A Sense of Proportion

A Sense of Proportion
by George W. Liebmann

The Democratic Party is distinguished by its almost exclusive focus on identity politics. Its Republican adversaries offer opposition to any tax increases and ritualistic nationalism. The contending forces have in common the absence of any sense of proportion.

Consider immigration. One faction envisages closed borders, mass deportations, and a vacuum in the labor force filled by persons unknown. The other seeks citizenship for all after ten years, when a tidal wave of 15 million new voters will be unleashed to their benefit. It would be pleasant if the first group recognized that migration has usually been unregulated, that only Turkey and Russia required passports before World War I, and that non-citizen migrants are a mainstay of both American and Western European economies. It would also be becoming if the other faction recognized that no society is rich enough to afford benefit migrants and that earlier periods of massive immigration, the 1840s and 1850s and the fifteen years before the First World War gave rise to violent political reactions—the Know Nothing Party of the 1850s and the Ku Klux Klan, which controlled the governments of several Northern states in the wake of World War I. It is also important for both factions to realize that, if not granted citizenship, about half of migrants will return to their native countries if not threatened there by pogroms or famines.

Consider gun control. The militia clauses and many other provisions of the Constitution were designed to guard against centralized policing by a standing army. The Heller decision precluding the federal government from disarming the citizenry was thus legitimate. Not so the Mc Donald decision disabling the states in which police powers were reposed from deciding how best to maintain public order. It would be becoming for ‘liberals’ to recognize that statutes like New York City’s Sullivan Law, in effect since 1916, meant little until enforced in a period of stop and frisk policing designed to discourage impulsive teenagers from carrying guns in the streets, and that society derives substantial benefits from private gun ownership, including nighttime burglary rates that are low by international standards and reduced policing costs in suburban and rural areas. Yet no American official since Attorney General Edward Levi has publicly recognized that this issue plays out differently in cities than it does in other areas.

Consider ‘gay rights.’ It is one thing to bar governments from intrusive inquiry into private lives or from enacting laws that are blackmailers’ charters, or from organizing persecutions. It is another for it to coerce private mores so as to foster license, exhibitionism, or the confusion or corruption of the adolescent young, or to suppress the normal methods used to control venereal disease epidemics, or to reward those who do not raise children equally with those who do.

Consider the ‘drug war,’ the product of a bidding war among Robert Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Nelson Rockefeller, not remembered as the most restrained of American politicians. It is one thing to favor repeal or reduction of federal drug crimes, because of their aggrandizement of national policing agencies, their foreclosure of non-criminal approaches, their corruption of enforcement agencies and their impact on the youth of our large cities. It is another thing to oppose or resist locally chosen school, college and workforce drug testing. It is not desirable that the younger generation, like at least six of our recent major party Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates, should squander their undergraduate years in a substance-induced haze.

Consider the fictitious ‘war on women’ or the almost equally fictitious banishment of religion from the public square. The absolutist feminism proclaimed by Justice Ginsburg and her acolytes is founded on the mirror image of former Congressman Barney Frank’s view that for ‘right to lifers’, life begins at conception and ends at birth. For the ultra-feminists, the distinctive obligations of motherhood begin at birth and end with the severance of the umbilical cord. It has conferred benefits on fortunate female professionals, but not on less educated women burdened with the consequences of easier divorce, , custody disputes induced by new rules, and the abandonment or bargaining down of alimony and child support payments. Justice Scalia was doubtless correct in saying that religious believers cannot be exempted as of right from broadly applicable regulations, but as Justice Cardozo once said in another context “it is not forbidden to be just when it is not required to be by the letter of the paramount law.” The excesses that need to be curbed are not merely those of clerics but those of anti-clerics, and some jurists and editors need to be reminded of George Kennan’s recently published reflections in his diaries: “I have never taken offense at the thesis of the Roman Church that many men require a spiritual as well as a profane framework of law, a moral order founded on an appreciation of the dilemnas of birth and death and of the requirements of social living. For many people, it is always better that there should be some moral law, even an imperfect one or an extremely arbitrary one, than that there should be none. For the human being that recognizes no moral restrictions and has no sense of humility is worse than the foulest and cruelest beast.”

Consider finally the ideologues in foreign policy. During the election season of 2000, I heard a neo-conservative journalist and primary candidate count off on the figures of two hands the Middle Eastern nations whose governments he wanted overthrown with American military assistance. I turned to a friend and observed: “the old Radio Moscow used to talk all the time about ‘war-mongering imperialists,’ but I never actually met one until now!” The excesses of the opposing faction of ‘liberal imperialists,’ among whom are numbered our three female Secretaries of State and our recent U.N. Ambassador are less appreciated. ‘Soapy’ Williams and his associates in the Kennedy administration crusaded for the indivisibility of the Congo and the inviolability of perversely drawn African frontiers. The wars for a unified Congo and Nigeria, supported by the United States, in both instances against the advice of General De Gaulle , have thus far claimed, respectively, five million and two million lives. The Iraq, Kosovo and Libyan wars sustained perverse frontiers and left failed states in their wake; a similar course is still being pursued in Afghanistan, Syria and the Ukraine

The design of the UN was that the five permanent members would avoid conflicts among themselves, not difficult now, and would cast their weight in favor of peaceful adjustments of conflicts elsewhere, permissible means not including the fostering of civil wars in other peoples’ countries. It is not surprising that a Washington class indifferent to the claims of federalism and localism at home should be hostile to such claims elsewhere, imposing costs even greater than those imposed by our Civil War.

At the advent of the Cold War, the U.S., though with divided counsels, sponsored the Acheson-Lilienthal plan to forestall a nuclear arms race. That effort was abortive, but later efforts, sponsored by Harold Macmillan and George Kennan respectively and embraced during the Kennedy and Reagan administrations, gave rise to an atmospheric test ban treaty and a reduction by half of the great powers’ nuclear warheads. Today’s neo-conservatives and liberal imperialists have made no serious effort to curb electronic eavesdropping, cyber-warfare, and drone warfare. In today’s Washington, centralism and nationalism trump all, a recipe for a war of all against all.

Posted in: Culture Wars, Drugs, Judiciary and Legal Issues, Religion, Welfare and Other Social

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