Saturday, January 30, 2010

Truck Driver Texting and the Liberal Mind

I read a short piece in USA Today a few days ago about the danger posed by truck drivers texting or e-mailing while operating their rigs and the move by many state legislatures to outlaw the practice, imposing heavy fines if one is caught doing so. All well and good, I guess. (Although I'm unsure as to why the states would single out truck drivers.) But what grabbed my attention, and raised my dander, was that the article included the news that Senator Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., along with Senators Robert Menendez, D-N.J, and Kay Hagan, D-N.C., had introduced legislation to impose a federal ban on the practice. To give the legislation teeth they included a proviso that states that didn't go along with the ban would risk losing 25% of their federal highway funds.

A federal ban! On the face of it, this is, I suppose, a rather small matter. I mean, haven't we all witnessed some idiot driver, in heavy traffic, head down, thumb-punching a cell phone? And, after all, who could be against making our roads safer? But this particular piece of legislation is instructive nonetheless because it begs, or should beg anyway, the question: How in the name of heaven is this a legitimate concern of our national government? If you think it is, or think maybe it is, or are even not sure it isn't, then you have embraced more fully the premises of contemporary liberalism than you know.

In the first instance, legislation of this nature is simply condescending. What Senator Schumer and his colleagues are suggesting finally is that the men and women serving in state and local offices, as well as the citizens who elected them, are incapable of self-government, that they do not know and cannot be trusted to know their own good. (The fact that it's the same citizenry that elected them to national office never seems to give them pause. But that's for another post.)

Moreover, there was time when the proposed law would have been broadly understood to be in clear violation of the spirit, if not also the letter, of our constitution. That founding document is foremost a listing of the enumerated and limited powers of the national government. Without appealing to illusive "emanations" and "penumbras", nowhere in it can one find the authority to legislate the driving practices of the citizens of an independent state within the geographical confines of that state.

Finally, and more importantly, the core motivation to pass legislation such as this is as clear an indicator of a liberal mind at work as there is. That mind is innervated by many things, among them an irritating reflex to meddle. But that is only part of what's at work here. Operating also is actually something more noble and for that reason much more difficult to resist. In the same USA Today article, Anne Ferro, head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, is quoted commenting in favor of the proposed law: "This helps to establish a uniform safe application of texting bans around the country." (my emphasis)

The use of the word "uniform" is key to identifying a liberal mind. "Uniform" here serves as a synonym for "equal" and the animating passion of the contemporary liberal is the pursuit of equality. (I should say equality of a sort, but, alas, that's for yet another post.) A liberal would insist that anything less than equal, less than uniform, is in almost every important sense either inefficient or unjust or both. In the pursuit of equality (i.e., the pursuit of efficiency, the pursuit of justice or fundamental fairness), all differences, all distinctions must be erased. Hence, we cannot allow the states to be different, there can be no distinctions among them. Therefore, the legislation simply must come from the top down, from the national government for imposition on the several states. There is no other proper way to think about the problem of truck driver texting and certainly no other way to solve it.

The enlightened reader will quickly grasp then that in the pursuit of equality, liberty is threatened. That where the national government imposes, the states and their citizens are not at liberty to do otherwise. Moreover, he will note that the pursuit of equality seems always to demand uniformity. Difference is simply intolerable. Finally, he will also note that the pursuit of equality results invariably in the centralization of power at the highest level, i.e., from the states and locales, to the national government.

As quick as The Sage is (undeniable), he didn't think this all up on his own. He learned it from Tocqueville and his indispensable book Democracy in America. You can look it up! (And you should.) In the meantime, look more diligently for legislation like the national Anti-Truck Driver Texting Bill of 2010, know more fully what's actually going on, and ever more vigilantly appreciate what is at stake: Liberty.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic article. The loss of power at the state level is something that should be of great concern to every citizen. We see time and time again that the national government uses the threat of lost funding to force states into complying with its demands. The constitution was clearly made with the knowledge that problems are best solved at the lowest possible level. The national government even talking about truckers texting and driving is a stark reminder that not only are they not talking about the issues they SHOULD be discussing, but that they clearly have lost sight over how such an issue should be dealt with.
    The fear of not being reelected is enough to keep state governors from giving the national government the proverbial finger on the issue of regaining state governing power. I think that if a couple states were to call their bluff and get this issue on the forefront of discussion, Americans would side with the states. Despite what the national government obviously believes, most Americans are NOT stupid and are much more capable of solving their own problems than a bunch of liberal ivy league idiots.