Dear Reader (and those of you who, according to the McConnell plan, will read this “news”letter only after three-fifths of it has been approved by the president),
I was listening to the “This American Life” podcast the other day and heard a story. I will summarize.
A man is returning from vacation with his wife and kids and some neighbors’ kids. They went camping in Texas. Towards the end of the long drive home in the family van, a Texas highway patrol car comes right up on the van, following like an “angry hornet,” lights and siren blazing, forcing the driver to pull over. The man can tell from watching Cops that these guys are serious. From behind their car doors, the police yell through their loudspeaker, to turn off the engine “using your left hand!” When the flustered driver uses his right hand, the cops shout louder. They make the driver get out of the car and get down on his knees on the gravelly shoulder of the Texas interstate. Some of the kids are already crying. The driver is terrified, confused, freaking out. One of the cops approaches with his rifle pointed at the man’s head. The other cop, his gun drawn, is talking to the wife.
Finally, after an eternity, the cop who’d been talking to the wife comes over and says to the driver, “Sir, do you know what your daughter wrote on the car?”
It was actually the neighbor’s kid, not his own daughter. But to make a long – but very entertaining – story short, what was written in the dust on the back of the van was: “Help. Please God. Call 911. I’ve been kidnapped.”
“Well, son, for about fifteen minutes there, you were the most wanted man in Texas,” one of the lawmen informed him.
The driver was so furious that, when the cops told him it was a crime to write that on the car, the driver told them, “Take her in.”
But it turns out that the neighbor’s daughter didn’t write the whole thing. It was a group effort. And that’s why I’m taking up your time with this story in the first place.
Apparently what happened is that the mother had written, “Help. Please God,” several hours earlier because she so dreaded getting back in the car with all of the kids for even more driving. Then one of the other kids filled in after, “I’ve been kidnapped.” And then the neighbor’s daughter wrote, “Call 911.”
It seems to me that this is a great little allegory for understanding how really, really, really stupid things happen in life, particularly in Washington. Person A has a harmless idea. Person B doesn’t completely understand A’s idea, but builds on it anyway. By the time you get to person Z, you’re selling hundreds of automatic weapons to Mexican drug cartels.
On both the left and the right there’s a tendency to assume the other side — particularly when it is running the government – is both really evil and really competent. Most of the time it’s closer to the opposite – again, particularly when we’re talking about the government. What appear to be conspiracies from the outside are in fact a series of dumb, innocuous, or even somewhat okay ideas that build on each other into colossally idiotic foul-ups, thanks to imperfect information and mission creep. If there’s a human being out there who hasn’t had some experience with this sort of thing I can only assume it’s because you were raised in a refrigerator box and without human contact. And if there’s a reader out there who doesn’t think this capacity for screw-ups is an important part of the human condition, well, you’re free to read this but you’re not a conservative.
This is not – or at least not entirely – a road-to-Hell-is-paved-with-good-intentions point. The initial idea that gets the ball rolling can be cynical or crass. Rather, it’s to note that the more humans you have in the decision tree, the more you multiply the human factor, and that can lead to some pretty inhuman results.
Seize the Children
“As adults we have to start thinking and believing that there isn’t really any such thing as someone else’s child . . . For that reason, we cannot permit discussions of children and families to be subverted by political or ideological debate.”
That’s Hillary Clinton in her 1996 address to the United Methodist General Conference. I’ve always considered it to be one of the most terrifying and damning things ever uttered by a contemporary politician. Why? Because my child is mine. If you — never mind somebody from the government – start acting like you have as much responsibility and dominion over my daughter as I do, well, there’s a good chance for bloodshed.
I’m not trying to talk tough or anything. But if there’s a place in life where decent people should be willing to resort to violence, it must be when it comes to their authority over their own children.
Now, to be fair, that principle is not absolute. Some people deserve to have their children taken away by the state. Or, rather, some children deserve to be rescued from their really crappy, drug-addled, and abusive parents. But it is Hillary Clinton who is offering an absolute principle when she says, “There isn’t really any such thing as someone else’s child.”
Of course there is. And if you disagree with me, please tell me where I can send the bill for my daughter’s braces.
Clinton and those in her camp no doubt see that there’s a line to be drawn somewhere, but she makes it clear from her writing and speeches that her line would be drawn far, far too close to my family for my own comfort. In other words: I don’t trust these people.
