Civics Lessons in the Census

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Census Bureau director Kenneth Prewitt says it's each person's "civic duty" to fill out the 2000 census form; indeed, he says that the census is "thenation's first major civics ceremony of the new century." But a surer signof civic health might be the sound of millions of Americans ripping up thoseforms. The current census is a damning indictment of the current politicalregime.

The Constitution authorizes the federal government to "Enumerate"personsin order to apportion congressional representatives among the states. Thatimplies one need fill out only the first page of the census, which isaddressed to "Resident" and asks how many people live at the address.Gender, race and age are irrelevant.

But in the 53 questions in the long form you're asked about yourincome(#31-#32), how you get to work (#23), when you leave (#24), how manybathrooms you have (#38) and how much you pay annually for water and sewers(#45).

The first civics lesson of the census is that privacy is of littleconcernto political elites; your personal business is their business. The secondlesson is proclaimed loudly by the Census Bureau. The information isnecessary so political elites can redistribute wealth and limit libertyaccording to their vision of a "good" society. You're told that filling outthe form "helps your community get what it needs." Census Bureau TVcommercials show crowded schools and promise more education funds; they showa waitress forced to take her child to work and promise money for daycare.To control us they must know us. Of course, 50 years ago the federalgovernment took only about 5 percent of the average family's income,compared to 25 percent today, so families had more control over theirexpenditures, and less need to ransom their own income from Washington byfilling out census forms.

An indication of how political elites view most Americans is foundinquestion #17, which asks whether you have difficulty "learning, remembering,concentrating? Dressing, bathing or getting around inside that home?" Thethird lesson is that political elites see us as helpless victims who cannottie our shoes or wipe our noses without their federal programs. In thetherapeutic state, they will take care of us, and limit our liberties forour own good.

The fourth lesson is that political elites are obsessed with race.Questions #5, #6 and #10 ask about your race and ethnic origin, give you along list of choices (11 for Asians) and allow you to mix and match. Thecollectivists don't view us as the content of our character but, literally,as the color of our skins or some accident of birth. It is instructive thatyou're asked what race you "consider" yourself (it's not what you are butwhat you "feel" you are). This puts off until some future date the need forNuremberg-type laws defining races and requiring DNA tests.

The fifth lesson is that families, churches and other private, civilinstitutions are to be made subordinate to and enlisted to aid politicalelites. The Census Bureau is enlisting 90,000 "community partners" to prodand pester the rest of us to fess up to the feds. The bureau is enlistingschools to send children home to harangue their parents and clergy to urgetheir congregations to bare their souls to bureaucrats. But shouldn't the340,000 churches, synagogues and mosques in this country concern themselveswith the souls and moral character of their parishioners rather than helpthe government to rob Peter to pay Paul?

Contrast the regime embodied in the census form with the civilsocietyenvisioned by the Constitution. Individuals should have the right to livein peace, as they saw fit, to share their lives with family and friends andto open their hearts to whom they choose. The challenges of life should bemet through vibrant civil institutions. Individuals should be equal beforethe law, regardless of race, religion or ethnic origin. And the role ofgovernment officials should be limited to protecting the lives, libertiesand property of individuals, not meddling in our affairs and managing ourlives as a way of maintaining their positions of power and privilege.

Perhaps a proper response to the census and the regime it seeks tostrengthen is found in Homer's Odyssey. Odysseus and his crew were held inthe cave of the savage Cyclops who "knew nought of justice or of law." Toescape, Odysseus blinded the monster. Today political elites needinformation about us in order to subject us to their will. We too shouldblind the beast that is devouring us. A true act of civic virtue would beto not answer the unconstitutional questions in the census.