The Threat to Personal Liberty

Many believe the 2010 elections will save America from social and economic disaster. However, the progressives are intent on imposing their vision on us, and they will pull no punches in trying to paint their opponents as Neanderthals, racists, or whatever other slander opportunity provides. They will be funded by untold dollars from a variety of sources, from the naïve and still trusting to the dedicated opportunists, well-heeled socialists, Machiavellian billionaires, and profit-seekers. 

An insufficient number of Republican leaders provide a message that appeals to a broad enough public. The Tea Party defines itself as in favor of more limited government, but the progressives are slandering it as a racist movement. Given the media's acquiescence in the budding collective tyranny of the progressives' New Regime, the opposition message is distorted, muffled, and too often unclear. The challenge for those of us who want America to continue as a nation of free people, with a free and robust economy, is to get across to people in the progressives' targeted constituencies the idea that they are being and will continue to be exploited. 

The self-styled progressive Democrats are oblivious to a multitude of personal liberties protected by the Constitution. Their core tactic is to say they seek only the ideal of "equality." They then twist the ideal to put themselves in the position to define "equality," regardless of the Constitution and the individual rights and immunities from government it preserves. Behind that fiendishly misleading banner, they would impose on us stifling uniformity and strict government control that will degrade all of our futures, whether we are rich or poor. They are willing to ditch the liberty of all for their government enforced visions. In so doing, they have warped the American and classic "liberal" concept of equality -- namely, individual equality before the law and equality of opportunity.

The abuse of personal liberties that the New Regime is initiating threatens all Americans, of all colors, creeds, sexual orientations, and religious persuasions. Importantly, however, part of the power base of the New Regime comes from people who have been induced to see their personal liberties as threatened by Republicans, Tea Partiers, other self-styled conservatives, and capitalism. These are people caught up and motivated to vote as a group based on gay rights and other sexual preference issues, racial and ethnic discrimination issues, age, poverty, and abortion-related issues.

Most people in the special constituency groups miss the cynicism behind this elitist effort to acquire power in exchange for favors. To African-Americans, the false message is that there are jobs ahead in the new, government-directed economic future. To Latinos, it is to stick with us while we wink at immigration and cut you in on the swag. To the elderly, overtly, it is that we care about you, while covertly it is that we control your health care and income, so you had better cooperate. And to the poor and members of unions, it is the falsehood that government creates jobs. Each of these pitches is based on economic fantasies and denigration of traditional values of hard work, education, self-reliance, and honesty. In reality, they are making the individuals within each of these constituencies into modern-day serfs. Republicans and Tea Party candidates need to show members of these targeted groups that they will lose their individual self-respect and future of true personal freedom as Americans if they continue to follow the progressive design. They will only gain a new master: Big Government. 

Republicans and Tea Partiers must clearly avow that we owe each other respect for our individuality and freedom to choose. Our liberty under law depends on this. Ronald Reagan himself, in explaining the core meaning of America to the Chinese in 1984, said,

We believe in the dignity of each man, woman, and child. Our entire system is founded on an appreciation of the special genius of each individual, and of his special right to make his own decisions and lead his own life[i].

Many Americans within the targeted constituencies understand the need for fiscal responsibility, strong defense, respect for the rule of law, and a lean and limited federal government. Even though they may not be "traditional" in their lifestyle, they can vote Republican or Tea Party without fear of losing their dignity or right to choose if their liberty is respected. Similarly, even poor people will vote for an economy that can grow and provide opportunity or competitive health costs instead of one that is bound to fail.

On race relations, Republicans -- and their party principles that declared slavery unacceptable -- should have the upper hand. Until handouts became the tools of Democrat vote-getting, African-Americans voted mostly Republican. To this day, Republicans speak to each other -- black, brown, yellow, and white alike -- in terms of government providing fair opportunity to succeed to individuals. We need to do a more vigorous job of that, denouncing the plantation politics of the big-city Democrats that have put poor blacks into dependency and fear for their daily safety on the city streets. Plainer and more outspoken rededication of the Republicans to civil rights will start attracting thoughtful black voters. Add to that a hard-nosed effort to end the tolerance of gangs and violence in the inner cities. Demand freedom for all to have and choose a quality education and couple with it creative efforts to reduce the "underclass" and unemployed by serious job training, and a surprising number of people of color will start voting Republican to end their dependency status.

A broader point is that in some respects, civil rights regarding race have a common foundation with privacy and property rights: the right to be respected and "pursue happiness" as an individual. While one's race is not a choice, outlawing race discrimination is not sufficient to prevent government from indiscriminate interference in everyone's life. It is essential to a free people that individual choices in a variety of subjects be kept free and given meaningful room.

We cannot risk imposing our moral choices on someone through government without risking the imposition of choices by a tyrannical majority upon ourselves. It is dangerous for a conservative, a liberal, or any other American not to insist on a zone of private liberty from the United States or other government. 

