Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Blow for Liberty

Yesterday the Supreme Court incorporated (or made applicable to the states) the Second Amendment which grants citizens the right to bear arms when it struck down as unconstitutional, ordinances enacted by several municipalities, Chicago among them, banning residents from purchasing or otherwise owning a handgun to use for their own protection.

It should be noted that many Constitutional rights which we now take for granted, were at best imperfectly protected by our national Constitution in so far as they only protected the people from the federal government's attempt to impose those restrictions on them. The First Amendment, for instance, explicitly forbids Congress, but no other political entity, from passing "any law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Until the First Amendment was incorporated by the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process of Liberty Clause, however, states were free to offer broader or narrower First Amendment-like rights as they saw fit.

Assuming, as the Supreme Court once did, that the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process of Liberty Clause incorporated some but not all Constitutional Amendments never made sense. The Fourteenth Amendment, after all, does not say anything with regard to freedom of speech or religion rights, let alone gun rights. The Fourteenth Amendment merely deprives the states from depriving "any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." Our Court had to interpret the Fourteenth Amendment's protections broadly in order to protect our right to participate within the political process.

Gun control advocates can offer no limiting principle that would justify incorporation of the First but not the Second, Constitutional Amendment. Their emphasis on the "well regulated militia" phrase is also deeply misguided. The Constitution already granted the national government the right to fund and otherwise maintain a standing army, so the "being necessary for a free state" preposition in all likelihood referred to the people's right to defend themselves from any would-be tyrant or for their right to home invaders and not this nation's collective right to defend itself from armed intruders.

The Court's ruling, it should be noted, does not bar state and municipal governments from conducting background checks designed to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally disturbed and felons. It does not bar state and municipal governments from barring citizens from carrying any concealed weapons in a crowded area and it does not bar state and municipal governments from requiring manufacturers to install child safety locks on their guns and it does not require bars to allow patrons to enter their establishments armed.

State and local governments will still maintain the right to enact reasonable gun restrictions provided that they do not bar law abiding citizens of sound mind from the right to own a handgun for their self protection.

Big Goverment Can Help

"Still, there are fewer children in this country going without coats in the winter, and without basic medical care, than there once was, and that's a good thing. And that's in part because of men like Robert C. Byrd. Some of what he stood for I stand against, and I don't know that I ever would have voted for him had I been a West Virginian (on the other hand, I don't know that I wouldn't have, either). Still, I wish we had more people like him in Congress, by which I mean more people, both Republicans and Democrats, who grew up hard, and who come from farms, from factories, from the front lines of the wars, and who didn't come up in material ease. It's important too for people like me, well established in the middle class, to keep in mind people like Byrd. Most Americans, I think, are only one or two generations out of the kind of hardscrabble life that Byrd had. That nasty line I think I first heard from Anne Richards, about George H.W. Bush -- "he was born on third base, and thinks he hit a triple" -- could well apply to me and a lot of you readers, too. We may have been born on second base, or even first base, but we only got there because people like Sen. Byrd opened doors for our forebears." - Rod Dreher on his blog at Beliefnet

So there we have it. A conservative is making the case for ahem, "big government" that President Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats are failing to make. Washington can be a force for good that helps the less fortunate rise above the socioeconomic conditions that help them raise a family. It can and has been used to "level the playing field" when large, corporate interests stifled competition, deprived their employees from earning living wages in safe work spaces, and dumped toxins into the water that contaminated our food supplies.

Washington is needed more today now than ever. We need Washington to protect investors from the poor but economically crippling decisions made by Wall Street executives. They won't police themselves. We need Washington when the health insurance companies withhold coverage from those who payed for that coverage (whether individually or as a part of an employment package). And we need Washington to hold oil companies like BP accountable when they decimate the economic and environmental vitality of a region due to poor executive cost-cutting decisions made on their part.

Our president has, to date, failed to make the case that the people should have more to fear from the private industry than it does with Washington. He should remind us that the proliferation in government programs, regulations and bureaucracies was designed to protect us from the very private businesses that no qualms hurting us.

He cannot assume that this argument was won and every day that Republican accusations against big government goes unanswered is a day his presidency and the causes he champions get undermined further. Mr. Obama cannot govern from the boardroom. He may not have the temperament to fight so if he cannot serve as the commander-in-chief for the Democratic Party he must serve as its educator-in-chief.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Obama Must Read Frank Rich

First, some excerpts from last week's column in The New York Times

"Obama was elected as a progressive antidote to this discredited brand of governance. Of all the president's stated goals, none may be more sweeping than his desire to prove that government is not always a hapless and intrusive bureaucratic assault on taxpayers' patience and pocketbooks, but a potential force for good. ...

... Long before Obama took office, the public was plenty skeptical that government could do anything right. Eight years of epic Bush ineptitude and waste only added to Washington's odor. Now Obama is stuck between a rock and a Tea Party. His credibility as a champion of reformed, competent government is held hostage by video from the gulf. And this in an election year when the very idea of a viable federal government is under angrier assault than at any time since the Gingrich revolution and militia mobilization of 1994-5 and arguably since the birth of the modern conservative movement in the 1960s. ...

... The only good news from the oil spill is that when catastrophe strikes, even some hard-line conservatives, like Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, start begging for the federal government to act, and act big. It's the crunch moment for government to make its case -- as Obama belatedly started to do on Thursday. But words are no match for results. As long as the stain washes up on shore, the hole in BP's pipe will serve the right as a gaping hole in the president's argument for expanded government supervision of, for starters, Big Oil and big banks. It's not just the gulf that could suffer for decades to come."

and now from today's column:

'BP’s recklessness is just the latest variation on a story we know by heart. The company’s heedless disregard of risk and lack of safeguards at Deepwater Horizon are all too reminiscent of the failures at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and A.I.G., where the richly rewarded top executives often didn’t even understand the toxic financial products that would pollute and nearly topple the nation’s economy. BP’s reliance on bought-off politicians and lax, industry-captured regulators at the M.M.S. mirrors Wall Street’s cozy relationship with its indulgent overseers at the S.E.C., Federal Reserve and New York Fed — not to mention Massey Energy’s dependence on somnolent supervision from the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Given Toyota’s recent game of Russian roulette with Americans’ safety and Anthem Blue Cross’s unconscionable insurance-rate increases in California, Obama shouldn’t have any problem riveting the country’s attention to this sorry saga. He has the field to himself, thanks to a political opposition whose hottest new star, Rand Paul, and most beloved gulf-state governor, Haley Barbour of Mississippi, both leapt to BP’s defense right after the rig exploded. The Wall Street Journal editorial page perfectly set forth the conservative establishment’s party line on May 26: “There is zero evidence so far that this blowout resulted from lax regulation or shoddy practices.” Or as BP’s Hayward asked indignantly, “What the hell did we do to deserve this?”'

This can be the president (and the Democratic Party's) albatross or it can be their moment of opportunity. They can make the case for why "big government" was created in the first place and how it can be a force of good for those who would otherwise be left at the mercy of the unscrupulous corporations. At this moment of crisis, the president must rationally defend trust busting.