Ideological values impacted Wednesday’s debate performance

What an incredible event was the first presidential debate.  Going into Wendesday night, there was immense pressure on Mitt Romney to turn in a decisive performance.  He was able to dominate with a coherent message and a sunny disposition.

Anyone who was watching or who caught subsequent analysis knows just how horribly President Obama bombed.  The incumbent spoke four minutes more than the challenger, but wasn’t able to deliver as much of a punch.  If the White House home brew were anything like the President’s debate performance, its slogan would be “less taste, more filling.”

Beyond the optics of performance, or the policy minutia, there’s another take away from Wednesday night: the candidates’ respective ideologies, and their underlying values, clearly impacted the debate outcome.  Romney’s stunning success reflected his high view of work ethic, while Obama’s miserable time grew out of an overinflated sense of self.

Take Mitt Romney’s performance.  The governor showed a profound comfort discussing the intricacies of his past and future policies.  He had done his homework.  Lawyers would say he’d done his due diligence.  Too many academics would dismiss this as a regrettable “bourgeois” trait.

Not only did Romney know his ways around the issues, he knew how to comport himself: he was always smiling and looked directly at those he was addressing.  As job seekers know, good body language is an indispensable element of social capital.  And Romney came off as an applicant who appreciated this.

Contrast Mr. Romney’s preparedness with Mr. Obama’s lack thereof.  As many liberals lamented, the latter completely failed to touch on even basic points of attack, such as the “47%” remark.  Lacking control or mindfulness, he looked down and scowled way too much, and nodded submissively as a child chided by an authority figure.

Al Gore infamously attributed Obama’s poor performance to high altitude.  This blaming of environmental factors is emblematic of a liberal worldview: pinning failure on systemic or external causes rather than on a personal shortcoming of volition or character.

In an amazing encounter with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, Senator John Sununu called the President “lazy” for his lack of preparedness.  The journalist was stunned, as if the only motivation for such a label could be racism, or some other unjustified bias.  That one’s attitudes and actions might effect one’s outcome is simply out of the question for the Left.

So how exactly did liberal ideology translate into failing performance for President Obama?  The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is illustrative here.  Progress under Ledbetter depends on whether or not a lawyer can sue to rectify the wrong in your life.  But it’s not as if women couldn’t sue before; the time to file was merely extended by the act.  It was an empty gesture.

In his closing statement, President Obama echoed the sentiment of Ledbetter by reminding the middle class “I’m fighting for you every day.”  Here again, progress requires an external savior to take up your cause.  And as with Ledbetter, this actual  promise to “fight” is a mere gesture.  His inability–through four years now–to even sit down and negotiate with Republican congressional leaders on key issues testifies to the inefficacy of his proposition.

Apparently, President Obama had been biding his time before the debate, as if he himself were awaiting a savior: his own celebrity.  As with Generation Y–a.k.a. the Millennials–who so strongly support him, whether or not Jay Z was on the iPod seemed to take precedence over the grittier details of policy.  And in Millennial style, the President on Wednesday displayed an annoyed arrogance, the kind that rests on the unwarranted belief of one’s own “superior intelligence.”

This is the crux of liberal hubris, that the world gets better because one knows best, and a mere lift of the fingers will make it so.  Even competition is moot, because in a progressive society, a lawyer can sue your competitor or the IRS can collect what the cosmos owes you.  In fact, lugging your own teleprompter to a presidential debate is par for the course, as some Obama fans at UW Madison seem to believe.

In stark contrast, Mitt Romney’s stellar performance testified on behalf of a better set of beliefs: a sober understanding of the hard work, preparation, and effort that he and all Americans must steel themselves for if things are to get better.  This is what real progress requires.  November will be a test of whether, as a whole, America understands this simple truth or not.

Imbibe your worldview

Boy are politics ugly right now.  Let’s take a little break and grab a drink.  Maybe a coffee, a cola, or just some good old H2O.