That’s why I took notice of the news that some public-health types want to start confiscating extremely obese kids from their parents for the kids’ own good. Now, the kids they talk about in their op-ed are really obese, and you can make the case that some kind of intervention is warranted. One of the authors came to the realization that the state should take fat kids away when he encountered a 90-pound three-year-old.
But again, here’s the problem: I don’t trust these people. Once you establish the idea that the state can take away kids from loving parents because the state thinks they’re not good parents, you really are off to the races. Or as Mark Steyn put it in the Corner in 2009, in response to an actual case in the UK where the kids were taken away because the government feared that they “might” become obese.
The broader point is: What happens when the state grows more comfortable with kid-confiscation? After all, if you can remove children over “fears” they might “become obese” at some point in the future, why can’t you also remove them from other homes in case they “become smokers” or “become homophobes” or “become gun-owners” or almost anything of which the state disapproves?
Oh, and then there’s the whole lesson from the Texas family. Once you write on the van of the state: “Save the Obese Kids,” is there any reason to believe that the next person to come by won’t cross out “obese” and add his or her own preferred adjectives? It’s a terrible metaphor, but I’m trying to make all of these random items relate to one another and the point is real.
It’s Not That Crazy
So I know what you’re thinking. Our major public-school systems are so good, so Johnny-on-the-spot with teaching the Three Rs, not to mention art and science, that they should really branch out. Take on new responsibilities. Stretch their wings.
Look, I’m fairly squishy on the gay stuff compared to some of my friends on the right (and pretty hardnosed compared to others!), but it’s at least worth throwing up a they-told-you-so on this one. The argument from the right for years has been that acceptance of homosexuality will lead to celebration. Personally, I’m okay with the acceptance part, they’re here, they’re queer, and, well, that’s about it. But when you start requiring that schools teach about gay heroes of history, you’ve moved into celebration territory altogether.
If you don’t see that, let me ask you a question: Do you think California textbooks will talk about any gay villains? Going by the news reports, the move is intended to teach kids that gays have made vital contributions to society and whatnot. I’m sure they have. But how is that not celebration? Somehow I doubt we’ll be hearing a lot about how gays in San Francisco kept the bathhouses open too long.
Again, I know what you’re saying: It’s about time!
I know that when I watched season four of The Wire and they did that in-depth look at inner-city Baltimore schools, the one thing that kept popping into my head was, “If only they taught these kids about global warming!”
Then of course there’s the news that the Omaha public school system spent $130,000 on diversity manuals for every teacher, administrator, and staff member. The textbooks explain that American government and institutions create advantages that “channel wealth and power to white people,” that color-blindness will not end racism, and that educators should “take action for social justice.” And so on.
But to get back to the previous point, aside from the astounding lack of seriousness given all of the fiscal and educational challenges we face in this country, this whole approach just makes me a little nervous given that there are people out there who really do believe there’s no such thing as someone else’s child.
Various & Sundry
I have a new column up today on an old theme of mine: Republicans suck at reading their lines.
In last week’s G-File, I discussed that guy in Texas who got executed. E. J. Dionne objected to his execution. I objected to his objection here. (By the way, you could do me a big favor if you went by the Enterprise Blog more often, and in particular if you read me over there more often. I get a cookie every time I bring an additional ten page views to the place.)
Correction! In last week’s G-File, I described Buckley – Cosmo the Wonderdog’s running buddy – as lacking in “mental toughness.” Some in my family thought I was being too hard on Buckley and suggested that it sounded like I was saying he’s dumb. Nothing could be further from the truth! While Buckley isn’t as a sharp as a border collie – and what dog is? I wouldn’t be surprised if a border collie won this year’s Westinghouse Science Fair prize – he’s a sharp fellow. I just meant that he’s a lover not a fighter. I always tell people when I’m walking both of them, “Stay clear of the white dog, he’s a cranky old fellow these days. But the black dog? He’s America’s friendliest dog, you could poke him with a sharp stick and he’ll still love you. But don’t because then Cosmo will kill you.” (“Isn’t that racist?” – The Couch)
Bad nerds, bad. Last week nobody got the “Images of Ikonn” reference (at least not without looking it up). This was the spell that Dr. Strange used on Galactus – it conjures images of all the people someone has killed (that’s why the guy who banned DDT is so scared of it).
Cool news. Liberal Fascism made Townhall’s 25 Books Every Conservative Must Read list. I’m like number 22, but I’ll take it!
Okay, back to the new book. Not sure if there will be a G-File next week. Of course, you lazy bastards could always keep sending me interesting news, tidbits, ephemera, and ideas to help me write these things.