Using public policy to cover a multitude of sins

This post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

sutherland file pictures 009Sutherland Institute recently released a statement in support of the state Legislature’s refusal to expand Medicaid under Obamacare and how it’s choosing instead to pay for expansion itself. Among the many criticisms we’ve heard, one stands out. On Twitter, one critic wrote to us, “Your group really hates Americans who aren’t perfect in the way you approve.”

For many years I’ve wondered how it’s possible that liberals and progressives can’t tell the difference between private lives and public policy. Hardly a day goes by when some personal dysfunction or tragedy isn’t followed by “there ought to be a law” to memorialize someone’s personal problem – usually in the name of tolerance or compassion.

Traditionally, public policy has been limited to matters of procedural justice, negotiating conflicts among competing rights and certain economic externalities such as pollution. But the rise of selfish individualism has changed public policy forever. The rise of selfish individualism to the level of a civil right in the forms of feminism and sexual politics, family breakdown, divorce, single parenthood, fatherless homes, cohabitation, children’s rights and a simple lack of fertility among married couples has changed the focus of public policy away from protecting the common good to championing a multitude of personal dysfunctions.

The purpose of law in a free society is to help ensure ordered liberty, futurity and civilization. It keeps the peace and broadens prosperity. It also provides prudent assistance for those in need. But there is no higher purpose in the law than to make sure a free society stays both free and shares a common good. The fight between traditional values and sexual politics isn’t really a fight about good versus evil or moral versus immoral – though it has those aspects. No, the real fight between traditional values and sexual politics is the struggle for freedom.

Supporters of sexual politics see freedom as only individual liberty. Every human relationship is a selfish expression and adult-centric. Supporters of traditional values understand that a free society requires that family is the fundamental unit of society and laws that encourage family formation, child-bearing, child-rearing and the complementarity between the sexes only preserve freedom.

The portrait of American freedom is easy to describe. Either it’s a picture of hedonism, narcissism and materialism, or it’s a picture of sacrifice, self-control and futurity. Either it’s “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die” or it’s living lives with transcendent purpose that extend through generations. It’s odd that progressives can easily see how a smokestack pollutes and harms society but not how their own bad behavior, mostly in the form of selfish sexual politics, harms the common good.

To our critic on Twitter who wrote that Sutherland Institute hates Americans who aren’t perfect, not so. What we oppose are ideologues who use the law to cover the consequences of their bad behavior and, more so, who see their bad behavior as a civil right. Public policy is an instrument to settle public disputes and reflect our better selves in the name of the common good. Unfortunately, public policy today is being used increasingly to cover a multitude of sins – both personal and corporate. The law is increasingly a corrupting influence, not a force for good – and freedom is its victim.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.

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