Topic: Political Philosophy

Gerson’s Lament

In the WaPo today, Michael Gerson worries that conservatives have “beg[un] to question the importance or existence of moral ideals in politics and foreign policy.” But Mr. Gerson’s idealism, on display in Iraq, has been revealed as delusion. The war in Iraq has sown carnage and instability rather than “freedom” in Iraq, killed nearly 4,000 Americans, and bled more than half a trillion dollars from the pockets of American taxpayers, rather than making us more secure.

The distinction at the heart of the debate over foreign policy is different than that described by Mr. Gerson: it is not between instinctive opponents and proponents of radical change, but between the empirical and the notional—between, on the one hand, those who adhere to observable reality, drawing from history and social science, and, on the other hand, those who rely on the abstract ruminations of essayists in comfortable chairs.

Like so many proponents of the Iraq disaster, Mr. Gerson writes as if the past 5 years never happened, demonstrating himself to be a steadfast adherent to Max Weber’s ethic of ultimate ends and in opposition to Weber’s ethic of responsibility. The former, in Weber’s nomenclature, determines that “if an action of good intent leads to bad results, then, in the actor’s eyes, not he but the world, or the stupidity of other men, or God’s will who made them thus, is responsible for the evil.” The latter, by contrast, acknowledges the importance of outcomes: “he will say: these results are ascribed to my action.” Weber warned that “in the world of realities, as a rule, we encounter the ever-renewed experience that the adherent of an ethic of ultimate ends suddenly turns into a chiliastic prophet.”

There’s really a bit of irony in all this. After all, it was President Bush who once told a confab of religious writers that

The culture needs to be changed. I call it, so people can understand what I’m talking about, changing the culture from one that says, “If it feels good, do it, and if you’ve got a problem, blame somebody else,” to a culture in which each of us understands we’re responsible for the decisions we make in life. I call it the responsibility era. …

Cato Offers Home Study Course

The Cato Institute is now pleased to offer the Cato University Home Study Course, a self-paced, home study program, enabling you to spend time with brilliant minds in your home, office, or car; during a workout; while on vacation; or wherever and whenever you have an opportunity to listen and think. Immersing you in the thoughts and views of John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, James Madison, Adam Smith, Voltaire, John Stuart Mill, Henry David Thoreau, Ayn Rand, F.A. Hayek, Milton Friedman, and others, the Cato University Home Study Course offers you the opportunity to deepen your perspectives, knowledge, and insight on the growth of human freedom – and with it science, culture, and capitalist prosperity.

Pelosi’s World

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s understanding of government’s role in a liberal democracy (and of the veto power) may be worse than I thought. A reporter sends a transcript of a press conference that Pelosi held yesterday, where she made the following remarks:

Oh, [President Bush] used the veto pen to veto the stem cell research bill.  That was a major disappointment… . I remember that veto very well because he was saying, “I forbid science to proceed to improve the health of the American people.”

Regarding Bush’s threatened veto of the Democrats’ expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program:

The President is saying, “I forbid 10 million children in America to have health care.” You know from your Latin that is what “veto” means.

Pelosi should know that there is a difference between the government not funding something and forbidding it. 

My colleague Sigrid-Fry Revere documents that stem-cell research proceeds even — or especially? — in the absence of government funding. Anyone with passing familiarity with SCHIP knows the program covers millions of children who would have health insurance anyway — and even more children who would still get health care if the program disappeared tomorrow. Yet Pelosi thinks that vetoing SCHIP expansion is the equivalent of stormtroopers kicking in clinic doors to stop a well-baby visit.

Notably, no one from the press challenged either comment.

Upcoming Cato Forum on the Rights of Terminally Ill Patients

In 2006, a panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that terminally ill patients have a constitutionally protected right to purchase and use experimental drug treatments not yet approved by the federal government. 

On August 7 of this year, the full D.C. Circuit overturned the panel ruling, holding that terminally ill patients have no such constitutional right.

On September 25, this coming Tuesday, the Cato Institute will host a policy forum titled, “Should the Government Insert Itself between Dying Patients and Unproven Therapies?“ 

Debating the rights of terminally ill patients will be Scott Ballenger, the lead counsel for the plaintiffs in that case; Ezekiel Emanuel, a bioethicist with the National Institutes of Health and a leading critic of the panel’s ruling; and yours truly.

The forum will be from 12-1:30pm, followed by a luncheon.  Register here.

Hillary Hates Freedom

Maybe that’s a bit strong. Let’s just say, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton operates with reckless disregard for individual freedom and the limited government that protects and sustains it.