Too many conservatives have unwittingly developed a serious blind spot regarding the importance of personal liberty in the Constitution. Personal space and freedom is essential to liberty in modern society. The Founders believed this fervently. A zone of freedom from government intrusion enables each of us to enjoy our individual versions of the pursuit of happiness. Whether they involve use and sale of property, rights of contract, decisions of lifestyle, sex partner and residence, choice of friends and physicians, pursuit of learning or career, or many other choices we make, our personal right to decide for ourselves must be protected in order for our nation to remain the great free land that it is.  

Indifference to these unspecified but preserved rights by the progressives should alarm every thinking American. These "natural rights" are fundamental. James Wilson, one of the key Founders, said that "there are very few who understand the whole of these rights ... nor can you find ... complete enumeration[ii]. In 1798, a Supreme Court Justice wrote that "there are certain vital principles in our free republican governments which will determine and overrule an apparent and flagrant abuse of legislative power ... to take away that security of personal liberty, for the protection whereof  the government was established" (Calder v. Bull, 3 U.S. 386, 388). Ensuring the preservation of these rights by the Bill of Rights was a condition to the adoption of the Constitution by most of the thirteen original states.  

In a nation of over 300 million, I would much rather let some many thousands make a poor moral choice themselves than cede to government the role of imposing its will on intimate questions. If we have unalienable rights, they include the right to make mistakes, provided public health and safety are not threatened.

In short, Republican and Tea Party candidates need to retune their message so that individual rights and freedoms are as prominent and important to preserve as market freedom and property rights. By doing that, they will recover an important part of their heritage. They will also get through to more thinking Democrats and independents among the special constituencies the progressive ruling class rewards and manipulates. After making their dedication to an individual's zone of freedom clear, they can then more effectively ask questions like: Do you really trust the government to look after you? Is dependency the kind of future you seek for your children? Don't you want to exercise your personal freedom in a safe community and a successful economy?

Harvey M. Sheldon is an attorney in Chicago, concentrating in environmental law. The views expressed are his own and are not on behalf of a firm or client.

[i] Reagan spoke to students at Fudan University on April 30, 1984.

[ii] Constitutional Debates (Elliot ed.) 2:454, quoted in Randy Barnett "Restoring the Lost Constitution: The Presumption of Liberty", Princeton U. Press, 2004.
Many believe the 2010 elections will save America from social and economic disaster. However, the progressives are intent on imposing their vision on us, and they will pull no punches in trying to paint their opponents as Neanderthals, racists, or whatever other slander opportunity provides. They will be funded by untold dollars from a variety of sources, from the naïve and still trusting to the dedicated opportunists, well-heeled socialists, Machiavellian billionaires, and profit-seekers. 

An insufficient number of Republican leaders provide a message that appeals to a broad enough public. The Tea Party defines itself as in favor of more limited government, but the progressives are slandering it as a racist movement. Given the media's acquiescence in the budding collective tyranny of the progressives' New Regime, the opposition message is distorted, muffled, and too often unclear. The challenge for those of us who want America to continue as a nation of free people, with a free and robust economy, is to get across to people in the progressives' targeted constituencies the idea that they are being and will continue to be exploited. 

The self-styled progressive Democrats are oblivious to a multitude of personal liberties protected by the Constitution. Their core tactic is to say they seek only the ideal of "equality." They then twist the ideal to put themselves in the position to define "equality," regardless of the Constitution and the individual rights and immunities from government it preserves. Behind that fiendishly misleading banner, they would impose on us stifling uniformity and strict government control that will degrade all of our futures, whether we are rich or poor. They are willing to ditch the liberty of all for their government enforced visions. In so doing, they have warped the American and classic "liberal" concept of equality -- namely, individual equality before the law and equality of opportunity.

The abuse of personal liberties that the New Regime is initiating threatens all Americans, of all colors, creeds, sexual orientations, and religious persuasions. Importantly, however, part of the power base of the New Regime comes from people who have been induced to see their personal liberties as threatened by Republicans, Tea Partiers, other self-styled conservatives, and capitalism. These are people caught up and motivated to vote as a group based on gay rights and other sexual preference issues, racial and ethnic discrimination issues, age, poverty, and abortion-related issues.

Most people in the special constituency groups miss the cynicism behind this elitist effort to acquire power in exchange for favors. To African-Americans, the false message is that there are jobs ahead in the new, government-directed economic future. To Latinos, it is to stick with us while we wink at immigration and cut you in on the swag. To the elderly, overtly, it is that we care about you, while covertly it is that we control your health care and income, so you had better cooperate. And to the poor and members of unions, it is the falsehood that government creates jobs. Each of these pitches is based on economic fantasies and denigration of traditional values of hard work, education, self-reliance, and honesty. In reality, they are making the individuals within each of these constituencies into modern-day serfs. Republicans and Tea Party candidates need to show members of these targeted groups that they will lose their individual self-respect and future of true personal freedom as Americans if they continue to follow the progressive design. They will only gain a new master: Big Government. 

