Herbert London is president emeritus of Hudson Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America).
The Supreme Court Upholds Obamacare: A Sad Day for America
The America I love is disappearing from the public scene. When the Supreme Court ruling upheld the constitutionality of Obamacare, a disturbing and, in my opinion, dangerous precedent has been created, one not different from the "separate but equal" precedent behind Plessy v. Ferguson. A majority court decision confirms the view that there are virtually no limitations on the power of Congress.
Eighteen-year-olds are now told they must buy health insurance whether they want it or not. Suppose President Obama, adopting a page from Major Bloomberg's playbook, obtains congressional approval for a law against sugary soft drinks or perhaps marbleized steaks arguing that these personal choices can affect national health care policy and the cost of medical care. If the precedent in this case is applied, there is nothing that can stand in the way of enactment.
Similarly this decision legitimates government control over every aspect of health care decision-making. The unique relationship between a doctor and his patient is forever compromised and the very basis for medical ethics is now called into question. For most Americans, a government bureaucrat will determine whether you receive a ceramic or titanium knee replacement or whether a patient receives a pig's valve or an artificial valve during open-heart surgery. Cost will be king and the key variable will be age.
Of course this court decision doesn't constitute the end of challenges. Appeals will occur based on privacy matters, conscience exemption, freedom of contracts and the authority of the IRS to tax employers without congressional authorization or statutory authority. It is also likely that a Mitt Romney presidency will call for repeal of the healthcare law.
As poll after poll has demonstrated, Obamacare is among the most unpopular legislative actions ever adopted in this country. Most Americans are inclined to support a patient centered healthcare that empowers individuals to make medical decisions with their doctors and family members.
What is most disturbing about the law and the decision that upholds it is the arrogance behind the government's claim. As a result of the court majority view the federal government has the power to tax whatever it considers appropriate. Whatever happened to the position that "the power to tax is the power to destroy"?
It is instructive that President Obama said, "The individual mandate is not a tax." Now the Supreme Court says it is. If the legislation in its original form were deemed to be a tax, it never would have been accepted by the Congress. So in addition to the assumption of questionable power, the court has redefined the legislation in a manner inconsistent with its intent. Moreover, the Court has now arrogated to itself and the Congress unlimited authority to spend whatever it wants on the so-called "betterment of society" premise or the General Welfare Clause of the Constitution.
This is a sad day for limited government ideals. It is a sad day as well as for Founders of this nation who feared the assumption of power by the federal government. As a consequence of this decision, America looks very different, so different I can barely recognize her.
In Abraham Lincoln's Lyceum Address he discussed ". . . a political religion - a temple of liberty upheld by pillars hewn from the rock of reason." What we see with this court decision is the suspension of reason and cracks in the foundation of liberty. Yes, a sad day indeed.
Who is Julia? Julia is the eponymous voice of President Obama, a woman invented by the campaign to demonstrate how this present administration is assisting women in all aspects of life. However, inadvertently it displays the Obama vision of America, a vision right out of 1984 with Big Brother at her side throughout a lifetime.
In this cartoon narrative Julia evolves from birth to old age with the Obama government locked at her hip. The presumption is that Julia could not succeed without the helping hand of government. When Julia turns three she is enrolled in the federally funded Head Start pre-school program. Never mind that empirical evidence indicates Head Start is a failure despite $167 billion spent on this program each year.
In this evolving tale, President Obama's programs prepare her for college, offer free health care, student loans, free birth control of course, a chance to start a business, and an opportunity to retire in comfort and dignity. All of this from a beneficent government eager to carry Julia through the vicissitudes of life's stages.
That reliance on government has a baneful effect on society and on the individual is not entertained by Ms. Julia, nor is there any mention of the incompatibility between the Nanny State and the U.S. Constitution. By the time Julia has reached the age of Social Security she will be burdened with a debt of $45 thousand. If one multiplies Julia by the thousands, arguably the millions, unemployment will remain unnaturally high, entrepreneurship will be a disappearing concept, and Social Security will assuredly be bankrupt.
One gets the distinct impression Julia is European. She is offered the Faustian deal of cradle to grave security by a government promising more than it can or should deliver. In the process, the economy founders, debt mounts, currencies fail, and the moral strength of the West falters.
Julia is to Obama what Goldstein is to Orwell. One is presumably asked to pay obeisance to a female narrative that has an inevitably destructive outcome, albeit not one recognized by the Obama team. Similarly, in 1984 obeisance is paid to Goldstein as the exemplar of government involvement. It is a ritual without purpose. In fact, Julia is also a symbol of government that nurtures and provides even as it takes and devours.
