Mark W. Hendrickson
Mark W. Hendrickson is a faculty member, economist, and contributing scholar with the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College, Grove City, Pennsylvania. These articles are from V & V, a web site of the Center for Vision & Values.
Jefferson Versus Hamilton: The Continuing Contest
This Fourth of July marks 235 years since the Declaration of Independence was published. In this immortal document, the Spirit of 1776 was given its fullest, most eloquent expression. The Declaration is a timeless document, espousing eternal principles that, while forever historically identified with America, are universal in their application.
The Fourth of July provides an occasion to reflect on what it means to be an American. Since day one, there have been widely divergent views on those questions.
During the Revolutionary War, the colonists fell into three groups: those who desired independence from Britain, Tories who did not, and many who didn't care or couldn't decide.
The Second Continental Congress was so divided over the issue of slavery that the Declaration was almost stillborn. (The perfect Fourth of July movie is the musical "1776" - an excellent dramatization of that profound disagreement.) Many of the Founding Fathers abhorred slavery with every bone in their body. Those Founders are sometimes condemned today for having compromised with southern slaveholders, a retroactive judgment of 18th-century men by 21st-century values. Granted, the Founders didn't create the ideal society. They knew that. They expected subsequent generations to make improvements. But they did, mercifully, lay the foundation for a republic that would go on to bring more freedom to more people than any other political entity in history.
From the start, Americans have been divided between the visions and values of Founding Fathers Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. That intellectual and political debate continues undiminished today. In fact, during a recent radio interview, the host asked me out of the blue, "Whose side are you on, Hamilton's or Jefferson's?"
The question is difficult to answer for two primary reasons: First, these two giants of America's Founding addressed a wide range of issues, so one may partially agree and partially disagree. Second, as Stephen F. Knott's 2002 book Alexander Hamilton & the Persistence of Myth demonstrates so ably, subsequent American thought leaders have invented their own versions of Jefferson and Hamilton. These versions have been based on their own political convictions and biases, including which books they themselves happened to read (each of those containing its author's own slanted view) and the tenor of the era in which they lived.
There is no definitive, indisputable interpretation of Hamilton and Jefferson, but I'll attempt a few generalities.
Foremost among these generalities, at the most elementary level, those who favor a stronger government in Washington are more likely to be Hamiltonians and those who favor a weaker government, Jeffersonians.
In reply to that radio host's question, I said that I leaned toward Jefferson. In this era of Big Government that is suffocating liberty, devouring our economic substance, and is joined at the hip with big banks, Jefferson's inspiring defenses of liberty and impassioned warnings about government are timely. Nevertheless, I have my differences with Jefferson, such as his endorsement of the French Revolution. My sense is that Jefferson's strong suit was his idealism, whereas in practice he was, at times, inapt or inept.
While I have serious misgivings about Hamilton's vision for government, I think he gets a bum rap when some accuse him of having been an antidemocratic monarchist. Yes, he distrusted certain elements of democracy, but so did most of the Founding Fathers, including James Madison. Hamilton believed in some degree of a government partnership with business, but, like other Founders, he supported a Constitution that, unlike old world governments, did not erect barriers designed to keep poor Americans poor. Hamilton was an elitist, but he was an elitist by accomplishment, and not (at all) by birth.
One of the ironies of the Jeffersonian/Hamiltonian divide today is that the two major political parties have flip-flopped on their historical positions. Up until the 1950s, Democrats tended to be Jeffersonian. They opposed tariffs and other government favors for moneyed interests. Republicans, who tended to be Hamiltonian in their use of government to shape economic development from the party's Founding through Herbert Hoover's presidency, now have many leading figures with strong Jeffersonian sympathies. Today's Republicans generally share to some degree Jefferson's aversion to Big Government, the great threat to liberty and prosperity.
Finally, in the Hamilton/Jefferson debate, one of the few points that enjoys nearly universal acceptance is that both men were geniuses. They both played defining roles in the Founding and formation of the United States of America. However much we may disagree with one or the other, they were great Americans and we are blessed to have had them both as Founding Fathers.
