The small things in life often matter most, for they lack the frivolous and the superfluous that can obscure the essential. So it is with modern liberalism. To understand its modus operandi, we need to look at nothing so grand as FDR's New Deal or LBJ's Great Society. We need only look at our telephone bills.
Since January, Americans have been paying a new federal tax on long-distance telephone services. Now, this news might come as a surprise to many, since long-distance bills contain no new line item to account for the tax. The story of behind this invisible tax captures the essence of modern liberalism. It demonstrates how liberals advance their political agenda through a putrid combination of procedure and substance.
The procedure of liberalism is lawlessness. Liberals have no patience for democratic processes and political persuasion; after all, the people voted for Reagan--twice! So liberals do not condescend to build national political and legislative majorities. That approach is too tenuous since the people might not accept the putative wisdom of liberalism. Liberals instead use the courts and the bureaucracy to accomplish that which they cannot accomplish at the ballot box. They push their programs on Americans by fiat, without the deliberation or compromise a diverse, continental republic otherwise demands.
The substance of liberalism is foolishness, which explains why liberals avoid the ballot box, since Americans largely have the common sense to recognize foolishness for what it is and reject it as such. For example, liberals wanted to help the poor, especially poor children, so they created a welfare system with perverse incentives that encouraged the birth of children into poverty. For another example, liberals want to open political office to all candidates, so they seek to limit the availability of indispensable campaign funds. The list could continue endlessly, but the point is the same: liberal policies are counterintuitive on their face, lacking logical and factual argument.
Now comes the new tax hidden in long-distance bills. Not surprisingly, the proposal originated in the office of Vice President Al Gore '69. Last fall, Gore put the Clinton administration behind the tax, whose revenue will subsidize Internet access for public schools and libraries. Yet, the administration soon learned that the tax, which would raise about $10 billion over four years, had little support on Capitol Hill.
The administration was undeterred by the absence of legislative support for the tax. (You'd think something like the Constitution required Congress to approve taxes.) It turned to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chair William Kennard, who obsequiously obliged the administration's wishes. Last December, Kennard issued a FCC order implementing the tax. The order--or more precisely, the ukase--came with no public notification, which is required by law.
As implemented by the FCC, long-distance companies such as AT&T, MCI and Sprint pay the tax revenue directly to the federal government. Naturally unwilling to sacrifice profits, the long-distance companies passed the tax along to consumers. Fearing customer criticism for an apparent rate hike, the long-distance companies also planned to list the new tax as a line item on long-distance bills. The liberals responsible for the tax would not tolerate such disclosure, however, so the FCC and the vice president's office leaned on the companies to hide the tax in exchange for slower implementation of it. The result: consumers now pay the tax without knowledge of it.
So much for the lawlessness, now for the foolishness. Despite blather about the "information superhighway" in popular culture, connecting classrooms and libraries to the Internet is a horrible idea. The Internet at best brings convenience to everyday life. It allows us to check the weather, the news, the stock market and so on very quickly. None of this information helps educate children. But the Internet does not just fail to educate children; it even obstructs their education. The information on it lacks veritable scholastic quality because it is not filtered through the ordinary editing and publishing process of books and magazines. Moreover, the Internet has too many temptations--ESPNet and Playboy come to mind--to distract students bored with their assignments and looking for some fun.
So there we have it, the distinctive combination of lawlessness and foolishness that characterizes modern liberalism. With utter disregard for democratic legitimacy and policy soundness, liberals have struck again. This time, however, they were too clever by half, for liberals never have displayed their underhandedness and silliness in purer form.
Thomas B. Cotton '98 is government concentrator living in Adams House. His column appears on alternate Wednesdays.