Well. He is from Hawaii...

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Prima facie -- that's the Latin equivalent for "at first glance" -- it might sound both well-timed and encouraging that the administration of President Barack Obama, who hails from Hawaii, has decided that the Justice Department will step up enforcement of Civil Rights law.

Eric Holder's push would seem well-timed on the face of it because Hawaii's longstanding racial problems seem to have worsened lately. Glenn Reynolds quotes the Southern Poverty Law Center:

Celia Padron went on a Hawaiian vacation last year, lured by the prospect of beautiful beaches and friendly people. She, her husband and two teenage daughters enjoyed the black sand beach at Makena State Park on Maui. But a Hawaiian girl accosted her two teenage daughters, saying, "Go back to the mainland" and "Take your white ass off our beaches," says Padron, a pediatric gastroenterologist in New Jersey.

When her husband, 68 at the time, stepped between the girls, three young Hawaiian men slammed him against a vehicle, cutting his ear, and choked and punched him, Padron says. Police officers persuaded the Padrons not to press charges, saying it would be expensive for them to return for court appearances and a Hawaiian judge would side with the Hawaiian assailants, the doctor contends.
This cultural rot includes sympathy for the idea of legally forbidding whites to vote in Hawaii.

And Holder's push would seem -- again, on the surface -- to be encouraging. From the New York Times:
To bolster a unit that has been battered by heavy turnover and a scandal over politically tinged hiring under the Bush administration, the Obama White House has also proposed a hiring spree that would swell the ranks of several hundred civil rights lawyers with more than 50 additional lawyers, a significant increase for a relatively small but powerful division of the government.

The division is "getting back to doing what it has traditionally done," Mr. Holder said in an interview. "But it's really only a start. I think the wounds that were inflicted on this division were deep, and it will take some time for them to fully heal."
Unfortunately, as anyone who has experienced the annoyance of interacting with a bigot or suffered the real harm of discriminatory law will know, surface appearances aren't everything.

The first passage quoted above unfortunately veers off into a discussion of "hate crime," which is actually fortuitous because it leads nicely into what is wrong with Holder's initiative. As I have stated in the past regarding hate crime legislation:
The proper response to hate crime legislation is simple. First, abolish it. Second, throw the book at criminals for their actual crimes rather than for what they think. Our government exists to protect us from the initiation of force on the part of others (i.e., from fraud, theft, and murder). But holding a belief, however repugnant, does not, as Thomas Jefferson might put it, "pick someone’s pocket or break his leg." The only valid reason to consider someone's beliefs in a criminal case is to establish intent. This is already part of criminal law. The crime should be punished the same regardless of the belief system of its perpetrator.
In other words, the proper function of the government is to protect individual rights, and hate crimes legislation actually does nothing towards this end. Rather, by attacking freedom of speech, it violates individual rights.

So what has this to do with Holder's announcement? Everything. For Holder is not getting ready to make sure that Hawaiians -- and all Americans -- are protected equally under the law, but to intensify enforcement of laws that, in fact, violate individual rights.
As part of this shift, the Obama administration is planning a major revival of high-impact civil rights enforcement against policies, in areas ranging from housing to hiring, where statistics show that minorities fare disproportionately poorly. President George W. Bush's appointees had discouraged such tactics, preferring to focus on individual cases in which there is evidence of intentional discrimination.
It is bad enough that there are laws on the books which violate the property rights of individuals by preventing them from deciding with whom they will do business, but at least under the old regime, Justice was focusing on whether someone actually discriminated against someone else.

But now, apparently, one will not be judged as an individual any more when it comes to these laws, but according to which racial category one belongs and whether what he has done in the daily course of his affairs looks, statistically, like he might have engaged in racial discrimination. (Which is not necessarily wrong, as Walter Williams recently pointed out.) The timing of Holder's announcement turns out to be simply -- and ironically -- coincidental.

So, despite superficial appearances, Barack Obama is not stepping up to the plate to protect individual citizens equally under the law. He is not taking steps to ameliorate a problem that should, arguably, be familiar to him. He is not taking up the legitimate mantle of the struggle for racial equality that saw an end to Jim Crow. Instead, he is running with the pack of wolves that subverted that struggle and turned it into an effort to establish new discriminatory laws that simply injure different classes of the citizens he has sworn to protect.

