The organizers of an important Conservative conference have banned an atheist organization from attending it and setting out its stall.
The Conservative Political Action Committee, the largest and oldest gathering of conservatives, is run by the American Conservative Union and will be held at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Maryland’s National Harbor from March 6 to 8. Last year, the event brought together thousands of activists to listen to dozens of Republican leaders speak about everything from economics and foreign policy to social issues. The event has long been considered a required stop for Republican presidential hopefuls.
That and what follows we quote from CNN’s “belief blog”.
Organizers for the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference will not allow American Atheists to have an exhibition booth …
The decision comes just hours after American Atheists, the outspoken organization that advocates for atheists nationwide, announced that it would have a booth at the event. David Silverman, president of American Atheists, tells CNN that a groundswell of opposition from high-ranking members of CPAC compelled the group to pull the invite.
Meghan Snyder, a spokeswoman for CPAC, said in a statement to CNN that “American Atheists misrepresented itself about their willingness to engage in positive dialogue and work together to promote limited government.”
“I’m surprised and I’m saddened,” Silverman said in response to the announcement. “I think this is a very disappointing turn of events. I was really looking forward to going … It is very obvious to me they were looking for a reason to say no,” Silverman added. “Christianity is bad for conservatism and they did not want that message out there.” …
Silverman said his group [had] planned to use the booth to bring conservative atheists “out of the closet” and said he was not worried about making the Christian right angry because “the Christian right should be threatened by us.”
Snyder said CPAC spoke to Silverman about his divisive and inappropriate language.
He pledged that he will attack the very idea that Christianity is an important element of conservatism. People of any faith tradition should not be attacked for their beliefs, especially at our conference. …
But yes, Ms Snyder, it is precisely beliefs that ought to be attacked. Continually. Forever.
The critical examination of ideas is the essential task of civilized humankind.
When [earlier] Snyder had confirmed to CNN that American Atheists would be at CPAC, she said in a statement that they were allowed to display at the confab because “conservatives have always stood for freedom of religion and freedom of expression.”
“The folks we have been working with stand for many of the same liberty-oriented policies and principles we stand for,” Snyder said. …
And so, she had thought, did American Atheists. But the decision to include them had outraged some conservatives.
Tony Perkins, president of the Christian conservative think-tank Family Research Council, expressed outrage at the decision, stating that the American Atheists did “not seek to add their voice to the chorus of freedom”. [He said] “CPAC’s mission is to be an umbrella for conservative organizations that advance liberty, traditional values and our national defense.”
Does the American Conservative Union really think the liberties and values they seek to preserve can be maintained when they partner with individuals and organizations that are undermining the understanding that our liberties come from God? Thomas Jefferson warned against such nonsense. If this is where the ACU is headed, they will have to pack up and put away the “C”‘ in CPAC!” …
The first “C” for “Conservative” we suppose is the one he meant. But why would it need to be packed away if atheists are allowed to have their say? Perhaps Perkins thinks it stands for “Christian”.
American Atheist is well known for its controversial billboards and media campaigns and is considered the in-your-face contingent in the world of atheist activists. The group’s members pride themselves as being the “Marines” of the atheist movement. …
In explaining why the group decided to join CPAC on Monday, Silverman cited a 2012 Pew Research study that found 20% of self-identified conservatives consider themselves religiously unaffiliated. While that does not mean they are atheists, Silverman believes learning more about atheism will make it more likely conservatives will choose to identify with those who believe there is no God.
Just as there are many closeted atheists in the church pews, I am extremely confident that there are many closeted atheists in the ranks of conservatives. This is really a serious outreach effort, and I am very pleased to be embarking on it.
The group has long targeted Republican lawmakers, although Silverman considers the organization nonpartisan.
In 2013, American Atheists launched a billboard campaign against three Republican politicians: former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. All three Republicans have spoken at CPAC in the past.
On one billboard, Santorum is pictured to the left of a quote attributed to him. “Our civil laws have to comport with a higher law. God’s law,” the quote reads. Underneath the graphic is a tagline: “GO GODLESS INSTEAD.”
Comment on this affair comes from National Review, by Charles C. W. Cooke: :
Yesterday, in response to one of the many brouhahas that CPAC seems always to invite, Brent Bozell issued the following statement:
The invitation extended by the ACU, Al Cardenas and CPAC to American Atheists to have a booth is more than an attack on conservative principles. It is an attack on God Himself. American Atheists is an organization devoted to the hatred of God. How on earth could CPAC, or the ACU and its board of directors, and Al Cardenas condone such an atrocity?
So Brent Bozell thinks that issuing the invitation was an attack on conservative principles. More, it was “an attack on God Himself”. As such, it was a veritable “atrocity“!
The particular merits of the American Atheists group to one side, this is a rather astounding thing for Bozell to have said. In just 63 words, he confuses disbelief in God for “hatred” for God — a mistake that not only begs the question but is inherently absurd (one cannot very well hate what one does not believe is there); he condemns an entire conference on the basis of one participant — not a good look for a struggling movement, I’m afraid; and, most alarmingly perhaps, he insinuates that one cannot simultaneously be a conservative and an atheist. I reject this idea — and with force.
If atheism and conservatism are incompatible, then I am not a conservative. And nor, I am given to understand, are George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Anthony Daniels, Walter Olson, Heather Mac Donald, James Taranto, Allahpundit, or S. E. Cupp. There is no getting around this — no splitting the difference: I don’t believe there is a God. It’s not that I’m “not sure” or that I haven’t ever bothered to think about it; it’s that I actively think there isn’t a God — much as I think there are no fairies or unicorns or elves. The degree to which I’m confident in this view works on a scale, certainly: I’m much surer, for example, that the claims of particular religions are untrue and that there is no power intervening in the affairs of man than I am that there was no prime mover of any sort.
Rrrreally, Mr Cooke?
But, when it comes down to it, I don’t believe in any of those propositions.
Am I to be excommunicated from the Right?
One of the problems we have when thinking about atheism in the modern era is that the word has been hijacked and turned into a political position when it is no such thing. The Oxford English Dictionary defines an “atheist” as someone who exhibits “disbelief in, or denial of, the existence of a god.” That’s me right there — and that really is the extent of it.
Okay, you can have a booth at any conference we ever organize.
Or have we spoken too soon? Repeat what you were mumbling, please?
No, I don’t dislike anyone who does believe that there is a God; no, with a few obvious exceptions, I am not angry at the religious; and no, I do not believe the devout to be in any way worse or less intelligent than myself. Insofar as the question inspires irritation in me at all it is largely reserved for the sneering, smarmy, and incomprehensibly self-satisfied New Atheist movement, which has turned the worthwhile writings of some extremely smart people into an organized means by which a cabal of semi-educated twentysomethings might berate the vast majority of the human population and then congratulate one another as to how clever they are.
What New Atheist movement? If it exists, we want to join it. What is incomprehensible about it? What suggests that “it” is self-satisifed? What worthwhile writings would those be? Who are these beraters? And are they not - in that they are atheists – cleverer than “the vast majority of the human population”?
