Sturm: The era of intended adverse consequences
July 16, 2014
“Too often … we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought,” President Kennedy famously asserted before Yale’s class of 1962.
Denouncing political debates that “bear little or no relation to the actual problems the United States faces,” Kennedy urged policymakers to Think Again before engaging in “false dialogues” that “distract our attention and divide our efforts.”
He believed “the very future of freedom depends upon the sensible and clearheaded management of the domestic affairs of the United States” and a “vigorous economy” — quaint concerns 52 years hence.
Because today’s political discourse is so dishonest and domestic affairs so muddled, we’re living in an era of manufactured social strife. Creating policy impasses, politicians pick unnecessary fights over our constitutional system’s commitment to individual liberty and the rule of law, transforming dissenters into black-hearted villains with sinister agendas.
Faux hysteria and fearmongering — especially in an election year — are potent tools for squeezing money and outrage from voting blocs whose “rights,” they’re told, are under assault.
Witness the feverish backlash to the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby decision. The ruling grants the company a religious exemption from the Health and Human Services regulation — imposed during the 2012 election year without congressional input — forcing employers to provide 20 types of contraception, including four abortion-inducing methods.
Facing crippling Internal Revenue Service-enforced penalties, the company’s devoutly Christian owners refused to provide the four abortifacients — all cheap and ubiquitous — though their gold-plated health plan covers the other 16 contraceptives cost-free.
Now, closely held for-profit companies like Hobby Lobby (where five or fewer shareholders own at least half the corporation) needn’t defy their owners’ religious consciences for fear of shocking national leaders, including Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton. Based only on the reactions of those two, Americans could fairly assume the court had banned contraception and imposed an employer-led theocracy.
Forgetting that an all-male majority decided Roe v. Wade, Pelosi opined, “We should be afraid of this court, that five guys should start determining what contraceptions are legal or not” — a statement rated “false” by PolitiFact.
Clinton suggested that in denying women “access to contraception,” the decision makes the U.S. akin to extremist and theocratic nations where women are “deprived of their rights” and “control over their bodies.”
In fact, because the government has alternative ways to assure cost-free contraception, the court crafted a narrow holding that respects religious liberty without interfering with employees’ rights. Women enjoy the same access to contraception they’ve always had, and all forms are legal.
Speaking to his MSNBC choir, constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe explained that the case hinged on the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Co-sponsored by Pelosi, passed nearly unanimously and signed by President Clinton, the law says that “corporations, along with people and … unions, should be able to argue that something needlessly burdens their religion,” Tribe said, concluding, “That’s not (a) radical decision.”
Tribe won’t be quoted this election year. Absent an improving American standard of living, politicians need the faux “war on women” narrative to woo female voters, as they do the Latino-vote-winning claim that proponents of immigration-law enforcement are racist xenophobes.
Like the Hobby Lobby case, the escalating humanitarian crisis on the Southern border would have been avoidable if the government had merely followed the law. After all, what distinguishes America is our healthy respect for the law. Instead, pro-amnesty appeals and the Obama administration’s de facto “open border” policies created powerful magnets for migrating multitudes.
Though the administration insists the border is secure and unlawful crossers will be deported, the migratory surge proves otherwise. So does a leaked Border Patrol memo saying only 3 percent of detainees are repatriated. The illegals and their countrymen know from experience that indefinite U.S. residency is virtually guaranteed, incentivizing them to make the life-endangering trek.
The influx of underage migration, up fivefold since 2012, began shortly after Obama’s election-year order effectively legalizing 550,000 immigrant youths. They’re coming predominately from countries not contiguous to the U.S. because of a 2008 anti-trafficking law granting repatriation leniency to non-Mexicans, which must be corrected.
If our leaders were as clear-headed as Kennedy, they’d realize that a national consensus on immigration won’t happen without crisis-ending steps including: building fences in insecure border sectors, like California’s; eliminating deportation leniency; conditioning foreign aid on exodus-ending measures; and enforcing U.S. immigration laws.
Since none of these fixes is in Obama’s $3.7 billion funding request to provide migrants housing, food, transportation and lawyers, the explosive issue remains.
Sadly, the wave of humanity stretching across America is stressing services — from trash collection to education to health care — imposing ever-growing economic and social costs that weaken the society to which huddled masses are drawn.
Think Again — Kennedy was right. We need more leaders mindful of the national interest who are willing to “separate false problems from real ones.”
Melanie Sturm lives in Aspen. She reminds readers to Think Again. You might change your mind. She welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.