When William F. Buckley died last year, most obituaries mentioned his and NR’s dubious record on civil rights. In 1964, for example, while discussing that year’s landmark Civil Rights Act, NR endorsed Barry Goldwater’s view that some of its provisions “would unwisely extend a federal bureaucracy into areas of personal relationship and property management that should better be left to moral suasion and to State regulation.”
Anyone who knows what “states’ rights” meant in 1964 must shudder at those words; but in retrospect, Goldwater and the editors had at least half a point. When the bill was debated in the Senate, opponents charged that it would require employers and educational institutions to meet rigid racial quotas in hiring and admissions. Nonsense, said the bill’s sponsors (and fully believed what they said). Nowhere did the bill mention quotas; in fact, it repeatedly and explicitly required equal treatment regardless of race. What could be plainer than that? And yet less than a decade later, “affirmative action” became all but mandatory.
The next year saw the landmark Voting Rights Act. Buckley thundered against it as a violation of states’ rights. He wasn’t the only one who questioned the constitutionality of giving a federal agency control over state voting laws, but most objectors overcame their scruples in view of the massive historical outrage involved and the act’s limited duration — five years. Besides, affected jurisdictions could escape the law’s reach by reforming their procedures. Surely such a targeted and temporary measure was acceptable to reverse a century of injustice.
After the act was passed over his vociferous protest, Buckley ran for mayor, starred on a successful TV show for more than three decades, crossed oceans in his sailboat, published scores of books, met everyone worth meeting, transformed a small group of zealots into a powerful political movement, helped a kindred soul become the most successful president since FDR, entertained and outraged millions, and, by the end of his time on earth, became admired even by his enemies. Meanwhile, the Justice Department thinks it’s still 1965.
All this explains why Obamacare is going down. Anyone who’s old enough to remember LBJ’s civil-rights laws, and the many other reform measures enacted from the Great Society to the present, has learned two things: (1) A federal bureaucracy must either grow or die; and (2) a federal bureaucracy never dies. As the abuses that a law was designed to fight are eliminated, the enforcement apparatus does not shrink to match; instead it expands and finds new abuses — and when those run out, it starts inventing them.
So what if the Democrats’ health-care bill does not explicitly mention single payer, abortion, death panels, treatment for illegal aliens, or any of the other “myths” that “alarmists” are peddling? There’s plenty of wiggle room, with determinations to be made by boards and committees and experts and bureaucrats; and even where there’s no explicit authority to regulate, imaginative bureaucrats and their judicial enablers will conspire to create it — as has happened through the years with (for example) mandatory affirmative action, the EPA’s acquiring power to regulate carbon dioxide, and the FDA’s attempting to ban saccharin.
All the relevant laws in these cases were passed by wide bipartisan margins to address crying needs; all made great improvements at modest expense; all were enacted at a time when Americans’ experience with government intervention had been (or seemed) mostly positive; and, inevitably, all were stretched way beyond their original limits once the easy cases had been solved. So in today’s health-care fight — with a narrow partisan majority at best, trillion-dollar deficits, a nation that’s sadder but wiser about big government, and no particular crisis that needs fixing — is it any wonder that Americans don’t want the arrangement that satisfies 80 percent of them to be turned upside down, shaken to pieces, and put back together by the friendly folks in Washington?