Which is to say that, philosophically speaking, I couldn’t really care less … and practically speaking I am actually pretty warm toward religion — at least as it is practiced in America. True or false, American religion plays a vital and welcome role in civil society, has provided a number of indispensable insights into the human condition, acts as a remarkably effective and necessary check on the ambitions of government and central social-planners, is worthy of respect and measured inquiry on the Burkean grounds that it has endured for this long and been adopted by so many, and has been instrumental in making the United States what it is today.…
We would dispute almost every one of those propositions, especially that religion is “worthy of respect” – though of “measured inquiry”, yes, it is worthy, and should be subjected to it mercilessly.
We like most of what he goes on to say next. And he provides some interesting information:
None of this, however, excuses the manner in which conservatives often treat atheists such as myself. George H. W. Bush, who was more usually reticent on such topics, is reported to have said that he didn’t “know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic[because] this is one nation under God”.
Whether Bush ever uttered these words or not, this sentiment has been expressed by others elsewhere. It is a significant mistake. What “this nation” is, in fact, is one nation under the Constitution — a document that precedes the “under God” reference in the Gettysburg Address by more than seven decades and the inclusion of the phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance by 165 years. (“In God We Trust,” too, was a modern addition, replacing “E Pluribus Unum” as the national motto in 1956 after 174 years.)
Indeed, given the troubled waters into which American religious liberty has of late been pushed, it strikes me that conservatives ought to be courting atheists — not shunning them. I will happily take to the barricades for religious conscience rights, not least because my own security as a heretic is bound up with that of those who differ from me, and because a truly free country seeks to leave alone as many people as possible — however eccentric I might find their views or they might find mine. In my experience at least, it is Progressivism and not conservatism that is eternally hostile to variation and to individual belief, and, while we are constantly told that the opposite is the case, it is those [leftists] who pride themselves on being secular who seem more likely and more keen to abridge my liberties than those who pride themselves on being religious. That I do not share the convictions of the religious by no means implies that I wish for the state to reach into their lives. Nevertheless, religious conservatives will find themselves without many friends if they allow figures such as Mr. Bozell to shoo away the few atheists who are sympathetic to their broader cause.
As it happens, not only do I reject the claim that the two positions are antagonistic, but I’d venture that much of what informs my atheism informs my conservatism also. I am possessed of a latent skepticism of pretty much everything, a hostility toward the notion that one should believe things because they are a nice idea, a fear of holistic philosophies, a dislike of authority and of dogma, a strong belief in the Enlightenment as interpreted and experienced by the British and not the French, and a rather tenacious refusal to join groups.
Yes, a conservative should logically be skeptical of ideology as such. And impatient with the irrational. And religions are among the most irrational of ideologies.
Occasionally, I’m asked why I “believe there is no God,” which is a reasonable question in a vacuum but which nonetheless rather seems to invert the traditional order of things. After all, that’s not typically how we make our inquiries on the right, is it? Instead, we ask what evidence there is that something is true. …
A great deal of the friction between atheists and conservatives seems to derive from a reasonable question. “If you don’t consider that human beings are entitled to ‘God given’ liberties,” I am often asked, “don’t you believe that the unalienable rights that you spend your days defending are merely the product of ancient legal accidents or of the one-time whims of transient majorities?” Well, no, not really. As far as I can see, the American settlement can thrive perfectly well within my worldview. God or no God, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence are all built upon centuries of English law, human experience, and British and European philosophy, and the natural-law case for them stands nicely on its own.
And he then turns to Thomas Jefferson, who penned the Declaration, and, far from “warning against undermining the understanding that our liberties come from God” as Tony Perkins claims …
… rejected revealed religion because revealed religion suggests a violation of the laws of nature. For revelation or any miracle to occur, the laws of nature would necessarily be broken. Jefferson did not accept this violation of natural laws. He attributed to God only such qualities as reason suggested.
Which, as the quoted passage goes on to explain, are none:
“Of the nature of this being,” Jefferson wrote to John Adams in 1817, “we know nothing.”
Logically then, not even its existence, though Jefferson is not recorded as ever having said so.
Clark M. Neily III and his colleagues at the libertarian Institute for Justice believe the United States would be more just if judges were less deferential to legislatures. In his book Terms of Engagement: How Our Courts Should Enforce the Constitution’s Promise of Limited Government, Neily writes that the United States is not “a fundamentally majoritarian nation in which the ability to impose one’s will on others through law is a sacred right that courts should take great pains not to impede.” America’s defining value is not majority rule but individual liberty.
Democracy may be better than all other systems of government, but it has a serious flaw. It allows a majority of the electorate to exert its will over the rest. A majority does not by virtue of sheer numbers know what’s best for the nation. A majority can be dangerously wrong – as when it elects a Hitler, an Allende, a Putin, a Mugabe, a Chavez, a Carter, an Obama.
Democracy needs to be restrained. Americans look to their courts to preserve them from the tyranny of the majority. Conservatives, whether in power or not, should be firmest in upholding the power of the judicial branch. Knowing this, many conservatives speak out against “judicial activism”, thinking that all activist judges are creatures of the Left. But judicial activism could be a protection against the Left.
Our introductory paragraph comes from an article by George Will, who further writes at the Washington Post where he is one of a very few voices of conservatism and reason:
Many judges … in practicing what conservatives have unwisely celebrated as “judicial restraint,” have subordinated liberty to majority rule. Today, a perverse conservative populism panders to two dubious notions — that majorities should enjoy a largely untrammeled right to make rules for everyone, and that most things legislatures do reflect the will of a majority.
Conservatives’ advocacy of judicial restraint serves liberalism by leaving government’s growth unrestrained.
This leaves people such as Sandy Meadows at the mercy of government acting as protector of the strong. Meadows was a Baton Rouge widow who had little education and no resources but was skillful at creating flower arrangements, which a grocery store hired her to do. Then Louisiana’s Horticulture Commission pounced. It threatened to close the store as punishment for hiring an unlicensed flower arranger. Meadows failed to get a license, which required a written test and the making of four flower arrangements in four hours, arrangements judged by licensed florists functioning as gatekeepers to their own profession, restricting the entry of competitors. Meadows, denied reentry into the profession from which the government had expelled her, died in poverty, but Louisianans were protected by their government from the menace of unlicensed flower arrangers.
What Louisiana does, and all states do in conferring favors through regulations that violate individuals’ rights, is obviously unjust and would be declared unconstitutional if courts would do their duty. Their duty is to protect individual liberty, including the right to earn a living, against special-interest legislation. Instead, since judicial abdication became normal during the New Deal, courts almost invariably defer to legislatures’ economic regulations, which frequently are rent-seeking by private factions.
Courts justify dereliction of judicial duty as genuflection at the altar of majority rule, as long as the court can discern, or even imagine, a “rational basis” for a regulation — even if the legislature never articulated it. …
Conservatives clamoring for judicial restraint, meaning deference to legislatures, are waving a banner unfurled a century ago by progressives eager to emancipate government, freeing it to pursue whatever collective endeavors it fancies, sacrificing individual rights to a spurious majoritarian ethic.
