The Reliable Persons Union

By | February 4, 2013 | 0 Comments

Something odd happened when I was born. Without telling me, my parents enrolled me in the Reliable Persons Union.
As a child I was expected to put my toys away. I didn’t always do it, but when I didn’t I heard about it. At school I was expected to turn in my assignments promptly. As a Boy Scout I carried my pocketknife to school, but nobody complained because I was expected to act responsibly. I was taught to have self-esteem for what I actually accomplished, not for merely breathing.
When I was young, everyone was expected to act this way. Those who failed to do so were punished by a variety of social and legal sanctions, ranging from loss of friends to fines and imprisonment. Slowly the legal sanctions weakened, and the social sanctions all but vanished. We have almost reached the point that positive behavior is more likely to be punished, and negative behavior is more likely to be rewarded.
● As a driver, I renew my license by paying a fee and taking a test. I buy insurance, which costs more because of uninsured drivers and phony claims. I pass smog checks, which grow increasingly expensive and strict. When I get traffic tickets, I pay the fines.
Some time ago, I was rear-ended while stopped for a fire truck – hard enough to dent my gas tank. The other driver spoke no English and had a counterfeit license with a phony name and address, and plates from a wrecked car. He vanished as completely as the Invisible Man, leaving me with the $500 deductible and my insurance company with the rest of the repair bill.
The other driver doesn’t have to go through the trouble and expense of renewing his driver’s license and car registration, buying insurance, or getting smog checks. If an officer gives him a citation, he can throw it away. Where are his incentives to obey the law and act responsibly? The incentives are all in the opposite direction.
● The house next door was being renovated. The contractor appeared every Friday afternoon and paid the workers in cash. Often my driveway was blocked by trucks, and complaints accomplished nothing. I got my camera and walked across the street to take a photo of my blocked driveway. As I peered into the viewfinder, I sensed that something had changed. Then I realized what it was – the hammering stopped, and the workmen vanished into the house. I reentered my house, and soon the hammering resumed. Apparently most of the workers were illegal immigrants who thought I was going to show the photo to an immigration agent rather than a parking officer.
But when we need work done on our home, we hire a reputable contractor who uses legal workers and pays withholding tax, Social Security, disability insurance, and workers’ compensation. His work may or may not be better, but he surely charges more. The benefits of playing by the rules are questionable, but the costs are undeniable.
● This phenomenon extends to politics. Remember when George Bush the elder said, “Read my lips, no new taxes,” then signed a tax increase? He was defeated for reelection. But Bill Clinton promised a tax cut, then signed an increase. He was reelected handily. Bush was a decorated naval aviator who had barely survived being shot down over the Pacific in World War II. Clearly he was a member of the Reliable Persons Union and was expected to keep his word. Clinton had avoided military service and was not a Union member. People sensed that he wasn’t serious about what he said.
Similarly, Clinton often had himself photographed leaving church on Sunday with a large Bible in his hand. But when the Monica scandal broke, most people were saddened but not surprised. On the contrary, when a conservative falls short, as we all do, the media castigate him as a hypocrite. It’s a matter of expectations.
● When President Roosevelt promised civil-rights laws, segregationist senators continued to support him. But when President Truman promised the same thing, they left the Democratic Party. When asked why, one replied, “Truman really means it.” They saw that Truman was a member of the Reliable Persons Union.
● If I am president, I know that I represent my country, not my party or my own agenda. I do not begin my presidency by going to other countries and apologizing for my country’s supposed misdeeds. I want to encourage our friends and discourage our enemies – not vice versa. This is true whether my name is Obama or O’Bannon.
● If I am a U.S. senator, I do not go on Al Jazeera and agree that America is the “world’s bully.” I do not blame the “Jewish lobby” for intimidating Congress into doing “dumb” things, and then be unable to name one “dumb” thing. I am constantly aware of the responsibilities of my office. This is true whether my name is Hegel or Bagel.
● Where money is concerned, we all accept the concept of a bank account. If I make large deposits, I can write large checks. Yet when it comes to personal honor and credibility, we often use an opposite approach. If a man is seen as a womanizer who says one thing and does another, we tend to say, “Oh, that’s just Bill Clinton,” and fob off his misdeeds as amusing foibles. If a man is seen as of limited intelligence but unlimited verbosity, we tend to say, “There goes old Chuck Hegel again,” or “That’s just Slow Joe Biden being himself,” and laugh off unacceptable remarks as mere blather.
But if a man has led an exemplary life, he is granted Union membership. Now expectations are higher, while each imperfection is seen as a major failing. Rather than having built up a large account by his service, he is seen as having obligated himself to a higher standard. In effect, his large deposits reduced his bank balance.
To a degree this is understandable. We have a right to expect a high standard of behavior from the clergy. And if this trust is betrayed, we have a right to be angry. But if this mode of thinking is carried too far, it becomes destructive. Why should anyone sacrifice for his country, if the result is that even more sacrifice is demanded? And why should anyone be scrupulous in telling the truth, if the result is that an even stricter standard is applied to what he says in the future?
We hope that employees will expose corporate misdeeds, that doctors will protest when bureaucrats skimp on care, and – at the very least – that drivers will carry valid identification. After all, that identification is used to get onto airliners. But hope is not a policy. When we remove the rewards for taking responsibility, and we remove the punishments for shirking it, do we stop to consider what kind of nation will result?
As older members of the Reliable Persons Union die off, what will happen if fewer young members join? How long will it be before the Union ceases to function? If everyone is out ripping off his neighbor, who will mind the store?
But don’t despair. Young members are still joining the Union daily. If you doubt this, look at our armed forces, our police, and our fire and emergency medical services. The Reliable Persons Union may be unfashionable and politically incorrect among the media and liberal “elites,” but it is still going strong in some segments of society – the ones we depend on for our survival. For that we can be truly grateful.

R.I.P. former SEAL Chief Chris Kyle. You gained fame as our top sniper and lost your life trying to help a fellow veteran. You left us far too soon, but you surely are a member of the Reliable Persons Union.

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