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  • Extremely Disturbing

    Posted by David Foster on May 5th, 2009 (All posts by )

    Obama has nominated Cass Sunstein, who he knows from the University of Chicago, to be “regulatory czar.” Apparently, Sunstein has proposed that web sites be required to link to opposing opinions. He has argued that the Internet is anti-democratic because users can choose to view only those opinions that they want to see, and has gone so far as to say:

    A system of limitless individual choices, with respect to communications, is not necessarily in the interest of citizenship and self-government,” he wrote. “Democratic efforts to reduce the resulting problems ought not be rejected in freedom’s name.

    The forced-linking proposal makes about as much sense as requiring that when you buy a political book at a bookstore, the store must also require you to buy books of contrary views. (And anyhow, how to you force the person to read the book or follow the link? Will there be a test? Penalties for failing to pass? Withdrawal of book-buying or web-browsing “privileges?”) Sunstein’s proposal is almost certainly unconstitutional–moreover, it is philosophically primitive. There are not one or two dissenting views from any opinion: there are thousands of them, incorporating widely differing conceptual frameworks. Who, in Sunstein’s world, would decide which views, as expressed by which authors, would be required to be linked? Probably either a government agency or a “service” run by a politically-well-connected corporation. A better way to suppress innovative thought would be difficult to imagine.

    Sunstein has apparently now rethought his proposal, explaining that it would be “too difficult to regulate [the Internet] in a way that would respond to those concerns.” He also admitted that the proposal would have serious constitutional issues. But the fact that he ever made such a proposal in the first place raises serious questions about whether he should be in a position of governmental power.

    The “regulatory czar” position for Sunstein was troublesome enough: I now see that he is being considered for the Supreme Court that is opening up as a result of David Souter’s retirement.

    Sunstein is clearly a smart guy, but as a generally-favorable BusinessWeek review of his book (“Going to Extremes”) points out:

    There’s a whiff of elitism in Sunstein’s apparent call for enlightened experts (like himself) to gently correct the cockeyed masses.

    I’d say it’s more than a whiff.

    (via Kathy Shaidle)

    Also of great concern should be the nomination of Harold Koh as legal advisor to the Obama State Department. Koh has spoken strongly in favor of “transnational” jurisprudence, meaning the incorporation of foreigh legal principles into U.S. judicial decisions, and has spoken of “America’s human-rights narcissism.”

    PowerLine quotes Koh:

    lawyers, scholars, and activists. . .should make better use of trans-national legal process to press our own government to avoid the most negative and damaging features of American exceptionalism.

    and goes on to point out that:

    (Sunstein’s) approach stands in opposition to the traditional, democratic view that the United States should determine for itself, through its political branches, what its laws will be and whether (or to what extent) international law shall be incorporated into its legal system.

     

    18 Responses to “Extremely Disturbing”

    1. methinks Says:

      Chilling. All of it.

    2. Shannon Love Says:

      In addition to the other objections, I think Sunstein’s initial impulse regarding forced linking reveals an significant ivory tower mindset. In Sustein’s mind, his first impulse the very idea that something would be desirable means that we should try to enact it. The fact that he voiced the idea before thinking about how to go about anyone could actually implement such an idea marks him as an academic daydreamer.

      This is one of the systemic cognitive defects of leftist. They believe that understanding what is desirable is the hard part. Non-leftist, by contrast, think it easy to see what would be desirable and instead concentrate on the real world tradeoffs necessary to attempt to reach the desirable outcome.

      So, a non-leftist might readily agree that it would be good if everyone got balanced information from the internet but then would instantly start thinking about everything you would have to tradeoff to reach that balance. They would quickly decide that it was impossible to reach such a balance and that the coercive mechanisms required to force people to add balance would create such high negative externalities as to obviate any possible good.

      By “quickly”, I mean within seconds. I don’t think a non-leftist would even bother to commit the idea to paper.

      Putting a person with such an ivory tower “if it looks good at first glance let’s do it,” perspective in charge of regulation is a bad, bad idea.

    3. Jonathan Says:

      I’m with Glenn Reynolds on this one. Obama is going to appoint the most leftist people he can get away with. While Sunstein is a leftist he is also a thoughtful and, from what I have read, a decent and reasonable man and many of the people Obama would appoint instead of him are worse.

    4. Lexington Green Says:

      “… many of the people Obama would appoint instead of him are worse.”

      Word.

      Sunstein would be a relief compared some of the people we could end up with.

    5. Andrew_M_Garland Says:

      “Sunstein’s proposal is almost certainly unconstitutional”

      In a short while, any liberal proposal for control and “fairness” is going to be constitutional, under the new living, breathing, sympathetic constitution as discovered by Obama’s appointees to the Supreme Court.

      I don’t know if Saul Alinsky said “a constitution is only a piece of paper”. I do know that Obama said “he would seek a nominee with ‘a record of excellence and integrity…who understands that justice isn’t about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a case book” and “someone attuned to the ‘daily realities of people’s lives’.