The beginning of wisdom is recognizing the implications of this fact: Government is almost never disinterested. Today’s administrative state is a congeries of interests, each of which has a metabolic urge to enlarge its dominion and that of the private-sector faction with which it collaborates. …
Judge Janice Rogers Brown of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit says of “rational basis” jurisprudence: “The judiciary justifies its reluctance to intervene by claiming incompetence — apparently, judges lack the acumen to recognize corruption, self-interest, or arbitrariness in the economic realm — or deferring to the majoritarian imperative,” which means “the absence of any check on the group interests that all too often control the democratic process.”
This process, Neily rightly insists, is not self-legitimizing, which is why judicial passivity is inconsistent with constitutional government. [And he] argues that to say that judicial invalidations of legislative acts should be rare is no more sensible than saying NFL referees should rarely penalize players for holding.
Conservatism’s task, politically hazardous but constitutionally essential, is to urge courts to throw as many flags as there are infractions.
If conservatives never forgive Chief Justice Roberts for validating the anti-American “Affordable Care Act”, they will be exercising better judgment than he did when he disregarded the essential fact that “America’s defining value is not majority rule but individual liberty”.
This report, by Ross Tilchin, comes from the left-leaning Brookings Institution. It is titled On the libertarian challenge within the GOP.
Would a stronger appeal to libertarian values help the Republican Party win elections? This was one of the central questions raised during a discussion of the Public Religion Research Institute’s (PRRI’s) American Values Survey, “In Search of Libertarians in America,” launched at the Brookings Institution on October 29th, 2013.
Libertarianism has become a major part of the political conversation in the United States, thanks in large part to the high profile presidential candidacy of Ron Paul, the visibility of his son Rand in the United States Senate, and Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s well-known admiration of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. And the tenets of libertarianism square with the attitudes of an American public dissatisfied with government performance, apprehensive about government’s intrusiveness into private life, and disillusioned with U.S. involvement overseas. Libertarianism is also distinct from the social conservatism that has handicapped the Republican Party in many recent elections among women and young people.
Within this context, libertarians seem likely to exercise greater sway on the Republican Party than at any other point in the recent past. But a closer look at public attitudes points to many factors that will limit the ability of libertarians to command greater influence within the GOP caucus.
First, according to the PRRI poll, libertarians represent only 12% of the Republican Party. This number is consistent with the findings of other studies by the Pew Research Center and the American National Election Study. This libertarian constituency is dwarfed by other key Republican groups, including white evangelicals (37%) and those who identify with the Tea Party (20%). Tea Party members are much more likely to identify with the religious right than they are with libertarianism. More than half of Tea Partiers (52%) say they are a part of the religious right or the conservative Christian movement, and more than one-third (35%) specifically identify as white evangelical Protestants. In contrast, only 26% of Tea Partiers were classified as libertarians on PRRI’s Libertarian Orientation Scale.
While these groups are similarly conservative on economic matters (indeed, libertarians are further to the right than white evangelicals or Tea Partiers on some economic issues, such as raising the minimum wage), they are extremely divided by their views on religion.
Only 53% of libertarians describe religion as the most important thing or one among many important things in their lives.
Only? We’re surprised there are so many. More than half!
By comparison, 77% of Tea Party members say that religion is either the most important thing or one among many important things in their lives, and – not surprisingly – 94% of white evangelicals say that religion is either the most important thing or one among many important things in their lives. A full 44% of libertarians say that religion is not important in their lives or that religion is not as important as other things in their lives. Only 11% of Tea Party members and 1% of white evangelicals say that religion is not important in their lives.
There are evangelicals who say that? Evangelicals in name only, then? EINOs.
Additionally, libertarians are among the most likely to agree that religion causes more problems in society than it solves (37% total: 17% completely agreeing, 20% mostly agreeing); the least likely to agree that it is important for children to be brought up in a religion so they can learn good values (35% total: 13% completely disagree, 22% disagree); and the least likely to think it is necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values (63% total: 30% completely disagree, 33% mostly disagree).
About a third of the surveyed libertarians find it necessary to believe in a heavenly Lord? Astonishing.
These stark differences in attitudes toward religion help explain the large difference in view between libertarians and other conservatives on social issues such as abortion, physician-assisted suicide, and marijuana legalization. Given their positions on these contentious social matters, it is very difficult to envision Libertarians gaining the support of socially conservative voters in the Republican Party.
Libertarians’ influence on the Republican Party is also limited by geography. Libertarians are broadly dispersed across the country – and even where they are most regionally concentrated, they are outnumbered by Tea Partiers and White Evangelicals. …
Of the 10 states that Sorens identifies as having the most libertarians, only New Hampshire, Nevada, and Georgia had spreads of 8 points or less in the 2012 presidential election. The other seven were either solidly red (Montana, Alaska, Idaho, Indiana, Wyoming, and Utah) or solidly blue (Washington and Oregon).
As such, there seems little impetus for any ideological change of course in these states—not to mention the South writ large, the region with the greatest level of libertarian support — since they are already so stoutly Republican. Perhaps in individual districts with a particular libertarian bent, libertarian candidates could have some electoral success. But any candidate running as a libertarian would, by the nature of libertarianism, have to emphasize their laissez-faire values on social issues. If running for higher office, this would surely alienate more socially conservative voters, so strongly represented in the Republican Party in these areas.
The business establishment of the Republican Party would seem a natural libertarian ally, given its moderate views on social issues, opposition to government regulation, and natural sympathy for classical economics. But this view is contested by Henry Olsen of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. At the recent Brookings discussion, Olsen argued that the business community consists of “people who are generally but not intensely opposed to government expansion, people who are generally but not intensely supportive of personal social liberties, people who are generally but not intensely suspicious of intervention abroad. That is the center of the Republican Party, not the libertarian alliance.” The very intensity of the libertarian movement is, as Olsen observed, “a bit off-putting to the person in the middle.” …
Though the states with the most libertarians are primarily rural, libertarians are also wealthier than average, better educated than average, and young (indeed, 62% of libertarians are under the age of 50) — three demographic sets that tend to live in densely populated areas. Heavily populated areas are overwhelmingly Democratic. It is not clear how many of voters in these areas would support a more libertarian Republican [candidate]. Regardless, it is even less likely that libertarianism would tilt the balance in urban counties towards the GOP’s way. …
For a variety of reasons, the burden falls on libertarians to demonstrate how they will change these dynamics. While there may be real appeal for some for Republicans to embrace a more libertarian approach, the undercurrents of the party do not paint an encouraging picture for this as a successful electoral strategy. …
The cornerstone of libertarianism — a fervent belief in the pre-eminence of personal liberty — leads libertarians to hold views on social issues that fall far outside of the mainstream of large portions of the Republican Party. In addition, libertarians’ greatest concentrations in numbers tend to fall either in small, sparsely populated states with less national political power, or among younger individuals who live predominantly in densely populated, Democratic areas. This culminates in an environment where political and demographic forces across the United States and within the Republican Party itself severely limit the power and growth of libertarians as a force within the GOP.
Scott Shackford, writing at Reason, comments on the report:
I take slight issue with the analysis, though perhaps not the conclusion. What’s left out is the very libertarian idea that just because libertarians don’t see religion as an important component to their own lives, that doesn’t mean we would object to others who decide otherwise. And believing that “religion causes more problems in society than it solves” should not be taken to mean that a libertarian believes the government should implement policies in a pursuit to “fix” these problems.
