Specter Represents All Americans, not just Pennsylvanians.
A few replies/thoughts to Sam’s piece on Specter’s defection. They might not directly respond to what Sam was arguing and I would welcome a clarification or response:
1. People want their Congressmen to represent their views on the common good and America as a whole. If Congressmen are to represent “regional interests,” as Sam puts it, part of those regional interests are the feelings that people in a state or district have about the country as a whole. In practice, this means that people empower a Congressman to use, in good measure, his personal judgment about what the national common good entails. So, in that sense, a Republican Congressman does represent “all Americans,” and that is legitimate and connected to the notion of representing a specific region. And if Specter felt that being connected to the Republican party limited his ability to further the national common good, both as it relates and does not relate to Pennsylvania itself, that is a legitimate concern of his as a representative of his state. Related, a congressman or a voter’s opinion on the common good will be connected to what they believe is right and effective for their specific region; the basic policy questions are the same.
An illuminating example might to think of a House Representative from rural Montana voting to increase foreign aid to, say, Bangladesh. This act is only very tenuously connected to the personal interests of rural Montanans, but he in some way is representing the wishes of his constituent’s “regional” interests–their regional interest in international justice, maybe–by voting for the funding.
Washington Times columnist Suzanne Fields becomes the latest to step into the practically necessary versus morally repugnant debate on torture, albeit with an interesting focus on how Americans emotionally responded to 9/11:
The debate has moved away from making pre-emptive laws for the future that forbid using such techniques to seeking revenge against those who in a moment of collective panic thought the techniques they used were legal and necessary to save American lives.
What a difference eight years make.
We forget the agony, the gruesome details of the deaths of the victims in the Twin Towers, all of which had us feeling that “there but for the grace of God go I.” We forget our fears at the sound of a plane overhead, our suspicious glances at the “swarthy” man sitting next to us in a crowded theater, sports arena or outdoor concert. We forget how eagerly we embraced the tedious obstacles to our personal freedoms that we confront every time we board an airplane.
She’s also the latest to refer to Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil:
Evil is never banal. Hanna Arendt was wrong. Evil is fascinating and provocative and focuses the mind. Adolf Eichmann may have been a boring man to know. He may have thought he was merely a bureaucrat following orders, but his acts forever fascinate the human mind in our attempt to understand how he could have done what he did without a conscience, without remorse.
Copies must be flying off the shelves these days.
Adding to this week’s discussion of the swine flu and its impact on individual liberty, a forthcoming law review article makes the argument that forcing health professionals to work exceeds the bounds of their professional responsibility.
American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks says free enterprise is at the heart of the cultural schism of our time:
There is a major cultural schism developing in America. But it’s not over abortion, same-sex marriage or home schooling, as important as these issues are. The new divide centers on free enterprise — the principle at the core of American culture.
This is an exhilarating time for proponents of freedom and individual opportunity. The last several years have brought malaise, in which the “conservative” politicians in power paid little more than lip service to free enterprise. Today, as in the late 1970s, we have an administration, Congress and media-academic complex openly working to change American culture in ways that most mainstream Americans will not like. Like the Carter era, this adversity offers the first opportunity in years for true cultural renewal.
How do representative democracies work?
In a drawn out lamentation, Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) writes in today’s New York Times that Arlen Specter’s (D-PA) defection can be blamed on Republicans “failing to undertake the re-evaluation of our inclusiveness as a party that could have forestalled many of the losses we have suffered.”
Snowe proceeds, perhaps unintentionally, to stumble on a few landmines that put her political outlook at odds with a theory of representative democracy. Read more
And other words Patrick Henry would not have spoken
Jake makes a strong case for Swine Flu as a threat to individual liberty. I can’t resist pointing out that his position, while well argued, is unorthodox. Jake and I basically agree: the reason governments intervene in to prevent the spread of Swine Flu has to do with liberty, but liberty has little to do with justifications for universal, publicly-funded health care.
But there are more routine ways to get to Jake’s conclusions.
