Republicans, Democrats, and the Sitzkrieg of Ideas

During the 1988 Democratic National Convention, a Congressman from Pennsylvania implored Leftist delegates such as homosexuals, radical feminists, and environmentalists to "shut up." Just wait until after the election, he declared, and you will get what you want. However, with the party’s candidate, Michael Dukakis, being under fire for his "liberalism," the Democrats decided that a "stealth" approach was needed for their man to win the White House.

There was no "President Dukakis," however, but the Democrats won, anyway. Most of what Dukakis was proposing found its way to the presidency of George Bush, who managed to wear the mantle of liberalism for himself. That the Bush presidency was a disaster from which the Republicans still have not recovered still has not resonated with the GOP faithful.

I write this because the Democrats have spent the week declaring that George W. Bush is really Dukakis in reverse. Bush, they tell us, is using liberal buzzwords like "inclusiveness" and "compassion" only to get votes. If he is elected President of the United States, however, he will impose the "mean" conservative policies that are racist and anti-diversity to the core.

The Democrats need not bother with their rhetoric. Dubya really means what he says, which is not a good thing. As I wrote in an earlier column, this year’s Republican Convention means that the Democrats have "won" the political "war of ideas," such as they are. That is why a Bush presidency, while most likely a little more "honorable" than what the Democrats have given us the past seven years, will hardly stem the tide of statism that has been drowning individual rights for decades. There is no "war of ideas" in politics these days. This "war" is as phony as the Sitzkreig between the Germans, French, and British during the fall of 1939.

To understand just how bankrupt modern political ideology really has become, we have to understand why it is an affront to a free society. And to understand a free society, we have to understand the nature of rights. Unfortunately, most Americans are absolutely clueless when it comes to having knowledge of rights and privileges.

The United States has two documents that truly affirm rights as the framers of those documents intended. A reading of the Declaration of Independence shows that the founders of this country believed that rights were God-given to individuals and could not be abridged by government. The Bill of Rights, which consists of the first ten amendments to the US Constitution, continues that line of thought. The framers of the Constitution spelled out a number of specific areas into which the central government could not intrude, and them made it clear that their list of rights was not exhausted by the 10 amendments. (That has not stopped the government from intruding upon those rights, but that is a different story.)

Like the Democrats, the Republicans used their convention to emphasize "group rights, inclusiveness," and acceptance of the Sexual Revolution. These things are so far removed from the original meanings of the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution that true defenders of liberty cannot recognize them.

By emphasizing "group rights," the political classes cleverly strip away rights from individuals. Group rights actually mean entitlements or wealth transfers from so-called majorities to minorities. Thus, government strips away private property rights and rights of association from individuals and substitute entitlements instead. In this way of thinking, an individual has rights only in association with the group he or she belongs, be it of sex, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. (As a white, heterosexual, Christian male, the government says that I am in a majority and thereby am an oppressor, which means I have no rights at all.)

Another way to say it is that we have permitted the government (and especially the central government) to define to us what our rights really are. To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, this means that the Constitution is not worth the paper upon which it is written. Thus, the political classes have turned the meaning of individual rights upside down.

A look at the Sexual Revolution eloquently demonstrates my point. The original intent (supposedly) of those who first promoted this "revolution" was to keep government from interfering with the sexual practices of consenting adults. Government, they argued, did not legitimately own powers to prevent individuals from engaging in sexual relationships or practicing birth control.

One can certainly make a natural rights case for the original claims of those who launched the Sexual Revolution. By attempting to regulate sex, government was denying individuals the rights of free association. However, it did not take long for the original message of individualism to be hijacked into politicized tyranny.

The Sexual Revolution today consists of abortion rights, in which unborn children are in peril all the way to birth (and modern abortion law even allows limited infanticide), and a denial of the rights of association to those people who might disagree with the promoters of unlimited sex. The modern "women’s movement" now touts lesbianism, rape (read "The Vagina Monologues"), and other methods used to attempt to make people who disapprove of such activity to either be silent or to be forced to accept these practices against their will.

This should hardly be surprising. While posing as the defender of free speech and free association, the modern Left has sought to use freedom only as a tool to undermine existing institutions that once were protected by law. For example, the First Amendment rights of assembly have been recast into simply allowing protest marches by members of Left wing groups or attempts to disrupt religious services such as the desecration of a Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral by militant homosexuals. The idea of rights of assembly being applied to groups of like-minded individuals for purposes of worship or recreation is seen as a relic of a racist and sexist bygone era that has no place in modern society. Thus, modern jurisprudence tells us that we have to endure invasions of our private property (unless that private property happens to be an abortion clinic) in the name of free speech and rights of assembly, but are not free to form organizations that can restrict membership.

To pull back from this continued government intrusion into our precious rights would require real political courage, something the Republicans have not shown this week — and that the Democrats certainly won’t demonstrate when they meet in two weeks. To exhibit such valiancy would mean that Republicans would have to condemn not only the many abuses of power of the Clinton-Gore Administration, but to condemn their own activities as well. Instead, we hear Colin Powell excoriate the Republicans for not undermining the Constitution enough to further the imposition of "group rights." That the retired general was not immediately booed off the stage (he was actually awarded a standing ovation for those ridiculous lines) tells us that the Republicans have become as clueless about legitimate rights as the Democrats, who originally promoted modern "group rights."

That is why I say that this election is not about ideas. It is about patronage and the privileges that political insiders receive when they are connected with those people in power. That George W. Bush is unlikely to be performing sexual acts upon young interns is hardly a reason to anticipate that his presidency — should he actually be elected — will differ much from that of his political opponents.

William L. Anderson, Ph.D., is assistant professor of economics at North Greenville College in Tigerville, South Carolina. He is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.