David Brooks is no conservative, even though he is supposed to fill that role on the NYT op/ed page. (Actually, Ross Douthat does.) He has a column today criticizing the Obama Administration’s Free Birth Control Rule. And like too many liberals, he is primarily (exclusively?) concerned with technocratic results rather than the limits on government power established by the Constitution.
Thus Brooks isn’t concerned that the Free Birth Control Rule violates the First Amendment’s guarantee that the U.S. Government will not interfere with the “free exercise” of religion. No, the rule is merely misguided because it interferes with sociological best practices for reducing poverty. From “Flood the Zone:”
The key to this flood-the-zone approach is that you have to allow for maximum possible diversity. Let’s say there is a 14-year-old girl who, for perfectly understandable reasons, wants to experience the love and sense of purpose that go with motherhood, rather than stay in school in the hopes of someday earning a middle-class wage. You have no idea what factors have caused her to make this decision, and you have no way of knowing what will dissuade her. But you want her, from morning until night, to be enveloped by a thick ecosystem of positive influences. You want lefty social justice groups, righty evangelical groups, Muslim groups, sports clubs, government social workers, Boys and Girls Clubs and a hundred other diverse institutions. If you surround her with a different culture and a web of relationships, maybe she will absorb new habits of thought, find a sense of belonging and change her path.
To build this thick ecosystem, you have to include religious institutions and you have to give them broad leeway. Religious faith is quirky, and doesn’t always conform to contemporary norms. But faith motivates people to serve. Faith turns lives around. You want to do everything possible to give these faithful servants room and support so they can improve the spiritual, economic and social ecology in poor neighborhoods. The administration’s policies on school vouchers and religious service providers are demoralizing because they weaken this ecology by reducing its diversity. By ending vouchers, the administration reduced the social intercourse between neighborhoods. By coercing the religious charities, it is teaching the faithful to distrust government, to segregate themselves from bureaucratic overreach, to pull inward.
All of that may be true but, even if this rule helped the hypothetical 14-year-old, it would be wrong.
Brooks misses (or doesn’t care) that we are now in a full-fledged constitutional crisis. Obamacare is a disaster—nay, a catastrophe—for the principles underlying American rule of law, which requires that the federal government operate under limited powers. Indeed, the president is undermining limited government both coming and going:
1. He is expanding the breadth, scope, and application of the Commerce Clause to the snapping point by asserting that the federal government is empowered to control private non behavior if it believes the non behavior creates a national problem.
2. At the same time, Obama is obliterating the First Amendment’s guarantee of free exercise of religion, reducing it to the puny “freedom of worship,” which isn’t much of a right at all, and in fact, will (as intended) drive religion out of the public square so government can fill the vacuum.
And here’s the principle at stake: If Obamacare can suck the vitality out of an enumerated right of the people, and transform it into a hollow symbol, then the government can destroy any of the freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights that the powers that be view as impeding favored policy imperatives. And if that scythe can swing from left-to-right, it eventually can also swing from right-to-left.
Brooks criticizes Obama for being too “technocratic.” But only a technocrat could miss the elephant in the living room: If this stands, we won’t be Nazi Germany. But we will not be free—at least not as we Americans have always understood the term.