Friday, May 9, 2014

WHEN THE FEDS MUST STEP IN

The most basic of all rights recognized and protected by our American system are human rights. Individual human rights, true, but human rights. There have been times during the relatively brief period that the United States has occupied center stage in the world theater that certain Americans have insisted that other rights are supreme, but those people have been, in a word, wrong.

During the horrendous Great Depression years, and during the Dust Bowl years following soon after, millions of individual Americans were unable to care for themselves and their families, and too often the states were unable or unwilling to help, so the federal government had to step in to provide needed support of, and assistance to, American individuals and families that had been negatively affected by those events. Of course, there were those (gainfully employed and well-fed, invariably) who denounced what the federal government did as "socialist," and a "violation of states' rights."

Similar happened in the preceding century: When it became clear that the majority of people in this Union did not want slavery to exist legally anywhere in this country, the federal government stepped in and said that it wouldn't exist anywhere in America (actually, I believe that this country had reached a level of maturity in which it would not have tolerated the institution of slavery anywhere within its borders, no matter what the majority of its citizens may have thought). Yep, there were howls of opposition from certain quarters; the federal government was in clear violation of states' rights, and of the even more basic "property rights," insisted many --- especially, many in the South. Two things were very clear, though: First, the "property" that some felt they owned was not "property" at all, but they were human beings; secondly, those human beings had rights which our founders recognized as being basic (true, many of those founders didn't understand that; when they spoke or wrote of human rights, they did not have that "property," those slaves, in mind). Despite the objections that the government should not dictate what people can and cannot do with their property, and that it is up to the states --- not the Federal government --- to decide what is and is not "property," it is the rights of those individual human beings that must be respected and protected, even if such trumps claimed property and states' "rights."

States have sometimes, in the name of "states' rights," violated the basic right of their individual inhabitants to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." At those times, the federal government has very legitimately stepped in to support and protect the rights of individual Americans. Similar has taken place in the arena of "property rights"; people who have opened businesses, ostensibly to serve the public, have decided that their right to operate their business in the way they wish trumped the rights of certain members of certain groups to be served by those who supposedly are operating businesses to "serve the public."

"Property rights" do NOT trump individual human rights; "states' rights" do NOT trump the rights of individual citizens of those states. When this very basic principle underlying all of Americanism is not recognized by lower levels of government, the feds are obligated to step in.

Just a quick pause and "aside" here: I find it curious in the extreme --- and inconsistent and hypocritical --- that those who run around waving the banner of "conservatism" and "libertarianism" and "states' rights" and "property rights" and all that, while loudly insisting that the federal government should stay out of the business of states, and the states should keep off the backs of local government, turn around and insist that the government, even from the highest level, should insert itself into the most basic, private, and intimate parts of people's lives, and dictate whom they may marry or sleep with, or what they may put into their own bodies. When such staunch conservatives as Barry Goldwater and Bill Buckley pointed out the clear inconsistency of that position, they were simply poo-pooed as once-great men who were now old and senile.

Now, back to the subject at hand: While it is true that the people who envisioned and designed this country were rugged individualists, they lived in a very different time and place from the one in which we now live. Back then, the United States had a small, agrarian population, with few people living in even towns and villages, let alone cities. Those people could --- and did --- look out for one another, as much as they could, anyway --- very much like the rural Amish do even to this day. But, times have changed dramatically; we are no longer a society that looks or lives like the Amish. Our country now has a huge, diverse, mostly urban population, and much of the support that friends and neighbors supplied in the past has to be supplied by complete strangers today. In the reality of our modern American lives, things are very different from the Currier & Ives rural America, or even of the Norman Rockwell small-town America of long ago.

Another quick example: A few decades ago, few people outside of major urban areas owned or operated motor vehicles, so there was little need for traffic laws, except maybe on the most local level; people walked or rode their wagons wherever they wanted. Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue if no level of government today felt that it was its province to pass and enforce traffic laws? 

But one thing has not changed: The American commitment to recognize and protect basic human rights. Wherever and whenever the basic rights of individual Americans are not recognized and protected by state or local governments, the federal government must --- must! --- step in. Over very strong objection from certain quarters in mid-19th Century America, over strident objections from certain elements of the population in mid-20th Century America, and even over the labels of "socialist" and "fascist" and "imperialistic" and worse thrown its way now, it is absolutely the responsibility of the government of the United States to protect human rights; if anyone or even any level of government in this country violates the rights of individual humans, it is the duty of a higher level of government --- even if necessary, all the way to the top echelon of the federal government --- to recognize and protect those rights.

I will do later posts on why I have staked out a relatively liberal Democratic position as my own. I have been a conservative Republican (JC Watts is not the only conservative black Republican to have come from Oklahoma!); I was even, quite briefly, committed to libertarianism (though never to the Ayn Randian "objectivism," which I always found to be odiously anti-everything in which I believed), so I can understand the positions of those who have embraced those philosophies. But, after much thought and debate, and many, many years of EXPERIENCE --- not just reading and hearing about things, but actually LIVING them --- I find myself at roughly the same position on the spectrum of political thought as Dr. John McWhorter and Dr. William ("Bill") Cosby. And I make no apologies for my political leanings.