Happy birthday, America!
Father's Day is a poignant occasion for me, as for many. I never knew my biological father, who died in an accident. Mom and I lived near Detroit with her oldest sister and her husband, who were childless. That's how I got a Pop.
Pop was larger-than-life. Born in Nebraska in 1904, he epitomized the strong, silent prototype of the era. As a father-figure, he was stern and strict - no touchy-feely stuff. Pop believed that the school of hard knocks was the best educator. Disdaining cautionary warnings, he stood aside while I took my knocks.
Pops lived for duty. There was right and wrong, and it was his duty - and mine - to do right.
He didn't get along with my mother, but we were in need, and he fulfilled what he perceived as his familial duty by sharing his home.
He whole-heartedly embraced his patriotic duty to country:
He defied his German immigrant father, who, like many, opposed President Wilson's declaration of war against Germany in World War I.
He served three years in the Pacific on the antique submarine U-39 in the mid-1920s.
He remained active in the naval reserves for 15 years.
He returned to active duty for five years in World War II, shunning the desk job he could have had due to being older and having a wife, and volunteering instead to be on the aircraft carrier Essex, which took more enemy fire than any American vessel.
In the mid-1950s, to provide Distant Early Warning of Soviet missile attacks, he volunteered to work in the Arctic on the DEW Line, overseeing construction of radar installations every 50 miles for 4,000 miles at the "top" of North America. This job entailed two 10-hour shifts some days, living in spartan Quonset huts during months of prolonged darkness, taking bucket baths in tents when temperatures were 40-60 degrees below, and repeatedly being on airplanes that cracked up landing on the ice.
Pop's philosophy was that we all have to die someday, and what could be more worthwhile than dying to defend what is right? That attitude carried over to civilian life.
Once Pop had a run-in with the notorious Detroit-area mobster Santo "Sam" Perrone. Pop owned a quarter-section of land up north that was his deer-hunting retreat. He built the cabin, with the primary wall decoration being a twisted piece of metal from a kamikaze plane that had crashed onto the Essex. Perrone happened to be his neighbor. When Pop learned that Perrone's men were poaching deer on Pop's land during the off-season, Pop drove over to Perrone's place. Sam came outside pointing a handgun. Pop was prepared. He lifted his hand into the window opening of his car with his own gun cocked. "Are you willing to trade, Sam?" There was no more poaching.
Pop did things his way. One year, the guest speaker at the annual father-son dinner at my boarding school was Terry McDermott, the only American gold medalist at the 1964 winter Olympics. Everyone gave him a standing ovation, except Pop. I guess Pop figured he had risked his life multiple times in service to his country while all that McDermott had done was skate fast. I still think Pop's act lacked grace, but the lesson he imparted was never be afraid to be different.
At the next year's dinner, a senior in my dormitory and his dad sat across from us. It was Mitt Romney and his father, George, then Michigan's governor. Pop's philosophy was that the purpose of sitting at the dinner table was to "put on the feedbag," not to make small talk, and so he never said a word to the governor, even though I'm almost certain he voted for him. Pop felt a duty to attend such functions, not to enjoy them.
Pop went above and beyond the call in caring for his two wives, both of whom he dearly loved. He had 38 years with my beloved aunt, and as the cancer of the spine ate away at her, he contorted himself in bed to provide her maximum warmth.
Years later, when he and his second wife, Katie, were both 90, Katie became incapacitated. Pop was a one-man 24/7 nursing squad. He lost 25 pounds, needed a walker, and finally did the unthinkable: He called me for help. He promised Katie he would outlive her so he could care for her.
After Katie's passing, Pop resumed his deer-hunting outing. The "man who never missed" shot his last deer at age 92. He quit because his joints were deteriorating. He felt that if he couldn't haul the carcass unassisted, he had no business shooting an animal.
With Katie gone, Pop's life lacked purpose and duty. We urged him to live with us, but he would never surrender independence. At 94, we had to take away his car keys when he began suffering fainting spells because of mini-strokes.
