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Personal Liberties, and the Right to Health

At a Congressional hearing today, Jim Jordan demands of Dr. Fauci, “When are the American people going to get their First Amendment liberties and freedoms back?” Dr. Fauci tries to explain that this is not about liberty, it is about public health, but Jordan just keeps yelling the same thing. Chairman James Clyburn recognizes Maxine Waters, she tries to speak, Jordan keeps yelling. Waters tells him to shut his mouth. End Scene.

Jordan may be Speaker of the House some day. I do not want to even think about that, just about how to prevent it.

This is certainly the crux of the matter. Somehow this is the culmination of decades of right-wing propaganda put on 24 hours a day on all forms of media. Somehow tens of millions of people seem to believe that government mandates regarding health precautions are robbing them of their First Amendment rights.

There is immense case law regarding the government’s rights, whether nationally, or through the exercise of state police powers, to mandate health-related rules or restrictions. Products are taken off the market if the FDA deems them to be unsafe or dangerous. Jurisdictions have the right to enforce curfews to deal with safety or health risks. There are traffic laws, such as the requirement to use seat belts when driving, to protect health and safety.

There are of course some limits, as there always are, regarding the need for such laws to not be “unreasonable,” and to be related to public health concerns. What the U.S. Government and various states have done with regard to the Covid threat, easily pass that requirement. In fact, there are very few cases of people or businesses being fined or shut down because of not following the health protocols of masking or distancing.

Jordan is a bad guy, in more ways than one. I don’t know if all of his belligerent screaming at health experts like Dr. Fauci is based on actual beliefs, or just calculated demagoguery in order to gain power. Since he acts as if it is all based on arguments about values and policies, we have to combat them on that ground.

Does he think that any traffic law mandating a speed limit, is taking away people’s precious liberties? Does he think that laws requiring he use of safety belts in cars, are violative of personal freedom? Maybe he does, but he would never say that, because it would put him far outside the mainstream.

If I want to walk around the neighborhood and play a trumpet at 3AM, is it an encroachment on my freedoms to prevent that? What right do other people have to tell me what I cannot do with my own trumpet? And we’re just talking about noise, not health or safety concerns.

If someone wanted to walk into a restaurant,before the pandemic, and play a boom box at the table, could they tell him to stop, or evict him if he does not? If he does not wear a shirt, can they make him leave? What does Jordan think that these rights of an establishment to set dress codes or noise levels, come from? Where do the rights of a community to call an entity which releases dangerous chemicals a “public nuisance,” and shut it down, derive?

I have some tolerance for constitutional arguments I disagree with, but which have at least some semblance of rationality to them. But Jordan is not just grandstanding or trying to advance his own carer. He is spewing out a toxic brew which poisons the minds of countless people. The ones who kept going into stores and refusing to wear masks, and fighting with employees or patrons who demand that they do. The idiots who actually spit at people or produce, to scare them, or maybe to even try to get them sick, because apparently it is their right when their “precious freedoms” are under attack.

How about the freedom to be able to know that the government is doing everything it can to deal with a deadly pandemic? What about the right to walk around and know that everyone is wearing masks, at least single if not double, following the guidelines laid out by our best health experts, to prevent the spread of the virus? If I drive my car, don’t I have the right to assume that the other drivers are following the speed limit laws, and that there are police officers out there to enforce them; rather than there are some people shouting, “Freedom!” as they barrel along at 100 mph.?

If you buy produce at a grocery store or fruit market, don’t you have the right as an American citizen to expect that it has been examined and tested, so that you know it is safe for you and your family? And if very unfortunately some tainted food gets through, don’t you have the right to expect that it will immediately be pulled off the shelves?

People like Jordan see themselves as the privileged aristocrats of this Age. They have enough money and power to get vaccinated first. They go only to the best restaurants and the best markets. They live in communities where there are all sorts of rules against outsiders parking there, or making any noise, or getting within a thousand feet of their gates. There are no toxic dumps around there. They devoutly believe in social darwinism, even though they call it something else.

I don’t want to live in a country where Jim Jordan or any of those like him, are in charge. Not just because they are reprehensible people. Because they would quickly destroy any chance we would have to fix the environment, and protect public health and safety. There would be toxic dumps all over; waterways would be further polluted; there would be more catastrophes and more pandemics, and nothing to stop them. The last year of Trump should make it abundantly clear what the country would look like if Jordan or Hawley or Cruz or Rubio or Meadows or DeSantis or Pompeo or Scott or Pence ever got hold of the reins of power. Think of 14th Century London.

6 Responses

  1. I just can’t get it. How is anyone’s freedom of speech infringed by obeying public safety laws? Is Jordan a Republican by any chance?

    • Republicans have gotten to the point where they just have some slogans or tropes that they use for everything, in the hope/expectation that their base will support them. if some ice cream company took a flavor off their menu, they would also call it an assault on freedom. More importantly, as you note, public health laws are not a limitation on a constitutional freedom. The public health concern is paramount, not the right to walk around without a mask and risk everyone.

  2. If I remember correctly, in an episode of WKRP in Cincinnati many years ago, Mr. Carlson (the late Gordon Jump) made an uncharacteristically hard-nosed decision around Christmas, and was visited by three ghosts in a dream (of course, it was an homage to A Christmas Carol).

    The ghosts were played by other regular cast members. The future ghost resembled Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman). He revealed the futures of the cast members if Mr. Carlson persisted in his bad decision. Les Nessman (Richard Sanders) would have become the Republican Whip of the U. S. House of Representatives.

    Compared to today’s average Republican, Les Nessman would be a voice of reason. :mrgreen:

  3. Why specifically 14th century London? Nothing has really changed.

    • Have you ever read A Distant Mirror by Barbara Tuchman? Yeah, go read that. The 14th century was a complete clusterf%ck for much of Eurasia. The four horsemen of the apocalypse had a field day.

      • My father really liked A Distant Mirror. We read most of Tuchman’s books; The Guns of August, The Proud Tower. What a wonderful historian and writer.

        Joridan and his cohorts might consider reading Poe’s short story, “The Masque of the Red Death.” But it would probably mean nothing to them.

        Daphne Du Maurier’s novel “The House on the Strand” is about a writer who visits his scientist friend in England, and this scientist tells him about a drug he has created,which will apparently take you back, only as an observer, to another time, at the exact same location. The writer eventually tries the drug, and he is back in 14th Century England, until the drug wears off, and he tries it again. He finds himself more compelled by that time, and a particular woman in it, than his. It is a haunting story, and the theme you describe is part of it.

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