Cass Sunstein: ‘Czar’ in Wolf's Clothing

by EDWARD CLINE September 22, 2009
In “Reason is Forever,” I commented on the phenomenon of liberals, collectivists, and fascist/socialist fellow travelers in the Obama administration endorsing the gagging of anyone who criticizes the administration and its agenda, and wishing to bestow a taxpayer-bought bullhorn on Obama’s propagandists. I also discuss the incremental move to censorship in America in “Censorship by Nickels and Dimes,” “Thought Crime: The Logical End of Politically Correct Speech,” and “The Move Towards Freedomless Speech.”
The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) was recently caught with its curtain drawn open for its role in that effort. Its director of communications, Yosi Sergant, was the facilitator of a teleconference of artists and other “cool people” who had not only benefited from NEA grants, but worked directly or indirectly to elect Obama. The ostensive purpose of the call was to enlist the active support of the invited participants to “sell” the Obama agenda, including the health care bill, to the public. It took a while for the implications of that “call to arms” to sink into the consciousness of Patrick C. Courrielche, columnist for Big Hollywood, who subsequently, and with some apparent regret, reported the call in detail on the Big Hollywood blog site.
For having violated its nominally apolitical mandate (if it is a creature of politics, how could it be “apolitical”?), the NEA went mum after the whistle-blowing, and the director of communications has been either fired or “reassigned.” His whereabouts are otherwise unknown. Ben Smith, writing for Politico, notes that Sergant was an “outsider from Washington’s careful culture” – that is, he was a novice in Washington’s culture of stealth and subterfuge and did not absorb the culture quickly enough.
One cannot blame him for the gaucherie. Observe the hubris of Obama and the Democrats in how they propose their blatantly socialist legislation, thinly disguised in populist euphemisms. Why shouldn't Sergant have just emulated the tactics of the White House? But, he obviously had the cooperation or sanction of the White House to conduct the enlistment drive, perhaps with the sage guidance of White House staffer Marion Phillips, who, in an official blog post called “Facts are Stubborn Things” requested that "fishy" criticisms of the administration's plans for health care reform be reported to
Well, Courrielche had the decency to flag the White House and the NEA, instead. Nationally syndicated conservative columnist George Will also reported on the Big Hollywood exposé in “Artists in Harness” and in addition offers a brief critique of the NEA’s anti-esthetic standards (without offering any standards of his own). These NEA beneficiaries, Will notes,
“…are just another servile interest group seeking morsels from the federal banquet. Are they real artists? Sure, because in this egalitarian era, government reasons circularly: Art is whatever an artist says it is, and an artist is whoever produces art….For government today, ‘art’ is a classification so capacious it does not classify.”
Bigger game to bring down than Yosi Sergant is Cass Sunstein, Obama’s most recently appointed “czar,” formally the administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which is under the Office of Management and Budget, one of the few “czars” to be confirmed by the Senate. Sunstein, a tenured professor at the University of Chicago Law School, and who is married to Obama foreign policy adviser Samantha Power, began teaching at HarvardLawSchool in the fall of 2008. That didn’t last long, because he is now on leave from Harvard to pursue the application of his collectivist theories and hypotheses.
Former dean of HarvardLawSchool and now U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan said of Sunstein on the announcement of his going to Harvard:
"Cass Sunstein is the preeminent legal scholar of our time –the most wide-ranging, the most prolific, the most cited, and the most influential. His work in any one of the fields he pursues – administrative law and policy, constitutional law and theory, behavioral economics and law, environmental law, to name a non-exhaustive few – would put him in the very front ranks of legal scholars; the combination is singular and breathtaking."
But, hoist Sunstein out of the swirling maelstrom of his interests, and you find a totalitarian, a "czar" in wolf's clothing. It is no coincidence that Obama, who was a mere “senior lecturer” at the University of Chicago Law School, would find him an appropriate choice to become a regulatory czar, one who can “regulate” just about everything he puts his mind to.
On environmentalism, he is open to persuasion. He argued against the so-called Precautionary Principle about the cost vs. benefit equation in enforcing environmental law, a position that raised the hackles of advocates of environmental crime and which he would be willing to reverse. He argues that animals should be represented in court. Apparently, he hasn’t made up his mind about whether animals should be conveyed the attribute of “personhood” that would allow them to file lawsuits for abuse and cruelty.
Substitute the planet, the environment, and glaciers for animals, and Sunstein‘s reservations would fall like the Maginot Line. One can wonder why such a subject would fascinate Sunstein, but not for long. Individuals fare no better in his legalistic universe, in which ideas just hover in space and orbit no central philosophy.
On the First Amendment and freedom of speech, Sunstein has definite ideas. One of his “New Deals” would be a rewrite of the Constitution to allow for mandatory or compulsory “diversity” of views in virtually every medium of “public” communication, but most especially in television and on radio. In his book, Democracy and the Problem of Free Speech (1995), he argues that that such a rewrite would “reinvigorate the processes of democratic deliberation, by ensuring greater attention to public issues and greater diversity of views.”
In order to attain that goal, which would be the resurrection of the Fairness Doctrine in all but name, he would support the creation of a federal panel of “nonpartisan experts” who would judge whether or not a television or radio station met their diversity criteria. If they did not, one imagines that they would refer the case and the offense to the Federal Communications Commission, which has the power to grant, deny or withdraw licenses to broadcast.