Obviously there is disagreement, but it’s not actually, literally about faith. The disagreement is about the extent of and justifications for the use of government force. To say that religious beliefs should not be used to determine whether it should be legal to get an abortion or get married is not to say that people shouldn’t use religion to make these decisions for themselves in their own lives.
Given the libertarian rejection of government coercion, who else is better suited to even approach these issues with social conservatives? Who outside of libertarians is arguing in favor of same-sex marriages getting the same legal recognition as heterosexual marriages, while at the same time arguing that no church should be obligated to recognize them, nor should any business be dragooned into providing goods and services for them?
Rather than seeing libertarians in opposition to social conservatives, it’s more helpful to see libertarians as allies in protecting the civil liberties of the religious even as they lose cultural influence. Libertarians may not be able to “take over” the Republican Party (not that they should stop trying), but the party itself may be in deep trouble if these factions cannot find points of agreement.
One point that emerges from the data and the discussion as a whole is that the issue of personal liberty is assumed to be of no concern at all to the Democratic Party.
If the Republican Party – for all its faults – is so clearly the party of liberty, then all the straining by these earnest scholars of the Left to prove it is mostly the party of religious nuts and southern fuddy-duddies, is wasted effort. Those who want to be free need to vote Republican. Those who want Big Brother (or Daddy or Nanny) Government to run their lives, and keep them dependent on the whims of bureaucrats and collectivist ideologues, will vote Democratic.
If only the Republican Party could learn how to get voters to understand that that is the choice.
Seth Mandel writes at Commentary online:
The fact that the Supreme Court will hear a religious freedom-based challenge to the ObamaCare contraception mandate is the kind of story that possesses significance likely beyond any volume of coverage it will receive. Indeed, while liberal activists will repeatedly try to cast this in the mold of the fictional “war on women,” their own arguments reveal just how far-reaching a definitive ruling on this would be for American religious and political practice. …
Liberals have a curious definition of rights. Last night … the birth-control activist Sandra Fluke [said] on MSNBC …
There’s an attack on allowing employers to be required to provide this insurance coverage on insurance that employees pay for, at the same time that there’s an attack on public availability through clinics.
One more time: [Fluke reckons that] there’s an attack on allowing employers to be required to provide this insurance.
To the left, there is no freedom without government coercion. … That’s the argument the left is running with: they want you to be forced to provide the funding for even their most private activities; only then will you be truly free.
But Fluke isn’t the only one making this argument. … [In] an MSNBC roundtable on the issue … the panelists are panicked at the thought of affording Americans full religious liberty because, essentially, it’s then a slippery slope to protecting all constitutional rights. And then – mayhem, or something:
“This is another reason why we should have moved toward a single payer system of health coverage, because we’re just going to end up with one challenge after another – whether it’s in the courts or outside of the courts – and I just don’t see an end to this,” [Bob] Herbert submitted.“We’re already on the slippery slope of corporate personhood,” he continued. “Where does it end?”
“Where does it end” is the attention-getter in that comment, but I think Herbert’s plea for single-payer health insurance is just as telling. Put the government in charge of the country’s health care, Herbert argues, because then it will be much more difficult for Americans to “challenge” the government’s infringement on their freedom. It’s not just legal challenges either. Herbert says those challenges can be brought “in the courts or outside of the courts,” the latter perhaps an allusion to the shady world of participatory democracy.
So this is much more than a fight over birth control, or even health insurance. It’s about two fundamentally different views on American constitutional freedoms. Conservatives want those freedoms to be expansive and protected, as the Founders did. Liberals want those freedoms to be curtailed lest … the democratic process imperil the state’s coercive powers.
Thus far we agree with Seth Mandel. We are for individual freedom: the Left (whether it calls itself liberal or progressive or socialist) is not.
Free people can say what they like and do what they like (short of interfering with anyone’s else’s freedom), and that means they can believe anything they like, worship anything they like or nothing at all, make and follow any self-imposed rules they like. They only mustn’t impose their rules on anyone else, or if they’re in a group on anyone outside it.
If the government pays for everyone’s health care, it will claim the right to dictate how everyone must live in order to stay healthy. Paying for health care is the quickest way for a government to become a dictatorship. That is why government should not be the paymaster for health care.
But now the article changes from making good sense to arguing a spurious case for religion as a brake on government power:
The Founders saw religious freedom as elemental to personal liberty in America. But they were not alone in thinking that unimpeded religious worship was a guard against an overly ambitious or arrogant national government. As Michael Burleigh writes about the role of religion in post-French Revolution European politics, with a supporting quote from Edmund Burke:
The political function of religion was not simply to keep the lower orders quiescent, as has been tiresomely argued by generations of Marxists, but also to impress upon those who had power that they were here today and gone tomorrow, and responsible to those below and Him above: “All persons possessing any portion of power ought to be strongly and awfully impressed with an idea that they act in trust, and that they are to account for their conduct in that trust to the one great Master, Author, and Founder of society.”
Guarding against ambitious and arrogant government was not at all the point of allowing religious freedom in America. Allowing freedom and establishing participatory democracy set limits on government power, but the idea that the unleashing of all religions was done to ensure some sort of cumulative force for restraint is absurd.
Edmund Burke was an important philosopher of Conservatism. But that assertion of his does not stand up to examination. Were the popes and primates of the Catholic Church ever restrained in the way they exercised their nearly totalitarian power by remembering that they were “here today and gone tomorrow”? That they would have to “account for their conduct” to their Master, Author or whatever else they called their god? No, they were not. Nor did their actions ever suggest that they thought they “ought to be”. They carried on, and expected their successors to carry on, in the well-established tradition of compulsion by terror.
Mandel goes on:
Religion was not the “opiate of the people,” intended to keep them in line. It was, rather, to keep the government in line. This was not a revolutionary idea; it predated the American Constitution, certainly. As Francis Fukuyama writes in The Origins of Political Order: “The existence of a separate religious authority accustomed rulers to the idea that they were not the ultimate source of the law. The assertion of Frederic Maitland that no English king ever believed that he was above the law could not be said of any Chinese emperor, who recognized no law other than those he himself made.”
The medieval Church kept everyone in line, monarchs and people alike, as firmly as it could. It did exercise a brake on the powers of the secular rulers. (One famous example: King Henry II of England felt that he had to submit to the humiliating punishment imposed on him by Pope Alexander III for letting his knights murder Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170.) But it is also true that the secular rulers exercised a brake on the power of the Church. There was a long sustained secular-papal power struggle (manifested notably, for instance, between the Pope-supporting Guelphs and the Emperor-supporting Ghibellines in Italy, a struggle that lasted from the 12th to the 15th centuries).
The Church or the belief in a Heavenly Judge had nothing whatever to do with English kings accepting that the law was above them. Magna Carta held them to it, and it was issued by King John in 1215 without any help from the Church.
