old saying means generally that any given event will be seen differently depending on the degree to which the viewer’s self-interest is involved. So, from the Trump administration’s point of view, Amtrak is just one of many government expenditures that must be cut to rein in swelling government debt.

In my own field, the American Historical Association wants historians to join hands to stop the elimination or dramatic reduction in government subventions to entities such as the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Recently, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee made an impassioned plea to keep the National Endowment for the Arts intact. It was a plea that bears consideration since I think Huckabee is a sensible, high principled man. One of his oxen was getting gored. So, Kip and Mike share the same role as potential victims of the massive cost cutting now being floated in a trial balloon by the Trump administration.

The question then becomes: What to save and what to cut? And a secondary question, although equally important: How dependent have we become on the government for what we used to be responsible for as individuals and families?

I heard one woman congressman say the government shouldn’t be involved at all in, for example, providing health care for everyone. It is a personal responsibility, not a right.

The Constitution, indeed, doesn’t mention government health care, even obliquely or indirectly, and if you had James Madison and Thomas Jefferson to interview, they would probably wonder what was the question?

But we don’t live in the late 18th century. We eliminated slavery in the 19th century, women were given the right to vote in the early 20th century, we junked segregation in the mid-20th century, and much has been achieved in the name of equality, one of the great principles underlying our Constitution.

Let me personalize it a bit. I like my Social Security check, which I receive monthly from the government. My Social Security, however, is not an entitlement. I paid into the fund all my working life and am just getting my money back, just like my retirement check from the state. It is not a gift, but is returning to me on my investment in their fund for 40 years of teaching at the University of Alabama.

I know the reality is that the Social Security fund has been plundered systematically over the past half-century by government legislators who found it an easy cash cow to exploit. My Social Security check is probably coming directly from my children’s contributions to the program today. What they will receive when retiring is anyone’s guess. But the theory is that I am simply drawing on what I invested.

It gets even more complicated. I benefit from my government in too many ways to mention in a brief op-ed. Certainly, the military protects me, but I did my time in the Navy and feel that was kind of my payment into that fund.

I also continue to pay taxes, and my government helps us all indirectly in places like education, infrastructure (think airports for example), and hundreds of other ways, from feeding poor children in the Black Belt to subsidizing high level medical research at a place like the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

However, we have not abdicated nor abandoned our duty to take personal responsibility for ourselves and our families. There are three sources to your life.

One is God. He made you.

The second is yourself. Try 2 Thessalonians 3:10.

And the third is looking beyond yourself to take care of others, both spiritually and physically. Or, be selfless, not selfish.

Put these in order, and then we see about our poor oxen and how to take care of them.

Published in The Tuscaloosa News Sunday April 16, 2017, as We Should Look Beyond Self-Interest, Government

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