Republican Chickens

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Republican Chickens

by Ari Armstrong, May 3, 2001

In her essay "Censorship: Local and Express" (published in Philosophy: Who Needs It), Ayn Rand describes the ways principles become established in law and tend to work their way toward their logical conclusions. She writes, "[S]ince a legal rule is a principle, the development of its logical consequences cannot be cut off, except by repealing the principle." Thus, today we see how previous unjust laws are now used to justify the closing of remaining "loopholes" of freedom.

Rand deals with the 1973 Supreme Court decisions on pornography. She argues those decisions allowed arbitrary law with no clear standards. She saw the camel's nose of censorship entering the tent. In her trademark rhetorical flair, Rand noted the previous bad laws used to justify the 1973 decisions:

[One] sentence of Mr. Burger's decision gives a... violently clear demonstration of the role of precedent in the development of law. [That] sentence seems to unleash a whirling storm of feathers, as chickens come flying home from every direction to roost on everyone's coop, perch or fence -- in retribution for every evasion, compromise, injustice, and violation or rights perpetuated in past decades. The... sentence is: "The same [a basis of unprovable assumptions] is true of the federal securities, antitrust laws and a host of other federal regulations." Formally, I would have to say: "Oh, Mr. Chief Justice!" Informally, I want to say: "Oh, brother!" (Final brackets inserted by Rand.)

Today's Republicans are seeing their own chickens come home to roost. Many Republicans, supported by the National Rifle Association, voted for background registration checks. Now, the anti-gun lobby is using that law as the foundation in its efforts to register all gun owners with the federal government, starting with laws to "close the gunshow loophole."

Republican leaders Nixon, Reagan, and Bush (Senior) unleashed a ten-ton chicken with drug prohibition. Now, that chicken has returned to relentlessly peck and claw at the Bill of Rights. In the recent Supreme Court decision allowing warrantless arrests even for minor traffic violations, Justice Souter based his decision partly on -- you guessed it -- drug laws. Souter writes:

One line, [Atwater] suggests, might be between "jailable" and "fine-only" offenses, between those for which conviction could result in commitment and those for which it could not. The trouble with this distinction, of course, is that an officer on the street might not be able to tell. It is not merely that we cannot expect every police officer to know the details of frequently complex penality schemes... but that penalties for ostensibly identical conduct can vary on account of facts difficult (if not impossible) to know at the scene of an arrest. Is this the first offense or is the suspect a repeat offender? Is the weight of the marijuana a gram above or a gram below the fine-only line? (27-28)

The First Amendment protects the freedom of religion -- unless of course a church wants to use a drug besides alcohol in its sacraments. The Second Amendment guarantees an individual's right to keep and bear arms -- unless a drug SWAT team breaks down an innocent person's door and shoots the armed homeowner on sight.

The Fourth Amendment has almost been eradicated completely with respect to the drug war. The Republican-supported "Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act" would have allowed secret searches without the presentation of any type of warrant. Police can seize one's assets without so much as filing a criminal charge, which also violates the "due process" clause of the Fifth Amendment and the right to a jury promised in the Sixth Amendment.

The Eighth Amendment is violated when those who merely possess an arbitrarily defined "illegal substance" are regularly sentenced to more prison time than rapists and murderers. The Ninth Amendment guarantees of "other rights" and Tenth Amendment limitations of federal power are completely ignored.

On April 22, Evan Gahr urged his fellow conservatives to follow their drug prohibitionist policies to their logical conclusions and heat up the war on guns (Washington Post, page B03, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A44782-2001Apr21.html).

Gahr outlined the main arguments against gun control. 1) Gun Control laws are worthless. 2) Laws do more harm than good. 3) The family is at fault. 4) We need to understand root causes.

Surprise, surprise -- those are the exact same arguments used to oppose drug control laws. For example, Gahr notes, "[I]f we are going to examine root causes, what about the root causes of drug use?"

In the title of his article, Gahr observes, "Fellow conservatives: our position is hypocritical." True enough. For Gahr, the way to resolve conservative hypocrisy is to restrict gun ownership along with drug ownership. And then the Bill of Rights could be stamped out almost completely.

Or conservatives could do what seems for them to be the unthinkable: repeal the original principle, as Rand suggests.

In his April 27 editorial "Drug War Death Toll" (http://www.lewrockwell.com/rockwell/drugtoll.html), Llewellyn Rockwell urges, "Give it up, drug warriors."

Veronica Bowers and her 7-month-old adopted daughter Charity are dead. They were killed by military bullets raining in on a small civilian aircraft flying to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Indians of Peru. The CIA and the Peruvian military mistook a plane of missionaries for drug dealers. There were no warning shots.... Isn't it time the Christian Right begin to rethink the drug war, which has now taken two of their own?

Even when drug warriors aren't killing innocent persons, Rockwell notes, the rest of us suffer a loss of freedom. "In a drug war, the government treats us all as suspects. Our bank accounts are investigated, we are harassed at the airport, and we are spied on at every turn." As if it mattered, the U.S. Constitution forbids the federal government to restrict drugs.

Rockwell reflects Rand's sensitivity to the importance of principles:

[O]nce the principle is admitted that it is the duty of government to protect the individual against his own foolishness, no serious objections can be advanced against further encroachments. A good case could be made out in favor of the prohibition of alcohol and nicotine. And why limit the government's benevolent providence to the protection of the individual's body only? Is not the harm a man can inflict on his mind and soul even more disastrous than any bodily evils? Why not prevent him from reading bad books and seeing bad plays, from looking at bad paintings and statues and from hearing bad music? The mischief done by bad ideologies, surely, is much more pernicious, both for the individual and for the whole society, than that done by narcotic drugs.

As Rand wrote to begin her essay, "I have been saying, for many years, that statism is winning by default -- by the intellectual default of capitalism's alleged defenders; that freedom and capitalism have never had a firm, philosophical base; that today's conservatives share all the fundamental premises of today's liberals and thus have paved, and are still paving, the road to statism."

In other words, the problem is that both Republicans and Democrats are simply too chicken to stand up for civil liberties across the board.

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