That was it for Pop. He lived a strict creed: NEVER be a burden on others. In the presence of two neighbors as witnesses, he asked me to shoot him. I told him I couldn't do it, and so Pop stopped eating and left this world a month later.
Happy Father's Day, Pop. And thanks.
The High-Stakes Showdown Over Medicare Reform
The trustees of the Medicare system recently reported that the program will go broke in the year 2024 - five years sooner than was projected just last year.
The millions of Americans who have been counting on Medicare to be a reliable, stable guarantor of affordable healthcare in their senior years should be asking themselves, "Who is responsible for this predicament?" The short answer is "lots of people," but let's start by looking in the mirror.
The shameful status of Medicare brings to mind a sequence in the movie "Animal House." A freshman pledge, Flounder, let some upperclassmen in the fraternity use his brother's brand-new Lincoln for a road trip. Naturally, the brothers trashed the car. As Flounder wept in regret, the suave, smooth-talking senior, Otter, put his arm around Flounder's shoulder and explained the facts of life to him: "You [goof]ed up; you trusted us." ("Goof" replaces the original R-rated verb.)
"We the people" have goofed up big time, trusting a government bureaucracy to oversee our healthcare.
When will we learn that gigantic bureaucracies - undisciplined by the profit-motive and insulated from the normal competitive pressures of the marketplace - are inherently inefficient?
And when will a majority of Americans take a sober look at Uncle Sam's track record and recognize his chronic incompetence? Consider:
Government meddling, abetted by misregulation and a compliant Federal Reserve, generated the housing bubble/bust that has caused the market value of most Americans' most valuable asset - their home - to decline, plunging millions into negative equity.
Chronic federal overspending has impelled a weaker currency and higher prices of daily necessities.
The quackery of government stimulus spending has produced anemic economic growth; the usual result when the government share of a country's GDP dramatically expands.
The government-run Social Security Administration will henceforth operate in permanent deficit - a grotesque malfeasance that would have resulted in the imprisonment of private executives who perpetrated such a swindle.
With a record like this, how could anyone trust government to get it right on healthcare? The big question now is: Why are so many Americans opposed to Congressman Paul Ryan's attempt to put Medicare on sounder financial footing?
Part of the resistance to fixing Medicare may be simple partisan loyalty - i.e., Republicans are the enemy; oppose everything they propose.
Part of it may be fear of change.
Part of it may be the seductive belief of "the free lunch" and a corresponding belief that Congress simply has to raise taxes on somebody else to obtain necessary funds.
Part of it may be that Americans believe, "We paid for it, so it's ours." Well, yes, we've been paying for Medicare via payroll deductions for decades, but no, our promised benefits remain unfunded due to government mismanagement. (We [goof]ed up; we trusted them.)
Part of it may be what economists call "short time horizons" - that is, focusing on the short run instead of the long run. Many seniors tend to do this. So do many politicians with their fixation on the next election. In economics, short-time horizons are highly correlated with poverty; in other words, ignoring the long term is why many people are poor.
Many of those on the extreme left oppose reforming Medicare for another reason entirely: they desire a state-run monopoly of healthcare. They prefer a socialized healthcare model. To attain that goal, the left needs to merely block reforms to Medicare. Gridlock and stalemate will assure Medicare's eventual bankruptcy and therefore its subsequent nationalization (a la Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac).
Early polls show stiff resistance to Congressman Paul Ryan's proposed Medicare reforms. If the Republicans can sell the public on the need for reform, then Medicare's solvency may be prolonged. If the public repudiates Ryan's plan by returning a Democratic majority to the House while re-electing Barack Obama to the White House, then a government takeover of the healthcare industry is all but assured.
The stakes in the next election are enormous. The Medicare reform contest could be the one for all the marbles.
My Congressman's Tough Job
Being a congressman can be a great job. It can be attractive for someone who relishes the ersatz virtue of playing Santa Claus with other people's money, who finds a year-round routine of fund-raising social events enjoyable, and who covets receiving one of the most generous pensions on the planet. It can also be a great challenge for someone who didn't pursue the job for those purposes.
