When Government Calls the Shots

By William Murchison

December 12, 2017 5 min read

"China Celebrates Xi Jinping With Fervor Not Seen Since Mao." — The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 10, 2017

And oh, what zeal!: Street-side banners and billboards; a Communist Party publicity tour to celebrate "General Secretary Xi's words"; official choral performances and song-and-dance routines. "As performers," says the dance troupe director, "it's our duty to educate the masses about how they benefit from party and state policies."

Whenever government starts coercing belief in government's stated beliefs, the wise citizen will hug his liberties hard, before political wind gusts hurl them away. Those winds blow not just in China but here as well, in the land of the free... I mean, perhaps, "supposedly free."

The wedding cake case heard last week by our own country's highest court centers, as media coverage and Twitter reaction would have It, on the gay marriage question. May a Colorado baker deny, out of religious conviction, a gay couple's request that he bake their cake? Not so, says the state of Colorado. The U.S. Supreme Court's decision will be close — likely 5 to 4, with Justice Anthony Kennedy playing, as he does so frequently, the role of decider.

There will be time, when decision day dawns, to sort through the court's majority and minority opinions. There is meanwhile an even larger question to weigh, preparatory to weighing the justices' words. Where is the stopping point for the promulgation, the promotion and especially the enforcement of views backed more by government power than by popular consensus?

In Xi Jinping's China the question is no question. Government's power is limitless. What the party says, goes: Got that? In the United States of America, consent of the governed has long been known as our political pole star. Which is well enough, in theory, until arguments break out over how much consent is enough consent — and by whose reckoning? Governmental attempts to impose conformity in a theoretically beneficial cause can spread showers of sparks on the dry tinder of public agreement.

A good example is busing for racial balance. Dogmatic federal judges, half a century ago, fell into the habit of railing at school districts whose black and white students were distributed "unconstitutionally" — too few blacks in majority white schools and vice versa.

Well! The federal courts weren't going to put up with such. Students would go to the schools their judges designated for them, all for the sake of racial balance in the classroom. And if they or their parents didn't like it, that was just too bad.

Busing, wherever and whenever practiced, turned into the greatest educational disaster in American history. Students and parents led to water just plain wouldn't drink. "White flight" drained urban school districts of white pupils; accordingly, the busing era produced more extensive racial segregation than had been practiced prior to Brown v. Board of Education. Thanks a lot, fellas.

Government attempts to silence or impede doubters as to gay marriage could have similar negative effects, keeping the pot boiling and stifling attempts at reconciliation, should any be attempted in a climate of non-think. Especially is this the case when judges barge in, telling the unenlightened masses how wrong they are; how in need, maybe, of a Beijing-style song-and-dance routine to straighten out laggard thoughts.

Reconciliation turns out, in practice, to be the aim most despised by educators of the untutored masses, wielders of the judicial gavel, ready to bang doubters into awed silence.

The "American way of life" is a wonderfully nebulous phrase, accommodating everything from veganism to Jerry Jones. There is room in this great tent, surely, for freedom from unnecessary molding of thought and behavior by government notables who hold themselves up, God knows why, as arbiters of all things wise and wonderful.

How we got to this stage in Washington's and Jefferson's and Jackson's America is a question for another time. That we got here at all, and found government taking us by the elbow, jerking us this way and that way, denying access to other, possibly appealing ways — that's the present conundrum. One that wouldn't wring a single sympathetic tear from Gen. Secretary Xi.

William Murchison's latest book is "The Cost of Liberty: The Life of John Dickinson." To find out more about William Murchison, and to see features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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