Monday, January 30, 2012

The McMillin Double-Standard

The Huffington Post a few days ago reported on a certain legislative conflict in the Indiana General Assembly. Republican Jud McMillin sponsored a bill to require drug testing of all welfare applicants in the state, leading Democrat Ryan Dvorak to introduce an amendment to levy the same requirement on members of the state legislature. As a result, McMillin temporarily withdrew the bill in order to reword it and try again.

This is a wonderful story, and it illustrates a breaking point I’ve been looking forward to for some time. Society needs to better recognize the responsibilities that holders of government office have to those entitlements that benefit them personally. Anybody who controls access to a good or service for other people should be subject to the most rigorous qualifications for their own access to the same. To structure a system otherwise is to invite conflicts of interest.

It belies his gratitude for the benefits of being on the government payroll if a legislator utilizes his salary, health benefits, and the like, but thinks nothing of limiting unemployment insurance or social security and erecting road blocks to such programs for citizens who rely on government money but can’t take it for granted as a sitting legislator can. It borders on dictatorial if a government official places some sort of burden of proof on his constituents in order that they may access something that he takes casually for himself.

It may seem sensible to place such restrictions on welfare recipients since they do not need to work for their entitlements as legislators have to work for their salaries. But the simple fact is that both groups derive personal benefit from their government, and it is unfairly and irresponsibly presumptuous to expect one and not the other to prove their worthiness, especially when one group is tasked with upholding the very system that feeds them both.

There’s no reason other than pure bigotry to think that poor people are more likely to be on drugs than are those who come from a socio-economic status that puts them close to the halls of power. But even if there was, if drug use ought to bar one’s access to government money, it ought to be a universal standard, and certainly not one from which assemblymen are exempt on the basis that they’re probably not on drugs anyway, so they don’t have to prove it. That would be a shockingly undemocratic double-standard.

If the poor owe it to their country to prove their worthiness for its entitlements, government officials owe it to their country to prove their own worthiness on the basis of the very same standards, and more besides. If your very livelihood is the preservation and improvement of the government that pays your salary and ostensibly serves its constituents’ interests, you should feel the full extent of what that government demands of its citizens. Government servants should never take government for granted, lest they lose sight of what it means to the rest of us.

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