Jake is right that the distinction between Swine Flu and other diseases, like cancer, helps us understand where liberty enters the equation. From an epidemiological perspective, Swine Flu and cancer are worlds apart. Swine Flu is highly infectious and fast-acting. A single person contracting the disease represents a major safety threat to anyone in the immediate vicinity.
Cancer is non-infectious and generally slow-acting. Cancer can sometimes be considered a threat to public health, but usually as the result of human fallibility, such as smoking or atomic weapons. In these cases, it’s the carcinogenic act that is classed as the real “threat.”
Due to its characteristics, the emergence of an infectious, deadly pathogen like Swine Flu is a direct threat to public safety. First, there’s the immediate risk to human life. But there’s also a collateral danger when the disease causes panic. Both of these problems relate to the maintenance of order, an essential function of governments.
This does get us back to liberty, but not in the way Jake suggests. Read more
If the government has an obligation to protect the public against Swine Flu, does it have an obligation to protect it against Cancer?
Sam’s piece touches on some of the illiberal dangers inherent in a government dealing with a public health crisis like the Swine Flu. While these concerns are legitimate, I don’t think Sam or anyone else questions the fundamental obligation of the government to act during such a public health crisis.
The question then becomes, what is the difference between Swine Flu and Cancer? Swine Flu and the Common Flu? Swine Flue and the Common Cold?
The answers to these questions goes a long way towards solving the debate over whether or not Americans have a moral right to healthcare. And more specifically, assuming there is such a right, it raises important questions about its content: How much healthcare are people due?
On the macro point, I’m not sure I see a moral distinction between Swine Flu and Cancer, at least as it relates to a government’s obligations to its citizens.
Why is the government obligated to stop the Swine Flu? One answer is that Swine Flu affects people’s liberty.
Is there a public “right to know?”
Tony Blankley offers a perfect example of what “public philosophy” can look like in today’s Washington Times. According to Blankley, several recent events call into question what he calls “the perennial assertion that, on grounds of both efficacy and ethics, the public’s right to know is the best guide to good government and good institutions.”
Increased transparency in government was an oft-stated goal by then-candidate Obama on the campaign trail and the now installed Obama Administration has issued several warm declarations on policies and initiatives designed to foster openness.
As Blankley points out, recent events suggest that the mere value of “transparency” doesn’t help solve tough government disclosure cases Read more
Jonathan Chait links to a neat chart demonstrating the incredible pace of the use of the filibuster — on track for 153 this term, which is 3 times the number of the previous term and 25 times the pace of 40 years ago. The question on the table is the Democrats’ potential use of the reconciliation process. Of course, this should be no surprise given the GOP’s willingness to filibuster a great majority of bills and appointments this term. As Chait points out, Republicans have created a de facto supermajority requirement for every bill with any kind of opposition. This situation is clearly not tenable for a supposedly deliberative body. Rather than bemoan the death of partisanship, the discussion needs to center around how the process can be streamlined given that each party is now willing to apply whatever procedural rules are necessary to move or block their agendas.
The relevent question coming out of this debate is really this: what should the number of votes to pass a bill in the Senate be?
Of course, the Senate rules are set up to slow deliberation and provide a sober and small-c conservative counterweight to the House, which was designed to represent the passions and furies of the people.
However, the deeply partisan nature of the Senate has annihilated the deliberative function of the Senate. that said, is there any argument to set the rules for 60 votes? if not, what argument can be made for the continued existence of the filibuster?
EDIT: While still, to me, an interesting theoretical question, the point may be moot in the current Senate due to Arlen Specter’s defection.
Stranger than fiction?
The emergence of swine flu in New York, Texas, California, Kansas and Ohio this past weekend has prompted the federal government to issue a “public health emergency” and triggered agitation across the country.
Officials have so far urged calm and not announced drastic new measures to stem the virus, which is believed to have originated in Mexico. The Mexican disease has purportedly claimed over 100 lives and sicked more than 1,500.
Although our response has been orderly and there is no sign of widespread panic, it’s worth pointing out that public health crises seem to be the pretext of authoritarianism (or, at least, illiberal interventions) in an awful lot of dystopian movies. Read more