Hobby Lobby: Where Angels Fear to Tread

Civil Rights Act Today“If men were angels, no government would be necessary” — James Madison, Federalist # 51

“All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree” — James Madison, 1787

Perhaps nothing better illustrates what’s wrong with America in the poisoned political climate of the 21st Century than the failure of anybody to appreciate the irony of the Hobby Lobby decision being handed down during the same summer in which we celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. With even the criticism of the decision’s precedents limited to those it sets with regard to reproductive rights, absolutely nobody sees the true lesson that both of these landmarks in our political history contain for us: the utter fallacy of the central tenet of the libertarian ideology fueling the Tea Party which our elected leaders definitively rejected in 1964, only to be definitively embraced fifty years later by the five unelected judges who now rule our political universe.

While an America without the Civil Rights Act would truly be as “unimaginable” today as Rand Paul correctly asserts it would be, it is even more unimaginable that such a bill could pass at any time in which either a majority of seats in the House, or a “41 to 59 majority” in the Senate are controlled by the party whose members all know they’ll face an unwinnable primary challenge should they fail to show proper deference to Paul’s beloved Tea Party. Civil Rights hero John Lewis is one of the few progressives that has made this point, and Rachel Maddow is the only one I’ve seen attempting to prove it by hounding Paul about how he would have voted in 1964.

But she misses the larger point, illustrating why she and other progressives always have such a difficult time persuading Americans to reject the centuries old Confederate ideology that has consistently painted opposition to ALL social advancement (Civil Rights being the prime example) as the patriotic duty of lovers of freedom everywhere. Attempting to track down every one of the Senator’s past quotes to show their supposed inconsistency with his supposed current support for the Act is a waste of time. Rand Paul was in diapers while the bill was being debated in Congress, and to discuss how that person would have voted sheds light on exactly nothing.

What matters is how the 51-year-old senator, who has made this Confederate small government ideology the basis of his political career, would vote on a bill like this were it not already the law of the land. And when it comes to this, the record is clear: there is NO intellectually honest way to argue that any politician who lives and dies by the ideology of smaller government as the answer to everything could possibly vote for such a bill in good conscience.

But 50 years later, when it IS the law of the land and has been for a while, our present inability to imagine this country without it (along with the fact that hardly any of them were in Congress back then) gives Tea Partiers their plausible deniability when it comes time to deny that they would have voted to continue a practice so shameful as segregation, or to assert that that issue is entirely different from any other injustice they’ll oppose government interference with… it isn’t!

Suggest to one of these people that they support the Dodd-Frank financial regulations by pointing out the cost to taxpayers of bailing out the big banks and they’ll be absolutely incredulous as to what those two things have to do with one another. Talk about people bankrupted by their medical bills and they’ll be genuinely miffed at how anybody could think that their opposition to universal healthcare in any way suggests lack of compassion towards these individuals. And in 1964 their intellectual predecessors were no less adamant about their personal abhorrence of racism, and no less offended at suggestions that their opposition to the Civil Rights bill indicated a lack of compassion.

In all of these cases, the reason for the failure to connect the dots is clear: questions of right and wrong are not to be considered if you are a libertarian devotee of small government. When asked to vote on whether or not the government should DO something about these or any other injustices, there are only two questions you need to ask yourself about the bill. One: Will it involve telling certain capitalists what they can and cannot do in running their businesses? Two: Will enforcing it expand the size of the federal government and the scope of its powers? If the answer to either one of these questions is so much as maybe (and certainly for a bill in which the answer to both is an unequivocal YES!), then the bill is a freedom-crushing path towards socialism and must be defeated at all costs.

Everyone is well aware of how governments can limit our freedom. We’ve all learned of the kinds of tyrannical oppression that have occurred throughout history as a result of government action. But we are woefully ignorant of both the potential, and the long history of, oppression that occurs as a result of government inaction. The stories are out there, and they abound. But these are not the kinds of stories the powers that be want you to hear. For the past several decades, they have inundated us with billions of dollars of Confederate propaganda teaching us to ignore the wisdom of the founders, not to mention our own common sense. They’ll have us accept their supposition that we have everything to fear from public power in the hands of those who answer to the people and can be voted out of office, and absolutely nothing to fear from privatized power in the hands of those who don’t and can’t be.