Mandel seems to be trying to build a case – which he touches on by mentioning the Founders, but then wanders off it – that the liberty-enshrining Constitution of the United States was a product of the religiousness of those who framed it. The Constitution itself said no such thing. Individuals among the framers may have thought they were carrying out their God’s will when they wrote it – who can know? But what is certain is that they were inspired by the secular ideas of the Enlightenment – ideas which broke the power of the Churches forever. With all due respect to Edmund Burke – it was especially in post-French Revolution European and American politics that religion had no significant role.
If rulers are to be restrained by anything, it must be by the people they rule: by the democratic process that Mandel himself refers to.
“God” is superfluous to democracy, to justice, and to freedom. In his – ie the Church’s – long reign over Europe, there was no democracy, no justice, and no freedom. And wherever else religion dominates to this day, there is only oppression, injustice, subjugation and fear.
“Liberal” is a misnomer for the American mainstream Left. The Democratic Party has become a socialist party, and socialists are not liberal in the plain meaning of the word. Democrats are not for liberty, they are against liberty. They are for government control of the people. They hate Republicans, conservatives, the Tea-Party and anybody who believes in individual freedom and a government that serves rather than masters the people, and their hatred inspires and motivates them. They reflexively blame the Right for everything that goes wrong. Every time there is a terrorist attack in America the leftist MSM declares that the Right must be to blame. In almost all instances it turns out that their allies, Muslim jihadis, are actually the perpetrators. (The few exceptions have almost all been lunatics.) The growth of illiberality among the so-called liberals dates back at least five decades, when the Left did its utmost to blame the Right for the assassination of President Kennedy. The fact that the assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was a creature of the Left was …
… an inconvenient fact [which] had to be expunged. So, 24 months after the assassination, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., the Kennedys’ kept historian, published a thousand-page history of the thousand-day presidency without mentioning the assassin.
So George Will writes at Investor’s Business Daily. He goes on:
The afternoon of the assassination, Chief Justice Earl Warren ascribed Kennedy’s “martyrdom” to “the hatred and bitterness that has been injected into the life of our nation by bigots.” The next day, New York Times luminary James Reston wrote in a front-page story that Kennedy was a victim of “a streak of violence in the American character”, but especially of “the violence of the extremists on the right”.
Never mind that adjacent to Reston’s article was a Times report on Oswald’s communist convictions and associations. …
Three days after the assassination, a Times editorial, Spiral of Hate, identified Kennedy’s killer as a “spirit”: The Times deplored “the shame all America must bear for the spirit of madness and hate that struck down” Kennedy. The editorialists were, presumably, immune to this spirit. The new liberalism-as-paternalism would be about correcting others’ defects.
Hitherto a doctrine of American celebration and optimism, liberalism would now become a scowling indictment: Kennedy was killed by America’s social climate whose sickness required “punitive liberalism”.
That phrase is from the Manhattan Institute’s James Piereson, whose 2007 book Camelot and the Cultural Revolution: How the Assassination of John F. Kennedy Shattered American Liberalism is a profound meditation on the reverberations of the rifle shots in Dealey Plaza.
The bullets of Nov. 22, 1963, altered the nation’s trajectory less by killing a president than by giving birth to a destructive narrative about America.
In George Will’s view, however, this meant the beginning of liberalism’s own decline in America.
Fittingly, the narrative was most injurious to the narrators. Their recasting of the tragedy to validate their curdled conception of the nation marked a ruinous turn for liberalism, beginning its decline from political dominance.
Punitive liberalism preached the necessity of national repentance for a history of crimes and misdeeds that had produced a present so poisonous that it murdered a president.
To be a liberal would mean being a scold. Liberalism would become the doctrine of grievance groups owed redress for cumulative inherited injuries inflicted by the nation’s tawdry history, toxic present and ominous future.
Kennedy’s posthumous reputation — Americans often place him, absurdly, atop the presidential rankings — reflects regrets about might-have-beens. …
But the Kennedys were not the stuff great leaders are made of. JFK was not on course to take American power, prosperity and prestige to new heights. Rather, “the Kennedys pioneered the presidency-as-entertainment”.
Under Kennedy, liberalism began to become more stylistic than programmatic. After him — [and] after his successor, Lyndon Johnson, a child of the New Deal, drove to enactment the Civil Rights Acts, Medicare and Medicaid — liberalism became less concerned with material well-being than with lifestyle and issues such as feminism, abortion and sexual freedom.
Sexual freedom being the only freedom liberals now manifestly approve of. More – they promote it with enthusiasm.
The bullets fired on Nov. 22, 1963, could shatter the social consensus that characterized the 1950s only because powerful new forces of an adversarial culture were about to erupt through society’s crust. Foremost among these was the college-bound population bulge — baby boomers with their sense of entitlement and moral superiority, vanities encouraged by an intelligentsia bored by peace and prosperity and hungry for heroic politics.
It is a devastating thought, that people can become bored by peace and prosperity. An appetite for heroic politics is an even worse phenomenon, a romantic phenomenon. It’s what motivated millions of Germans passionately to support the Nazi Party in the 1930s. And, as George Will implies, it is a desire that drives many into the collectivist Left – the Left that anti-liberal “liberalism” has become in America.
Liberalism’s disarray during the late 1960s, combined with Americans’ recoil from liberal hectoring, catalyzed the revival of conservatism in the 1970s. As Piereson writes, the retreat of liberalism from a doctrine of American affirmation left a void that would be filled by Ronald Reagan 17 years after the assassination.
But since Reagan the illiberal Left has risen again. And its season in power this time has been as disastrous for America – and for the world – as were the years of President Franklin Delaney Roosevelt (who helped to defeat Nazism, but allowed Communism to spread in Eastern Europe, and fathered the New Deal.) What it is doing now is probably even worse.
Our reader Dale Jensen, commenting on our post Feminists submit to Muslim male domination (August 24, 2013 – about Swedish women putting on hijabs in mistaken solidarity with Muslim women) made these points which we extract from the full comment:
Cultural Marxism sees everything through the lens of oppression. In the deluded mind of Leftists, whites and indeed all of Euro culture is built on the oppression of non-whites; i.e. the legacy of imperialism. Whites must therefore pay for their past sins. Islam is seen as noble while anything associated with the West is seen as evil. That is why “we see a glorification of Islam on the part of many Leftists”. …
The Left are also pathological altruists. … This is the legacy of post-Kantian philosophy. Kant was trying to save Christian ethics from the skepticism which characterized much Enlightenment thought (he wasn’t wrong about that). His Categorical Imperative basically destroys self-interest as acting from “inclination” is always outside the realm of morality (it becomes amoral) and acting from “duty” is the only path to virtue. Kant would go on to advocate an extreme form of altruism where duty to the “other” is basically the only way to be moral. The moral philosophers that followed him would expand this. Auguste Comte would argue that Christian ethics was too selfish because it focused on the salvation of the individual soul. The legacy of this is that today genuine self-interested action, at an individual or national level, is considered outside the realm of morality (or immoral) whereas only duty-oriented action to the “other” is moral. The Other has become the standard of morality. Now you package that with egalitarianism and you see that you must sacrifice for the cultural other. …
According to the dictates of Leftist egalitarianism, the more non-Western or non-White the “other” is, the more you must appease or surrender to them. This combines Leftist egalitarianism and Post-Kantian altruism to get the modern spectacle. So Islam being the most non-Western and evil of our enemies must be appeased. What better way to offer sacrifices to our Islamic enemy than to give them White, Western women. It is the sign of a culture (Euro-White) sacrificing itself pure and simple; all on the altar of egalitarianism and white guilt. …
Female biological need for male psycho-sexual strength – this is also important. Leftism (and feminism in particular) has gelded and castrated the modern male. To use Nietzschean terminology, it has turned most men into some version of the “Last Man”; a video game playing, pro-sports team worshiping, overweight, feminized Last Man. Feminism has undermined male strength and male authority. Women crave this on a deep psychological level. Male dominance is something that makes a woman feel feminine. Without it, a woman is never fulfilled. I’m not saying that dominance needs to be malevolent. I think the dominance men wielded prior to the 1960s was actually benevolent, especially compared to the rest of the world. But it was undermined. Now we are seeing some women seek out that order and that dominance from Islam and Muslim men who are not wussified by feminism and Leftism. These women in the name of modern liberalism are turning themselves into basically Chattel Slaves of Muslim Men. It could make you want to cry or spit. …
The West is committing suicide. We are seeing this in many ways. But the way Western women are behaving is a leading indicator. To watch this knowing what is coming at the end of the tunnel is heart breaking. On my darker days I wonder if the entire liberal / libertarian project is inherently flawed, and only a strict Conservative regime can work. I’m uncertain about that last though.
