Lobbying for Freedom in the 1980’s: A Grass-Roots Guide to Protecting Your Rights; Edited by Kenneth P. Norwick; Wideview/Perigee; New York.
Susan J. Tolchin and Martin Tolchin: Dismantling America: The Rush to Deregulate; Houghton Mifflin; Boston.
What is freedom? To the ancient Greeks, freedom existed in the margins: it was that vacuum of authority between the just demands of religion and culture and the rational requirements of the State. Medieval thought, via Aquinas and Bonaventura, concurred in this assessment. It was only with the development of the English Enlightenment that, in Western thought, this world view changed. To John Locke and his peers, freedom was God’s gift to mankind, a natural right bestowed by a gracious Creator. Consequently, governments that unduly restricted freedom opposed both Divine Will and choice. As Spinoza put it, “Not only can freedom be granted without prejudice to the public peace, but also, without such freedom, piety cannot flourish nor the public peace be secure.” It was this understanding of man’s relation to his universe that informed the thinking of Washington and Jefferson, and led to the creation of the American Republic.
For important segments of the public, the traditional concept of freedom has been translated into something quite different from what the Founding Fathers understood. In particular, the so called “new class,” those scions of the prosperous 1950’s, has taken the values of “liberty” and made of them something uniquely its own. In Lobbying for Freedom and Dismantling America, these qualities are exhibited as what they really are. Lobbying for Freedom is largely a project of a variety of associates of the American Civil Liberties Union. Author-editor Norwick, for example, served as legislative director of the ACLU’s New York branch, where, no doubt, he put his impressive knowledge of how the legislative process really works to counterproductive uses. In Lobbying Norwick’s central concern is the preservation of “individual rights,” i.e., the right to abortion, the right to hawk pornography, the right to impose one’s homosexuality on others, the right to ingest hazardous drugs, and so on. Individual rights such as, say, gun ownership or opening a Christian school, are not mentioned. It’s no coincidence.
Throughout the volume, Norwick and those who’ve authored his various chapters on “rights” sing the praises of liberty. Despite their words, it is quite clear that Norwick’s brand of liberty is highly selective: it’s available in nearly unlimited proportions for some and is quite restricted forotl1ers. In the chapter on “reproductive freedom,” for example, a woman’s “right to privacy” is considered as a near absolute. Caution flags are raised against the nefarious doings of Senator Orrin Hatch, who is proposing “an amendment that would…give fertilized eggs more constitutional rights than now exist for human beings.” More accurately, what the act proposes is to grant the right to life to unborn children: a right they had in nearly every state until the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. Later on, readers are warned about the insidious attempts to restrict “reproductive rights”; some Jesuit doctors, the ACLU author notes, have actually re-fused to perform abortions! The message is clear: the rights of some people deserve both protection and extention. As for others …
In effect, what emerges is an Orwellian concept of freedom: language is distorted to give meanings to words that could not be found in any dictionary. For example, there is a long tale about the woes homosexuals have experienced. Surely they should be given their “rights.” And what do these rights include? To name one, the right to rent an apartment in your home, whether you care to lease to homosexuals or not. The author concedes that normally people have the right to determine who will utilize their property; however, “Gay people have traditionally been objects of hatred…. Any group so abused needs special protection.” Besides, discrimination “on account of sexual orientation … is, at bottom, irrational.” And who, after all, could favor “irrational rights”? It is not unlike Pravda’s explanation of the Soviet Union’s refusal to allow free emigration. After all, the U.S.S.R is the greatest place in the world to live. Only crazy people would want to leave and the State, in its great humanity, could not allow the mentally ill to harm themselves by departing.
Regarding censorship, an extreme standard is upheld: virtually any restriction on pornography is an attack on free speech. Does that mean that the public must be involuntarily subjected to the stuff because the drive-in theater visible from your picture window is running a constant stream of X-rated flicks? The author approvingly quotes Justice Powell, “we are inescapably captive audiences for many purposes.” Besides, values are changing. The warning is implicit: you had better change with them.
It is in this last area that Norwick and his cohorts really take the mask off and reveal their “freedom” for what it actu ally is. Repeatedly, we are told that the emergence of “new class” values is inevitable. Traditional concepts of sex roles are “relics of a different age”; the widespread acceptance of homosexuality is “only a matter of time”; soon the use of marijuana and other “recreational drugs” will be “generally accepted.” The freedom Norwick and company endorse bears no relation to any real conception of what freedom is, not even that concept advocated by extreme libertarians. Norwick’s liberty is merely the right of one group of self-centered, narcissistic Americans to impose their bizarre cultural values on the broader society. As such, it should be strenuously opposed.
