Gentlemen this is a free society

by Eric Shierman

We have all endured a week of analysis of the Supreme Court’s ruling on Obamacare, but the final analysis seems to be best summed up by that prescient Constitutional Law scholar Boy George:

Is John Roberts a man without conviction, a man who does not know how to sell the contradiction? Before we denounce him, let’s first take a step back and realize that in last Thursday’s ruling, Roberts performed as advertised. In his 2000 RNC Convention acceptance speech, Candidate George W. Bush promised to appoint judges that do not “legislate from the bench.” Call Robert’s opinion what you will; it was not a sweeping piece of legislation common to the Warren Court.

It was deferential to the other two branches of government, making it easier to repeal Obamacare but refusing to do that work for us. Now that it’s a tax without severability, the entire law’s repeal cannot be filibustered in the Senate. States that do not want to raise their Medicaid eligibility to 140% of the poverty line can opt out without penalty.

What the court did not do is identify a constitutionally protected right that stands above the ambitions of the other two branches of government. We used to have constitutionally protected rights of economic liberty. Under the intimidation of FDR’s White House, the Court took them away from us. Fighting the New Deal era of jurisprudence with modest justices that refuse to legislate from the bench amounts to showing up to a gunfight with a knife. The Progressives have been playing on a whole different level; we need to do the same.

Thus no amount of positive spin can portray the decision in National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Sebelius et all as a victory for those that want to limit government. Instead I think we should view it the way the shareholders of the Green Bay Packers viewed their 1958 losing season where they ended up 1-10-1. Green Bay recognized it was time to start over as a franchise, firing their coaching staff and hiring the New York Giant’s offensive coordinator Vince Lombardi. Before initiating a pioneeringly brutal training regimen on his players, Lombardi recognized that he must first take his new team back to the basics so they can execute on the fundamentals of the game. In the first practice of the next season, Lombardi picked up a ball, held it in his players’ faces, and said “Gentlemen, this is a football.”

We need to have that kind of conversation my friends. We need to be able to hold up a coherent vision of the relationship between the citizen and the state and say gentlemen this is a free society. We need to go back to the basics, formulating a coherent set of first principles that can encompass both a governing philosophy of limited government and a judicial philosophy of economic liberty. Fortunately we have an ideal setting this month to do just that. Both the Taxpayer Association of Oregon and the Cascade Policy Institute are holding major events in the week of July 29th that are not to be missed.

At 11am on Sunday July 29th, The Taxpayer Association of Oregon will be holding its annual Lazy Fair picnic at Barton Park. This is an ideal setting to meet new people from across the state and talk all manner of politics and policy without any fear of boring those around you, because they will all political junkies just like you. For more details click here. To read what I wrote for the Oregonian about last year’s gathering click here.

At 5:30pm on Tuesday July 31st, fittingly on what would have been the 100th birthday of the late Nobel Economist Milton Friedman, the Cascade Policy Institute will be hosting school choice reformer Lisa Graham Keegan at the Portland Golf Club. Like any other Cascade event, there will be lots of time for discussion with both those around you and a generous Q+A of the speaker. For more details click here.

Like Karma, we have seen politicians and their promises come and go. Over the past couple of decades, the most effective advocates of liberty in our state have not been those elected to office; they have been two men, Don McIntire and Steve Buckstein, who founded two organizations that recognize the power of first-principles to play the long game.

In this election year, it is all too tempting to see these flawed human beings trying to get elected as the real change agents. They are not; candidates are just people seeking power, but the most powerful force in politics is not a president behind his bully pulpit or even our mighty military on the field of battle. The power of ideas transcends the temporal powers of governing institutions. The Taxpayers Association of Oregon provides the premier social forum for limited government activists of all stripes and origins to gather socially and exchange ideas in the Beaver State. The Cascade Policy Institute is our Oregon’s greatest jewel; its rigorous research provides the empirical evidence to either confirm or falsify the practical application of these normative ideas.

I hope you enjoyed your Independence Day yesterday, but let’s remember signing the Declaration of Independence was the easy part. Those fellas had to fight for it too. If you want a free society you’re going to have to fight for it. Before you sign on to some candidate hawking liberty, I suggest you do so in a way that does not divert the time and resources you would give to organizations like the Taxpayers Association of Oregon and the Cascade Policy Institute that will ultimately be needed to hold them accountable and help us craft a coherent vision for why we put them in office in the first place. As Boy George would say, their colors are not always like our dreams.

Eric Shierman lives in southwest Portland and is the author of A Brief History of Political Cultural Change, and also writes for The Oregonian’s My Oregon blog.