— Bud Norman
— Bud Norman
— Bud Norman
At some point in the last fifty years or so everyone in America seems to have switched sides.
The notion occurred to us during a recent conversation with an old friend about fluoridating the local water supply. Fluoridation of the water supply has lately been a hot topic here in Wichita because this is one of the biggest cities in America that doesn’t do it, and a couple of public advocacy groups have recently launched a well-financed public relations campaign to rectify that oversight. So far as we can tell the pro-fluoridation forces are the usual gang of high-minded public health do-gooders, but we’ve been surprised to notice that most of the opposition to fluoridation, once a cause associated exclusively with far right wackos, seems to be coming from far left wackos such as our friend. We have no strong opinions regarding the issue, and will continue to drink from the taps regardless of the outcome of the debate, but we couldn’t restrain ourselves from teasing our friend about how she’s gone all John Birch Society on us and then taunting her with our best imitation of Sterling Hayden’s “precious bodily fluids” monologue from “Dr. Strangelove.”
Fluoridation is by no means the only issue where the right and left seem to have simultaneously crossed over to a new position. We’re also old enough to remember a time when the defense of Israel was a cause dear only to the hearts of liberals, with Hollywood’s lefties churning out such pro-Israel fare as “Exodus” and “Cast a Giant Shadow,” while conservatives were skeptical of the chances that a Jewish state could ever flourish in the Middle East. The young lefties of our acquaintance are largely unaware that this was ever the case, and indeed most have been surprised to learn that a liberal icon such as Robert Kennedy was killed by a Palestinian assassin because of his staunch support of Israel, while even the rare young conservative typically assumes that his side has been supporting Israel all along.
The liberal enthusiasm for Israel seems to have begun to wane around the same time that nation realized its survival depended on the sort of high-tech military that only a modern and capitalist economy can sustain, and gave up its fantasy of an agrarian socialist kibbutz society. We also suspect that one casualty of the war of ’67 was Israel’s status as an underdog, and that ever since the bomb-throwing Palestinians have had a more compelling claim to the all-important status of victim. The growing conservative support for Israel is likely a consequence of the Catholic Church’s sincere efforts to atone for its past anti-Semitism and the evangelicals’ increasing philo-Semitism, both positive developments as far as we’re concerned, as well as the common sense observation that Judaism is by no means the most troublesome of the religions that have come out of the Middle East.
Anyone old enough to have witnessed the hippie era will recall the left’s former aversion to law enforcement, better known by such slang as “pigs” and “the fuzz,” and will therefore be surprised to note that it is now conservative organizations that most outspokenly oppose “no knock raids” and efforts to outlaw self-defense against rogue police officers. Free speech was once a rallying cry of the left, which now spends its energy crafting campus speech codes and efforts to outlaw anything that might be construed as hateful, but the now the First Amendment absolutists are found almost exclusively on the right. The “individual mandate” requirement that Americans purchase health insurance originated in such conservative think tanks as The Heritage Foundation but become a conviction of the left, which has lately stopped trying to argue that the uninsured are hapless victims and has reverted to the conservative’s more persuasive argument that the uninsured are lazy freeloaders, while conservatives have now adopted the view that they simply want to be left alone to deal with the consequences of their own decisions.
Even such fundamental concepts as individualism and the common good seem to have found new homes along the ideological spectrum. The counter-cultural left once preached the gospel of doing one’s own thing and rebelling against the stifling conformity of conventional wisdom, but now it cheers on a president who explicitly argues that the credit for an individual’s success belong entirely to the collective and that the fruits of that success belong mostly to his government, while the right is waving Gadsden flags and arguing for the primacy of the individual no matter how crude he might seem to respectable opinion.
Such shifts can be expected every time there is a change of party in the White House and Congress, of course. The liberals who were once so ashamed by a war in Afghanistan, a detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, and drone strikes in Pakistan are now predictably silent about the same moral offenses, while conservatives remain ideologically consistent but not nearly so proud and enthusiastic as they were during a previous administration. The legal validity of executive privilege has similarly changed with a change of party in the White House. Since Obama’s inauguration we have noticed that the “Question Authority” bumper stickers have disappeared from the Volvos and VWs and started to appear on pickups.
Such inconsistencies are a normal and thus far tolerable feature of democracy, but the recent realignments seem to represent a more permanent tectonic shift in the cultural and political landscape of the country. The “long march through the institutions” that ‘60s radical Antonio Gramsci envisioned to take control of academia, the entertainment media, seminaries, and other key opinion-making institutions has largely succeeded, and the liberals are obliged to defend it no matter the consequences. Liberals are also in the position of defending the political structures that have been erected since the New Deal, no matter the unsustainable costs of their entitlements, and the unionized police forces seem willing to help in the cause.
— Bud Norman
The crucial chore of eliminating Obamacare, and preserving our rights as free men and women, is up to the people now. In a better world the Constitution would protect us from such outrageous expansions of governmental power, but not in this one. Not after the Supreme Court’s ruling on Thursday that the deceptively named Affordable Care Act, better known to the public as Obamacare, is constitutional.
The majority decision for the surprise ruling argues that the act’s “individual mandate” — the requirement that citizens purchase government-approved health insurance or pay a fine — is tantamount to a tax, and is therefore valid because the Constitution grants government the power of taxation. Some conservatives have concluded that the court has given hope for future decisions limiting government power by offering such a circuitous rationale, rather than allowing the law to stand based on a more permissive interpretation of the commerce clause, and one can hope they are right, but future decisions that allow such expansions of government authority on the basis of the power to tax will still be allowing unrestricted government. Nor does the argument change the fact that the immediate consequence of the decision is that the government is allowed to restrict the rights of its citizens in ways that are certain to make the health care system more expensive and less effective.
Defining the individual mandate as a tax does offer one consolation, though, as it should offer much help in the political effort to repeal the disastrous the health care reform law. Obama won election on an oft-repeated promise that no one making less than $250,000 a year would see any new taxes or tax increases, and had famously argued with a television interviewer that the individual mandate did not violate his pledge because it is not a tax, but he now has to run for re-election with his name attached to an historically large tax increase that falls mostly on the middle class or concede that the bill is only constitutional by virtue of a fallacious argument.
The ruling also pushes Obama’s consistently unpopular signature achievement back into the political debate, with a timely reminder of its many faults. Anger toward the bill was a major reason that the Democrats suffered huge losses in the 2010 mid-term elections, and since that time the Congressional Budget Office has found it to be vastly more expensive than previously supposed, its CLASS program for assisted living has been scrapped because of the very reasons its critics had predicted, and insurance costs have steadily risen, so the issue could prove even more effective this time around.
While it would have been a good thing for the Court to establish a firm legal principle that the government cannot compel Americans to purchase products or services against their will, establishing the same rule at the ballot box might be even more effective. The judgment of the people has always settled issues more permanently than the opinions of five Justices, as the ongoing battles over the 39-year-old Roe v. Wade decision demonstrates, and it is possible that it might settle this one correctly.
— Bud Norman