Jewish World Review Oct. 14, 2005 / 11 Tishrei, 5766

Thomas Sowell

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Spoiled brat politics: Part II | The idea that what I want overrides what you want has increasingly become part of our thinking, our policies and even our laws. There is literally a federal case before the Supreme Court over the fact that many colleges and universities refuse to allow military recruiters on campus.

Why? Because, as the academics will tell you, they are opposed to the military, either in general or because they think the military are discriminating against homosexuals or for whatever other reasons they have.

These academics have every right to be against the military, for any reason or for no reason.

If they don't like the military, they can stay away from the military, since there is no draft. But what they want is to keep other people away from the military, by preventing students from hearing what the military recruiters have to say, as students hear what recruiters from all sorts of other institutions and movements have to say on campus.

The reason there is a legal issue is that a federal law has been passed, saying that colleges and universities that forbid military recruiters from coming on campus are no longer eligible to receive federal money.

Academics are outraged. They see this law as a violation of their freedom — including their right to violate their students' freedom. It is classic spoiled brat politics, based on the idea that what I want overrides what you want.

The same principle underlies growing legal restrictions on building anything that existing residents in a community don't want built.

A young "planning consultant" to a local politician in New York says: "These neighborhoods substantially have not changed in 40 years. What we are trying to do is make sure they are recognizable 40 years from now. I don't think there is anything wrong with that. In fact, in many other places in the country, that is celebrated. So why shouldn't we celebrate it here?"

That young man probably has a bright future in politics, where the ability to confuse the issues is a highly rewarded talent. "Everybody is doing it" is a very effective political argument, requiring neither facts nor logic, and widely accepted in this era of dumbed-down education. Focusing on the benefits to some and ignoring the costs to others is another tried-and-true political tactic.

Since people who are already in a community are the ones who vote, making what they want override what other people want is a winner in spoiled brat politics.

At one time, courts took seriously the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal rights for all, regardless of where they lived and voted. Courts even enforced the 5th Amendment's guarantee of property rights.

In other words, local voters and local politicians could not arbitrarily deprive other people of the right to come in and buy and use property as they saw fit, simply because some planning consultants or planning commissions preferred that they do otherwise. But Constitutional protection of property rights is no longer "in the mainstream" of fashionable legal thinking.

Let's go back to square one. The people who bought homes in a neighborhood 40 years ago did not buy the neighborhood, nor did they pay for a guarantee that the neighborhood would stay the same for 40 years, much less in perpetuity.

The only way the government can give current residents such a guarantee is to take away other people's property rights, which exist precisely in order to keep politicians at bay.

Buying a chance and asking the government to turn that chance into a guarantee has become a common occurrence under spoiled brat politics.

When you buy a home with a great view of the ocean, you do not pay for a guarantee that nothing will ever be built between you and the ocean. You ask politicians to give that to you, at someone else's expense.

Some people even call that idealism because you are "preserving" something good. But preserving it from whom? And why is what you want more important than what they want?

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© 2005, Creators Syndicate