Last Thursday, in the already notorious decision Kelo et al v. City of New London, the Supreme Court ruled that the phrase “public use” means whatever local government officials say it means. For practical purposes, there is no longer any such thing as private property — each of us is enfeoffed to the federal government, and we retain our holdings at the whim of our liege lord. Next you can expect that a local bureaucrat will exercise his droit de seigneur with your wife.
How did we come to this pass? At one time this was a nation of liberties, and our forefathers raised a militia and took up arms to keep it so. How have we come to surrender meekly to such tyranny and injustice, with scarcely a whimper of protest? What happened to us?
There is an old chestnut about how to boil a frog: you don’t drop him into boiling water, because he’ll hop right out. Instead, you put him in a pot of water at room temperature and increase the heat under him very slowly. The frog never notices the incremental changes in temperature, and eventually boils without realizing what is happening.
Ladies and gentlemen, I think our frog is very nearly cooked.
It’s not only the frog of our property rights which is almost boiled. The erosion of our liberties has proceeded on many fronts, aided by a grotesque expansion of the size and scope of government. Our common culture has been so degraded that words like “decency” and “civility” can hardly be used without irony. And traditional American self-reliance has been simmering in the pot for so long that we are rapidly becoming wards of the state.
Presented below is a random sample of the boiled frogs of American political culture. Readers will undoubtedly want to add their own favorites.
|The Commerce Clause. The Gonzalez vs. Raich decision on June 6 demonstrated the extent to which the federal government will go to interfere with the rights of the individual and the prerogatives of the states. There was a time when “commerce” actually meant commerce, and interstate commerce involved monetary or in-kind transactions that crossed state lines. Little by little the meaning of interstate commerce has been transformed, so that a commodity produced and consumed by an individual locally, and never sold, is considered to be “interstate commerce”. Just as in Kelo, the phrase means whatever the government says it means.|
|Taxes. Changes in taxes ratchet in one direction only: up. Once a tax is passed, it is rarely repealed, and reductions in rates are just as rare. The federal surcharge on your telephone bill was enacted in order to pay for the Spanish-American War. Strangely enough, it’s still there.|
|The Size of Government. Government transfers and subsidies have more than doubled since the 1960s, as a share of GDP. There are more people employed now by the government than in manufacturing jobs. Once a government program is set up, it is next to impossible to shut it down, and its funding must increase every year by more than the rate of inflation; anything less is deemed a “cut”. Once hired, a federal employee is almost impossible to dislodge. These trends damage the economy and the character of American citizens; when the employees of the government and their “clients” exceed half the population, the government and the country will have become synonymous.|
|Political Correctness. Restrictions on “hate speech” and laws against “sexual harassment” did not appear overnight. Incremental infringements on our First Amendment rights accumulated until they produced our current PC climate. The right not to be discriminated against became the right not to be offended.|
|The Cultural Sewer. Two generations ago, the occurrence of the word “damn” in a movie was risqué and daring. Public discourse and popular culture managed to thrive without the “F” word, and decorous civility was the norm. Brick by brick the barriers to expression have been removed, so that children are routinely sexualized and exploited in pop culture. Even as political expression has been stifled, pornography has come to be considered an inalienable right.|
|Illegal Immigration. At one time it was considered normal to restrict the flow of foreigners into our country, and to arrest and deport those who entered it illegally. Now only “racists” call for curbing immigration and enforcing the law on “undocumented workers”. We have imperceptibly lost the cultural self-confidence that once insisted on maintaining the integrity of our borders.|
|Education. The America-hating Left did not storm the schools and universities and occupy them in a blitzkrieg operation. Yet they have become one of the four pillars of liberal extremism (along with the courts, the media, and the federal bureaucracy). Professor by professor, textbook by textbook, the common cultural heritage that used to be transmitted from generation to generation by our schools has been replaced by ideological cant.|
|The Great Jihad. How did we get to the point where it is more important not to damage a copy of the Koran than it is to take terrorists out of circulation? When did it become more of a priority not to offend Muslims than to prevent innocent Americans from being murdered? We didn’t wake up one morning and say, “Let’s hire civil rights lawyers for foreign terrorists and then let them out on bail!” Yet somehow it happened.|
The frog’s eyes are a little bloodshot and steam is rising from him. At what point does he cease being a frog and become dinner? And who will be left to eat him?
Frogs’ legs, anyone?
Great post! So much info. Thanks for your work.
The fatalism I hear in many commentators writings is just unacceptable to me.
How can they write like that when early polls show 94% of Americans disagree with the ruling? If anything has “revolution” written all over it, it is this.
The kinds of people affected by this ruling normally are not the type to get out in the streets and protest. But that, and more, is what is needed, to right this wrong in our own land.
bioqubit — I assume you mean the Kelo decision.
This is one of the rare ones that unites the left and right, to some extent. After all, the “public use” in this case benefits big business.
Institutionally, the Supreme Court is the most illiberal and dangerous branch of the government…
Wonderful post! Covers a lot of territory and sums up the situation so beautifully.
I hope your words get wide coverage. How does one get linked on Instapundit? That would be a good place to get mentioned.
Ribbit, ribbit. Is it hot in here or is it just me? Great post! Pounded in nail after nail, right where they belonged. Good luck waking the frog up and dragging him out of the pot.
Promethea — An Instapundit link comes with the grace of God (i.e. Glenn Reynolds). It falls upon the just and the unjust…
In other words, there’s nothing you can do!
The boiling-the-frog analogy is the perfect comparison.
A few of us frogs know what’s happening, however. The question is this: Can we get the pot off the fire?
BB, you said “After all, the ‘public use’ in this case benefits big business.”
I think that’s correct, if somewhat misleading. You should have said it benefits ANY business, as long as that business had local political clout.
Speaking of ‘public use’, I am wondering what benefits would accrue by having the city of New York use the Kelo ruling to replace the UN HQ complex with a revenue-generating entity. Say, a few street hot dog stands?
And congratulations on the excellent mental picture aroused by your use of the droit de seigneur concept. Well done….
…and that brings us back to the frogs.
Greg, you are quite right. But it would be hard for any business that is not big to muster the political clout.
There are many good uses for Kelo. A Target store, for example, would generate much more tax revenue than Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s house…
LOL, or a WalMart where Anthony Kennedy lives.