Some months ago, as I was driving along my usual northern California avenues, I spied a beer delivery truck with a remarkable exhortation on its side: “Follow your folly . . . ours is beer.”  I thought to myself, there is a worldview captured in an advertising slogan.  The words are pithy and compelling to some targeted subset.  Whether they have an immediate, gut impact, or seep into our subconsciousness after repeated exposure, we’re not supposed to think too hard on them.

I thought it’d be fruitful to record more of these kinds of slogans as I came across them.  I haven’t been especially diligent in the task, but I’ve collected a couple more.  For whatever reason, they’re all tied to beverages.

Some mornings when I need a little pick me up, I get a coffee at the student-run campus coffee house.  Who knows how many times I blankly stared past the words on the paper insulating sleeve before they registered: “Brew what you believe.”  In this case, the convictions have something to do with the value of organically-grown products and “fair trade” practices.

Many folks support this kind of enterprise because they want to help impoverished, small-time farmers in the least-developed countries (LDCs).  But these boutique brands often do more harm than good by orienting producers toward transient, unsustainable, and distorted markets.  Accordingly, I am not really keen on the coffee vendor’s slogan.

So is there some drink-related catch phrase to which I might yet give mental assent?  Currently, Pepsi has a nice billboard on my morning commute.  You may be familiar with their latest marketing message: “Live for now.”  There is a certain appeal to this, if you’re at all aware of the “mindfulness” techniques and philosophy that have made their way from Eastern metaphysics and praxis into Western mind-body understanding.  Certainly, focusing on the present has a salubrious effect against anxiety and stress.  But then again, there is great value in looking to learn from the past and planning for the future.  Pepsi needs to clarify their position before I’m sold.

For now, the closest thing I might find to a beverage brand whose mantra I’d endorse would be the Credo House of Theology.  Yes, I visited Dan Kimball’s cool coffee-house-attached-to-a-church a few weeks ago, but from how Greg Koukl describes it, Credo sounds pretty dreamy to me.  So if they would package their own coffee and hatch a clever slogan, I’d go with that.

As for our chicken friend’s new java fix in today’s comic, you might find a little delight in the trademark expression of one civet bean vendor: “Kopi Luwak: Good to the last dropping.”

Can you think of any pithy worldview branding that has managed to capture your allegiance?

The half-life of racism

Attorney General Eric Holder made a bit of a splash when speaking at Columbia earlier this year.  He told the audience at his alma mater that he could not imagine a time when the need for racial preferences like affirmative action would cease.

So at what point does racism stop mattering in American life?  Perhaps you’ve entertained this question before.  If government, civil society and churches have been laboring against this great sin for decades, is there anything to show for it?

Surely, in 300 years, after our great-grandchildren are deceased, the old, nasty attitudes so prevalent before the Civil Rights era will have been expunged.  But if not, there will be sophisticated equipment–maybe like a Star Trek tricorder–to empirically identify any remnants.

For now, we are lucky to have wagging tongues like Chris Matthews to tell us when someone is being racist.  Or, we can just as well heed the dire warnings of speakers at this year’s Democratic National Convention.

Anyone who genuinely seeks a substantive discussion of issues, such as our raging national debt or the proper scope of federal government, has required a little patience in dealing with smokescreens thrown up by progressives and Democrats.  We know these as racism, the war on women, homophobia and so on.

The identity politics fiefdom built on these “wedge” issues is troubling in how it treats people in need as abstractions, not individuals.  The long history of progressive prescriptions affirms the ineffectiveness of promises perennially extended toward these abstracted victims.  President Johnson launched a “War on Poverty” in the 1960s, but the numbers of poor and dependent have reliably increased in the decades since.  Why should we think that President Obama, in spending ever more sums on the same problems, will change that?

While some conditions haven’t improved, there has been tremendous progress on societal attitudes.  Among those born after the tumult of the 1960s, the ideal of “equality” crowns the paramount virtue of “tolerance.”  But many remain beholden to the hope that just a little more money to social programs, a little more Ad Council propaganda, will actually change conditions for the abstraction.

