In Alan Colmes’s view, social welfare programs have made America “exceptional.” Nothing could be further from the truth.
Colmes’s preposterous article in The Wall Street Journal Monday, “How Democrats Made America Exceptional,” gave me a momentary flashback. I recalled vividly my days in Denmark as an impoverished university student. One gray winter day, traveling on the train through a snowy landscape, I found that a grubby looking youth had sat down across from me. He announced that he was on his way to the local welfare office to get a new coat. Seeing my rather threadbare winter coat, he generously invited me to come along. “Why don’t you come with me? They might give you a new coat, too.”
Needless to say, I did not accept the welfare seeker’s offer of a government-provided winter coat. Instead, I came to America.
Colmes’s list of programs—FDR’s Works Progress Administration, LBJ’s War on Poverty, and Obamacare—are in no way exceptional; they are simply imitations of the European cradle-to-grave welfare states. Welfare’s European origins go back to 1881, when German Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck instituted the world’s first pay-as-you-go public retirement fund. As demographics have changed and ever smaller working populations have to support ever growing numbers of retirees and unemployed, many of the European welfare states are in the process of fiscal collapse.
The most mind-blowing example of what in Colmes’s mind constitutes American exceptionalism—but what others might call dependency culture—is the food stamp program. Writes Colmes proudly: “The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps, feeds one in seven Americans.” One in seven Americans—more than 10 percent! The cost of the food stamp program has more than quadrupled over the past decade, from $19.8 billion in 2000 to $84.6 billion in 2011.
I did not come here to live off Social Security, collect food stamps, or ask for other government handouts. Like millions of other immigrants, I came here seeking opportunity and freedom, the very ideas that act as a magnet for people all over the world. Granted, welfare also acts as a magnet for some. But I would argue that for most immigrants to the U.S., the allure is the freedom and opportunity to create, to work, to build a life, a business, a future.
Freedom is the true source of American exceptionalism. Furthermore, defending those ideas globally—first against Nazism and later against Communism—is what made the U.S. a world leader in the 20th century—and, hopefully, beyond.