Consider my congressman, first-term Representative Mike Kelly (R-PA). (Full disclosure: I voted for him and contributed to his campaign.)
Kelly is an interesting case. He didn't need Washington. Already set financially from his successful automobile dealerships, satisfied with the joys of living close to his family, Mike Kelly didn't need the money, fame, prestige, or power of a congressman. He would have been happy to enjoy the good life he already had, watching his grandchildren grow up. He gave a lot in order to go to Washington belatedly, at age 62, but he did it in the hope of stopping a runaway federal government before its insane policies produce a calamity.
Having recently attended one of Kelly's town-hall meetings, it is clear that he has been dealt a herculean task. First, he has the extremely difficult task of convincing many of his constituents that the federal government has to spend less, not more, in order to avert economic ruin. Based on what I saw and heard at the meeting, the odds are against him.
A conservative gentleman craved a government policy - certain to cost tens of billions of dollars - to convert our national automobile fleet to run on natural gas. A liberal lady wanted new federal spending on educational training. They meant well, I know, but I felt like asking, "What part of 'we're broke' do you not understand?"
Kelly related a phone conversation that he had with a couple in their 80s: They begged him not to support Paul Ryan's plan to reform Medicare, even though the plan doesn't touch benefits for anyone over 55. They were opposed to any plan that would increase consumer choice; they just wanted the government to tell them what to do.
More resistance to downsizing Big Government was typified by a lady who felt we could afford the ongoing federal spending binge if only we would raise taxes on "the rich" and on oil companies allegedly making profits of "38 percent."
Alas, this anti-capitalist religion is founded on myths. Big Oil generally makes 7-8 percent profits, and earned 6.1 percent in the most recent quarter - enough to place their industry 112th after publishing, software, telecom, biotech, steel, restaurants, beverages, and other capitalist demons. Exxon, the biggest of Big Oil, has paid more in taxes on U.S. operations during the last five years ($59 billion) than government has allowed them to keep as profits ($41 billion).
As for "the rich," whose percentage of total income taxes paid actually rose after the Bush tax cuts, you could take 100 percent of their income and still not eliminate the deficit. Rep. Kelly is going to have a difficult time curbing federal spending when many voters believe that they are morally justified in operating on the "principle" of "He has it, we want it, and we have more votes."
Also standing in the way of Kelly's goal of shrinking government deficits are many, perhaps most, of his congressional colleagues, who take the line of least resistance and vote for government largesse for so many who simply appeal and lobby for it.
Another formidable obstacle to the general goal of curbing Big Government before it ruins us is a president who has the opposite goal. President Obama is so committed to expanding government that he continues to call for new programs and has proposed no serious reforms of Medicare - a program whose costs are likely to increase exponentially in the future.
As if government-addicted constituents, a divided congress, and an obstinate president don't make shrinking government seem like "mission impossible," Mike Kelly and his colleagues have to contend with the entrenched power structure of Washington's leviathan bureaucratic state. Trying to curtail bureaucracies' expensive excesses is like the game Whack-a-Mole. For every abusive regulation that Congress is able to rescind - such as the EPA's recently annulled rule that dairy farmers take costly oil-spill prevention measures (on the astounding ground that milk contains a type of oil!) - the bureaucracies promulgate dozens of new regulations.
I admire Rep. Kelly's courage in waging this uphill battle. He's trying to save his constituents from a runaway government, but many would rather run away with the largesse that government gives them.
Swindling America's Youth
We older Americans have saddled our youth with a mind-boggling public debt - over $20 trillion already spent ($14.3 trillion of "official" national debt plus various off-budget expenditures, according to the U.S. Treasury); trillions more of projected deficit-spending over the coming decade; and tens of trillions of dollars of unfunded liabilities.
By the time today's toddlers can vote, it is likely that both the Medicare and Social Security funds will be exhausted. Many of today's older Americans vehemently oppose any and all attempts to restructure those entitlement programs to extend their viability. Instead, the graybeard generation expects younger Americans to endure the oppressive tax burden that will be needed to keep the entitlement promises fully funded.