What if these well-intended moves crowd out the healthy habits and cultural capital necessary to the success of the individual?  These, not the wasteful expenditures of federal welfare programs, are what can change conditions on the ground.  But to assess this soberly will require a little distance from the crooning promises of “Hope and Change” or MSNBC’s alarmist cries of “racism!”

Would it be safe to say that, in America today, we’re beyond the half-life of racism or patriarchy?  Existential struggle against oppression need not trump every policy consideration.  As I noted recently, a diverse lineup of thought leaders in media and at this year’s Republican National Convention have given us hope that we’re past that point.  For the sake of true progress, and the issues that really matter, I hope November will reflect a similar move among the population at large.

Shared sacrifice

President Obama unfurled a new school yard taunt this week, calling his challenger “Romney Hood.”  The moniker piggy backs on a study crafted by definitively left-leaning groups that presume to know the details of Romney’s future budget proposals.  Supposedly, Mitt Romney will balance the budget on the backs of the middle class.

But if anyone is taxing the middle class, it’s surely President Obama.  After all, the Supreme Court ruled in June that the penalty component of his Affordable Care Act is for all intents and purposes a tax.  Many who will be paying the new tax will be younger, less-established workers, the up-and-coming who are in many ways at the heart of economic growth.  That is, unless a Republican President and Congress are able to intervene at the start of 2013.

Is the “Romney Hood” label even fitting?  Maybe if you interpret the hugely successful capitalist as Atlas Shrugged pirate Ragnar Danneskjöld, a man who steals from corrupt “people’s republics” and bequeaths gold bars to cloistered industrialists.  However, the “tax cuts” that President Obama perennially refers to are not stealing from anyone.  Continuing with the ten-year-old, boring, existing rate is merely allowing high income earners to keep more of what is rightfully theirs.

If we examine the President’s rhetoric about income and wealth, it’s clear he has little real regard for the deep American tradition of ownership, particularly that which comes from “earned success.”  Consider his 2008 retort to Joe the Plumber, that all he wants to do with the little extra taxed income is “spread the wealth around.”

In 2010, and even into 2012, the President repeatedly sprinkled his speeches with references to “shared sacrifice.”  This is meant to conjure up thoughts of selflessness and nobility: folks who step up and offer voluntarily for a good cause.  But how are new taxes “sacrifice” when they are ultimately collected at the barrel of a gun?  This rhetoric ought to be seen as embarrassing and sloppy by all observers.  The rights to the fruits of one’s own sweat and toil, time and treasure are ultimately discarded by such a line of reasoning.  Utterly chilling.

If what we’re concerned with is a green-hooded robber running around in the woods and seizing wealth, we should be more wary of the man who has spent the last three and a half years in the Bully Pulpit than we should be of his challenger.

Chick-Fil-A and the language of (in)tolerance

A few days ago, Boston mayor Thomas Menino told burgeoning restaurant chain Chick-Fil-A it was not welcome in his city.  Responding to chain president Dan Cathy’s personal opinions–on city letterhead, no less–he decried the restauranteur as “prejudiced,” insisting there’s no room in Boston for “discrimination.”  He concluded that to allow Chick-Fil-A in his city would be an “insult” to gay couples whose marriage ceremonies he proudly presided over.  Fellow mayor Rahm Emanuel soon tried to one up Menino by appealing to “Chicago values,” an incredible claim for a place which, politically speaking, is a values wasteland.

Menino’s letter in particular is unwarranted in its use of charged language.  He and his allies have read base motives into Dan Cathy’s recent comments, which were issued earnestly in a radio interview.  If you listen, it’s clear he’s not hopped up on hate, or motivated by bigotry; his words flow from a reasoned, sincere conviction.  Neither has his company been yet charged of legally-actionable discrimination.  The mayors and their fellow critics are free to dislike Cathy and his firm, but while their claims of prejudice and discrimination go unsubstantiated, they cannot be taken seriously.