It is one thing to discuss government's role as a "helping hand" when there aren't alternatives, but it is quite another matter to think of government as a crutch to be relied on throughout life. For the Obama campaign team to think this is an appropriate message is revealing. Either Obama operatives believe the public, the female public, will find this narrative appealing or they believe women are too myopic to see the implications in this government scheme.
Suppose for the sake of argument Julia does not have a government on which to rely. She would have to apply her God-given ingenuity to educational choices and finding a healthcare arrangement that's affordable and use her talent to start a business or develop professional skills in order to earn an income. Liberty gives her choices and power. Government may create the illusion of helpfulness, but ultimately it stifles innovation and inventiveness. The most appropriate vision for Julia is empowerment. Unfortunately despite the frequent employment of this word, government invariably enfeebles and makes one dependent.
If the feminist movement is interested in Julia it should be wary of the cartoon the Obama team has limned. As I see it, Julia should be a free-thinking individual capable of making her own choices in life and independent from the intrusiveness of government action. Julia should avoid personal debt and avoid as well serving as an instrument of government policy. She should be sufficiently sensitive to the fact that a government "benefit" comes with a price that is usually unseen.
Needless to say, the Obama team thinks Julia is a campaign attribute, but for thinking individuals this cartoon figure is a caricature implicitly describing all that ails this nation.
The Sleepers We Choose to Ignore
There is no doubt the U.S. is facing an exogenous threat from al Qaeda, the Iranian Guard and a variety of other Middle East radicals, but very often Americans downplay or underestimate the endogenous, or internal, threat that is at our doorstep.
Recently Erick Stakelbeck, the CBN news analyst, explained how Iranian diplomats and other assets are present in the United States and are prepared to launch an attack on our soil. Congressman Peter King issued a report indicating that hundreds of operatives are in the U.S. and that several Iranian diplomats at the U.N. were apprehended photographing sensitive sites.
The report also noted that Mosques are very often operational centers for reconnaissance and a sanctuary for the "sleepers," conditions acknowledged by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. In fact, the Iranian regime mocked reports that play down the potential influence of these terrorists in our midst. Another 9/11 need not involve planes flying into buildings, but rather bombs set off on trains, power plants, food distribution centers, bridges, water supplies, the electoral grid, etc.
As Steve Emerson, among others, has noted, prisons are often centers of recruitment to the most radical form of Islam and many of these potential terrorists are ensconced in positions of authority and in jobs at strategic locations. Moreover, Islamic doctrines urge violence against infidels including suicide bombings to enhance the imperial aims of Islam.
It is instructive that even though radicals transparently state their goals and tactics, authorities in the U.S. deny this reality. For example, Obama administration officials take pains to avoid even uttering the phrase "radical Islam," opting instead for the generic "violent extremism." At the same time radicals contend defeat of the U.S. is imminent and inshallah (God willing) will lead inevitably to the much-awaited Muslim caliphate, which is "the only true world order." In fact, as they see it, one cannot be true to the faith unless violent action is taken. To deny this religious imperative is to deny salvation under their faith.
Yet amazingly the Fort Hood shootings committed by Nidal Malik Hasan are regarded as an "isolated case," unrelated to his Muslim faith, by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. As long as the administration refuses to recognize acts like this one as terrorism, combating internal threats and violence is almost impossible.
First Amendment provisions also make apprehension of terrorists complicated. Since Islam promotes violence through Verses of the Sword and other suras, it is an inherent part of Constitutionally protected expression. Of course, a discussion of violence is not the same as violent acts, albeit the former often precedes the latter. This condition explains why Islamists often speak favorably of the American criminal justice system.
Establishing a balance between freedom and security is not easy. But in the absence of clear lines of demarcation, the nation is vulnerable to terrorism hiding behind Constitutional guarantees. Moreover, with Iran threatening violence should it be attacked by Israel or the United States, sleepers must be taken seriously. Perhaps it is time for government authorities to accept what our enemies are saying. The truth may be difficult to imbibe, but ignoring reality has consequences far more dire than anything we choose to ignore.
European Future on the Ropes
Based on the accumulation of recent reports, Europe is among the "walking dead." The recent elections in Greece and France indicate that the respective populations are resistant to austerity measures. Despite insolvency, or in France's case the prospect of insolvency, Europeans are so committed to their entitlements, they won't give them up. Claims that a higher millionaire tax will offset the deficit provides a frission for socialists, but does little to offset the financial imbalance.