I am extremely disappointed in Barack Obama, but when we look deeper, we see that his political opposition is far from blameless: That Bush and the GOP lacked the intestinal fortitude to repeal such laws is not only damning for them, it is coming home to roost for all of us now.

At the rate Barack Obama is going, the next election cycle promises to be a slaughter for his party. The time to demand that the GOP start repealing laws that violate individual rights is now.

-- CAV


Andrew Dalton said...

I'm sure that those angry native Hawaiians would have a different perspective on "oppression" if the islands had fallen into Imperial Japanese hands for any length of time.

Vigilis said...

"Bush and the GOP lacked the intestinal fortitude to repeal such laws is not only damning for them, it is coming home to roost for all of us now."

No argument, agree totally with all of your points this time, Gus.
What still bothers, however, is the extortive influence of ethics and investigating committees in the congress, each headed by a lawyer.

It does not matter what party pin a congressional lawyer wears. Not only can his/her congressional career be short circuited by non collegiality to the concensus of most congressional lawyers, but lucrative career prospects after congress can also be short circuited through the same, closed network.

Result: party affiliation will not matter until we stop electing so many lawyers to represent us.

Gus Van Horn said...

(1) Excellent (and amusing) point, Andrew!

(2) But what, Vigilis, if only lawyers -- of the intellectual and moral caliber of Thomas Jefferson (himself a lawyer) -- comprised Congress?

Your animosity towards lawyers blinds you to the real cause of today's political problems, which is the altruist moral philosophy of the majority of the electorate as manifest in whom it will elect to office and what legislation it will tolerate.

Vigilis said...

"the real cause of today's political problems, which is the altruist moral philosophy of the majority of the electorate"

At last we disagree, Gus. In my view, and I consider myself highly experienced in practical human nature (decades of fraud examination), the majority of the electorate does not have an altruist moral philosophy at all, it only has a perceived deficit of time to explore more carefully the "what's in it for me" philosophy applauded by Thomas Jefferson.

Media presented candidate sketches are favored like fantasy football QB statistics, albeit with less scrutiny (sort of like your summarily ascribing my unproven blindness to a nonexistent animosity toward lawyers).

Most lawyers are to be admired for intellect, civility and unmatched decorum. Those in Congress (and state legislatures) regardless of party however, develope the corrupting instincts of kennel canines, and collegiality becomes more important to them than representing the public.

By the way, today I received a payment from a lawyer that was not due until the end of the month. Why would I harbor any animosity towards practicing lawyers?

Billy Beck said...

"(1) Excellent (and amusing) point, Andrew!"

I sharply disagree. If Teddy Roosevelt hadn't been such a hard-on imperialist, the Hawaiian Islands would likely never have become a device in the United States' world toolkit. Those goddamned savages might have safely been left to themselves, where they would probably have become the earliest and leading proponents of cargo-cult economics.

I hasten to point out that it is not too late to leave them to themselves.

Anyone here ever spend any time there? I have. I once lived there for several years.

To hell with them, instanter: believe me.

Gus Van Horn said...


I can't make much sense of your comment, but I take it that you oppose the "'what's in it for me' philosophy applauded by Thomas Jefferson." If so, you are, like most of the electorate, an altruist, or at least seriously misunderstand my point.


Hah! Point well-taken.

Besides, between Barack Obama and Eric Holder, I find that I must correct myself: Being black men who are certainly not living under Jim Crow now, they sure don't seem to have "a different perspective on 'oppression:'" Why would the Hawaiian islanders be any different. (Sorry, Andrew -- but I still grant the humor points.)

Clinton's budget cuts -- even storm clouds can have silver linings -- allowed me to escape living in Hawaii although some PCS orders almost sent me there. I already knew more than I wanted to about Hawaii and racial problems. I wanted none of it and was puzzled about why so many other people wanted to go there. I attributed it in part to ignorance.


Andrew Dalton said...

Well, I was half joking. (After all, I've been a strong critic of the notion that suffering confers wisdom.)

But it is interesting how tribalists magnify any grievance into the the moral equivalent of a life-or-death struggle. This propensity surely has its roots in a militantly anti-conceptual epistemology.

I remember that Ayn Rand wrote that such people would kill and die for the privilege of having bilingual postage stamps, rather than to accept the majority language that happens not to be their native tongue.

Gus Van Horn said...

I should have caught that: I reckon I was half-oblivious.

Also, thanks for mentioning that observation at the end. Quite apropos.