Some have justified their indignation by pointing to Chick-Fil-A’s past charitable contributions.  Media reports (here, here, and here) have alternately labeled Cathy, the company, and the donation recipients as “anti-gay” for ultimately opposing same-sex marriage initiatives.  But within these reports, the label goes unexplained and unchallenged.  The reader must naturally take it to be descriptive of one who is against gay people themselves, an utter slander that people of good will ought to reject.

In a similar fashion, the broad, vague charge of “homophobia” came with coverage of Google’s recent “Legalize love” campaign.  To call one homophobic is just as destructive to discourse, as it imparts a motive of irrational fear to the one being described.  In popular usage it is synonymous with hate.

These words ought not to be bandied about by press claiming fairness and objectivity.  Yet, media have a long, bad habit of describing conservatives as phobic and painting them in “anti” terms, as in anti-abortion or anti-spending.  Pro-choice advocates are never referred to as anti-unborn or anti-child.  Deficit spenders are never called anti-frugal.  This is a function of the Orwellian intersection of the tolerance paradigm and positive rights.  Tolerance as presently understood never allows us to question the ever-expanding field of rights, even though reason assures that absurdity must ensue at some point.

Those who want real tolerance have to abandon these loaded terms that implicitly judge the hearts and inner motivations of other individuals.  The hypocrisy of using such labels hurts one’s own cause as much as the conversational climate at large.

Fortunately, the mayors have backed off a bit from their testy declarations.  As the controversy continues to roil, may more people become cognizant of the language used, and realize that same-sex marriage opponents should not be automatically equated with bigots.  We all carry our own personal experiences, shadowboxing with traumas of the past.  Let’s not allow these to cloud an important and necessary conversation.

Two Trons, Four Freedoms

After Governor Scott Walker’s June recall victory, blogging compatriot Cosmoscon shared some choice tweets from the Left.  One that really grabbed me was this spurious Abraham Lincoln quote:

“If any man tells you he loves America, yet hates labor, he is a liar.”

The line is simultaneously funny and sad.  The adversarial unions we know today were scarcely extant, let alone popularly identified by the “labor” moniker, in President Lincoln’s lifetime.  It’s ironic that a movement sheltering so many of the work-averse (rubber rooms, anyone?) would brandish a quote that, properly construed, endorses hard work.  True to that irony, those at the bleeding-edge of the quest for expanded labor rights end up calling for a fantastically impossible feat: the abolition of work itself.

“Labor” is not the only word that lends itself to sociopolitical confusion.  People sometimes get caught up in an equivocal use of the word “free.”  On the one hand, it means for some agent the liberty of movement, thought or action.  On the other, it can refer to a null price of acquisition, that is zero cost, gratis.  Occasionally, the vital distinction between these two meanings is blurred in the popular imagination, as with the 2010 blockbuster Tron: Legacy.

Two Trons

The original Tron, released in 1982, came on the heels of serious Soviet Bloc upheaval; just the year before, the Polish Solidarity labor union secured a degree of independence from Communist control.  This dramatic feat of defiance would have been fresh in the minds of moviegoers.  Tron is not merely anti-authoritarian but anti-Communist.  A theistic theme evinces in the eponymous hero’s mantra, “I fight for the users!”  The oppressed programs know they’ve been endowed with purpose greater than the totalizing and centralizing dictates issued by the Master Control Program.  Incredibly for Hollywood, the story ends up affirming property rights: the protagonist Kevin Flynn eventually regains credit for his programming masterpieces, which had been stolen from him.  There’s no mistake that when the characters speak of “freedom,” the classically libertarian ideal is in mind.

Fast forward to the compromised 2010 sequel, Tron: Legacy.  Early in the film, we find that in Flynn’s mysterious absence, his software company has burgeoned into a Microsoft-like leviathan, profiting by frequent commercial releases of an utterly worthless operating system.  Flynn’s son wants to honor his disappeared dad’s ideal of “freedom.”  But the story writers have revised this to mean advocacy of freeware, as in products distributed for zero cost.  On this paradigm, the work of producing software does not arise from the need to make a living, as in labor, but from boredom, altruism, or some other motive conceived in leisure.  In the sequel, the meaning of “freedom” lurches Left.  It’s not just freedom of thought and action, but freedom from the need to even make a living.