My generation should be ashamed of what we have done to younger Americans. No, we haven't sold them into child prostitution, but we have placed them in bondage to the most massive debts in world history. We have led these innocent lambs to a financial slaughterhouse.
To add insult to injury, we show our lack of regard for the young by regarding them as second-class citizens in bankruptcy law. A middle-aged businessman with decades of experience can make mistakes and be relieved of his debt burden by a bankruptcy judge. By contrast, a nave, inexperienced teenager, who borrows money for college, then can't earn enough to pay back all the loans, is stuck for life, because college loans, unlike business loans, are not eligible for forgiveness via bankruptcy. The overall, unspoken message is clear: The youth are our society's indentured servants, in permanent debt servitude to their elders.
The young will never make good on all of the federal government's mountains of debt and unfunded promises. These debts won't be paid because they can't be paid; there simply isn't enough wealth in the country for this to be possible.
If the debt burden continues to mount, eventually the young will perceive the enormity of the burden that older generations have imposed on them, and there will be a backlash. They might rebel against the crushing debt burden by repudiating it - an outright default. However, I doubt it will come to that. Uncle Sam has already started to default on those debts - not explicitly, but stealthily, by having the Federal Reserve inflate our debts away. It is likely that there will be a hyperinflationary blow off or a deflationary implosion, either of which will extinguish trillions of dollars of debt before many of today's children are grown.
Few things could tear a society apart more than having the economic interests of young and old arrayed against each other. Yet this is the inevitable bitter fruit of chronic deficit spending and unending accumulation of debt.
Our Founding Fathers warned of this danger. In his Farewell Address, George Washington urged Congress to strive to quickly retire debts resulting from occasional and hopefully infrequent wars instead of "throwing upon posterity the burthen [sic] which we ourselves ought to bear." Thomas Jefferson could think of few things more unjust than loading the living generation with the debt of those who have already died. Writing to John Taylor in 1816, Jefferson wrote that "the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity ... is but swindling futurity on a large scale."
Rather than sentencing today's younger Americans to a lifetime of bondage to debts that we have incurred, justice and mercy suggest that we need to retire the federal debt burden. We must begin shrinking federal spending this year. If we don't slay the debt monster, our children may someday - and justifiably - curse us.
The Global Energy Superpower
Saudi Arabia has long been the dominant producer of petroleum on the planet. Nature endowed the Arabian Peninsula with gigantic deposits of this vital source of energy. Many of us have lamented the quirk of nature that placed much-needed oil in the most geopolitically unstable region in the world.
Although Saudi Arabia is the king of oil producers at present, there is another country that has far more extensive deposits of fossil fuels. Because fossil fuels are the most economical and reliable energy sources known to man, the country that has the largest share of them is fortunate indeed. What is this richly endowed country? It is none other than the United States of America.
Perhaps you have heard the United States described as "the Saudi Arabia of coal." Actually, that may be an understatement, for while the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the Saudis have 20 percent of the world's known petroleum reserves, the United States has an even larger share - 27 percent - of the world's known deposits of coal. As engineers continue to develop more and more "clean coal" technologies, this abundant resource will continue to serve our energy needs for as long as we need it.
In addition to our immense coal deposits, the United States contains gigantic natural gas deposits. Currently, the United States ranks fourth in natural gas production, but domestic reserves are soaring as horizontal drilling and "fracking" tap the mind-boggling dimensions of the natural gas fields located here in Pennsylvania (the Marcellus formation), Louisiana (the Haynesville formations), and elsewhere across the lower 48. If fracking can be done without contaminating precious water supplies, it is possible that the United States may also become "the Saudi Arabia of natural gas."
There is even more good news: Besides being the Saudi Arabia of coal and potentially natural gas, we may become the next "Saudi Arabia" of oil. This won't be the light, sweet crude that the Saudis pump at little cost and with relative ease, but it's oil nonetheless. The Green River shale rock formation under just three of our states - Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah - is estimated to hold 1.8 trillion barrels of oil, about seven times as large as the Saudis' crude oil reserves.