      Isn’t that the same thing?

    6. Rick Darby Says:

      Along with proposals for secession — whether successful or not, they’ll be gathering points for the Opposition — I’d like to see a renewed push for an amendment to abolish the Supreme Court’s self-assumed privilege of declaring laws unconstitutional, with no recourse. Right now the Supreme Court is the most unconstitutional element in the government. Checks and balances can’t make it through its doorway. The justices are politically appointed lifelong tyrants.

    7. Ginny Says:

      Off topic (or perhaps not): What the hell is a “regulatory czar”?

      That such interesting notions are seen as the best we are likely to get by people who a) I respect, b) have some knowledge of the people involved, and c) are some of the most grounded libertarians I know is in itself a bit worrisome. How much worse is there out there? Or is this a matter of a nice guy who has been categorized with unfair sound bites? Or a nice guy so people think he can’t possiblly think that?

    8. renminbi Says:

      HL Mencken said “… an intellectual is someone who thinks because a rose smells better than a cabbage it will make better soup.”

      This is what happens to people who can live vicariously through their intellect. They get cut off from reality and, if allowed to, become a danger to their fellow citizens.

    9. Robert Schwartz Says:

      Things Sunstein has going for him:

      First, his new gf is way hotter than his old old lady.

      Second, the accumulation of Tsars in the White House foretells bureaucratic turf wars and administrative clusterf***s out of Kafka, or perhaps more ethnically correct, Gogol. As the old Railroad Baron, Ed Ball, used to toast: “Confusion to the Enemy”.

      When your enemy is disposing of his forces in a manner that will weaken him, it behooves you to keep you yap shut.

    10. Helen Says:

      What’s with all these czars? We have them here, as well. They have all ended badly though not as badly as some of the original czars, including and especially the last one, Nicholas II. You’d think people would avoid that description. Not a particularly efficient way of running anything and frequently the ending is painful.

    11. Tom Says:

      What contrary points did Sunstein link to?

    12. Lexington Green Says:

      Sunstein was going to be the Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs of the Office of Management and Budget. Say that three times fast. So, it is a real office, not one of those bogus “czar” gigs. His ideas for it were actually pretty good, basically try to make the rules more rational and consistent. It is likely that if someone were focused on it, some good could be done in that area.

      As to Sunstein on SCOTUS, I would prefer to see Obama go the opposite way and appoint someone who is or has been a trial judge, rather than a law professor. Here in Chicago, there has been talk about Ruben Castillo, a U.S. District Court judge, as a possible pick. I do not know what Judge Castillo’s ideology is, but he is well regarded as a judge. It is unusual to pick someone from the District Court and put them directly onto the Supreme Court. I do not know when it last happened. That would be a truly outstanding pick, given that we are quite likely to see ideologically terrible (from the standpoint of this blog and most of its readers) appointments from Obama.

    13. Robert Schwartz Says:

      Lex: Sunstein hasn’t had a prayer of being nominated to this opening since the moment the Doctor told his momma that it was a boy. And worse than that he is white.

      The gang of miscreants in the White House will make the pick on demographic/political grounds. It is almost certain to be a woman of color, and a loyal Democrat.

    14. Dan from Madison Says:

      “Sunstein has proposed that web sites be required to link to opposing opinions.” Of course this is silly but it cuts both ways. I would love to see that cesspool Daily Kos be forced to do this. Who would they link to for their opposing views I wonder. I truly wonder.

    15. stu Says:

      Does this mean that the Nation magazine will now be required to include a column by Thomas Sowell? Maybe this only applies to sites like The Huffington Post, which will now have David Horowitz as a guest blogger.

    16. tehag Says:

      Alleged difficulties of implementing such a policy will be disappear in practice.

      Who, in Sunstein’s world, would decide which views, as expressed by which authors, would be required to be linked? Courts. It will work as everything else works: abolishing Jim Crow -> affirmative action quotas; decriminalize homosexuality -> punishment for disapproval of gay marriage; Fairness Doctrine-> no right-wing talk radio.

      Of course this is silly but it cuts both ways. No it won’t. “Opposing views” will consist of government-approved views (Obama’s). Anyone who doesn’t agree with them must link to them to give them equal time. All other views are not “opposing views.”

      The occasional majority of American voters who vote against freedom, democracy, prosperity have become a permanent majority. Their will be done. It’s too late to dissent now.

      Does this mean that the Nation magazine will now be required to include a column by Thomas Sowell? No. Only The Nation’s view is an opposing view. Sowell’s view is not an “opposing view.”

    17. UNRR Says:

      This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 5/6/2009, at The Unreligious Right

    18. zenpundit Says:

      “Sunstein would be a relief compared some of the people we could end up with.”

      Yes. I recall Robert Bork’s response to the effect that when Clinton appointed Ruth Bader Ginsburg, conservatives did not realize how lucky they had just gotten off, considering the alternatives.