How did Hollywood minds pull off this coup?  If you’ve seen the film, you know Flynn’s discovery of the Isomorphs: supreme, benevolent beings that emerge spontaneously from the digital vacuum and portend to cure all the world’s ills.  They are cinematic incarnations of Ray Kurzweil’s singularity prophecy.  Flynn’s cries in the wilderness about freeware and perfection of the human race are of course mere functions of the film’s indulgence of the fantastic.  Yet, among anarchists and cyberpunks, “libertarian Marxists” and singularity disciples, are those who really place faith in the idea that one day nice machines will magically do everything for us.

Four Freedoms

This confusion over freedom didn’t start yesterday.  Looking back in history, even our top policymakers were prone to conflation.  In his 1941 State of the Union address, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proclaimed to Americans the Four Freedoms:

1. Freedom of speech and expression
2. Freedom of worship
3. Freedom from want
4. Freedom from fear

This progressive vision rallied a nation soon to be at war, but it is also a disastrous marriage between negative rights–government’s promise to do no ill–and positive rights, government’s guarantee to ensure good outcomes.  The sum of human experience and the duration of America’s Constitutional enterprise both attest to this: that it is practical and necessary for government to extend negative rights, but impractical and immoral to extend positive ones.

It may have been attractive to early progressives to follow Bismarck’s example in marshaling the state’s power to slake rising expectations.  But past the mid-century twentieth century high tide of statism, advocates of liberty, from Whitaker Chambers to Ayn Rand, F.A. Hayek to Ronald Reagan, began to rally against the absurdity of positive rights.  That rally is alive and well today in the American conservative movement.

Unfortunately, too many remain beholden to Roosevelt’s proposition that it is government’s job not just to leave us free in our speech and worship, but to save each of us from the vagaries of poverty, hunger, and emotional distress.  These expectations ignore the finitude of government’s ability to help; no single human institution can guarantee positive rights to all.  The pursuit of happiness is necessarily a prerogative of individuals and their free and natural associations.

The best governments respect human nature, extending negative rights while withholding positive ones.  Disgruntled publics that demand otherwise, to be free from austerity and to be free from market forces, are really asking to be free from personal responsibility.  Absurd on its face, this kind of agitation always merits a facepalm.

Constitutional curve ball

For politicos, the Obamacare decision was something of a “Where were you when . . . ?” moment.  Surprisingly, Chief Justice John Roberts–not Justice Anthony Kennedy–was among the upholding majority.  And the mischievous wording of Robert’s majority opinion memorably made the breakneck news cycle stop for just a couple minutes as reporters rushed to divine the arcane document on live television.   CNN even embarrassed itself (and FOX less so) with a Dewey defeats Truman blunder, but I doubt it will be remembered as long as the original.

Throughout the day I caught a few whiffs of this idea that Roberts’s institutionalist inclination was coming through.  That is, he voted the way he did to spare the Supreme Court from allegations it had succumbed to an intractable polarization along party lines .  It was batted around on NBC’s live coverage, and resurfaced for the evening’s All Things Considered.  Hard liberal Robert Reich presciently cited this institutional loyalty a day in advance.  Supposedly, John Roberts is not even the first chief justice to spike his vote in the hope of saving the court’s influence.

If this protective phenomenon of institutionalism is real, isn’t it self-defeating in practice?  It would seem the court is compromising its deliberative process in order to not appear compromised.

Yet, short of Justice Roberts being interrogated with truth serum, the institutional motive will probably remain just speculation.  There’s been profuse coverage and the decision’s dissection will only become more detailed and complete over time.  I cannot pretend to be an expert on jurisprudence, so I trust those who say Roberts had good reason for pegging the mandate as a tax.  Indeed, it may have been more a pebble in Democrats’ shoes than a charitable move.