A European Union initially designed to constrain German ambitions, now exists to do Germany's bidding. Chancellor Merkel represents the only European nation that can pay its own bills and help out other Union members. But ultimately this is a precarious position for German leaders who are continually confronted by businessmen who ask: "Why should we pick up the tab for a Greek bus driver who wants to retire at 55 or pay to underwrite the pension for a municipal employee in Palermo?"
The answers are not apparent, but the heat generated by these queries is at the very center of Germany's political debates. Moreover, the financial instability in the Union had led to political extremism. The rise of new socialist parties and fascist organizations across the continent is cause for concern. During Monsieur Hollande's campaign there were unfortunate manifestations of anti-Semitism with calls to control the Jews who dominate the financial system.
If the Europeans cannot tolerate austerity measures and do not have the wherewithal for innovation and the condition for genuine economic growth, the continent will soon become moribund. Even the euro will be perceived as an enemy of national fiscal policy.
Eying the European malaise are sovereign funds that can engage in "bottom feeding." The Chinese have already made major investments in Portugal and Italy and have been surveying the collapsing economic environment.
Complicating this economic tragedy in the making is the inability to integrate Muslims into the larger economic community while they simultaneously absorb a disproportionate share of welfare assistance. Although the evidence on this matter is not yet clear, it seems that the Muslim vote in France accounted for Hollande's electoral success. How then do you engage in austerity measures if the group most likely to be affected is a subset of the population that got you elected in the first place?
Notwithstanding arguments to the contrary, it seems that the disease affecting Europe may cross the Atlantic. U.S. banks have been inextricably tied to their European counterparts and these European entities are facing unprecedented cash shortfalls. With the U.S. economy on its heels, it is not in a position to bail out Europe's banking industry.
It is obviously time for Europeans to face reality. The era of cradle to grave entitlement is over. If the public insists on public funding that the economy cannot sustain, the continent's asset base will sink into the Mediterranean or perhaps become an extension of Asian enterprise. Europe is a grand museum, but the engine that generated wealth is antiquated and on its last legs.
As the Europeans hold on to outmoded socialist ideas, they foster their own demise. Alexis de Tocqueville once noted that:
Democracy and socialism have nothing in common, but one word: equality. But mark the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in . . . servitude.
For many Europeans servitude is just over the horizon - either servicing the Germans who maintain control through their economic success or the Chinese who buy European assets at a fraction of their actual value. The choices are not easy and the recent elections indicate some Europeans prefer to avoid hard choices. But like it or not, history will not disappear and economic reality rears its head each and every day.
Wake up Europe, your fate is about to be determined.
Betrayal from Within
It is axiomatic to suggest that if there are three Jews in a room there is likely to be nine opinions - each one shaped by a view of reality. As a consequence, there are dozens of Jewish organizations representing every political opinion and judgment under the sun. However, on one matter there was usually convergence, the welfare of Jewish life and the state of Israel.
That consensus has been blown to smithereens by at least two organizations: J Street and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), one relatively new in the Jewish organizational structure and one with a traditional Jewish pedigree.
J Street, (an American web site with "pro-Israel, pro-peace" views) has argued and continues to argue, that peace and stability in the Middle East can only be achieved through Israeli concessions. Overlooked in the J Street analysis -willy nilly - is the intransigence of the other side (the PLO and Hamas) that will not recognize the state of Israel and considers any concession only the starting point for the next negotiation.
While J Street represents a swath of left wing Jewish opinion, that is not its sole or even primary mission. According to Carinne Luck, Vice President for Campaigns, J Street is designed "to move American Jews" towards its position, i.e., to its left wing position. In fact, J Street is composed of field operatives, not constituency representatives. Like many of the organizations George Soros underwrites, J Street exists to influence opinion among Jewish leaders and among the Jewish political base generally.
The ADL has been an established Jewish organization for decades that stands against anti-Semitic actions and speech across the globe. Recently the ADL has been criticized for devoting relatively little of its resources combating radical Islam's threat to world Jewry. In fact, only 7.7 percent of its press releases issued over the past 15 years focused on Islamic extremism. By contrast, press releases condemning traditional sources of anti-Semitism, such as Nazism and Christian theology, totaled 37.8 percent and "social justice" issues that fall into ADL's basket of liberal opinion account for 30.5 percent.
