Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
In his 1831 book celebrating America, Alexis de Tocqueville warned, “In democratic societies, there exists an urge to do something even when the goal is not precise, a sort of permanent fever that turns to innovations…[which] are always costly.”
After a spate of traumatic tragedies that impact the gun and immigration debates, feverish politicians are rushing to innovate complex legislation without thoroughly and publicly examining the underlying problems and before “We the People” consent to their solutions. Lawmakers should Think Again considering only four percent of Americans currently “mention guns or immigration as the most important problems facing the nation,” according to Gallup. Americans’ top concerns are the economy, jobs and dissatisfaction with the way government works.
If irony is the hygiene of the mind, much about the Boston Marathon Massacre is clarifying, though boggling. Intent on massacring Bostonians on Patriots Day, the immigrant Brothers Tsarnaev received state welfare benefits funded by taxpayers they killed and maimed. Then they murdered a police officer en route to hijacking a car with a “Coexist” bumper sticker. Perhaps inspired by “Coexist” sentimentality, the fugitive sociopaths allowed the car’s owner to live “because he wasn’t American,” assuring their capture and “non-coexistence” in the American community they shunned.
Sadly, despite new laws since 9/11 and $50 billion spent annually on robust security precautions, there is little a free and open society can do to prevent Boston-style bombings or public mass shootings by law-breakers. While there are crime-prevention measures that could deter public attacks, civil libertarians and constitutionalists claim they encroach on Americans’ constitutionally protected natural rights to self-defense, due process and free speech.
The ACLU opposes measures that infringe on the First Amendment rights of violent video-game makers and background checks that could lead to the institutionalization of the mentally impaired and the infringement of their privacy rights; psychiatrists resist reporting patients fearing it would deter treatment-seekers; and the NRA opposes measures that inhibit the rights of responsible, law-abiding citizens -- often victims of gun or domestic violence -- to protect their person, family and property. They believe the best response to a criminal trying to kill civilians is a civilian equipped to deter him.
These are complex and challenging issues entailing important security versus liberty tradeoffs. Americans need and deserve thoughtful and informed deliberations to derive consensus-driven solutions, not hyper-partisan demagoguery that casts opponents as uncaring and evil. If politicians truly want to prevent the next Newtown, why do they push legislation that, by their own admission, fails this test -- unless they want to sow discord for political gain? If public safety were their paramount concern, why can’t they legislate enhanced school security measures, like those enacted in airplanes after 9/11?
The irony is that while politicians insist on expanded law enforcement capabilities to protect society from gun-wielding law-breakers, they resist enforcing immigration laws, as if we’re not a sovereign nation of laws and legal immigrants -- many with relatives who suffered tragic fates after being denied entry.
Imagine treating gun-law violators, insider-traders or thieves with the same kit gloves we treat those who violate our immigration laws. Would we care that they “live in the shadows” fearful their lawlessness might be exposed? Would we permit “city-sanctuaries” that protect law-breakers from law enforcement, or insist private employers be law-enforcers?
The truth is our immigration system is broken. Those we most want – the millions of law-abiders and entrepreneurial American Dreamers who, like our forefathers, want to come to America to adopt our way-of-life -- must wait years to earn an American visa. Meanwhile, according to official US immigration data since 1970, significantly larger percentages of immigrants possess lower skill levels, live in poverty and rely on public assistance, as compared to non-immigrant Americans. Consequently, low-skilled Americans suffer $402 billion in wage losses annually, according to Harvard economist George Borjas, while taxpayers bear the cost of welfare benefits.
These statistics belie the fact that, as the most multi-ethic nation on earth, America possesses unique cultural and economic strengths that underlie our unity and prosperity. Unfortunately, for the last 50 years, we’ve migrated away from the secret sauce that accounts for our success -- “e pluribus unum” (out of many one) -- toward a “separate but equal” hyphenated Americanism. As the Tsarnaev brothers demonstrate, it’s not in America’s interest to import foreigners who remain foreign and lost outsiders.
Tocqueville said “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.” If we’re to avoid the “Balkanization” that triggers disaffection and ethic strife elsewhere, and preserve the vitality that’s historically attracted new Americans, we must resume acculturating immigrants to American values so they can integrate into American society.
