Responsibility takes a beating
This was not a good week for responsible people.
A few days ago, the AARP came out against the president’s social security reform proposal. Bush had the temerity to allow workers to decide for themselves whether to invest part of their payroll taxes in private accounts. Even something this modest is unthinkable for the AARP.
You’d think they’d cut the president some slack in exchange for that $400 billion Medicare prescription drug benefit. It’s bad enough that Medicare is a ticking time bomb. Now we’re supposed to advance the timer and kick it around just for fun.
Not that the AARP cares. They’re just playing politics. Get the benefits for those who vote, dump the costs on those who can’t. That may be how the game is played, but it’s still irresponsible.
But worst of all, this week an appeals court ruled that schools could bar military recruiters from campus without losing federal funding. Citing free speech concerns, the judges ruled that the threat of losing funding “compelled” the schools to take part in speech they didn’t agree with.
Liberal universities (isn’t that redundant?) must have thrown out their backs giving high fives for this one. Now they can have their cake and eat it too.
No one is more passionate about free speech than I am. I got involved in a Supreme Court case with a First Amendment victory in front of this same bench: The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. I remember it well. Independence Hall made a nice backdrop for our TV spots.
But this time, the 3rd Circuit’s decision goes way beyond supporting free speech. It says speakers don’t have to bear the consequences of what they say. That is, I believe, irresponsible.
This week we had a senator threaten to ban steroids in baseball. If you believe in giving people a chance to work out their own problems, this is a terrible idea.
Sometimes I think misguided parents and well-meaning politicians read the same book: “It’s Your Responsibility … Unless You Screw Up”.
I don’t tell my kids: “Homework is your responsibility, unless you don’t do it. Then I’ll do it for you”. Part of giving people responsibility means you don’t shield them from failure. My kids are teenagers, so they aren’t quite ready to be in charge of every part of their lives. But by the time they’re adults, they will be. That’s my job.
Baseball players, fans and owners are finished being teenagers (though they don’t always act like it). They ought to be allowed to deal with problems on their own. Fans can watch or stay home. Players can play or strike. Owners can make money or take their capital elsewhere. Together, they’ll all try and work it out.
And yes, they might fail, at least initially. But if we believe in individual responsibility, we can’t cushion the possibility of failure by passing a law. That doesn’t work. It’s not what government is for.
If you want to shout political slogans in the middle of a crowded theater, you can do it, but the manager will kick you out. If you own a company and make public editorial comments, you can do it, but consumers might boycott your product. If your faith compels you to pass out religious literature on the job, you can do it, but you might be fired. That which gives you the courage of your convictions should also give you the courage to bear the consequences. Freedom isn’t free.
So yes, if you believe the US military is immoral you can bar it from campus. But why are you entitled to government funding? How does “Congress shall make no law” become “Nothing bad will ever happen” when it comes to your First Amendment rights?
The 3rd Circuit thinks that if schools lose money for doing what they believe is right, they’re being made to support what they believe is wrong. Hogwash. That’s called paying the price for what you believe in.
Perhaps if professors at these schools actually talked with members of the military instead of barring them from campus, they might be a little clearer on the concept. Then they could explain it, along with the notion of responsibility, to the Senate and the AARP.
© 2004, Barry Fagin