We are not sure what a “strict” Conservative regime would be, but we do think the liberal project is entirely flawed, and the libertarian project has flaws in it.
There are many points in the comment worth discussion and we invite further comment on any or all of them.
“The only way the Constitution can protect us, is if we protect the Constitution.”
And we hear many more wise words from Professor Thomas Sowell in this video made just before the 2012 presidential election.
We who counted ourselves luckier than the general run of humankind because we live in the United States of America are no longer standing on firm ground but on shifting sands.
What accustomed ways, what assumptions on which we’ve always relied, what expectations we’ve long held, what values we’ve taken for granted, are not being interrogated anew?
Customs, values, standards, principles – the elements that cement civilization – are being let go, one after another, at ever increasing pace as we are moved away from liberty into serfdom.
Have you relied on custom? On long accepted moral norms? On the probity of public servants? On high standards of medical practice? On the intellectual openness of universities? On the integrity of scientists? On the solidity of old established institutions? On common values of decency, civility, and honesty?
You, we, can do so no longer. The wrecking crew is out. The fundamental transformation of America is underway.
Immense progress in science and technology will not help us because all invention will come under the ever-expanding control of the government and its ideological army of wreckers.
Over what part of our lives, even the most intimate, is government not taking control?
Our freedom of speech has been qualified by political correctness. Certain words are taboo, and it is widely accepted that they ought to be, on the grounds that some might take offense if they hear them.
In almost everything we commonly do, in almost every sphere of normal activity, we find ourselves in a state of uncertainty. So multitudinous are the regulations continually heaped upon us by government that we could be unknowingly breaking the law every hour of every day, in our businesses, our professions, our leisure, our shopping, our travel, or while simply breathing inside our own homes. The hand of government is on our thermostats. Its scolding tongue lashes us if we use more water than it deems necessary to our survival. It tells us what we ought to eat and drink; what we must do with our garbage; what we may not carry on a plane; what we may not move from one state to another. If we unintentionally break an obscure business regulation, we can be raided by an armed SWAT team and heavily fined. If we gather people together at regular intervals in our home to share a common interest we can be sentenced to a term in prison. (The example our link leads to concerns a bible-studying group. We would hate to attend it ourselves, but we defend the freedom of everybody.)
Do not expect the money you earn, save, or invest to keep its value. Our currency is being continually debased. We cannot even be sure that our cash will be safe in a bank. It’s all too possible that government will summarily confiscate it. What happened recently to private deposits in Cyprus banks could happen here – a blatant act of government theft:
According to in-house memos now circulating, the DHS has issued orders to banks across America which announce to them that “under the Patriot Act” the DHS has the absolute right to seize, without any warrant whatsoever, any and all customer bank accounts, to make “periodic and unannounced” visits to any bank to open and inspect the contents of “selected safe deposit boxes”.
We can no longer rely on our title deeds to protect our property tenure. On the grounds of “eminent domain” any real estate, including your own home, can be snatched away by government and handed over to someone else who wants to change its use for his own benefit. In the case of land, the government can declare it subject to environmental laws that make it impossible for its owners to use it as they choose.
Government agencies which many or even most considered irreproachably honorable (if also terrifyingly powerful) – such as and chiefly the Internal Revenue Service - have turned out to be rotten with corruption.
We are surveyed by government all the time. We have come to expect that we cannot make a phone-call 0r send an email that government doesn’t know we made or sent. And government can look at what we said in them at any time it chooses. Under “Obamacare” we cannot have an ingrowing toenail, a terminal disease, a deformity, an embarrassing whatever that untold numbers of persons will not be informed about.
In the matter of our health and “Obamacare”, we do not know how we will pay for medical consultations and treatment in future; what insurance we may have, at what price, or what it will cover.
The political principles on which the Republic was founded are no longer the bedrock of the American nation.
The values our civilization was built on – which are not in any religion but in pre-Christian classical antiquity and the Enlightenment – are no longer esteemed. Worse, they are despised, mocked, and discarded.
Mark Steyn, recognizing the rot, writes of a recent momentous day in the decay of America – June 26, 2013:
First thing in the morning, Gregory Roseman, Deputy Director of Acquisitions (whatever that means), became the second IRS official to take the Fifth Amendment, after he was questioned about awarding the largest contract in IRS history, totaling some half a billion dollars, to his close friend Braulio Castillo, who qualified under a federal “set aside” program favoring disadvantaged groups — in this case, disabled veterans. For the purposes of federal contracting, Mr. Castillo is a “disabled veteran” because he twisted his ankle during a football game at the U.S. Military Academy prep school 27 years ago. How he overcame this crippling disability to win a half-billion-dollar IRS contract is the heartwarming stuff of an inspiring Lifetime TV movie. …
The so-called comprehensive immigration reform is so comprehensive it includes special deals for Nevada casinos and the recategorization of the Alaskan fish-processing industry as a “cultural exchange” program, because the more leaping salmon we have the harder it is for Mexicans to get across the Bering Strait. While we’re bringing millions of Undocumented-Americans “out of the shadows,” why don’t we try bringing Washington’s decadent and diseased law-making out of the shadows?
Just when you thought the day couldn’t get any more momentous, the Supreme Court weighed in on same-sex marriage. When less advanced societies wish to introduce gay marriage, the people’s elected representatives assemble in parliament and pass a law. That’s how they did it in the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, etc. But one shudders to contemplate what would result were the legislative class to attempt “comprehensive marriage reform,” complete with tax breaks for Maine lobstermen’s au pairs and the hiring of 20,000 new IRS agents to verify business expenses for page boys from disparate-impact groups. So instead it fell to five out of nine judges, which means it fell to Anthony Kennedy, because he’s the guy who swings both ways. Thus, Supreme Intergalactic Emperor Anthony gets to decide the issue for 300 million people.
As Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben so famously says in every remake, with great power comes great responsibility. Having assumed the power to redefine a societal institution that predates the United States by thousands of years, Emperor Tony the All-Wise had the responsibility at least to work up the semblance of a legal argument. Instead, he struck down the Defense of Marriage Act on the grounds that those responsible for it were motivated by an “improper animus” against a “politically unpopular group” they wished to “disparage,” “demean,” and “humiliate” as “unworthy.”
What stump-toothed knuckle-dragging inbred swamp-dwellers from which hellish Bible Belt redoubt would do such a thing? Well, fortunately, we have their names on the record: The DOMA legislators who were driven by their need to “harm” gay people include notorious homophobe Democrats Chuck Schumer, Pat Leahy, Harry Reid, Joe Biden, and the virulent anti-gay hater who signed it into law, Bill Clinton. …
In his dissent, Justice Scalia wrote that “to defend traditional marriage is not to condemn, demean, or humiliate those who would prefer other arrangements, any more than to defend the Constitution of the United States is to condemn, demean, or humiliate other constitutions.” Indeed. With this judgment, America’s constitutional court demeans and humiliates only its own. …
As I say, just another day in the life of the republic: a corrupt bureaucracy dispensing federal gravy to favored clients; a pseudo-legislature passing bills unread by the people’s representatives and uncomprehended by the men who claim to have written them; and a co-regency of jurists torturing an 18th-century document in order to justify what other countries are at least honest enough to recognize as an unprecedented novelty. Whether or not, per Scalia, we should “condemn” the United States Constitution, it might be time to put the poor wee thing out of its misery.
Hayek warned us that an over-mighty state would put us on “the road to serfdom”. Well, we’ve arrived. We’ve passed the sign at the side of the road saying “Welcome to Serfdom” and we are now in Serfdom itself. It is built on a quagmire of erroneous theory. Serfs may console themselves with an illusion of security, but serfs are not secure; they exist at the whim of their masters.
By the time Islam takes over and imposes sharia law over the whole of North America, we’ll hardly notice any difference.
Afterword: One of our readers and commenters, Roger, laments the drop in standards of personal presentation among his professional colleagues with this description. (Please note we make no judgments of a person by his taste or appearance. We quote this comment because it conveys how some American citizens feel they have strayed into an alien world.)
Yes, our society is changing. I attended a construction “kick-off” meeting yesterday, at which all of the construction “professionals” were present as well as the major trades. This project is for the renovation of a very high end residence, if I mentioned the Client’s name many of you would know the person. The Architect wore an ill fitting suit that looked like it had been piled into a corner of the utility room for weeks, bare feet and flip-flops (on a construction site!) The project manager wore a loose undershirt of the type colloquially known I believe, as a “wife beater”. His entire upper body was covered in multicolored tattoos depicting what seemed to be scenes from robot wars featuring children’s Saturday morning cartoon characters. The representative of one of the mechanical trades wore a patched and worn out dungaree overall and sported a bone through his nose. [They all] wore various metal items in different parts of their faces; earrings, nose rings, lip rings, etc. None seemed in the least bit surprised at the attire of the others. I admit my concentration suffered as I wondered when it was exactly that I had been abducted and brought to this planet, and when the hell could I go home.
This infuriating story, which we quote almost in full, is about a victim of the Obama administration, showing how it zealously, even sadistically, implements its leftist policy, through the IRS and other government agencies, to target conservative groups and persecute individuals who form them. It comes from National Review, written by Jillian Kay Melchior.
The Engelbrechts were not, until recently, particularly political. They had been busy running a tiny manufacturing plant in Rosenberg, Texas. After years of working for others, Bryan, a trained machinist, wanted to open his own shop, so he saved his earnings, bought a computerized numerical-control machine, which does precision metal-cutting, and began operating out of his garage. “That was about 20 years ago” he says. “Now, we’re up to about 30 employees.”
For two decades, Bryan and Catherine drove to work in their big truck. Engelbrecht Manufacturing Inc. now operates out of a 20,000-square-foot metal building on the prairie just outside of Houston … They went back to their country home each night. Stress was rare, and life was good.
But the 2008 elections left Catherine feeling frustrated about the debates, which seemed to be a string of superficial talking points. So she began attending tea-party meetings, enjoying the political discussion. A spunky woman known for her drive, Catherine soon wanted to do more than just talk. She joined other tea partiers and decided to volunteer at the ballot box. Working as an alternate judge at the polls in 2009 in Fort Bend County, Texas, Catherine says, she was appalled and dismayed to witness everything from administrative snafus to outright voter fraud.
These formative experiences prompted her to found two organizations: King Street Patriots, a local community group that hosts weekly discussions on personal and economic freedoms; and True the Vote, which seeks to prevent voter fraud and trains volunteers to work as election monitors. It also registers voters, attempts to validate voter-registration lists, and pursues fraud reports to push for prosecution if illegal activity has occurred. …
In July 2010, Catherine filed with the IRS seeking tax-exempt status for her organizations.
Shortly after,the troubles began.
That winter, the Federal Bureau of Investigation came knocking with questions about a person who had attended a King Street Patriots event once. Based on sign-in sheets, the organization discovered that the individual in question had attended an event, but “it was a come-and-go thing”, and they had no further information on hand about him. Nevertheless, the FBI also made inquiries about the person to the office manager, who was a [King Street Patriots] volunteer.
The King Street Patriots weren’t the only ones under scrutiny. On January 11, the IRS visited the Engelbrechts’ shop and conducted an on-site audit of both their business and their personal returns, Catherine says.
“What struck us as odd about that,” she adds, “is the lengths to which the auditor went to try to … find some error. She wanted to go out and see [our] farm, she wanted to count the cattle, she wanted to look at the fence line. It was a very curious three days. …”
Bryan adds: “It was kind of funny to us. I mean, we weren’t laughing that much, but we knew we were squeaky clean. … ”
Two months later, the IRS initiated the first round of questions for True the Vote. Catherine painstakingly answered them, knowing that nonprofit status would help with the organization’s credibility, donors, and grant applications. In October, the IRS requested additional information. And whenever Catherine followed up with IRS agents about the status of True the Vote’s application, there was always a delay that our application was going to be up next, and it was just around the corner …
As this was occurring, the FBI continued to phone King Street Patriots. In May 2011, agents phoned wondering “how they were doing”. The FBI made further inquiries in June, November, and December asking whether there was anything to report.
The situation escalated in 2012. That February, True the Vote received a third request for information from the IRS, which also sent its first questionnaire to King Street Patriots. Catherine says the IRS had “hundreds of questions, hundreds and hundreds of questions.” The IRS requested every Facebook post and Tweet she had ever written. She received questions about her family, whether she’d ever run for political office, and which organizations she had spoken to.
“It’s no great secret that the IRS is considered to be one of the more serious [federal agencies],” Catherine says. “When you get a call from the IRS, you don’t take it lightly. So when you are asked questions that seem to imply a sense of disapproval, it has a very chilling effect.”