In her latest salvo, she dismisses the great promises of the Declaration of Independence, the founding principles of the United States, as rhetorical flourishes, mere garnishes on the real stuff of life. “We can talk all we want about freedom and opportunity, about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but what does all that mean to a mother or father who can’t take a sick child to the doctor?” she asked.

In her senatorial activities and her presidential campaign, Clinton has tended to propose modest, moderate programs. Even her new health care proposal is being hailed as more modest than her 1993 plan (though it would in fact impose a new government mandate on every person in the United States). But at her core, Hillary Clinton rejects the fundamental values of liberalism, values like individual autonomy, individual rights, pluralism, choice, and yes, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. She seems to see no area of life that should be free from the heavy hand of government. And to her the world of free people seems a vast nothingness. When a few Republicans proposed to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, which spends about $125 million of the $63 billion spent on arts in the United States, she declaimed that such a move “not only threatens irrevocable damage to our cultural institutions but also to our sense of ourselves and what we stand for as a people.”

After her first attempt at nationalizing and bureaucratizing American health care, she told the New York Times that her next project would be “redefining who we are as human beings in the post-modern age.” I’d say 300 million Americans can do that for themselves.

Her hostility to freedom is not just a left-wing attitude. In the Senate, she’s been adding the paternalistic agenda of the religious right to her old-fashioned liberal paternalism. Clinton has called for federal legislation to prohibit the sale of “inappropriate” video games to children and teens. She’s introduced a bill to study the impact of media on children, a likely prelude to restrictions on television content, and she touts the V-Chip regulation that President Bill Clinton signed. She supports federal legislation to outlaw flag desecration (though not a constitutional amendment).

In her book It Takes a Village, she insisted that 300 million free people could somehow come to “a consensus of values and a common vision of what we can do today, individually and collectively, to build strong families and communities.” She told Newsweek, “There is no such thing as other people’s children,” a claim that ought to frighten any parent. She promised to inflict on free citizens government videos running constantly in every gathering place, telling people “how to burp an infant, what to do when soap gets in his eyes, how to make a baby with an earache comfortable”—all the things that no one knew how to do until the federal government came along.

Hillary Clinton is no socialist. But when she makes her rejection of liberal values as explicit as she did on Monday – dismissing “freedom and opportunity [and] life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as irrelevant to people’s real lives–she is far too reminiscent of some of the most authoritarian figures of the 20th century. Lenin, for instance, wrote, “Bourgeois democracy is democracy of pompous phrases, solemn words, exuberant promises and the high-sounding slogans of freedom and equality.”

And maybe it’s no surprise that Clinton cosponsored her videogame ban with Sen. Rick Santorum, who is also an articulate and determined opponent of individualism. In his book It Takes a Family and in various media appearances, he denounced “this whole idea of personal autonomy.” At least once he rejected “the pursuit of happiness” explicitly, saying, “This is the mantra of the left: I have a right to do what I want to do” and “We have a whole culture that is focused on immediate gratification and the pursuit of happiness … and it is harming America.” Not the mantra of the Hillary Clinton left, obviously.

We know that societies that reject bourgeois freedom – the freedom of individualism, civil society, the rule of law, and yes, you guessed it, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – in favor of collectivism and economic goods end up with neither freedom nor prosperity. The United States has the most advanced medical care in the world – The rate of death from heart disease in the U.S. was cut in half between 1980 and 2000, for instance – because we have a mostly free and capitalist economy. Mandates and regulations make medical care more costly than it needs to be, and Hillary Clinton now proposes to pile on yet more mandates and regulations. But the really scary prospect of another Clinton presidency is not what she would do to our medical care but what she would do to the “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” that is the foundation of our free society.

Hillary, Dubya ♥ Universal Coverage

Neither appears to have been persuaded by the principles of the Anti-Universal Coverage Club. Here’s my short take on HillaryCare II. And according to USA Today:

Clinton unveiled her plan as Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said President Bush wants to achieve universal health care before he leaves office.

Leavitt told the USA TODAY editorial board that Bush will veto a Democratic plan emerging from Congress that would add $35 billion in taxpayer subsidies to the Children’s Health Insurance Program over five years. In doing so, Leavitt said, Bush will urge Congress to join him in seeking coverage for all Americans.

“He’d like to see the larger debate begin,” Leavitt said. “The very best opportunity we have may well be in the next 15 months.”

Maybe Dubya will steal the issue from Democrats, much like he stole Medicare prescription drugs. Heck, with Republicans like this, who needs Democrats?