Think Again – For this definition of “coexist” to prevail in America, our politicians must coexist better.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Last month world-renowned pediatric neurosurgeon and up-from-nothing African-American idol Ben Carson expressed his contrarian opinion that marriage is between a man and a woman and no group could change this millennia-old social institution. Appalled medical students at Johns Hopkins University – allegedly a place of intellectual inquiry and diversity and “a forum for the free expression of ideas” -- circulated a petition to remove Carson as commencement speaker.
Having gained widespread media attention for his recent National Prayer Breakfast speech in which he critiqued political correctness, Carson apologized for his off-the-cuff, maladroit and incorrect political critique of same-sex marriage, reiterating his belief that gays must be assured equal civil and legal rights without changing the definition of marriage.
Were Johns Hopkins students more sage, they’d Think Again before dissing this distinguished man of character, accomplishment, and philanthropy for sharing Bill and Hillary Clinton’s marriage definition -- until “evolving” last month -- though not their political dexterity. Before exiting the ivory tower, students could learn from Jimi Hendrix who believed, “Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens,” and Benjamin Franklin who taught, “If everyone is thinking alike, then no one is thinking.”
Apparently they don’t think much at Johns Hopkins where the Student Government Association denied the pro-life group “Voices for Life” recognition as an approved organization. Without alternative voices on campus, how does the university assure the diversity it champions? Might ardent though free-thinking supporters of women’s reproductive rights want to know that a representative of Planned Parenthood (half of whose budget is taxpayer-funded) recently testified before the Florida legislature that the decision of what to do with a baby who survives a failed abortion be left up to the patient and her doctor, begging the question: who’s the patient?
Considering that abortionist Kermit Gosnell is currently on trial in Philadelphia for murdering late-term babies delivered alive by snipping their spines, these aren’t hypothetical questions. If “sunlight is the best disinfectant,” shouldn’t we encourage alternative voices – on and off-campus -- to assure an informed citizenry and a civil society?
Other instances of intolerance masquerading as tolerance are equally disquieting: At George Washington University, two gay students are seeking the removal of a chaplain for teaching Catholic doctrine regarding homosexuality (but apparently not pre-marital sex); the U.S. Army listed Evangelical Christianity, Ultra-Orthodox Judaism, and Catholicism as examples of religious extremism (along with Al Qaeda, Hamas and the Ku Klux Klan) in a Pennsylvania reserve unit training manual; and actor Jeremy Irons was labeled anti-gay for worrying that “lawyers are going to have a field day” if marriage is redefined and imagining estate-tax avoidance strategies involving father-son “marriages,” despite wishing “everybody who’s living with one other person the best of luck in the world, because it’s fantastic.”
Though distracted by ham-fisted arguments and irrespective of one’s view on same-sex marriage, abortion or any other hot-button issue, Americans must resist diversity-champions and tolerance-enforcers who dictate homogeneity -- as if there’s one cosmically correct policy that can be expressed without offending anyone. Name-calling and social ostracism not only destroy reputations and careers, they suffocate the debate a free, pluralistic and informed society needs to assure its government has the “consent of the governed.”
Throughout American history, we’ve navigated changes in cultural and legal landscapes while accommodating divergent views, values, and (lawful) practices. In America’s melting pot, prejudices dissolve through exposure to disparate voices and moral suasion, while legitimate differences are respected. America is the freest and most decent opportunity-giving society on earth because we’ve been a refuge for the persecuted since the Puritans left the Church of England to establish Plymouth Colony in 1620.
Embedded in our founding documents are uniquely American and revolutionary principles to protect our inalienable rights – including free speech and the free exercise of religion -- and “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” The barring of state-sponsored religion and the guaranteeing of religious liberty is what “the wall of separation between church and state” means – not a demand for the separation of religion and politics.
In his best-selling book “America the Beautiful,” Carson recounts how this “American Way” helped him overcame poverty, poor role models, racism and anger. Born in a land of opportunity, and cultivated morally by religion, intellectually by a solid public education, and behaviorally by a wise though functionally illiterate Mom who never made excuses (nor allowed him to), he reached the pinnacle of success.
