Thursday, September 29, 2005

This is why I love her
Once again, Peggy Noonan has precisely expressed something that's been on my mind for days. Make sure you read the whole thing, but here's the key bit as far as I'm concerned:

The day before hurricane Rita hit Texas, last Friday, I saw on TV something that disturbed me. It was not the usual scene of crashing waves and hardy reporters being blown sideways by wind gusts. It was a fat Texas guy swimming in the waves off Galveston. He'd apparently decided the high surf was a good thing to jump into, so he went for a prehurricane swim. Two cops saw him, waded into the surf and arrested him. When I saw it the guy was standing there in orange trunks being astonished as the cops put handcuffs on him and hauled him away.

I thought: Oh no, this is isn't good. This is authority, not responsibility.

You'd have to be crazy, in my judgment, to decide you were going to go swim in the ocean as a hurricane comes. But in the America where I grew up, you were allowed to be crazy. You had the right. Sometimes you were crazy and survived whatever you did. Sometimes you didn't, and afterwards everyone said, "He was crazy."

Last week I quoted Gerald Ford: "The government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you have." I was talking about money. But it applies also to personal freedom, to the rights of the individual, including his right to do something stupid as long as it's legal, like swimming.

Government has real duties in disaster. Maintaining the peace is a primary one. But if we demand that our government protect us from all the weather all the time, if we demand that it protect us from rain and hail, if we make government and politicians pay a terrible price for not getting us out of every flood zone and rescuing us from every wave, we're going to lose a lot more than we gain. If we give government all authority then we are giving them all power.

And we will not only lose the right to be crazy, we'll lose the right to be sane. A few weeks ago when, for a few days, some level of government, it isn't completely clear, decided no one should be allowed to live in New Orleans after the flood, law-enforcement officers went to the home of a man who had a dry house, a month's supply of food and water, and a gun to protect himself. The police demanded that he leave. Why? He was fine. He had everything he needed. The man was enraged: It was his decision, he said, and he was staying.

It is the government's job to warn and inform. That's what we have the National Weather Service for. It is not government's job to command and control and make microdecisions about the lives of people who want to do it their own way[...]

Governments always start out saying they're going to help, and always wind up pushing you around. They cannot help it. They say they want to help us live healthily and they mean it, but it ends with a guy in Queens getting arrested for trying to have a Marlboro Light with his Bud at the neighborhood bar. We're hauling the parents of obese children into court. The government has increasing authority over our health, and these children are not healthy. Smokers, the fat, drinkers of more than two drinks per night, insane swimmers in high seas . . .

We are losing the balance between the rights of the individual and the needs and demands of the state. Again, this is not new. It's a long slide that's been going on for a long time. But Katrina and Rita seemed to make the slide deeper. [emphasis added]
The kid who swallows too many marbles doesn't grow up to have kids of his own. His parents can protect him from such stupidity, and hopefully they'll raise him to know better—but it's not the government's responsibility to ban marbles because some crazy kid is going to swallow them. The government's job is to protect us from the kid who would force marbles down the throat of another.

You don't want to leave your house because you don't want to leave your pets behind? Fine, that's your choice—but you will die, and you should be aware that it was your choice.

Live in New Orleans without flood insurance? Again, your choice, and your loss when your below-sea-level house inevitably floods. Now we've got a situation where the government of Louisiana is telling people that, even if they didn't have flood insurance, the damage is covered just like they did have flood insurance. WHAT?! So all those people who planned ahead, and invested in flood insurance just in case something like this happened, just got screwed out of all the money they put into it? I'm sorry (and I know I usually don't swear on this blog), but that's bullshit.

And perhaps most frightening of all is the idea being floated that we should repeal the Posse Comitatus Act. We are now considering the idea that the US military should be allowed to circumvent state authority whenever the federal government thinks the states aren't doing a good enough job. This is just bad—and could lead to the end of individual rights, or at least their dramatic restriction.

Read the whole thing, and then think about it. Let it sink in, don't let it wash over you and be done with. This is a serious crisis, and people need to be aware of it. Privacy is a big deal—but it's not about the right to tie your lover up and stick your finger up his nose, or about the right to abortion. It's way more than that. It's the right to live your life free of molestation by the government. It is the right to go swimming at a damn-stupid time if you want to. It's about the right to own a bar and have customers who smoke in it, while telling anyone who doesn't like it to get the hell out.

And yes, it's about being able to stick your finger up your tied-up lover's nose.


Dave Justus said...

Usually I agree with Noonan, but not in this case.

Perhaps from a larger perspective, her view that we give government too much control over her lives a good argument can be made (although this is one area where conservatives have been saying 'the end is near' for decades) but I don't agree with her specific examples.

Should a guy be allowed to swim in the ocean before a hurricane? Perhaps. But if our police, firefighters and coast gaurd are expected to rescue him, at risk to themselves, if he gets into danger then I am less sure of his unrestricted rights.

Perhaps you would say that 'stupid people don't deserve rescue' and perhaps that would be true, but the vast majority of people who need to be rescued from any sort of problem, are in that situation because they have been at least temporarily 'stupid.' It isn't an easy line to draw.

The same is true for someone who refuses a mandatory evacuation. The whole mandatory thing should mean something. If you want to argue that the government shouldn't have that power, you have to do so on the merits. Everyone who stays behind in an evacuation puts costs on the system, whether they can care for themselves or not. A fire that might be deemed better to just let itself burn out requices a different choice, and greater risks if there are people present.

Sharon said...

In general I agree with you, RFTR. One demographic that often takes up this same argument is those who are opposed to anti-smoking laws. I'm all for your being able to smoke in your home or car if you so choose, but I'm sick of feeling ill before I've managed to imbibe a single drink. I realized, after spending time in Boston and San Francisco, that I miss going out and that it was the presence of smokers that made the difference between whether or not I had a good time. I'd be interested to know if you take the same tack in this regard, or if you take amore blanket-approach in your resistance to encroachment by "The Nanny State".

Tanstaafl said...


Is your good time more important than that of a smoker? Don't they have a right to go somewhere, be social, and smoke if they choose? (I say "they" because I do not smoke) If not, then chalk one more victory to the "nanny state". If so, then where would should we allow them to smoke, and under what authority do we make that decision?