Dismantling America, will probably be read with enthusiasm and enjoyment by the same people who will like Lobbying for Freedom. In a sense, that is as it should be, for, as different as they are, the bottom line of both volumes is the same: “Give us what we want,” and to blazes with anyone else.
Essentially, the subject of Dismantling America is regulation. Largely a matter of state and local concern, the regulation of business and industry did not come under Federal purview until the turn of the century, when popular crusading and muckraking against the railroads, the “trusts,” and the “robber barons” led to the creation of the first regulatory agencies. Small in scope and limited in powers, these bureaucracies generally operated only within specific areas of responsibility. It wasn’t until the Administration of Lyndon Johnson that the regulatory explosion took place. Propelled by a desire to utilize the power of government to create a “Great Society,” Johnson and his successors established dozens of new regulatory authorities, and vastly expanded the powers and budgets of those that existed. As a result, the tenacles of the Federal government reached into areas they never had before, the costs of regulatory compliance soared to over $100 billion annually, and consumer choices were limited as bureaucracies rather than individuals made crucial decisions regarding safety, quality, and reliability.
When Ronald Reagan took office in 1980, he pledged to reverse the trend towards the regulation of American society. Specifically, he promised to “get government off our backs and out of our pockets.” Has he succeeded? An objective observer might conclude that the so-called “Reagan revolution” was somewhat Jess than a total shake-up in the regulatory area. While the rate of regulatory growth has been consider ably slowed, there are, in fact, more rules on the books now than there were when Reagan took office. And while some agency budgets have been cut, virtually all remain in business with their missions intact; even the Departments of Education and Energy, which were supposed to be abolished, still exist three years into the supposed turnover. If this is a revolution, it’s been an awfully quiet one.
Not so to the Tolchins, two Washington-based political commentators. According to their analysis, the tumult is all around. They claim that “deregulation is a code word for dis mantling the regulatory process.” And that’s bad, for, in the words of the late Jerry Wurf, chief of the Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, “regulation is the key to a civilized society.”
As the Tolchins see it, our world is a grim and dangerous landscape populated by irresponsible private industries that have “the power to alter our genes, invade our privacy and destroy our environment….Only government [can] protect citizens from the awesome consequences of technology run amuck.” And, apparently, from the results of their own choices. Fear is the author’s constant refrain: if there isn’t a further expansion of regulations, then disasters on an unprecedented scale will occur. Like the proponents of the nuclear freeze, who also shamelessly pander to people’s fears, the Tolchins are typical of today’s liberals. Where once, under Roosevelt, liberalism forwarded an expansive, optimistic view of tomorrow’s world, contemporary liberalism is based on a dread of the future; its vision is constricted, pessimistic.
It is when dealing with the nuclear and airline industries that the Tolchin’s biases truly show. To the authors, the nuclear industry is a prime example of corporate irresponsibility. Its regulatory authorities are simply the worst exemplars of “captive agencies,” bureaucracies which exclusively serve the interests of the industries they are supposed to supervise. Their argument is made through the quotation of one regulatory commissioner-presumably all the others have no opinions on any of these matters. The nuclear industry’s outstanding safety record and its real contributions to the nation’s energy needs are blithely ignored. Acknowledging that people are sometimes a bit rough on the nuclear companies, the Tolchins admit that “The most credible argument against the intervenors is … [that] they are ‘anti-nuke,’ and their real mission is to drive the nuclear industry out of business.” However, this little fact shouldn’t restrain us from giving such people a voice, often the deciding voice, in whether we will have nuclear energy. Similarly, concerning airline regulation, the negative is emphasized to the almost complete disadvantage of the positive. While it is true that many of the major companies suffered from deregulation, as well as from the drastic increase in the price of jet fuel and the recession, the consumer did not suffer. Prices have dropped dramatically in most touring markets since decontrol, dozens of new airlines have been created, commuter services to small communities have expanded dramatically, and customers have enjoyed choices never before available, from brown-bag low-cost People Express flights to first-class-only travel on Air One. The point of airline deregulation was not, as the Tolchins imagine, to benefit the “bigs.” Its purpose was to harness the marketplace to the benefit of the consumer. In this sense, it has been an unqualified success.
It is in this last area, the nature of that which aids the customer, that the linkage with the Norwick book is most clearly established. Rather surprisingly for a volume witl1 pretentions to forwarding the cause of “consumer rights” Dismantling America makes little mention of the role education plays in assisting in making wise choices. This is probably because the authors have little regard for choice. Edmund Burke once said that “the people never give up their liberties but under some delusion.” The great mirage of our times is that you can have liberty and prosperity without risk or personal responsibility. If we, as a nation, continue to pursue our illusion, we’ll find ourselves neither safe nor free. cc