Right Wing Nut House



Filed under: Government, Politics — Rick Moran @ 10:29 am

It is an article of faith among most conservatives that the growth of government under the presidency of Barack Obama has resulted in a loss of individual liberty. This is an extremely serious criticism of any president and the manner in which the charge is so casually tossed about by my friends on the right makes me uneasy. A deeper examination of the subject is necessary in order to ascertain the truth of the criticism as well as catalog any specific freedoms, or rights, we have lost - if any.

Let’s start with the obvious; the Bill of Rights. As far as freedom of expression, I can report that I still publish exactly what I want, when I want, without so much as a by your leave from government. It’s true that the DISCLOSE Act will curtail free speech for corporations. But let’s stick to individual liberties because that seems to be the nub of the matter for tea partiers and conservatives. Being an atheist, I am free to practice no religion at all, or if a sudden conversion were to occur, I could go back to being a Druid. The tea partiers mass in the thousands so it would seem that freedom of assembly is still intact. And have you counted how many lobbyists are in Washington? The right of redress is alive and well, thank you.

Gun rights (2nd amendment) have expanded substantially (no thanks to Obama). I haven’t been ordered to put up any troops (3rd amendment). I have not personally been subject to unreasonable search and seizure (4th amendment), although that particular right has been eroding long before Obama came to office. Since I haven’t committed any crimes, I haven’t had my 5th amendment rights tested. Ditto the 6th and 7th amendments. And aside from Zsu-Zsu making me watch Dancing with the Stars, I have not been subjected to any cruel or unusual punishment (8th amendment).

The 9th and 10th amendments deal with federalism. It is here that Obama has transgressed against the Constitution most egregiously, although as far as personal liberty is concerned, it is difficult to connect the president’s federal overreach with individual rights being violated. Our collective rights as citizens might be at risk but what president in the last 50 years hasn’t claimed powers “reserved to the States respectively, or to the people?” True, Obama may be the presidential Gold Medalist when it comes to trashing the 10th amendment. But how does that translate into a loss of personal liberty?

It seems clear to me, that as far as our personal, constitutionally guaranteed liberty is concerned, Obama has done very little to attack our rights head on. But there is more to American freedom than those liberties codified in the Bill of Rights. And it is here that the president and the Democrats have done the most damage. I am talking about the limiting of choices in the economic sphere and our personal lives that threatens to undermine the foundations of freedom in America expressed in the clear intent of the framers 222 years ago.

These freedoms are not necessarily written down in the Constitution, but rather form the intent of the framers as far as their effort to define a free society. Ask yourself if losing the freedom of choice to carry health insurance is a loss of personal freedom? It may be stupid, but it is clearly a personal matter where government - at least no government that purports to represent a free people - has any business dictating to the people what or how they should spend their money.

It may be that you can’t afford insurance, or that a pre-existing medical condition makes you too big of a risk for an insurance company to carry you. Some on the right argue otherwise, but subsidizing people who want to buy insurance and covering others who are refused is a legitimate function of the national government in this, the early 21st century. (Fixing the reasons for why insurance is so expensive would mean eliminating most government intervention in the health insurance field - a politically impossible goal at this point.)

In this case, it is government dictating a choice that is an attack on personal liberty. It is possible that the Supreme Court will see it that way, in which case Obamacare will die because there would be no way to pay for it. Indeed, the administration is now arguing that the mandate is a “tax,” which reveals the true reason for it in the first place; they need everyone signed up on the dotted line in order for the plan to work. They can claim it’s in my best interest to have insurance, or that it is in the best interest of America (a dubious and unprovable argument) until they are blue in the face but they can’t get around the fact that a personal insurance mandate represents a loss of personal freedom. They may even make the argument that this loss of freedom is a necessary trade-off in order to relieve suffering or give other Americans peace of mind. Is that a legitimate argument?

We have made trade offs of this nature before. When states refused to grant equal rights to its citizens, the federal government took it upon itself to intrude on previously sacrosanct ground - local elections - in order to insure equality before the law. In this respect, the ability of government to reach down and interfere in matters that had never been contemplated previously resulted in a growth in federal power with unintended consequences we are still trying to deal with today. Few would argue that this growth in the size and scope of government was unnecessary. But did expanding freedom for some limit freedom for others?

The answer is yes. But when that freedom was abused to oppress others, the government had a moral duty to intervene. In this, the vast majority of Americans now agree, and in this case, the massive increase in the size of government engendered by the necessity to enforce civil rights laws appears to have been a positive good.

(What has happened to civil rights law subsequent to the 1960’s is another article altogether, and a good argument can be made that even here, the good inherent in enforcing equality has been used as an excuse to expand the size and scope of government unnecessarily with a consequent loss of individual liberty.)

But beyond national health care, just where have Obama and the Democrats limited choices? Their proposed financial regulation overhaul will limit choices for those of us who hold stock, mutual funds, mortgages, credit cards, and other financial instruments. But that bill has not been passed yet and it is not clear what will be in the final package. The assault on businesses that Democrats don’t care for might be construed, in a roundabout way, of limiting consumer choices, but that may be something of a stretch. The takeovers of banks, auto companies, and others limits economic freedom but how relevant is it to you and I? Are you planning to start a Fortune 500 oil company or bank anytime soon?

The courts are doing their part to limit our freedom but the current make up of the Supreme Court is a 5-4 conservative majority. So why the anger? Why the fear that the Democrats are “taking away” our freedoms?

More than what Obama and the Democrats have done specifically, there is a feeling, grounded in reality, that the federal government is closing in - that all of these takeovers, power grabs, thumbing of the nose at the 10th amendment, and crony capitalism has resulted in the palpable feeling of a boa constrictor tightening its coils around the throat of individual Americans. It is the rapidity of growth that the behemoth is enjoying under this administration and Congress that has most Americans worried and some conservatives consumed with fear about the future.

Growth of government does not necessarily translate directly into a loss of freedom. There is a difference between scale and scope and this distinction is made by Robert Higgs in his masterful Crisis and Leviathan.

The real damage to freedom comes not necessarily from government growing bigger but rather from Big Government. The former is about scale, the latter about scope. So much of the Tea Party talk seems to be about scale: how much government spends, taxes, and borrows. Little of it has been about scope: the powers that government has to interfere with the rights of individuals.

Even most on the left would have to agree that while big government is not, in and of itself, a threat to personal liberty, it becomes one when it gathers unto itself powers and responsibilities best left to individuals or the several states. The left is big on “trade off” scenarios where we lose a little personal freedom so that “social justice” is served, or some nebulous social progress yardstick is achieved. That’s no way to run a free society - as any of the Founders could have told them.

In summary, I don’t think there’s any doubt that, fueled by hysterical jack asses on talk radio, many on the right have turned into 13-year old drama queens when it comes to their portentous declamations about Obama stealing our liberties, or the Democrats deliberately destroying America. The reality is bad enough without exaggerating. What the Democrats have tried to do to this point has been to put themselves in charge of parts of the economy - a loss of collective liberty to be sure with the potential, as in Obamacare, to detrimentally impact our personal freedoms.

Toying with our freedoms as the Democrats are doing is irresponsible governance. But then, what else do you expect from people who have eschewed prudence and enacted legislation that no one knows yet how it will impact our personal liberties?

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