Beyond the vast petroleum deposits in the Green River formation, we have the Bakken field in North Dakota and Montana, where ever-more reserves are being found, the untapped deposits in Alaska, the continental shelf, and other existing fields in the lower 48 states. Add to those immense reserves yet-to-be-discovered petroleum deposits and technological improvements, such as those that improved recovery rates from 20 percent to 35 percent of oil deposits in recent years (yes, that means that most of the oil is still there), and you can see that the prospects for domestic oil production are mind-boggling.
Ours is a case of geological good news and political bad news. We have under our feet the world's greatest treasure trove of energy supplies. The bad news is, we have a president and a party that have made it their full-time policy to obstruct, thwart, and forbid extraction of those immense resources, while encouraging other countries to drill, drill, drill.
We have all that we need, friends. We just need the freedom to go get it.
Millionaires in America
Recently, CNN's Money.com posted an article bearing the title, "U.S. Millionaires Population Expanded by 8 Percent in 2010." According to the article, there are now approximately 8.4 million millionaires in the United States, and last year's increase was due primarily to rising stock prices, following a 27 percent decline in the number of millionaires in 2008 due to the stock market's plunge that year.
What is one to make of this information?
There were only a few thousand millionaires in the United States in 1900. One would expect there to be many more today with the enormous economic growth of the last 110 years. On the one hand, there would be even more millionaires today had progressive taxation not prevented millions of Americans from accumulating more wealth. On the other hand, there would be considerably fewer millionaires were it not for the effects of inflation.
Adjusting for the increase in the Consumer Price Index, it would take a net worth of about $25 million today to be the economic equivalent of a millionaire in 1900. Clearly, being a millionaire today does not support the lifestyle that it did a century ago.
Leaving out the market value of one's primary residence, the number of American millionaires today would fall by more than half. Many millionaires are land-rich or house-rich, but middle class in terms of liquid assets.
As the article reported, many Americans rise into and fall out of millionaire status as the stock market fluctuates. Their millionaire status is rather tenuous - "here today, gone tomorrow"-subject to the capricious gyrations of financial markets. Easy come, easy go, that paper wealth.
The fact, though, that last year's increase of millionaires is attributable to stock-market gains is troublesome. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke stated that today's higher stock prices show that his QE2 policy of inflating the monetary base has been successful. This raises questions of legitimacy, for it was never the Fed's legislative mandate to pump up stock prices, as well as questions of fairness - if Bernanke is using his power to enrich stock-market investors. I am concerned that these facts will stir up resentment at millionaires in general. There are already too many Americans who have a negative, even hostile, attitude toward the rich.
As a free-market economist who believes in America as the Land of Opportunity, I hope our country continues to prosper and produce even more millionaires. Indeed, these two phenomena go hand in hand, rising together interdependently. However, an absolutely crucial distinction must be drawn here.
From a true free-market, capitalist perspective, there is a legitimate way to become a millionaire (the economic) and an illegitimate way (the political). The economic way is the old-fashioned way: One earns his or her fortune as a reward for sharing one's talents and products with others, by excelling in service to one's fellow man in an open, free, competitive marketplace. The "soak-the-rich" ideologues think these achievers deserve to be subjected to punitive taxation for having dared to earn so much. Is it really a valid theory of justice to punish success in benefiting others? Is rendering service to one's fellow man somehow objectionable or morally suspect? I think not.
The political approach is an entirely different matter. This is the far-too-common practice that economists call "rent-seeking" behavior: individuals and corporations using their political connections to rig the market to enrich themselves - things like bailouts for Wall Street firms, giant subsidies, federal regulations that require use of a particular product that a politically-connected firm just happens to make, etc.
Rent-seekers don't profit by serving their fellow man through voluntary exchange, but by milking the taxpayer through manipulating the political process. Rent-seekers prosper from political connections and privileges that the rest of us don't have. This is patently unfair, and most definitely is not free-market capitalism, contrary to the false assertions of the anti-capitalist left. Indeed, free-market economists going back to Adam Smith have warned us about businessmen exploiting the political system to enrich themselves at everyman's expense.