On the same day they received the questions from the IRS, Catherine says, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) launched an unscheduled audit of their machine shop, forcing the Engelbrechts to drop everything planned for that day. Though the Engelbrechts have a Class 7 license, which allows them to make component parts for guns, they do not manufacture firearms. Catherine said that while the ATF had a right to conduct the audit, “it was odd that they did it completely unannounced, and they took five, six hours. It was so extensive. It just felt kind of weird.”
That was in February. In July, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration paid a visit to Engelbrecht Manufacturing while Bryan, Catherine, and their children were out of town. The OSHA inspector talked with the managerial staff and employees, inspecting the premises minutely. But Bryan says the agent found only “little Mickey Mouse stuff, like, ‘You have safety glasses on, but not the right kind; the forklift has a seatbelt, but not the right kind.’” Yet Catherine and Bryan said the OSHA inspector complimented them on their tightly run shop and said she didn’t know why she had been sent to examine it.
Not long after, the tab arrived. OSHA was imposing $25,000 in fines on Engelbrecht Manufacturing. They eventually worked it down to $17,500, and Bryan says they may have tried to contest the fines to drive them even lower, but “we didn’t want to make any more waves, because we don’t know [how much further] OSHA could reach.”
“Bottom line is, it hurt,” he says. “[$17,500 dollars] is not an insignificant amount to this company. It might be to other companies, but we’re still considered small, and it came at a time when business was slow, so instead of giving an employee a raise or potentially hiring another employee, I’m writing a check to our government.”
A few months later, True the Vote became the subject of congressional scrutiny. In September, Senator Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.) wrote to Thomas Perez, then the assistant attorney general of the civil rights division at the Department of Justice (who has now been nominated for labor secretary): “As you know, an organization called ‘True the Vote’, which is an offshoot of the Tea Party, is leading a voter suppression campaign in many states,” Boxer wrote, adding that “this type of intimidation must stop. I don’t believe this is ‘True the Vote’. I believe it’s ‘Stop the Vote’.”
And in October, Representative Elijah Cummings (D., Md.), the ranking minority member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, attacked True the Vote in a letter. He wrote that: “Some have suggested that your true goal is not voter integrity, but voter suppression against thousands of legitimate voters who traditionally vote for Democratic candidates.” He added that: “If these efforts are intentional, politically motivated, and widespread across multiple states, they could amount to a criminal conspiracy to deny legitimate voters their constitutional rights.” He also decried True the Vote on MSNBC and CNN. …
The next month, in November 2012, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the state’s environmental agency, showed up for an unscheduled audit at Engelbrecht Manufacturing. Catherine says the inspector told her the agency had received a complaint but couldn’t provide any more details. After the inspection, the agency notified the Engelbrechts that they needed to pay for an additional mechanical permit, which cost about $2,000 per year.
Since then, the IRS has sent two further rounds of questions to Catherine for her organizations. And last month, the ATF conducted a second unscheduled audit at Engelbrecht Manufacturing.
Catherine says she still hasn’t received IRS approval for her nonprofits, though she filed nearly three years ago. …
On behalf of the True the Vote and King Street Patriots, Representative Ted Poe (R., Texas) sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the FBI, OSHA, and the ATF, inquiring whether the organizations were under criminal investigation. A statement on Poe’s website states that “the reply from these agencies was that none of these individuals were under criminal investigation. Well, if they’re not, why are they being treated like criminals? Just because they question government?”
… Other Tea Party groups decided not to form nonprofits at all after learning about her experience, [Catherine] says. “They were scared,” she explains, “and you shouldn’t be scared of your government.”
Meanwhile, Catherine says the harassment has forced her to seriously reconsider whether her political activity is worth the government harassment she’s faced.
“I left a thriving family business with my husband that I loved, to do something I didn’t necessarily love, but [which] I thought had to be done,” she says.”But I really think if we don’t do this, if we don’t stand up and speak now, there might not [always] be that chance.”
Her husband offers an additional observation: “If you knew my wife, you’d know she doesn’t back down from anybody. They picked on the wrong person when they started picking on her.”
The Washington Post reports that Steven T. Miller, the Acting Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, appearing today before the Senate Finance Committee, denied that he misled Congress about the targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. He said -
I’m not going to disagree at all with the characterization of bad management here, but the actions were not politically motivated.
Jillian Becker comments: “There are few writers in the world whose appreciation of a political book is as worth having as Daniel Greenfield’s. Those who regularly read Front Page and his daily essay at his own website, will know this to be true.”
Imagine the UK Without Thatcher
With the recent death of Margaret Thatcher, one novel takes a look at a UK without Thatcher. L: A Novel History by Jillian Becker, the author of, Hitler’s Children: The Story of the Baader-Meinhof Terrorist Gang, is a modern 1984 taking place in an England fallen to the left. A country where the atrocities and horrors perpetrated in the east found their way to the west.
1984 showed us tyranny from the perspective of an ordinary man coping with the tyranny of an omnipresent Big Brother, while L takes us into the mind of Big Brother.
Becker’s L is a child of the modern left, attracted to the violent spectacle of revolution, feeding on blood and pain, gorging on the emotional spillage of the disgruntled, perpetrating riots, terrorist attacks and finally the mass starvation of the United Kingdom.
1984 takes place in the fragments of a lost history, but L develops its history out of the recent past. L doesn’t emerge out of a vacuum. He is the child of privilege, the student of leftist academics and the tyrant who rises out of the class warfare struggles of the burgeoning welfare state.
L abandons his name, going by a single letter, dabbling in dehumanizing Marxist theory while developing a cult of followers, the L-ites, who become the core of a movement that takes over the United Kingdom. L: A Novel History is as much about L, piecing together his inner thoughts from diary entries and newspaper articles, as it is about the milieu of the period and the more moderate figures on the left who hand over power to him and allow him to perpetrate his acts of terror.
As Becker notes in her introduction, there are historical precedents for L, for his associates and the fascist opposition that eventually allies with him. What she has done is transpose the history of various Communist atrocities from Russia and Eastern Europe into an England on the wavering end of the Cold War.
As a fictional history, L: A Novel History assembles painstakingly an entire alternate history in a metafictional narrative composed of newspaper articles, diary entries and historical speculation that combines the perspectives of L, his followers, the L-ites, his opponents, both genuine and disingenuous, and the people of England who react with bewilderment and then horror as the stores are emptied, the food vanishes and they are put through a brutal and degrading process meant to break their spirit.
L’s great obsession is the cultivation of empathy. Like most sociopaths, he is incapable of genuinely empathizing with others, but has a narcissistic obsession with the experience of emotion as spectacle.
Embodying the privileged empathy of the left, L promises to raise up the people, but instead degrades them, robbing them of their dignity, their humanity and finally their lives, in order to force them to identify with the sufferings of the less well off.
L is Big Brother given form, substance and motive. His resentments and narcissism represent all too well the modern left. Obsessed with image, L is driven to be a cult figure and succeeds in achieving true cult status at the expense of millions for his grand experiment in enforced empathy.
The UK has a long literary tradition of dystopias which imagine a descent into fascism, even as in real life it has continued a descent into Socialism. Jillian Becker’s L: A Novel History challenges that fictional narrative with a meta-fictional narrative that warns of what might have been and what may yet be.
May yet be in America …