What this country almost certainly doesn't need right now is more laws and regulations; but it doesn't necessarily need fewer laws and regulations, either. What we appear to need above all else is a deeper -- and that's not saying much -- understanding of the purposes for which a civilized society passes laws and enacts regulations. We need, in essence, moral instruction.
Eeek! "Moral instruction"? "Right" and "wrong"? By whose lights, whose standards? The contraception debate -- to the extent you call it a debate instead of a shouting match -- brings to mind these fundamental, yet generally skirted, issues. In 21st-century America, right and wrong are matters we hand over to the big guns in politics and -- alas -- the chattering profession, my own profession: the media. He who makes the loudest noises and wins the most elections gets to cram his views down the public's throat.
Consider Barack Obama, who is never, ever, according to Barack Obama, wrong. Our president lays down the law in tones more and more strident every year. He's right! His benighted, obstructionist critics are wrong! Never mind what they do or say -- he's got a phone and a pen, both of which he will wield to achieve the ends that he, Barack the Great, has decided are in the public interest.
The most notable declaration to issue from the Obama White House thus far came in response to Speaker John Boehner's plan to curb his unchecked authority by means of a lawsuit. "So sue me," said the former constitutional law professor who is temporarily leader of the free world. Was there ever a more evocative declaration of the will to power?
And based, we might ask, on what? On one man's moral understanding (or that of his backers)? Or upon deeper understandings of what a free people means to accomplish by means of its sovereignty?
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