Several Rejoinders

A few news stories of late have caught my eye.  Herewith a few comments:

  1. Former Democratic press secretary Terry Michael penned “Lies of the Ethics Industry,” published at reason.com on April 30. Michael’s money quote: “Four groups now work to convince us we have the worst government money can buy: (1) an ethics industry spawned in Washington by Watergate, which features nonprofits lobbying for regulation of speech they don’t like; (2) journalists who collude with ethics purveyors, writing cheap-and-easy stories fitting a corruption narrative they create; (3) politicians, especially Democratic Progressive Era throwbacks, who think evil-doing can be stopped with new and better rules and who pander to the ethics industry, the media, and (ironically) to citizens convinced that Democrats are just as sleazy as Republicans; and (4) citizens, frustrated by the budget-busting consequences of the free lunches we accept from politicians.” The bigger point Michael makes, and with which I happen to agree, is that the old journalistic adage to “follow the money” is as lazy as it is cynical. The confluence of money and policy is not, ipso facto, a negative event that threatens Joe Sixpack or undermines American freedom. Money is a tool, and fetishizing the role of money as a chiefly nefarious motive for action is less a statement of fact than an admission to an overweening cynicism that makes every politician a crook and renders every campaign dollar a cut to Democracy’s carotid.
  2. Peter Luke, a columnist and analyst covering Michigan politics, recently penned a defense of Michigan’s new bans against texting-while-driving and smoking in a bar or restaurant.  Luke’s conclusion: “Just about everyone has a cell phone with a keyboard and those of a certain age think there’s nothing wrong with using it anywhere. Just like a smoker who would never light up in the office thinks nothing of doing so after work in the bar down the street. Distilled to their essence, the smoking and texting laws are a simple two-sentence response: You can’t. Not anymore.” Well, OK.  His argument is that both texting-while-driving and smoking in bars generate negative externalities that some other citizens may occasionally bear — the fender-bender from inattentive driving, or tobacco scent on a sweater. The problem, though, is that the proper role of governmental regulation is not to preserve citizens from potential negative consequences. If I happen to be fiddling with my radio while driving, and I cause an accident, then I’m liable for my inattentiveness. I’d rather see a penalty for careless driving, such that contributors to carelessness are recognized in a citation, than to categorically assert that a lawful action is unlawful in a specific context merely because some people are occasionally negligent. Likewise with smoking: If I prefer not to be subject to a smoke-filled bar, then I will find a bar that has no smoke. Why must people who enjoy a cigar or cigarette while drinking be punished because non-smokers believe themselves entitled to go anywhere, anytime, and not encounter smoke?
  3. Victor Davis Hanson, writing in National Review, penned a nice essay on the use of euphemism and dysphemism by the Obama administration. In a nutshell: The lecturer-in-chief has a penchant for using positive locutions for things he favors (e.g., “undocumented workers” instead of “illegal immigrants”) and negative ones for things he disdains (e.g., referring to principled opposition as “phony smoke and mirrors”).  Words mean things. Amen, brother.

All for now.

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