---- — A guy’s walking across a college campus, sees a young woman, grins, winks and, even though he doesn’t know her, says he’d sure like to take someone so beautiful out on a date. She’s offended.
She accuses this fellow student of sexual harassment, and, because of new federal rules, she does not have to show that others might also find his remarks objectionable — as previously required. In proceedings that follow, his interrogators do not presume him innocent and can rule against him despite reasonable doubt. There’s the possibility of a career wrecked by a moment’s resented forwardness.
Sounds incredible, doesn’t it? But much worse has happened and the door is being opened for more shocks. This is the new America, an America that is not quite a democracy anymore, but a country dictated to by tens of thousands of pages of bureaucratically promulgated regulations that cover everything from the amount of water allowed in a toilet to the kind of light bulb we dimwits may buy.
Maybe some think that every tea party needs a pooper, preferably from the Internal Revenue Service, and that red-tape specialists should run everyone’s lives, because, after all, they’re better than we are. The evidence tells us something else. It tells us the administrative state can be grotesquely unfair, unconstitutional, self-contradictory, unspeakably autocratically intrusive, stupid and morally repulsive.
And as if there wasn’t enough already, more imperiousness recently came our way in the form of the Department of Education. In a Wall Street Journal analysis by a student of the subject, we learn of a department letter letting colleges and universities know they’d darn well better know that speech can be a form of sexual harassment deserving swift action. That’s not all. The letter also says that if supposed victims pronounce themselves offended, that’s criterion enough to decide sexual harassment was committed.
Much of higher education may well lower itself to heed this interpretation of federal law, because, if it doesn’t, financial aid and student loans could be lost. Especially when you add these new rules to prior rules, you have a problem. You’ve made speech less free and substituted yet more persecution for justice, which, every American should know, gets trumped elsewhere in our regulatory system. There are said to be so many federal regulations with criminal penalties that no one can be sure of the exact number.
If that’s true, you might wonder how citizens can begin to know what those regulations say. The answer is that they don’t and many stumble into guilty verdicts simply by going about their daily lives with no idea they were doing anything wrong. Two years ago, The Wall Street Journal documented this travesty in an excellent series that pinpointed specific cases that were nothing short of unconscionable in a land that ordinarily evokes pride instead of shame.
President Barack Obama will fix our regulatory mess, won’t he? He brags he will. He doesn’t. In January 2011, he talked about addressing the incredible overlap in government programs, and well he should have. As The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe reported in 2011, Obama’s stimulus was hardly helped by the fact that funding for its crucial transportation projects depended on five agencies using 100 different distribution mechanisms.
Skip two years, and the White House is again pledging action in a situation the Government Accountability Office says is still a bad joke. Some old problems were addressed, but new ones developed. A report in The Fiscal Times notes that all this program duplication represents “about $95 billion in potential cost savings” — $10 billion more than the money saved by the sequester cuts.
For more bad news, note the Heritage Foundation’s estimate that the increased economic cost of regulations in Obama’s first term was likely more than seen in any other administration and its prediction that new regulations headed our way will badly burden an economy struggling to get going.
I find that probability offensive and suspect many others do, too.
Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. Email SpeaktoJay@aol.com.