- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 7, 2004

The latest weapons in President Bush’s campaign arsenal are his daughters, Barbara and Jenna. The twins made their political debut in this month’s Vogue and will soon begin touring the country to ask young people — particularly young women — to vote for their father.

Yet it’s going to take more than a pitch by the trendy first daughters to win over America’s coeds. To earn young women’s votes, Barbara and Jenna must remind them of the meaning of independence. That’s the first step in drawing women into the conservative fold.

For many young women, this message will contradict years of misinformation. Contemporary American colleges, for example, specialize in convincing women they are victims who need government — and Democrats — to champion their interests. Popular women’s magazines’ promote a thoughtless feminism equating liberation with sexual promiscuity.

But true independence requires both freedom and responsibility. Freedom means the right to make one’s own decisions, without interference from fellow citizens or the government. Passing on the costs and consequences of those decisions to taxpayers isn’t independence; it’s irresponsibility.

Unfortunately, young people rarely make the mental connection between “government” and “taxpayers.” They instead see the state as an entity with separate and unlimited resources available for any worthy cause. They applaud members of Congress for the “courage” to throw billions of dollars at society’s myriad problems.

Barbara and Jenna have a tall order: Helping students realize government isn’t just for the people, it is the people. Any money taken by Washington comes directly from taxpayers. Those lawmakers are being “charitable” on someone else dime.

It sounds selfish to many college students — especially those who don’t work — to complain about high taxes. Yet tax policy isn’t just about a few extra dollars in your take-home pay; it’s a debate about who controls your life — you or the government.

As government grows, the sphere of individual freedom shrinks. Government controls more resources, leaving families with less to use on their own. High taxes also affect behavior. This is particularly true for women. Married women face disproportionately high marginal tax rates since the first dollar they earn is taxed at their husbands’ rate. These high taxes discourage some women from going to work, leaving them less prepared to cope with divorce or the death of their spouse. At the same time, high taxes force other women who prefer to stay home with children into the workplace to help pay the bills.

Of course, liberal politicians offer a host of government initiatives designed to ease the burden on women, from government-provided health care and day-care services to rules forcing employers to provide paid leave and higher wages.

Yet these policies have unintended consequences harmful to women. Free federal child care would crowd out private providers and may leave women with fewer child-care options. Expensive mandates on employers make hiring more expensive and job opportunities scarcer.

Young women should also question a big-government agenda that presumes they are helpless. As any womens’ studies 101 student knows, throughout much of history, society wrongly assumed women were incapable of providing for themselves. Fathers owned their daughters until they married, at which time the woman became her husband’s charge. Early feminists fought this notion and for the right for women to live and compete on their own.

Today, feminist organizations and liberal politicians promote a new kind of dependence for women. Instead of husbands and fathers, they want Uncle Sam to be the man in our lives. It’s far cry from true liberation.

Jenna and Barbara need to remind young women: Dependence on government is not independence.

There is an old adage, “If you’re not a liberal at 20, you don’t have a heart — and if you’re not a conservative by 40, you don’t have a brain.” If today’s 20-somethings use both their hearts and their heads, they will support limited government sooner rather than later.

CARRIE LUKAS

Ms. Lukas is director of policy at the Independent Women’s Forum.

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