All Commentary
Monday, December 1, 1980

Hit or Run

Mr. Raley is a free-lance author, speaker, philosopher from Gadsden, Alabama,

It doesn’t happen often but on rare occasions one may obtain a bit of pertinent information from a newscast. Last evening was one of those occasions. I was watching the late news, hoping to get the baseball scores, when this person came on (she was not one of the regular news team). She was protesting vigorously the Supreme Court’s decision to the effect that the general public was not responsible for every woman that happened to turn up pregnant and, therefore, could not be forced to pay for an abortion if the woman elected to have one. (May I say here, before anyone prepares to take sides, that this piece is not about abortion per se. I hope to leave that can of worms for someone smart enough to pinpoint the precise point in time that an individual’s inalienable right to life becomes effective.)

The person on the newscast stated emphatically that the court’s decision stripped women of their constitutional right to have an abortion, if they wanted one. I didn’t even know that the Constitution had ever granted to individuals the privilege of having an abortion at public expense. I did know, of course, that the court had ruled, sometime in the not too distant past, that it was a woman’s prerogative to abort a child she didn’t want, but I had not even suspected that the legal right to do something carried with it an obligation on the general public to pick up the tab. I wonder what John Marshall and the free men who worked so diligently to hammer out that old document would have said about that.

My curiosity being aroused, I followed reaction to the court’s decision in the papers for a couple of days. Consensus seemed to be that the court’s ruling would cost taxpayers quite a bit of money in the long run since many children that might have been aborted would have to be fed, sheltered, clothed, educated, and provided medical attention at public expense—all in accord with their constitutional rights, of course. I wonder, quite often, where one could obtain a specimen of this new constitution. Never having been privileged to see a copy I don’t know exactly what it says, but hearing people quote from it so often, I can tell that it is not the same document old man Daniel Carroll and John Rutledge put their signatures on.

When I talk with members of Congress about this new interpretation of the Constitution they tell me, when they attempt to answer at all, that the legality of all these things flows from the Preamble that states the document was drafted, in part, to insure domestic tranquility and promote the general welfare. When one takes time to consider that anything the government gives to one person must first be taken from another, no firm ground remains from which a defense can be mounted for the proposition that any program of wealth redistribution is good for the general welfare. Certainly those on the receiving end would be something more, or less, than human if they failed to fight, tooth and nail, to hold their position at the public trough. But despite apparent consensus to the contrary of our top-heavy bureaucracy, the people who work to produce the wealth those freeloaders are fighting for are, too, a part of the general public.

In the matter of domestic tranquility, quite frankly, I had always thought that if the powers that be could keep people of different persuasions from coming to blows, or get them separated before too much damage was done when they did get together, that this item was being properly attended.

As best I can tell from looking, listening, and reading, a great many Americans have been conned into believing that anything an individual is at liberty to do is a right guar anteed to them by the Constitution of these United States. More than this it seems to be generally assumed that the public is bound by that same document to pay, on demand, for the implementation of these rights.

That our liberty flows from the Constitution is a fallacy, of course, since the concept of inalienable rights referred to in the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence was accepted by the American people as a fact long before the break with England. After they gained independence the people soon realized that a few of these rights would have to be vested in a central government strong enough to keep the peace at home and, hopefully, protect the nation from foreign invasion. Actually most of those inalienable rights so zealously guarded by the people had been vested in their respective state governments for some time. Therefore, it was really the states, much more than individuals, that contrib uted enough of their sovereignty to enable the federal government to function.

Liberty, as referred to by the founding fathers, presupposes a responsible, self-sufficient body politic. This fact is obvious since freedom will not emerge, nor can it for long abide, in a less desirable social atmosphere. The only real reason for laws in a society of free men is the sad fact that each generation is known to produce a few individuals that are irresponsible and must be ejected from their neighbor’s store house from time to time. When this breed becomes a majority, or when government gives them a key, there is no longer a free society.

The people of these United States have been bartering their liberty for the proverbial bowl of pottage for so long that there are very few rights left and the pottage is getting real thin. Now the cities and states are also coming to heel. Since revenue sharing was introduced, most city governments have added personnel and expanded service beyond the capacity of their tax base and from time to time must go, hat in hand, to the federal government for a handout. Many congressmen keep their seats by bragging about the huge amount of other people’s money they have been able to channel into their district and promising even greater spoils in the future.

We read with agony of people in other lands who are forced to submit to programs of re-education so that their thinking will be in accord with a new ruler. But we largely fail to grasp the sad fact that Americans who were educated in the free market era must re- educate themselves for survival under other terms and conditions.

Thinking about the programs, schemes, and plots government has advanced to help people, cities and states on one hand and all the rules, regulations, restrictions and taxes it has invoked to confuse and impede on the other, I often recall my grandfather’s philosophy of life. Reared during the Civil War period, the old gent was largely uneducated and a little on the rough side, but he held firmly to one cliche that I have come to appreciate more and more with the passage of time. “Son,” he would say, “when a body comes around wanting to do you a big favor, for no good reason, or give you something for nothing, hit him just as hard as you can. If you see you can’t knock him down, run just as far and as fast as you can. There be no other way to hold your own with that kind.”

Reared with an educated, verbose, generation myself, I have often found Granddad’s philosophy very difficult to advance or even defend. But I do know this he and his generation passed the torch of freedom to their progeny burning no less brightly than when they received it from their forefathers. More than anything and everything else, I wish that my grandchildren could say as much for me and my generation.

  • Mr. Raley is a free-lance author, speaker, philosopher from Gadsden, Alabama.