Tom Hawking takes political satirist Bill Maher to task for not making transgender rights a top priority in the current election year. In so doing, he asks a pointed question:
“If the left isn’t standing up for the rights of the marginalized and disenfranchised, then what is it doing? Why does it even exist?”
The answer is, the left exists to spend most of its time standing up for the rights of those who do not live on the margins of society and those who are enfranchised. Contrary to Mr. Hawking’s belief, the “entire purpose” of the left is not to represent the disesteemed and disenfranchised, but to represent the views of all those, rich or poor, who believe that a centralized government is the best agency through which to distribute the goods and services–the economic wealth–of a nation.
The right believes that private enterprise is the best agency through which to distribute a nation’s wealth, but it doesn’t believe that its “entire purpose” is to stand up for the marginalized and disenfranchised, either. They believe that most of their time ought to be spent finding ways for most of the people to help themselves, and that government exists to do for people the things people cannot do individually–build roads, schools, industrial projects, and the like. Although Samuel Johnson was wise in saying that a country may be judged by how it treats its poor*, he did not place the treatment of the marginalized at the center of governmental activity.
Even if we had near-unanimity on the question of how to spend the economic and human capital available to us in this country, we would still have to prioritize the expenditure of our time and resources. In that event, the marginalized are always going to be down toward the bottom of the government’s list of things to do, no matter if the left or the right is in control at the moment.
At first, I thought Hawking’s position was just an expression of a kind of naivete but, no, his view probably springs from another source: the day-after-day image making of the left-of-center mainstream media, which has routinely covered the issues of the marginalized group of the month–gays, the disabled, the drug-addicted, the poor, the immigrant–since the current leftward swing of the federal government in 1992, all the while insisting that we make the concerns of that particular group a top priority. If this is the case, then it’s not surprising that, given twenty years of televised protests, court cases, and political speeches, someone like Hawking could actually grow up believing that the sole purpose of government is to represent the powerless. But that is not the sole purpose of government.
Government has many purposes, the primary of which is to prioritize the multitude of activities and expenditures to which it must attend. The exercise of that power is a function of majoritarian rule, a process that is carried on in this country all the time, even if both political parties (especially the Democrats) still like to create the impression that they care intensely about the poor and downtrodden.
Clearly, transgender rights are a core political issue for Mr. Hawking, but his claim that the political left is cowardly or hypocritical for not giving those rights as high a priority as he does obscures the real, everyday purposes of both the left and the right: to offer us different visions, not of people, but of how those people may be best governed.
[*Many have said this, in more or less the same words: Go here and scroll down for a smattering of quotations. The exact Samuel Johnson statement (which I had misattributed to Ben Franklin) is, “A decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization.”]