It is certainly worth asking why this disproportionate allocation of resources exists. The ADL tends to ignore the Islamic roots of terrorism and the theological underpinning of Arab-Jew hatred found in the Koran. Recently the ADL joined with CAIR - the same organization indentified as a co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation that gave financial assistance to Hamas - in opposing Florida legislation that attempted to place limits on shariah. Abe Foxman, ADL president, argued that the legislation was biased against Muslims and that his organization exists to fight against bias wherever it exists. Unfortunately Mr. Foxman did not make reference to the bias against Jews that characterizes CAIR behavior.
According to a recent report on the ADL only three of the 841 press releases in the category of the Middle East and Israel related to Islamic extremism. However, many of the ADL's press releases on Israel concentrated on condemning "Jewish right wing extremism" and promoting left of center political causes. (For example, January '97 "ADL condemns attack on Palestinians by an Israeli soldier"; March '02: "ADL alarmed by reports of new Jewish terror group"; and November '09: "ADL calls Israeli Settlement Freeze 'Courageous and Unprecedented'.") Eleven percent of the ADL's press releases on Israel condemn Jewish right wing extremists.
While Foxman and others have said Islamic extremism is the biggest threat to Jews, its press releases and resource allocation express a different sentiment. Clearly studies of this kind are often incomplete, and the lines of categorical demarcation fuzzy. Nonetheless, the profound difference in focus among these categories is revealing. Any dispassionate reader of the data is likely to ask, why is the ADL largely overlooking the real threat to world Jewry.
At the risk of attributing political motives to specific action, it seems that in both cases, a liberal or left wing agenda trumps the welfare of the Jewish people. Both J Street and the ADL assume they are acting in the interests of the Jewish people, but in far too many instances this claim is mere cover for the expression of liberal ideas and attempts at propaganda.
Freedom and Constraints
In a nation obsessed with creativity, freedom is the exalted position, for freedom gives meaning to our actions. Yet it is a defect of ideology to assume action is reducible to one simple principle, a uniquely explanatory element. In reality, freedom is a complex and composite affair.
While freedom is often reduced to choice - a means to achieve our goals - in cultural terms freedom is defined negatively, i.e., non-compulsion from without and self-determination from within. However, freedom can exist in a culture with normative judgment and moral constraints. The newly liberated contend freedom means unbound without reference to ontological claims. But this is absurd. Freedom is defined by boundaries.
Camus, in The Stranger, maintained that there isn't justice (read: freedom) without limits. Those who believe you are free to do whatever you like invariably strike the walls of licentiousness. Freedom is inhibited by responsibility, morality, and law. The focus on autonomous choice ends up with a normative account of the human good.
In this postmodern era the limits imposed by norms are continually questioned. Freedom is now seen extending further into the domain of practical reason (what is done), but also speculative reason (what might be done). This postmodern idea seeks to extend the prerogatives of self-determination into every aspect of our lives, including challenges to human dignity and religious concerns.
The reason why this is the case is that post-modernists find any normative account of human nature inherently dangerous. They wish to control every aspect of life whether it be the meaning of existence, the content of moral norms, religious claims, and human sexuality. But this liberal ideal of freedom leads to a willful ignorance of human nobility.
Thomas Aquinas noted that the knowledge of the good plays an essential role in the actions of freedom. This is consistent with a point made by Thomas Jefferson in the "Declaration of Independence" who argued for the free pursuit of human happiness bounded by a well-understood idea of virtue. This was not Benthamite utilitarianism: if happiness derives more pleasure than pain, it is desirable to pursue "the greatest good for the greatest number." For Jefferson, it was the pursuit of happiness within the parameters of normative beliefs.
The exaggerated desire for freedom of indeterminate choice cannot be sated solely by the discipline of legitimate authority, albeit that is a necessary but insufficient condition for defining freedom. Ultimately the pursuit of truth, a deep vision into the human capacity - what James Q. Wilson described as "the inner morality" - is critical. Such a vision should address the complexities of our age, but also should resolve the difference between freedom's past and its present postmodern state. Norms do change. However their acceptance is more likely when they nourish our spiritual needs.
The freedom unhinged from norms invariably leads to confusion and despair. Unlimited choice is a spiritual nightmare. And the darkness of confusion emerges when we are paralyzed by options beyond our understanding.
Yes, we want to be free, but only when that freedom results in personal enrichment. That enrichment is paradoxically found in limits, the very condition against which the postmodern liberationists marshal their energies. Here is the irony of modern life: to be free we must recognize constraints. Even the artist challenging the barriers of the past must recognize the need for constraining techniques. The past always seizes us by the collar reminding mankind that fulfillment through the use of choice puts us on a path tread before. Ultimately mankind cannot escape its basic nature, and the real meaning of freedom within the contours of normative constraints. *