Fearing America won’t bequeath the same opportunity-society to future generations, Carson entreats Americans to recover our founding values, “set aside political correctness…apply logic to solving our problems and add the godly principles of loving our fellow man, caring about our neighbors, and developing our God-given talents.” This will assure America remains “a pinnacle nation, … ‘one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’”
Think Again – for students whose heads need examining to assure they still think, a brain surgeon is the perfect commencement speaker.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Tamara Shayne Kagel made waves recently when she wrote a column in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles titled “I Don’t Want to Date a Republican.” Clarifying her fears, she pondered with horror: “What if I have Republican babies?” Now smitten, she’s had to Think Again.
Having crossed the partisan Rubicon from insularity to open-mindedness, Kagel says she now respects and admires her boyfriend who, she acknowledges, “values helping the poor as much as I do -- just in a different way.”
To arrive at this tolerant Zen state, Kagel recalibrated her moral compass, the antidote social psychologist Jonathan Haidt advocates in “The Righteous Mind -- Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.” Haidt cautions, “Beware of anyone who insists there is one true morality for all people, times, and places.” Comedian Steven Colbert didn’t buy Haidt’s thesis insisting “not just that I’m right; almost more importantly is that you are wrong.“
Last week, as if aping Colbert, many media, academic and political elites insisted opponents of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) were villainous and treacherous, including Supreme Court justices who might rule the law unconstitutional. Hardball’s Chris Matthews compared Chief Justice Roberts to the judge who upheld the Fugitive Slave Act, but after Roberts became the swing vote, he seemed to morph from Darth Vader into Luke Skywalker.
Disturbed by this Star Wars mentality, polls show public confidence in media and government at record lows. This week’s Rasmussen survey of Supreme Court perceptions confirmed the widening gap between the political class and mainstream voters -- the Court’s favorability doubled from 27 to 55 percent among the political class but dropped from 34 to 22 percent among mainstream voters.
Every American wants our health care system to be more efficient, affordable and accessible. As world-class consumers, we expect cost containment, improved quality and more choices -- we get that in our cell phones, why not our healthcare? We’ve watched Apple compete by continuously innovating, creating new markets and must-have products at prices unimaginable a decade ago. Meanwhile, market entrants like Android offer choices to consumers for whom a phone (never mind an iPhone) was previously unaffordable.
Not surprisingly, Americans rejected government-centric solutions that interposed Washington bureaucrats between doctors and patients and did little to address the healthcare cost explosion. Nevertheless, à la Colbert, lawmakers insisted they were right and opponents weren’t merely wrong, but evil. Despite public outrage, Congress passed the ACA on a party-line vote aided by political payoffs, accounting gimmicks, deceptive language, and parliamentary trickeries never before used for such far-reaching legislation.
As unsettling is the perception that last week’s Supreme Court ruling -- which rewrote the ACA in order to find it constitutional and used reasoning that politically-diverse legal experts regard as flimsy -- was made to protect the Court’s legitimacy in the eyes of those who define illegitimacy as anything with which they disagree. If political calculations factored into Court deliberations, doesn’t that undermine judicial integrity?
Most importantly, two years into the 2,409 page law and 4,103 pages of associated regulations, we know it’s “dreadful public policy,” as non-partisan Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson wrote: Its “attempt to achieve universal health insurance coverage is a massive feat of social engineering that, by its sweeping nature, weakens the economic recovery and antagonizes millions of people.”
Moreover, its promises are false: health insurance premiums have risen $2,200, not declined by $2,500; official cost estimates nearly doubled with further increases expected, thus increasing the deficit; and millions of Americans will lose their insurance and doctors as companies dump workers into government health exchanges to avoid escalating healthcare expenses.
Now consider the moral travesties. Not only does the law perpetuate the largest transfer of wealth from the young to the older in world history, it promises a quantity and quality of care it can’t deliver while stifling the medical innovation on which the world depends for continuously improving health outcomes.
The story of Deamonte Driver, a 12-year old Medicaid beneficiary, is instructive. Unable to secure appropriate and timely treatment, he died of an infection that started with an abscessed tooth -- not because he was uninsured, but because he was government-insured.