It seems at this point that the GOP has been invigorated considerably by the shock that for some is also accompanied by a sense of betrayal.  I’m surprised that there are still holdouts coming out of the woodwork to support Governor Romney.  It’s like those Japanese soldiers who only surrendered to American forces in the age of disco.  What a trauma that must have been.

The response on the Right, including over one million spontaneous dollars taken in by Romney’s campaign today, is encouraging for those who hope to roll back the collectivist tide.  It seems conservatives have their own way of going “Forward.”

Spirit guide

Humor is a subjective thing, so I’ll fill you in on the gaps.  Our pig of course shares a lack of certain scruples with Elizabeth Warren.  The totem gig comes from two sources.

First, I heard interviewed last year on The Michael Medved Show a remarkable performance artist.  She was commissioned via Kickstarter to circumprostrate herself around Mount Rainer.  It’s not as dirty as it sounds.  From all the bowing down, I guess there’s a spiritual dimension to it, but I can only scratch my head in wonder as to who paid for this and why.  Nonetheless, as a free marketeer I say more power to this woman if she can get people to pay her for her art.  It’s something I’m working on myself.

The second part of the totem reference also originates in the Pacific Northwest, which is a sort of epicenter of ecological writing.  There’s a whole lifestyle and philosophy that’s captured by folks like now-retired English professor and poet Gary Snyder.  Early in life, he saw the world as a merchant mariner, caught Zen Buddhism, and subsequently married it to Native American spirituality among other things.

From time to time in my day job, I encounter some works in this tradition.  I find the children’s literature to be especially striking.  One story book features a privileged white kid who is empowered by the spirit of Raven to oppose some mean guys in hard hats who cut down trees for a living.  Another encourages children to connect to “place” and maybe discover for themselves a special inspiring animal, or totem.  As the child of one Asian immigrant (and a native-born American) I can’t help but be tickled by how my fellow, privileged Americans turn from their rich heritage in search of more resonant truths.  By accident or providence, I’m on the opposite end of the divide from those Beatniks and baby boomers disaffected with Western modernity.  Once I came upon the scene, I was taken with the strange idea that America is a singular land of opportunity, that democracy and free market enterprise were vindicated by the end of history, and that we all have God to thank for it.  I still hold to this, by the way.

There’s one more piece to the punchline, if like me you don’t recall much of ancient literature.  It’s that Gilgamesh is 2/3 god, and 1/3 mortal.  But how does one get such a proportion of pedigree?

Why should government endorse same sex marriage?

The above fictional account touches on the gimmicky raffles the Obama campaign has been using to raise money.  Small-time donors first had a chance to meet George Clooney, and now  Sarah Jessica Parker.  For Mother’s Day, there was the opportunity to win mom a tweet from the President himself.

The other issue I’ve depicted and invite you examine for the remainder of this post is gay marriage.  The tendency in the public square is to conflate cultural practice with government endorsement.  We saw this two weeks ago when some folks were upset with North Carolina’s poll but pleased with President Obama’s evolution.  If we want a lucid discourse on marriage, we need to parse the cultural practice from government endorsement.  The critical question to ask: why is this new task of endorsement—with its associated costs—necessary?

Supporters of gay marriage often say it’s a civil  rights issue, inviting a comparison to the historic plight of racial minorities.  But the gay community’s experience today is nothing like the suffering under Jim Crow.  The collective socioeconomic status of homosexuals doesn’t reflect some sort of pervasive systemic bias.  And Federal laws already protect against sexual orientation discrimination.  The relative lack of exigency is a strike against the necessity of endorsement.

Yet, through personal experience, many feel gay marriage to have the moral force of a civil rights issue.  “Equality!” is the cry.  What is government supposed to equalize: individuals or relationships?  The state certainly treats individuals differently.  Men must sign up for selective service; women don’t.  Divorcing mothers tend to win custody over fathers.  And government  justifiably treats relationships differently too:  marriages are proscribed on the basis on age, blood relation, ability to consent, or number of  partners in the relationship.  Having strong feelings about equality doesn’t make government endorsement necessary.

