Men in Dark Suits

 

 

by John Tyler Connoley

 

March 23, 2005

 

 

In my undergraduate, I studied Economics under Ivan Pongracic, a free-market economist who fled communist Yugoslavia for the West. Although Pongracic had once been a high-level government employee, and one of the 3% of Yugoslavians who controlled most of the country's wealth, he'd given up his jet-set lifestyle with fancy homes and vacations in the Swiss Alps to follow his ideals and start over with nothing but freedom, living in the Unites States.

 

In many ways, Pongracic's relationship to free-market economics was that of an idealistic convert, embracing his new religion with absolute devotion. Sometimes I found his views beyond what I could accept, but his main critique of communism always struck me as absolutely correct: Pongracic talked often about the frustration of living under a system "where men in white lab coats in a building in the capitol decide what everyone else is allowed to buy."

 

In communist Yugoslavia, they had government grocery stores that sold one kind of cooking oil, one kind of flour, and one kind of bread. And, when the Men in White Coats miscalculated and produced too few loaves of generic bread, the people in remote towns went without. Food shortages were a fact of life, because the Men in White Coats weren't very efficient at predicting people's needs; hidden away in the capitol city, they simply couldn't keep up with what people wanted in the rest of the country.

 

Today, the United States has a federal government with the same arrogance as the Men in White Coats. However, instead of controlling the nation's factories and businesses, the Men in Dark Suits in Washington reach out to control the personal lives of people in small towns across the country. Just as the communist government of Yugoslavia once micromanaged businesses, the Republican government of the United States is micromanaging families.

 

The idea that Men in Dark Suits holed up in an office in Washington can make personal decisions for a family in Florida or Massachusetts should be anathema to conservatives, but it has become modus operandi for the current GOP. Though Washington is always a step behind the rest of the country in its understanding of current ethical issues, the Men in Dark Suits still feel a responsibility to regulate from a place of ignorance. Unwilling to let state courts make decisions about state laws, and unwilling to let individuals make difficult moral decisions, Washington feels it must make the decisions from afar.

 

This is the reasoning that has lead Congress and the President to step into the Terri Schiavo case. It is also the main issue in the proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage. This Congress is fond of haranguing "activist judges" who make decisions they don't like, but now it is the activist Congress that is stepping in where it's not needed and making decisions that show a lack of understanding.

 

In the case of Terri Schiavo, the Men in Dark Suits have meddled directly in matters they know little about. Bill Frist, Senate Majority Leader and a medical doctor, stated in debate that he had watched a video of Mrs. Schiavo and determined that she was not in a vegetative state -- despite all the other doctors and Florida judges who have reviewed her case more thoroughly than he and decided otherwise. In fact, the majority of Congressional representatives and the President have deluded themselves into believing they know better than any of the doctors and judges who've spent time with Mrs. Schiavo, and more than her husband who lived with her. From the safety of their rooms in Washington, the Men in Dark suits have made personal decisions for people in the far reaches of the country, just like the Men in White Coats once did in Yugoslavia.

 

The case of same-sex marriage is more subtle, but no less meddlesome. When the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts voted to uphold the state constitution and require the legislature to acknowledge same-sex marriages, it was recognizing the will of the people of Massachusetts who had enacted the constitution and who wanted it upheld. It was also recognizing a growing consensus in New England that same-sex couples deserve equal protection under the law. But, like the Men in White Coats who limited bread production to one shape and size of loaf, the Men in Dark Suits determined what marriage should look like in Massachusetts. And, like the Men in White Coats who once started and stopped production in factories in Yugoslavia, the Men in Dark Suits began a constitutional process to stop the production of same-sex marriages in the United States.

 

According to Ivan Pongracic, the chink in the armor of communism was the arrogant notion that people in the capitol could know enough to make everyday decisions about food, clothing, and housing for people in the rest of the country. The chink in the armor of the current GOP is the arrogant notion that people in the capitol can know enough to make everyday decisions about birth, marriage, and death for people in the rest of the country. Whether white-coated scientists or dark-suited moralists, the people in the capitol simply aren't informed enough to run everyone's daily life.

 

 

 

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Copyright 2005 by John Tyler Connoley

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