The Honorable Jeanne Kirkpatrick, America's ambassador to the United
Nations in the Reagan administration, is in trouble with the law.
Apparently, she left her poodle in her automobile while going into
a shop. Worse still, she did so despite a sign posted right where
she had parked the car. It reads: "Pets Die in Hot Cars! It's
Against the Law. If You See It, Report it! Call 911 Immediately."
40 years ago, when I arrived on these shores, Americans regularly
poked fun at Germany's proclivity for prohibiting all manner of
normal human activity - from walking on grass to taking pictures
near a railway line - giving rise to a society permanently ensconced
in a straitjacket of excessive legislation. Use of the actual German
word "verboten" (forbidden) signified the disagreement
Americans had with the idea of regulating the daylight out of human
That was then.
Currently, America is adopting more and more of the - thoroughly
alien - political philosophy which holds that people cannot be permitted
to act on their free volition, or else their base urges and thoughtless
egotism will frustrate construction of the "perfect world."
Actually, the miracle we call "America" has brought forth
a breed of human being noted for its desire to do the right thing
because common decency and common sense combine to guide common
standards of conduct. As anxiety about meeting basic needs subsided,
so each generation rose higher on the ladder of civilization, with
genuine and lasting results.
Coercion and the threat of punishment produce the opposite, as
they deprive people of individual discretion. Resentment builds,
counting the hours, then minutes, until tyranny is brought down
That is the story of Germany, as well as of France, Russia, Spain,
Italy. That is why the one-way traffic to America has continued
for a very long time.
But now, the pestilence that turns the law from the greatest blessing
into a hated tyrant has infested our land. Human interaction across
a broad spectrum came to be forbidden in recent years, or regulated
to the point where it amounts to a prohibition for all practical
intents and purposes.
It is forbidden to call persons and things what they are. It's
forbidden to disapprove of persons or of their conduct. It's forbidden
to make or tell jokes if someone might find them offensive, and
selected groups have been endowed with the right to declare anything
offensive to their heart's content. Punishment may be expulsion
from school, loss of employment, or financial ruin rather than prison,
but punishment there will be.
It's forbidden to show up for a flight without identity documents,
one of which must be issued by government and include a photograph.
It's forbidden to go near a gate, or to enter a public building
without going through a metal detector. It's forbidden to sit in
an airplane without the seat belt fastened when the seat belt sign
is off(!). It's forbidden to disobey crew member instructions, and
it is a federal crime to tamper with smoke detectors in the lavatory.
Because, of course, it's forbidden to smoke.
It's forbidden to operate a business with no wheelchair access.
It's forbidden to hold a concert in an auditorium with no wheelchair
access. It's forbidden to ask essential questions of a prospective
employee. It's forbidden to enter into any employment agreement,
however satisfactory to the parties, if it does not comply with
the whims of government. It's forbidden to deny a sublease of your
home to a person you consider undesirable. It's forbidden for a
goose to eat a Kanab ambersnail.
And, of course, it's forbidden to smoke.
It's forbidden to use your own money for your own medical care
the way you think it is in your own best interest, after a certain
age. It's forbidden to say things to or about women, or to touch
them, at any age. Six-year-olds are now the object of the hysteria
that has replaced Nature's arrangements in the relationship of the
sexes, and six-year-olds are subject to government surveillance
whether through the pretext of immunization or Marx's School-to-Work
program. It's forbidden for parents to bring up their children as
they believe it would be best for said children. It's forbidden
to drive along Pennsylvania Avenue or anywhere near the White House.
And, naturally, most any place, it's forbidden to smoke.
Smoking is the recurring theme because it has been the Great Test:
Will Americans give up their liberties if the initial purpose appears
to make sense, and the strangulation is gradual?
We know the answer.
For sure, smoking is a health hazard. But that had little to do
with the true purpose of the campaign.
For sure, all prohibitions begin with an honorable and desirable
purpose. Seat belts save lives. Employment practices ought to be
fair and equitable. It is great that our society can afford to build
ramps everywhere and thus offer mobility to people confined to wheelchairs.
Men should treat women with dignity and courtesy. (Also vice versa.)
And dogs are at risk in hot cars.
But in an American America those were manners of conduct to be
encouraged and cultivated, prompted by principle and pride, rewarded
by life in a variety of ways. Now they have become the domain of
commissars who claim to know how all the rest of us ought to behave.
And they have captured and corrupted the law.
Remember the sign reported to stand next to Mrs. Kirkpatrick's
car? "Pets Die in Hot Cars! It's Against the Law. If You See
It, Report it! Call 911 Immediately."
"Pets Die in Hot Cars!" Yep - we are in America. Someone
cares about something and reminds fellow citizens.
"It's Against the Law." Oops! We have entered Verbotenland.
"If You See It, Report it!" Here is the precipice. Americans
are now encouraged to inform on one another. And it starts early.
Children are taught to inform on their friends and teachers - most
of all on their parents.
In Hungary, I lived under two regimes that based their existence
on such a practice.
Are we certain we want America to go that way?