The question remains, why endorse?  One with an expansive view of government may say that endorsement validates or affirms the humanity of gay individuals.  But personal affirmation is not the state’s  business.  We all have God-breathed dignity in spite of what government says about us.  Dissidents living under oppressive regimes around the world know this.  It’s our patrimony as Americans to know and live this truth without such pointed help from Uncle Sam.

In opening up two weeks ago, Vice President Biden gushed about commitment and love.  But governmental recognition of marriage, which boils down to enforcing a contract, is an unsexy thing.  It’s not about feeling love or commitment.  It’s a man and woman assenting to being bound by the law, with the end of raising children well in mind.  With the contract, the couple faces an increased cost of separation, and so does the court system for that matter.  This is another reason why government shouldn’t recognize relationships it doesn’t have to.  And it doesn’t have to because same sex couples never produce children naturally, while opposite sex couples do all the time.  Simultaneously, they face pressures that would separate them from each other.  It’s a bit ignoble, but that is the human condition.

All this to say government needn’t recognize gay marriage.  In fact, the  push for recognition sends the dangerous signal that government’s role is to correct every perceived societal slight, or worse, validate our personal feelings.  Each of us should feel free to pursue any relationship or endeavor we find fulfilling.  Just keep government out of it if you’re able.

The immorality of sit-ins, hunger strikes, and other protests

This latest comic is inspired by two anti-business movements in the Sacramento area.  In April, activists petitioned Sacramento’s city council to block a McDonald’s from opening in the midst of what some would term a “food desert.”  This followed on the heels of a January through March sit-in strike that successfully closed the U.C. Davis branch of U.S. Bank.  Both campaigns were driven by a misguided desire to narrow free market choices available to the community.

While these kinds of paternalistic projects are at odds with the values of free choice and personal responsibility, at least the anti-burger campaign was conducted within the limits of the local political process.  But the anti-bank sit-in demonstrates the widespread and reckless abandon with which too many progressive protesters pursue their cause today.

It’s common and commendable to ask if the ends justify the means.  The anti-U.S. Bank campaign is a clear case where neither the ends nor the means are justified.  In blocking physical access to the bank, members of Occupy UCD actively prevented customers and employees from engaging in mutually beneficial commercial transactions.  Such stunts that diminish the legitimate choices of others are a real threat to freedom.

The university administration, perhaps still reeling from November’s pepper-spray incident, was complicit in its failure to remove the blockaders.  Now, U.S Bank is suing the campus for breach of contract because its police did not effectively enforce an ordinance barring people from blocking public spaces.  On top of $2 million+ lost in future rent and revenue sharing, U.C. Davis stands to shed additional dollars fending off the suit.

By allowing those with gut-felt convictions to run roughshod over the rule of law, the administration betrayed the civil society it claims to honor and cherish.  In an even greater let down, Seattle Mayor Mike McGuinn allowed a large, organized, and anonymous mob of masked “black bloc” protesters to smash  numerous store front windows on May 1.  Among the infamous moments captured was the hypocritical smashing of a Niketown window by a Nike shoe wearer.

The solipsistic morality that drives most protest should give us all more pause than it does.  Besides actions that violate others’ rights of movement or property, there are protests of self-inflicted harm.  Consider the multiple self-immolations that ignited the Arab Spring last year.  Or, look at the not-so-fatal hunger strike.  This act of protest is way overrated.  It’s akin to terrorism in that the protester threatens violence if the target of coercion refuses to grant the demand.  The only difference is that the protester supplies his own body for the violence rather than that of a hapless victim.  Self-sacrifice is warranted for ends like saving children in a burning building, but harming oneself to coerce another is as immoral as harming others.

When protesters stop respecting the rights of others or even the value of their own bodies, civilization takes a step backward.  Rather than romanticize protest, which devolves to a gut appeal, our culture should uphold the truly constructive engagement that arises from our more measured, non-coercive political and economic processes.

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