The ACA’s proponents won’t mention these fiscal, economic and moral challenges. Like used car salesmen, they tout loss leaders (universal coverage and 26-year olds on parents’ plans) and free extras (contraception) – all attainable with cheaper and less disruptive policies like tax credits and high-risk pools. How do we separate the facts from the sales pitch, and if the deal is so good, why do the well-connected get waivers?
With so much at stake, lawmakers must recalibrate their moral compasses. Having done so, Kagel personifies Haidt’s message that love and mutual respect engender the willingness to see those with opposing views generously, improving everyone’s outcomes.
If elected leaders won’t love and respect us, we must Think Again in November.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Last month, the day before National Donut Day, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced plans to tackle obesity by banning the sale of sugary drinks larger than sixteen ounces. Eager for the newly nicknamed “Soda Jerk” to Think Again, comedian Jon Stewart joked that Bloomberg’s proposal “combines the draconian government overreach people love with the probable lack of results they expect.”
The website “Renegade Chicks” reflected citywide disapproval in asking, “aren’t there bigger issues at hand (like)…. say the declining economy and rising unemployment rates? If this soda ban is passed, what’s next?” Apparently, milk drinks and popcorn, which goes to show there’s nothing so bad that politicians can’t make worse. At least New Yorkers can move to a different city.
Not so for Americans wishing to escape the interventionist sweep of the Affordable Care Act whose constitutionality we’ll soon know. Perhaps more important than whether the law stands, is whether the Supreme Court decision will enable the steady mission and power creep of the federal government beyond the boundaries set by our constitutional framers.
Those who advocate such creep believe in a “living Constitution” that allows government to concentrate power in order to meet societal challenges, a noble goal. The ends justify the means for such advocates like UC-Irvine Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky who asserts, “Congress can force economic transactions” and “in theory…. use its commerce power to require people to buy cars. Power can be used in silly ways and the Constitution isn’t our protector against undesirable government actions.”
One needn’t be a constitutional scholar to know unlimited and unchecked federal government power was the evil our Founders wanted to prevent. They designed the government to limit federal authority to enumerated purposes, leaving remaining powers to sovereign states and individuals. As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor explained, “The Constitution protects us from our own best intentions: It divides power among sovereigns and among branches of government precisely so that we may resist the temptation to concentrate power in one location as an expedient solution to the crisis of the day.”
Embedded in our founding documents is a uniquely American and revolutionary set of governing principles designed to protect our natural rights and liberties, not create man-made ones. This philosophy created the freest and most prosperous society on earth by proclaiming that every human being is born free, equal, and independent with inalienable rights that are permanent parts of our nature. Because we’re equal, no one – not a king, a neighbor or a mayor -- can be the ruler of any other human being, and each of us is equal in our natural rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness.
Since a just government derives its power from the consent of the governed it must be, as Thomas Jefferson said, a “wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”
Nevertheless, the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, which empowers Congress to regulate interstate trade, has been used to justify dramatic federal government expansion. Congress wants to stretch this power further to include the regulation of individual choices never before considered commercial or interstate -- like deciding not to purchase health insurance. If Congress can mandate Americans to purchase health insurance simply because we’re alive, what Constitutional principle prevents government from forcing individuals into other purchases?
The debates surrounding this question, and other constitutional issues like executive privileges and orders, are instructive. Not only have Americans learned more about the Constitution, we’ve discovered that many lawmakers neither understand nor respect the document they’re sworn to uphold. Even worse, we have leaders intent on fundamentally transforming the relationship between the citizen and government in a manner the Constitution doesn’t allow.
By allowing these politicians to create and impose solutions better left to sovereign states and individuals, we permit their government-driven agenda to trump our liberties and their Leviathan government to limit our choices and make our decisions. This is not the fulfillment of our Founder’s dream – it’s their nightmare.
Americans must ask: Do we want a government whose role is limited by the sovereign people to certain designated purposes, or an amorphous and unlimited one that can do to us whatever it wants? How long before the federal government deems a 32-ounce soda oversized or worse, a $320,000 salary excessive?
On July 4th, Americans celebrate the liberty and natural rights for which our Founders fought. They gave us a brilliant political system which, to paraphrase William Gladstone, was the most perfect ever devised in the history of mankind. Now, it’s up to us to reclaim it.
Think Again – your liberty depends on it.