Republicans and Tea Partiers must clearly avow that we owe each other respect for our individuality and freedom to choose. Our liberty under law depends on this. Ronald Reagan himself, in explaining the core meaning of America to the Chinese in 1984, said,

We believe in the dignity of each man, woman, and child. Our entire system is founded on an appreciation of the special genius of each individual, and of his special right to make his own decisions and lead his own life[i].

Many Americans within the targeted constituencies understand the need for fiscal responsibility, strong defense, respect for the rule of law, and a lean and limited federal government. Even though they may not be "traditional" in their lifestyle, they can vote Republican or Tea Party without fear of losing their dignity or right to choose if their liberty is respected. Similarly, even poor people will vote for an economy that can grow and provide opportunity or competitive health costs instead of one that is bound to fail.

On race relations, Republicans -- and their party principles that declared slavery unacceptable -- should have the upper hand. Until handouts became the tools of Democrat vote-getting, African-Americans voted mostly Republican. To this day, Republicans speak to each other -- black, brown, yellow, and white alike -- in terms of government providing fair opportunity to succeed to individuals. We need to do a more vigorous job of that, denouncing the plantation politics of the big-city Democrats that have put poor blacks into dependency and fear for their daily safety on the city streets. Plainer and more outspoken rededication of the Republicans to civil rights will start attracting thoughtful black voters. Add to that a hard-nosed effort to end the tolerance of gangs and violence in the inner cities. Demand freedom for all to have and choose a quality education and couple with it creative efforts to reduce the "underclass" and unemployed by serious job training, and a surprising number of people of color will start voting Republican to end their dependency status.

A broader point is that in some respects, civil rights regarding race have a common foundation with privacy and property rights: the right to be respected and "pursue happiness" as an individual. While one's race is not a choice, outlawing race discrimination is not sufficient to prevent government from indiscriminate interference in everyone's life. It is essential to a free people that individual choices in a variety of subjects be kept free and given meaningful room.

We cannot risk imposing our moral choices on someone through government without risking the imposition of choices by a tyrannical majority upon ourselves. It is dangerous for a conservative, a liberal, or any other American not to insist on a zone of private liberty from the United States or other government. 

Too many conservatives have unwittingly developed a serious blind spot regarding the importance of personal liberty in the Constitution. Personal space and freedom is essential to liberty in modern society. The Founders believed this fervently. A zone of freedom from government intrusion enables each of us to enjoy our individual versions of the pursuit of happiness. Whether they involve use and sale of property, rights of contract, decisions of lifestyle, sex partner and residence, choice of friends and physicians, pursuit of learning or career, or many other choices we make, our personal right to decide for ourselves must be protected in order for our nation to remain the great free land that it is.  

Indifference to these unspecified but preserved rights by the progressives should alarm every thinking American. These "natural rights" are fundamental. James Wilson, one of the key Founders, said that "there are very few who understand the whole of these rights ... nor can you find ... complete enumeration[ii]. In 1798, a Supreme Court Justice wrote that "there are certain vital principles in our free republican governments which will determine and overrule an apparent and flagrant abuse of legislative power ... to take away that security of personal liberty, for the protection whereof  the government was established" (Calder v. Bull, 3 U.S. 386, 388). Ensuring the preservation of these rights by the Bill of Rights was a condition to the adoption of the Constitution by most of the thirteen original states.  

In a nation of over 300 million, I would much rather let some many thousands make a poor moral choice themselves than cede to government the role of imposing its will on intimate questions. If we have unalienable rights, they include the right to make mistakes, provided public health and safety are not threatened.

In short, Republican and Tea Party candidates need to retune their message so that individual rights and freedoms are as prominent and important to preserve as market freedom and property rights. By doing that, they will recover an important part of their heritage. They will also get through to more thinking Democrats and independents among the special constituencies the progressive ruling class rewards and manipulates. After making their dedication to an individual's zone of freedom clear, they can then more effectively ask questions like: Do you really trust the government to look after you? Is dependency the kind of future you seek for your children? Don't you want to exercise your personal freedom in a safe community and a successful economy?

Harvey M. Sheldon is an attorney in Chicago, concentrating in environmental law. The views expressed are his own and are not on behalf of a firm or client.

[i] Reagan spoke to students at Fudan University on April 30, 1984.

[ii] Constitutional Debates (Elliot ed.) 2:454, quoted in Randy Barnett "Restoring the Lost Constitution: The Presumption of Liberty", Princeton U. Press, 2004.