Let us respect those who earn their millions in free, honest commerce; let us end the socialistic practice of government determining economic winners by channeling favors and funds to favored clients. The former is the fulfillment of the American Dream; the latter is its repudiation.
Who Objects to Free Speech?
Free speech has always been one of our most cherished rights. It has come under attack repeatedly by those who find it to be an inconvenient and unwanted obstacle to the attainment of their political goals. Sometimes, those in positions of power ignore the First Amendment and issue laws and regulations to silence their opponents. Other times, politicians or citizens work on an unofficial level, resorting to influence or intimidation to achieve censorship.
President John Adams signed the Sedition Act to criminalize "false, scandalous, and malicious writing" against the government or its officials. Americans didn't like the federal government censoring expression or presuming to determine truth, so they canned Adams in the next election.
Abraham Lincoln jailed newspapermen whose comments on the Civil War were not to his liking.
In 1935, Franklin Roosevelt signed the National Labor Relations Act, effectively curtailing employers' freedom to talk with their own employees about their company's financial condition and the affordability of wages and benefits.
Both Roosevelt and Richard Nixon imposed various wage and price controls. Since prices are the language through which present value is communicated between potential buyers and sellers, they essentially banned a form of free economic speech.
The assault on free speech seems to have accelerated in recent years. Freelance censors on the left have prevented dozens of conservatives from giving scheduled speeches on college campuses by shouts, chants, and even physical aggression.
A favorite tactic of global-warming propagandists has been to try to suppress dissenting views by urging reporters to ignore opposing viewpoints. Stephen Schneider, from his well-funded government perch at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, called it "journalistically irresponsible to present both sides" of the story. Al Gore used to tell journalists not to waste time interviewing global-warming skeptics.
Under the Patriot Act, the FBI is empowered to issue gag orders against those whom they investigate - even harmless little old ladies. (See Judge Andrew Napolitano's YouTube clip.)
The Obama administration seems particularly unfriendly toward free speech. Consider just a few examples:
* The president's FCC diversity officer, Mark Lloyd, has lamented that private media companies almost thwarted Hugo Chavez's "incredible" revolution in Venezuela, and wants to impose punitive fees on radio stations that broadcast conservative talk shows, lest they interfere with the accomplishment of the Obama revolution.
* The president's Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, publicly warned health-insurance companies that there would be "zero tolerance" for statements that contradicted the official party line on Obamacare.
* In December, the Federal Communications Committee (on a party-line 3-2 vote) imposed "net neutrality" - an innocuous-sounding phrase that disguises the elementary fact that the government wants some control over the Internet, the kind of power that the Chinese government has. (Incidentally, Verizon has filed suit against this unconstitutional power grab.)
* In his book, Democracy and the Problem of Free Speech, President Obama's head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Cass Sunstein, asserted, "the First Amendment . . . is not so much a matter of protecting rights as ensuring sound public judgment through the process of public deliberation." Sunstein believes that "people should be exposed to materials that they would not have chosen" and favors policies like federal guidelines for coverage of public issues and taxpayer-funded panels of "experts" to insure "diversity of views." So much for the principle of letting Americans listen to what they want.
In November, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) mused publicly about the FCC shutting down Fox News and MSNBC (not exactly an equal trade, since relatively conservative Fox has multiples of the viewers of relatively liberal MSNBC) so that Americans could "have some faith in their government." Yep, don't let the people hear about what our great leaders are doing in Washington!
More recently, some voices on the left have exploited the tragedy in Tucson to rail against free political speech. (Personal disclaimer: I can't stand strident rhetoric and am on record in advocating self-restraint from hateful rhetoric.) The left shows a remarkable lack of confidence in the attractiveness of its agenda by resorting to attempts to suppress opposing points of view. Thomas Jefferson wrote, "It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself."
Rather than attempt to censor those with whom we disagree, let us welcome a vigorous debate. If you don't like what you hear, turn it off, but don't deny others the freedom to speak or hear various viewpoints. Jefferson again: If an opinion or argument "be false in its facts, disprove them; if false in its reasoning, refute it. But for God's sake, let us freely hear both sides if we choose." Amen. *