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Jewish World Review July 15, 2002 / 6 Menachem-Av, 5762

David Limbaugh

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Consumer Reports

Individual rights vs. guilt by association | Pop Quiz: What is the primary theory Democrats are using to establish Republican culpability regarding the series of corporate fraud scandals?

The painfully obvious answer is: guilt by association. Since some companies are engaged in misconduct, business, on the whole, is corrupt. And, Republicans, based on their presumed association with business, are scoundrels.

Oh sure, Democrats are looking for some evidence of actual misconduct, too, which is why they are so feverishly pursuing every aspect of President Bush's pre-presidential business background. Nothing would be sweeter than to catch Dubya in an act of corporate fraud because it would establish (in their minds) a concrete connection between corporate sleaze and the GOP. (Note that guilt by association would be the aim here, too: The entire GOP is corrupt if its party leader is corrupt, which could lead to major gains in the House and Senate this fall.)

It's not a bad strategy. Bush continues to enjoy stratospheric approval ratings despite the ceaseless barrage of attacks against him. But now that the stock market is in near freefall due, in part, to widespread shareholder distrust, proof of a specific act of corporate misconduct on Bush's part could be just the thing to remove his Teflon finish.

Of course, at a more fundamental level, liberals tend to view business itself as corrupt because it is capitalism's evil agent. Capitalism is disfavored because it champions private property and free markets, both of which are enemies of the philosophy that government should be in charge of the major means of production.

So let's review the various links in this chain of business corruption that depend upon guilt by association: 1) Business is corrupt because of its association with evil capitalism (which seeks to crowd out the beneficent government.) But Democrats needn't rely on that ridiculous generalization when they can rely on another one, namely that 2) Business is corrupt because some businesses are corrupt. 3) Republicans are corrupt because they are perceived to be friendly to business. 4) Republicans are also corrupt if it can be shown, as an added bonus, that the Republican president is corrupt, but actual proof of Bush's corruption ultimately doesn't matter because: 5) President Bush is already corrupt in that he is a business-friendly Republican.

The Democrats' tactic of guilt by association is curious when you consider their professed distaste for stereotypical thinking and their dogged insistence, in other contexts, on strict proof to establish culpability.

Liberals are forever holding up racism as the worst imaginable sin -- and conservatives agree that it is abominable. But at the core of this sin is the notion that the sinner is judging people based on stereotypes of a particular race (largely on anecdotal evidence or innuendo concerning some of its members) and then condemning the entire race by association. In the process, he both ignores individual conduct and devalues an entire race of people.

Isn't this the same type of thinking that incriminates all business by virtue of the bad acts of a few and besmirches -- again by association -- the party believed to be sympathetic to it? Where's the consistency? Where's the outrage?

Or, let's look at another source of liberal angst: Some purport to be so enamored with civil rights that they want to extend them even to non-citizen combatants, such as the 564 al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay. So we must give everyone -- even "alleged" terrorists bent on our destruction -- the full protection of our laws, so that we can make sure that only those specifically guilty will be punished.

Again, where's the consistency?

You have to wonder whether they champion civil rights and oppose stereotypes for the sake of the individual, as they claim. If they were truly interested in the individual and individual rights for everyone, wouldn't they oppose, for example, American assent to a treaty that would subject our servicemen and peacekeepers to an international criminal court that will not guaranty their civil rights? Wouldn't they exercise more restraint in adjudging businesses and businessmen? Wouldn't they fight sexual harassment of all women (not excluding those targeted by our former president and other of their heroes)? Wouldn't they stand against mistreatment of all blacks (including conservative ones, like Clarence Thomas and Ward Connerly?)

I guess it just depends on which individuals we're talking about and whom we are trying to protect them against. So next time one of your collectivist friends gets on his high horse about individual rights, be sure to ask him to clarify what he means by "individual."

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David Limbaugh, a columnist and attorney practicing in Cape Girardeau, Mo., is the author of the just-released exposť about corruption in the Clinton-Reno Justice Department, "Absolute Power." Send your comments to him by clicking here.