In a 21st Century in which segregated lunch counters are indeed “unimaginable” we must live in a state of collective amnesia about the history of so many things, and the history of what the Civil Rights Act did is at the top of the list.

And accept it we do. We tell ourselves that without the intrusion of government all men ARE angels, but its just something magical about holding an elected post in government that turns them evil. Legislative majorities, voted in by the people, constitute “men having power”, but the angels running the big banks, corporations and insurance companies do not. From this, it naturally follows that weakening the government by deregulating these institutions makes us all freer, since the people running them would NEVER use their increased freedom to act contrary to the freedom of the public.

In a 21st Century in which segregated lunch counters are indeed “unimaginable” we must live in a state of collective amnesia about the history of so many things, and the history of what the Civil Rights Act did is at the top of the list. There is simply no getting around the fact that the oppression of segregation was ended by government action in 1964 after having been perpetuated by decades of government inaction preceding that year.

But in order to live with our aforementioned delusions about “men in government” being the only “men having power” capable of oppression we simply must deny this fact. If you ask small government conservatives to explain their position on the Civil Rights Act, I’m sure you’ll get a few that will acknowledge their opposition to it on libertarian grounds (although those will not be the ones seriously running for office in this century). You’ll undoubtedly hear intellectually dishonest arguments stating that opposing that would be completely different from opposing Obamacare or Dodd-Frank, despite how perfectly clear it is that it’s the same thing.

carlin-400But if we ask around I’m sure we’ll see quite a few who will simply indicate complete ignorance of history, stating support for the Civil Rights Act along with a belief that what it did was simply repeal Jim Crow Laws (i.e. government action) which the federal government used to mandate on southern businesses, before finally agreeing to allow the angels running private companies to integrate like they’d always wanted to do.

In order to peddle such a bogus proposition that “the size of government is inversely proportional to the size of our freedom”, one must rely on such stunning levels of ignorance. Those peddling it must rely on a failure to recognize that the phrase “men having power” does not exclude those in the private sector. They must rely on our ignorance of the fact that these are the men that stand to take over the government services right-wingers want to privatize.

The people they’ve sold this to no doubt believe that the reason conservatives support small government is because they’re treating us like adults capable of making our own decisions. But the people doing the selling don’t believe it for a minute. In fact, it is the advocates of smaller government that are the ones who believe the masses are like children that constantly need powerful individuals telling them what to do at every turn. They KNOW who it is that will fill the void to provide the services the government does not. They don’t support smaller government because they don’t want powerful men in the public sector telling us what to do. They support it because they DO want powerful men in the private sector telling us what to do.

How brazenly they’re willing to lie in their attempts to get us to dismiss the possibility of powerful private individuals running our lives was illustrated back in April, when one of the many right-wing campaigns to privatize education was caught red handed in flagrantly misquoting a George Carlin routine, where he supposedly decried what “Governments don’t want” schools to teach. Okay, the case could be made that it was necessary to condense his typically long-winded rant and the words he used to describe the enemy. He didn’t simply say “Corporations” where the word “Governments” was inserted. But if you check the context it is very clear that the target of his rant was the for-profit special interest groups trying to take over public education… the very interest groups whose agenda was shamelessly being promoted by the Heartland Institute while misquoting the line in question. (DailyKos: April 26, 2014)

But how badly the more general promotion of the Right’s small government propaganda has pervaded our political discourse is seen in the way that most right-wingers don’t even feel the need to change words of progressive statements made by men who are now dead and can’t defend themselves against the misuse of their words. Just google the Madison quote about power and see how many right-wing blogs quote that prominently. Simply relying on their readers to read the words “all men having power” and think “the government”, they’re going out of their way to print the founders’ logic for NOT placing power into the hands of the very people their agenda would ultimately place it in the hands of.

mark-bowen-14Both the landmark event we legislated 50 years ago, and the one legislated from the bench this past year should make it very clear why these are the folks that the enemies of personal freedom want to have that power. These are the folks that want to tell you what kinds of healthcare you can and cannot have. These were the folks whose “deeply held beliefs” would have dictated what jobs you can hold and what public accommodations you can use on account of the color of your skin. These folks are hardly angels, and it is hard to imagine the real ones being willing to tread on those libertarian grounds where fools rush in.

Mark Bowen

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