Sunstein proposes also that commercial broadcasters be required to subsidize “public” television or other commercial stations to ensure “less profitable but high-quality programming.” All this regulating and requiring, he asserts, would not violate the “spirit” of the Constitution. One can presume that he doesn’t regard the Sixteenth and Eighteenth Amendments as being in violation of that “spirit.”
Again, one may wonder why he believes “diversity” is necessary. Clearly, the mainstream media are on the side of Obama and his plans to fit the nation for the yoke of servitude. Not even the anchors and shills of ABC, CBS and NBC could boast that “diversity” thrives in the MSM. It is only on “renegade” broadcasters such as Fox, and in conservative radio talk shows that “diversity” is not present, especially when they oppose the Obama and other collectivist agendas. One of Sunstein’s interests, as noted above, is behavioral economics and law, which treats individuals as non-sentient atoms that coagulate into insulated groups, and, as atoms, autonomously make “decisions” that affect the marketplace and politics, and so, society.
This position meshes perfectly with his argument in his 2001 book,, that the Internet is dangerous to “democracy” because on the Internet individuals may further choose to ally themselves with groups that reflect their values, and so repel the leveling influence of “diversity.“ This, argues Sunstein, permits individuals to reject information or positions that might challenge their beliefs. Ironclad convictions cannot be allowed. “Rational actors” should be gagged or banished to the fringe of “democracy.” Open-mindedness should be made mandatory, even if it means regulating – or censoring – the Internet.
The object of that argument, of course, is not hard-core Democrats or wish-driven liberals, who, when faced with a rational argument against government-run health care, or smoking bans, or government-mandated nutrition guides, or public education, typically shut out reason in what Ayn Rand deemed “blanking out” the truth. In short, it is Sunstein’s political friends and allies who insulate themselves from reason and rationality. If they choose not to think about individual rights, then they cannot exist.
In his 2004 book, The Second Bill of Rights: FDR's Unfinished Revolution and Why We Need It More than Ever, Sunstein advocates a “Second Bill of Rights,” something proposed by Franklin D. Roosevelt in his State of the Union address in January, 1944. Like FDR’s “four freedoms” (introduced in his address to Congress in 1941), these rights include rights to an education, to a home, to health care, and to protection against monopolies, all picked out of the space of floating abstractions.
How to pay for these rights? Taxation. Sunstein is tax happy. In an April 1999 Chicago Tribune Op-Ed he castigated tax “grumblers” on the advantages and virtues of taxation.
“Without taxes there would be no property. Without taxes, few of us would have any assets worth defending….It may be reasonable, in some cases, to cut tax rates. What is unreasonable and, in fact, preposterous is the all-too-familiar conservative rhetoric that flatly opposes individual liberty to the government power to tax and spend. You cannot be for rights and against government because rights are meaningless unless enforced by government…Rights to private property, freedom of speech, immunity from police abuse, contractual liberty, free exercise of religion--just as much as rights to Social Security, Medicare and food stamps--are taxpayer-funded and government-managed social services designed to improve collective and individual well-being…There is no liberty without dependency. That is why we should celebrate tax day. As Oliver Wendell Holmes, the great Supreme Court justice, liked to say, taxes are ‘the price we pay for civilization.’"
Without taxes there would be no property? Which came first? The chicken or the egg? Has Sunstein ever imagined that the purpose of government is to protect rights – individual rights, not community- or society- or government-bequeathed rights – not to “enforce” them? Perhaps. If he had, he rejected the idea. Note that his idea of rights includes what could only be called government-created entitlements, such as Social Security, Medicare, and food stamps. If it can be argued that rights originate anywhere but in the nature of man as a being of volitional consciousness responsible for his own life and happiness, then, of course, these “rights” can be “enforced” by government. Therefore, the government owns the chicken and the egg, and the individual is merely a “steward” of property that somehow originates in government coercion acting for “society.” Sunstein makes no distinction between them.
Sunstein’s position was better articulated in an April 2005 blog entry in connection with a YaleUniversity conference, “The Constitution in 2020,” whose subject was the United States in the 21st century and how it should define itself. What should not be conceded at the conference, he suggested, was any notion that the Constitution should be regarded as an absolute defender of individual rights and liberty. An “absolutist” position on them is a natural enemy of “democratic deliberation.” He warned that in debate:
I will be urging that it is important to resist, on democratic grounds, the idea that the document should be interpreted to reflect the view of the extreme right-wing of the Republican Party. This idea, sometimes masquerading under the name of originalism or strict construction, represents a form of judicial hubris; it is bad history and bad law. It should be exposed and rejected as such.
Sunstein’s chief danger is his confessed ambition to be a de facto censor, or, as Ayn Rand characterized such a person in Atlas Shrugged, an intellectual cop. He would be perfect for the role. It is little wonder that Obama nominated him for the office, given the president’s own attempts to stifle freedom of speech and his wish for critics to not “do a lot of talking.”
Cass Sunstein, for all his academic credentials and books, is just another member of the Chicago-Beltway wolf pack. Hear them yelp and howl for "democracy."
Family Security Matters Contributing Editor Edward Cline is the author of a number of novels, and his essays, books reviews, and other nonfiction have appeared in a number of high-profile periodicals. Feedback:

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