‘Social engineering’ makes a comeback

‘SOCIAL ENGINEERING’ MAKES A COMEBACK…. We don’t hear it too much anymore, but for many years, the scourge of “social engineering” was a favorite Republican talking point.

In 1993, for example, then-Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) condemned the Clinton White House in a Washington Post op-ed, accusing the Democratic administration of trying to interfere with “the traditional family.” Hyde called this “exotic social engineering.” In 2000, Dick Cheney said the Gore/Lieberman tax-cut plan “would serve as a form of social engineering.”

And in an apparent attempt to give the talking point a new boost, here was Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) on ABC’s “Good Morning America” the other day:

“The tax code is used by government as social engineering. I spent years [as an attorney] in the United States federal tax court seeing the difficult burden of the tax code in people’s lives and I think the federal government should really stop social engineering.”

The context for this, oddly enough, was part of Bachmann’s argument to eliminate the tax deduction for families that buy breast pumps and related supplies. Why Bachmann finds this offensive is a mystery.

But putting these details aside, it’s worth appreciating the fact that the tax code engages in “social engineering” all the time, and always has.

As Jay Newton-Small explained, “I have to wonder what other pieces of ‘social engineering’ of the tax code Bachmann opposes. The mortgage interest deduction that subsidizes home ownership? The dependent care credit that helps working parents pay for child care? Or the exclusion for combat soldiers, which gives soldiers putting themselves in harm’s way a break on income tax? What about the suspension of the marriage penalty or the child credit?”

Bachmann may not see any of these provisions as “social engineering,” but that’s only because she’s easily confused.

In the abstract, the right is offended by the idea of using the power of the state to alter how people can and will behave. It’s supposed to be anathema for anyone who values “limited” government.

But the reason the talking point started fading away in the first place is that Republicans in recent years have grown to love “social engineering,” and not just in the tax code. We’re talking about a party that wants to use the law to shape marriages, dictate private citizens’ reproductive decisions, and embraces concepts like the faith-based initiative, fatherhood initiative, and abstinence-only programs.

If Bachman is serious about “stopping social engineering,” she not only has a lot of work to do, she will have to combat proposals from her own party.