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Walter Williams
Walter E. Williams
10 Feb 2016
Sloppy Language and Thinking

George Orwell said, "But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought." Gore Vidal … Read More.

3 Feb 2016
Isn't It Strange?

There is a letter titled "Isn't It Strange?" making the rounds in email boxes. It asks questions to which our … Read More.

26 Jan 2016
Education Insanity

Some credit Albert Einstein, others credit Benjamin Franklin, with the observation that "the definition of … Read More.

Bit by Bit Strategy


There's a move on to prohibit Washington's football team from calling itself "Redskins," even though a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision said that it has that right. Now the name change advocates are turning to the political arena and intimidation. The NCAA has already banned the University of North Dakota from calling its football team the "Fighting Sioux."

This is the classic method of busybodies and tyrants; they start out with something trivial or small and then magnify and extend it. If these people are successful in banning the use of Indian names for football teams, you can bet the rent money that won't end their agenda. Our military has a number of fighting aircraft named with what busybodies and tyrants might consider racial slights, such as the Apache, Iroquois, Kiowa, Lakota and Mescalero. We also have military aircraft named after animals, such as the Eagle, Falcon, Raptor, Cobra and Dolphin. The people fighting against the Redskins name might form a coalition with the PETA animal rights kooks to ban the use of animal names.

Another example of the strategy of starting out small is that of the tobacco zealots. In 1965, in the name of health, tobacco zealots successfully got Congress to enact the Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act. A few years later, they were successful in getting a complete smoking ban on planes, and that success emboldened them to seek many other bans. The issue here is not smoking but tyrant strategy. Suppose that in 1965, the tobacco tyrants demanded that Congress enact a law banning smoking in bars, in workplaces, in restaurants, in apartments, within 25 feet of entrances, in ballparks, on beaches, on sidewalks and in other places. Had they revealed and demanded their full agenda back in 1965, there would have been so much resistance that they wouldn't have gotten anything. By the way, much of their later success was a result of a bogus Environmental Protection Agency study on secondhand smoke. I'd like to hear whether EPA scientists are willing to declare that people can die from secondhand smoke at a beach, on a sidewalk, in a park or within 25 feet of a building.

During the legislative and subsequent state ratification debates over the 16th Amendment — which established the income tax — the political task of overturning the Constitution's prohibition of such tax was considerably eased by political promises that any income tax levied would fall upon only the wealthiest 3 to 5 percent of the population.

Most Americans paid no federal income tax, and those earning $500,000 or more paid only 7 percent. In 1913, only 358,000 Americans filed 1040 forms, compared with today's 140 million. That's the rope-a-dope strategy. To get the votes of the masses, politicians start out small and exploit the politics of envy by promising that only the rich will be taxed.

In 1898, Congress imposed a temporary federal excise tax on telephones as a revenue measure during the Spanish-American War. At that time, only the rich owned phones. Soon nearly all Americans owned phones. Both the rich and the poor paid the telephone excise tax. Congress repealed this "temporary" Spanish-American War tax in 2006. Nobel laureate Milton Friedman had it right when he said, "Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program."

The Tax Reform Act of 1969, called the alternative minimum tax, was created to raise revenue from 155 "rich" Americans who legally avoided federal income taxes by buying tax-free municipal bonds. Today more than 4 million Americans are hit by the AMT, and most of them hardly qualify as rich.

Here's another rope-a-dope just beginning. The National Transportation Safety Board recently recommended that states reduce the allowable blood alcohol content by more than a third — to 0.05 percent, as opposed to today's 0.08 percent. The NTSB is calling it a recommendation just to test the waters. If the board doesn't see resistance, its next move will be to threaten noncomplying states with a cutoff of highway construction funds. Setting the legal limit at 0.05 percent is not these people's end objective. Their end objective is to outlaw any amount of alcohol in the blood while one is driving.

Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. To find out more about Walter E. Williams and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



4 Comments | Post Comment
I'm sure that you can find right wing zealots whose ultimate goal in pushing some incremental change in gun laws is to have an RPG or 50 cal machine gun in every house. So what? Its the job of the grownups to sort out the zealot BS from the reasonable changes in the rules. Do you really want to go back to having smoking sections on planes?
Comment: #1
Posted by: Mark
Mon Jun 24, 2013 8:01 AM
Of course the right uses this stratagy as well. This article goes beyond partisian politics. Even if rocket launchers and machine guns were legal, I doubt the deaths by these weapons would go up. Who would even want to own a rocket launcher in the first place? Perhaps a kid would think its cool. Of course now kids aren't even allowed to say the word "gun" in schools. If any group is using this "bit by bit" stragety to acheive an extreme end, its the anti-gunners. And clearly the "grownups" in government are doing a terrible job serparating the zealots from the reasonable changes.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Chris McCoy
Mon Jun 24, 2013 9:37 AM
Sir;... What do you expect from a society that will not live up to its treaties with the Native Americans, or actually do anything for them, than that it will try to appear as though it does??? This little effort aimed at a social expression of respect is actually nothing... Too many people in the Dakotas with little reason in fact, hate the natives with a passion... One of my family lives there, and said it was often the practice to door them, that is, to drive close to a hitch hiker, invariably a native, and throw open the passenger door to hit them at high speed, that is, until one young man finally killed a native, and found the native had a right to life if little else...
The federal government took from these people without cause the right to enforce tribal law, and so their reserves became more and more hell holes in which violence against women and others can be practiced by anyone including natives without fear of prosecution by the government broke and overwhelmed by more glamourous crimes...
The inhumanity is ubiquitous... A cousin who would garb herself as a native to teach about Lewis and Clark, and Sakawagea stopped at a local store... The owner who should have known her well since the next nearest place to buy anything was 70 miles away, told her to get out... He said: You can't use the phone, and you can't use the toilet, and you can't have any water... Just get the hell out!!! Only when the man's wife pointed out that it was one of their neighbors in native drag was he ashamed to have his soul revealed... We do not give these people a fraction of the good they deserve from us, and you want to make it seem like tyranny to give them some decent respect...How hard is respect???
Your premise that we can be brought to accept tyranny in small and incremental steps is as daffy as the notion that we can free ourselves from the tyranny we now endure by small steps...Tyranny is welcomed by individual tyrants of which we have many, right and left; but no one is ever free of tyranny except at the risk of putting aside all society, and even all of humanity and becoming an outlaw... There is one step to freedom, and that is for each to be responsible for their own defense, and their own respect, and short of that, freedom is just a word in the dictionary...
Comment: #3
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Tue Jun 25, 2013 4:45 AM
Let's look at the smoking bans. Mr. William's position seems to imply that smokers have a right to say to those around them that "I am going to put a mix of poisons into your body, but don't worry, they will be at low concentrations, so, in spite of what the government scientists say, it will be harmless to you. Isn't freedom grand?"
Notice that while Mr. Williams has, perhaps unintentionally, implied that all of these laws have been enacted by Congress, they have not. "Federal smoking restrictions adopted to date are limited to a few settings, most notably airplanes, facilities providing federally funded services to children, and federally owned facilities, including military installations..." (1) Most of the laws are state or local. This is as it should be. State and local governments are the best place to test such regulations. There will be excesses. Democracy is messy. Of course, I do believe the standard for implementing limitations on exposing others to your smoke should be a bit tighter than Mr. William's apparent standard of "...whether EPA scientists are willing to declare that people can die from secondhand smoke at..."
A visit to the CDC website on the subject of second hand smoke is quite educational on the subject of the health effects of second hand smoke.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Mark
Tue Jun 25, 2013 7:54 AM
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