Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Here's something that has bothered me for a while. Elected politicians are often shortsighted; their perspectives rarely extend beyond the next election. Activists should have their eyes firmly focused on their long-term goals and be immune to this problem. But many are not.

It's not uncommon for elected officials to promote policies that turn out to have mind-bogglingly bad consequences. Sometimes these are genuinely unforeseen consequences, but usually they are perfectly foreseeable consequences, ignored in the heat of pursuing a few extra moments in front of the camera. Undermining due process in the name of the War on Terror and eliminating the filibuster are good examples of this. No one who thought things through would ever pass laws or change rules in a way that could be used against them at a later date.*

Lately, many factions within the Republican coalition have completely lost their perspective. Look at how the religious extreme jumped on the bandwagon for eliminating the filibuster. One would expect a group that constantly whines about its imagined status as a persecuted minority to have an interest in minority protections. Okay, that would be philosophically consistent and I'm probably asking too much to expect that. However, one would expect them to want to be able to filibuster the next court nominee by a Democratic president.**

The most glaring example is the right's recent attack on "privacy." Last night on CNN's Newsnight, Rick Santorum--who's always good for an ill thought out quote--gave an example of this line of thought.
BROWN: Do you think there's a right to privacy in the Constitution?

SANTORUM: No -- well, not the right to privacy as created under Roe v. Wade and all...

BROWN: Do you think there's a right to privacy in the Constitution?

SANTORUM: I think there's a right to unreasonable -- to unreasonable search and seizure...***

BROWN: For example, if you'd been a Supreme Court judge in Griswold versus Connecticut, the famous birth control case came up, which centered around whether there was a right to privacy. Do you believe that was correctly decided?

SANTORUM: No, I don't. I write about it in the book. I don't.

BROWN: The state of Connecticut had the right to ban birth control for a married couple.

SANTORUM: I think they were wrong. It was a bad law.

BROWN: But they had the right.

SANTORUM: They had the right. They had the right...

BROWN: Why would a conservative argue that government should interfere with that most personal decision?

SANTORUM: I didn't. I said it was a bad law. And...

BROWN: But they had the right to make.

SANTORUM: They had the right to make it. Look, legislatures have the right to make mistakes and do really stupid things...


SANTORUM: ... but we don't have to create constitutional rights because we have a stupid legislature. And that's the problem here, is the court feels like they have a responsibility to right every wrong. When they do that, unlike a Congress, that if we make a really stupid mistake and we do something wrong, we go back next year or next month and change it, and we've done that. Courts don't do that. They only get cases that come before them and they have to make broad, sweeping decisions that have huge impact down the road.

That's what happened in Griswold. It was a bad law. The court felt, we can't let this bad law stand in place. It's wrong. It was. But they made a -- they created out of whole cloth a right that now has gone far, far from Griswold versus Connecticut.

A few years ago, only very scary conservatives, like Robert Bork, took the position that we do not have a right to privacy. That an idiot like Santorum would mimic that talking point isn't surprising. But in the last few years, others on the right have started to take this position, even though a few minutes of thought should convince them that this is not a good idea.

The propaganda position, as stated by the religious right, makes opposing the right to privacy part of the culture war. The talking point goes that when the Left or Democrats talk about rights, it is really code language that means sexual perversity, the destruction of Western Civilization, and making the baby Jesus cry.

This was the line of logic behind James Dobson's weird attack on SpongeBob SquarePants last winter. Dobson attacked a cartoon video promoting tolerance as an attempt to indoctrinate children into homosexuality. Dobson's Focus on the Family website explained his logic, "While words like 'diversity' and 'unity' sound harmless — even noble — enough, the reality is they are often used by gay activists as cover for teaching children that homosexuality is the moral and biological equivalent to heterosexuality." While his position might be arguable, his tactics--opposing the teaching of the concepts tolerance, diversity, and unity--are just plain destructive.

The right has attached that same culture war logic to the right of privacy. Because the courts have sited a right to privacy in decisions the right hates--Roe vs. Wade on abortion, Griswold vs. Connecticut on birth control, and Lawrence vs. Texas on consensual gay sex--they have decided that the very idea of a right to privacy must be opposed. Just as "tolerance" is seen as a liberal conspiracy to promote homosexuality, "privacy" is seen as a liberal conspiracy to promote fornication, baby killing, and sodomy.

To them, it's all about regulating sexual morality. But a propaganda point is not all that is at stake in this. "The right to privacy" means more than a code phrase used by insidious liberals to corrupt the youth of America. "The right to privacy" also means the right to privacy. Does the religious right really want to say that we (and they) have no right to privacy? Privacy involves a lot of things that have nothing to do with sex. The same government that regulates other people's sexual activities could one day take an interest in their child-rearing practices, their dietary practices, or their form of worship.

Only fools give up rights once acquired. Why are so many on the right being such fools?

* Unless they are confident that they will never again be out of power. But that's the subject of a whole bunch of other posts.

** Ibid.

*** Remember that the next time you get strip-searched for driving with a Kerry sticker; those police or fake Secret Service agents are just trying to protect your right to unreasonable search and seizure.

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