Big government and slippery slopes
Recently the argument drifted toward smoking bans in restaurants and the dangers of second hand smoke. Proponents of big government are pushing for broader legislation banning various activities in private enterprises, namely, smoking in restaurants and bowling alleys. When first discussed, and as presented Monday night, the ban was to exclude bars and bowling alleys, but no such exclusion exists in this Wayne County iteration.
The strongest argument made by these big government types is that waitstaff workers are exposed to dangerous carcinogens from second-hand smoke and their only protection is to ban smoking in their workplace. However, coal mines, steel mills and chemical plants likewise all expose workers to potentially noxious fumes. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration actually has fairly rigorous statutes regarding which airborne chemicals pose health hazards to workers, with various facemask and air-exchangers available for those workers. If a hazardous chemical from cigarette smoke can be identified, then I am sure our free market system will also provide a mask that will protect workers from it.
“Who is in a better position to determine what restaurant patrons actually want?" asks Tim O’Brien, executive director of the Michigan Libertarian Party. "We used to have a couple of powerful institutions in this country called 'private property' and 'the free market.' When you respect those concepts you have a society based on voluntary relationships rather than political muscle. Then you don't have to try and guess what people want -- in order to impose it on them. People vote with their money. If you leave the market free to meet the wishes of consumers, it will do just that. Some restaurants will cater to smokers. Some to nonsmokers. Some to those who don't care one way or the other. Instead of imposing a single standard which must necessarily exclude wishes of some, all preferences can thus be accommodated. And not only will the market show what people want, it will even tell you in exactly what proportion because its natural selection process will replace businesses that do not satisfy the wishes of their customers with ones that do.” For that matter, if restaurant owners want to allow mace and pepper spray, I say go for it, as long as the workers are provided face masks.
Current topics as wide ranging as the Terri Schiavo case and Ten Commandments display bring up interesting corollaries to the big government bullying that we see prevalent today. The tyranny of the majority not only tramples on restaurant owners, but also on the brain-dead. We have blurred the concepts of public and private and now the tyrannical majority, when they fail to win a court interpretation of current law, they scamper down the slippery slope and make new laws that further their various causes, only to be found (thankfully) unconstitutional. In the Federalist Papers, Publius warns that good leaders must ignore bad fads and the citizenry must not be taken in by “the wiles of parasites and sycophants, by the snares of the avaricious, the deperate, by the artifices of men possessing more confidence than they deserve…” (Federalist 71:2). Publius agrees that the people commonly intend to do good with their laws, even when they err; but deceptive legislators may be different. The judicial and executive branches are designed to protect the minority from the wiles and errors of the majority, however, that does not negate the importance of citizens being ever vigilant for bad laws and self-promoting leaders.
While Terri Schiavo may seem far afield from local smoking bans, the case points out the propensity for “avaricious” legislators to inflict their will upon any issue whatsoever. Even assuming the best of intentions of Mr Delay and Dr Frist, the idea of the federal legislature successfully intervening on a local judicial case is unprecedented. What have the Florida courts been doing the past 15 years in regards to Schiavo? They have been deliberating the issues as they pertain to the best interests of Terri Schiavo, and have tried to ascertain what she would have chosen in this sorry circumstance. The courts have interviewed her physicians, family, friends and co-workers, and have judged that 1) she is in a persistent vegetative state and 2) she had stated on multiple occasions that she wished not to continue living in such a state. After years of careful thought and deliberation, the Florida courts have decided to order the withdrawal the extraordinary means of survival for Terri Schiavo—not because it is popular, nor because the majority want it. The judicial order came because, to the best of their ability, the Florida judges have determined that it is in Terri Schiavo’s best interest.
Enter the bungling Republicans, whose ideas of big government intervention show no limit. Senator Frist, a licensed physician, said that by looking at an undated video of Terri Schiavo, he determined that she was not in a persistent vegetative state. Whoa! Wait a minute! In a recent Boston Globe opinion, Leonard Glantz, a Boston University Public Health professor noted, “Frist's long-distance diagnosis clearly deviates from anything resembling good medical practice. It is nothing short of remarkable that this surgeon, who has never been in the same room with Schiavo, feels free to disregard the diagnosis of the neurologists who have had extensive contact with her and who have been subject to the scrutiny of the Florida courts.” Dr Frist seems to be a man “possessing more confidence than he deserves” just as Publius has warned us two and a half centuries ago. I have always given broad latitude to Frist over the years; perhaps because we are brethren within the same profession. But what does such wild conjecture on his part tell us of his skills at decision-making?
Terri Schiavo’s parents are empathic, loving people who deserve our compassion. Their daughter has been rendered brain-dead and their personal lives have unnecessarily been put on public display for over a decade. Perhaps coming to terms with their daughter’s dire predicament, as well as her wishes would serve them in a positive way. I find it hard to imagine a thoughtful and compassionate physician (or any physician, or any person for that matter) making flagrantly irresponsible statements such as those by Frist, and as part of the public record of the US Senate no less! Alas, Dr Frist has done a great disservice to the portrayal of a medical professional as legislator. I cannot know the intentions of gentlemen such as Delay and Frist, but if their purpose-- whether implicit or explicit-- is to further their political careers at the expense of the Schiavo family, then I would think that we have discovered a new form of evil. And quite frankly, I see no other motive for their legal maneuvers.
The Ten Commandments display is yet another example of the majority enlarging government and attempting to inflict its will on the minority. The Alabama case has been settled, and Judge Roy Moore has been removed from office for refusing to remove a religious display, but the “parasites and sycophants” continue to display the Decalogue in order to promote their own legislative careers. Michigan State Senator Jack Hoogendyk (R-Kalamazoo) has made the display his personal project, and is promoting the presence of a Ten Commandments display in public buildings. Why? What could be the purpose of such efforts, except for the demagogic appeal to his constituents? The current strategy is to marginally change the display—call it “historical”—thereby quieting the critics. (Never mind that the Ten Commandments have nothing to do with US or Michigan history.) Why does the state government need historical displays about religion? Why should my public buildings be cluttered with irrelevant pseudo-historical chachkas? Again, the big government legislators take another opportunity to enlarge government for suspect reasons. In Hoogendyk’s case, he cannot even make the feeble claim of promoting public health that smoking ban proponents claim; nor can he claim to follow Dr Frist’s (albeit faulty) logic about the best interests of a private citizen. No, Senator Hoogendyk’s demagoguery is pure and unadulterated and devoid of any claim to propriety or sanity.
Perhaps it is time for Republicans to seriously re-think the foundations on which conservative government is founded. To paraphrase Dr. Glantz, these people are not conservative; they are radicals who eagerly ignore the rights and wishes of others. These three cases exhibit the willingness to pander to the emotions and muddled thinking of the political base, when common sense and a cursory review of the US Constitution would indicate that such legislative shenanigans have no other purpose. The current Republican majority clogs our legislative chambers with moronic arguments—and for what? To pass unconstitutional laws that gain them political favor by attempting to limit the rights of private citizens such as bar owners, the brain-dead, or the religiously indifferent? We have already skidded down the slippery slope; can the avalanche be far behind?