Belmont Club

Hobby Lobby: When the Personal Becomes Political

When Gerald Ford remarked that “a government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have,” he might have been commenting on the Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision which ruled 5-4, as the Washington Post reports: “(T)he arts-and-crafts chain does not have to offer insurance for four types of birth control that conflict with company owners’ religious beliefs.”

Walter Russell Mead gets what is at issue. Beyond the narrow facts of the decision, the case itself underlines the unpleasantly large scope that government regulation now covers. Government, to which everything has been referred, has enrolled one and all in a zero-sum game. Now everything A does affects B; and everything B does affects A. In so doing the giant state has become the mortal foe of diversity. Writing in the American Interest, professor Mead says:

As the United States becomes more and more culturally pluralistic we will see more disagreement in all areas of society — including over what the federal government deems “essential health benefits.” Here, as elsewhere, promoting decentralized and individualized decision-making can tamp down conflict and respect everyone’s freedom to live according to their principles. An employer-provided system can pit employers and employees against each other; a fully nationalized system can likewise ignite culture wars over taxpayer funding for this or that objectionable health care benefit.

“Why,” liberals well ask, “is government deciding what a woman can or can’t do with her body?” The answer unfortunately is “because government previously decided to make someone else pay for it.”  The “personal has become political” and wow, is that what it means?

Eugene Volokh, summarizing the decision for the layman in plain English at the Washington Post, notes that the whole legal dispute is rooted in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which ironically was enacted by a Democratically controlled Congress (Robert Byrd heading the Senate and Tom Foley the House). The bill was actually introduced by Chuck Schumer. RFRA was as blue as could be.

The premise seemed harmless enough. It provided, as Eugene Volokh notes, that “that religious objectors may go to court to demand religious exemptions from federal laws.” But Murphy entered the picture in a classic case of the Law of Unintended Consequences. Now liberals find that having put government in charge of a private space, they will find things sometimes go against them, which was not how it was supposed to work.

The phrase “the personal is political” sounded good, until it backfired.

The unrelenting liberal drive to expand the powers of the state unintentionally leads to “winner take all” effect. The more power liberals get the more they must keep control, not just of that individual power but of the whole system of powers.

Every power grab represents at least as much danger to the grabber as to the grabbee. Obama, who attempted to seize control of one-sixth of the U.S. economy via Obamacare, finds he must retain control of health decisions for his political life. Anyone who creates Deep State instruments of political power cannot relinquish what he’s created lest it be turned against him. Having conjured up state demons from the vasty deep, they must on no account be ceded to Republican sorcerers.

Thus he becomes the slave, not the master of his own creation. Liberty is practical only while government remains powerless in some things. Once government becomes powerful in all things then it becomes just as much a menace to Sandra Fluke as to Hobby Lobby — though she hasn’t realized that yet.

Every student of military history will recall that if you try to take Moscow you risk Berlin. Hitler forgot that. So alas, have liberals. Obama assumed he could stay in charge of Obamacare; amend or delay it as he would. But he never anticipated he would be paid back in his own coin. He was all for steering wheels until he got handed the plastic steering wheel.

Naturally his response has been volcanic. In a measure of his rage, Time reports that Obama has decided to give Congress the chance of working with him to upend the Supreme Court decision:

The White House denounced the Supreme Court’s decision Monday to allow for-profit companies to refuse payment for certain employee birth control insurance coverage because of religious objections. “Today’s decision jeopardizes the health of women that are employed by these companies,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

But Earnest quickly added that President Obama, who has been touring the country promoting his ability to work around Congress, plans no immediate executive actions to remedy the situation created by the Hobby Lobby ruling. “The Supreme Court was ruling on the application of a specific law that was passed by Congress,” Earnest said. “So what we’d like is for Congress to take action to pass another law that would address this problem.”

It is a boon Obama does not grant lightly. In other matters he has lost patience. Reuters reports that in the matter of immigration, he’ll act without Congress. “President Barack Obama said on Monday he would take executive action to reform the U.S. immigration system after hopes of passing legislation in Congress officially died.”

What could go wrong? 

The “benefits” at issue in Hobby Lobby would cost at most a few dollars. So why are the great princes at daggers-drawn over it? Because it’s about who decides. The Supreme Court has decided, but of course, that’s not what Obama finds acceptable. The only answer to “Who decides” is “he decides.” Obama, even in his ”magnanimity,” wants to resolve the problem with yet another law, yet another acquisition of power.

Consider how different things would be if the Health Care Compact idea, which is making its way through yet more states, were the guiding principle. As professor Mead points out, only “a system in which individuals purchase health insurance within a private, competitive market would allow everyone to choose and fund only those benefits they want.” At the very least, a Health Care Compact system would allow competing, state by state health systems to emerge.

If you don’t like one, choose another. But since you have a one-size-fits-all system, everyone must be chopped or lengthened to fit the Procrustean bed. Hence it’s to the Supreme Court over everything. The Health Care Compact idea alone addresses Obama’s implicit challenge. Who decides?  But that would be too simple. The Federal Government can’t think in terms of devolution but only in terms who controls everything.

“A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have” sounds good if you believe that you will always remain in charge of government. Yet, as revolutionists have found through history, the State is a slippery eel. One day it winds up in the wrong hands and that’s a bummer. The wielder of the phone and the pen should beware of the day when someone else is making the calls.

The Founders always knew that too large a government would be the enemy of diversity because it would put all the money in a single pot. But then that warning is in a “hundred-year-old document that nobody reads any more.” We knew it once, and we’ve forgotten it now.

Hillary has already denounced the USSC decision and compared it to life under theocracy. The White House is girding its loins for a crusade to roll back this affront to women’s rights. It’s cynical.  Obamacare’s supporters see in Hobby Lobby a golden opportunity to go on the offensive for once; to make the public forget what an overpriced stinkeroo Obamacare is and recast it as a crusade to demand more power to suppress any resistance to using other people’s money to pay for other people’s choices.

The greatest irony is it promises to liberate the individual woman by imposing more government regulation, when it is really about marketing shoddy goods. It won’t make anyone “freer.” The sad thing is that many people may think it will.


Recent items of interest by Belmont readers based on Amazon click-throughs.

Image Art Workshop: Creative Ways to Embellish & Enhance Photographic Images
Pressure Vessel Handbook, 14th Edition
Rebranding Christianity (The World of Information)
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The War of the Words for $3.99, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity for $3.99, or why the truth shall make you free
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Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99, why government should get small
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Storm Over the South China Sea $0.99, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
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