Sunday, June 17, 2007

The other day, six Anglican archbishops called for the church to bless the unions of same-sex couples. The Anglican Church of Canada is about to have a big vote on the issue, and depending which way they swing it will either deepen the schism within the worldwide Anglican Communion or further isolate the Episcopal Church of the United States.

But never mind all that. What struck me was the rationale the archbishops came up with. This gay thing, they sighed. We’ve been yakking about it for years. Let’s just get on with it, and then we can get back to the important stuff. “We are deeply concerned that ongoing study,” they fretted, “will only continue to draw us away from issues which are gradually destroying God’s creation — child poverty, racism, global warming, economic injustice, concern for our aboriginal brothers and sisters, and the growing disparity between the rich and the poor.”

That’s it? Anglicans need to fast-track a liturgy for homosexual couples so they can free up time to deal with the real issues like global warming? Half that catalogue of horrors seems to be different ways of saying the same thing (“child poverty… economic injustice… growing disparity”) in order to give a bit of pro forma padding to the totally cool cause du jour of global warming. It is so cool that, if an Anglican archbishop shows up at a climate-change conference, he’ll be lucky to get in the room and if he does he’ll be stuck at the table with the wonky leg next to the toilet, barely able to see the Most Rev. Almer Gortry up on stage doing his power-point presentation and warning that rising sea levels will send tidal waves crashing through every homosexual wedding reception in Provincetown by Saturday afternoon.

Everyone’s “dealing with” global warming now. The Group of Eight leading industrial nations just devoted their summit to it. Time magazine has a big story this week headlined “The new action heroes.” It’s about Michael Bloomberg in New York and Arnold Schwarzenegger in California, photographed together looking either like a couple of mob enforcers or a same-sex couple who’ve just been told the church was double-booked for a Jerry Falwell memorial. But, either way, this heroic pair are not like these do-nothings in Congress, mired in partisan bickering. They’re men of action who are getting things done.

What are they doing? Why, Mr. Bloomberg was “opening a climate summit” and “talking about saving the planet.” All of it, including the bits west of the Holland Tunnel. And Mr. Schwarzenegger was “talking about eliminating disease.” All of them. “I look forward to curing all these terrible illnesses,” he announced.

As Madame Cornuel observed, no man is a hero to his valet. But fortunately it’s a lot easier to be a hero to your typist, especially when it’s Time’s Michael Grunwald. “They’re tackling not just the climate,” he says, anxious not to give the impression they’re a couple of slackers bunking off for golf after lunch. No, sir. These action heroes are “doing big things that Washington has failed to do.” Mr. Bloomberg, coos Mr. Grunwald, “also enacted America’s most draconian smoking ban and the first big-city trans-fat ban.”

At one level, Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Schwarzenegger have a point. Why wait for national or international action when a mayor or governor can just get on with it? But the assumptions underpinning Time’s paean to the new action heroes all operate in one direction — toward increased government regulation and restraint on individual judgment.

The argument for this is that the state has an interest in a healthy work force: If you’re poor and get lung cancer, you’ll fill up hospital rooms at public expense. If that’s true, the state arguably has a greater interest in you continuing to smoke and dying young: The ever-aging population of the Western world will be the biggest single burden on state resources in the coming decades.

More broadly, it might be truer still to say the individual, unlike the state, therefore has an interest in stopping and reversing government annexation of health care — because that argument can be used to justify almost any restraint on freedom. In the end, you may not get the government health care anyway.

Under Britain’s National Health Service, smokers in Manchester have been denied treatment for heart disease, and the obese in Suffolk are refused hip and knee replacement. Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary, says it’s appropriate to decline treatment on the basis of “lifestyle choices.” Today, it’s smokers and the obese. But, if a homosexual guy has condom-less sex with multiple partners, why should his “lifestyle choices” get a pass? Health-care costs can be used to justify anything.

And, if becoming a charge of the state is the issue, then Gov. Schwarzenegger is a complete squish on California’s real health crisis. His state’s emergency rooms have been reduced to Quebec-level waiting times because of the strains of providing free health care to the legions of the undocumented Americans. One-third of the patients in Los Angeles County hospitals are illegal immigrants, and they’ve overwhelmed the system. Dozens of emergency rooms in the state have closed this decade after degenerating into an unfunded de facto Mexican health-care network. If you’re a legal resident of California, your health system is worse than it was a decade ago and will be worse still in a decade’s time. Fortunately, by then your action-hero governor will have cured “all these terrible illnesses” and there will be no need for California’s last seven hospitals.

The illegal immigration question is an interesting test of government in action, at least on core responsibilities like defense of the nation. When critics of this “comprehensive” bill demand enforcement of the borders, the administration says: Boy, you’re right there. We’re with you on that. We want enforcement, too. But we can’t get it as long as you’re holding up this “comprehensive reform.”

Why not? There are immigration laws on the books now, aren’t there? Why not try enforcing them? Every day, you can switch on the news and see some illegal immigrant complaining about this bill to a TV reporter — on camera and giving his name. “Living in the shadows” translates as “I’m ready for my close-up now.” The same people who say government is a mighty power for good that can extinguish every cigarette butt and detoxify every cheeseburger and even change the very climate of the planet back to some Edenic state so that the water that falleth from the heaventh will land as ice and snow, and polar bears on distant continents will frolic as they did in days of yore, the very same people say: Building a border fence? Enforcing deportation orders? Can’t be done, old boy. You’re dreaming. Cloud-cuckoo stuff. Pie-in-the-sky.

But refrigerated pie-in-the-sky with frozen whipped cream once we cool down the planet? That we can do.

In such a world, let us salute a far rarer politician than Nanny Bloomberg: “What is at risk is not the climate but freedom,” said the Czech President Vaclav Klaus this week. “I see the biggest threat to freedom, democracy, the market economy and prosperity now in ambitious environmentalism, not in communism. This ideology wants to replace the free and spontaneous evolution of mankind by a sort of central [now global] planning.”

Go back to those Canadian archbishops who want to worry about “child poverty.” Poor children are the children of poor grown-ups. If the state assumes responsibility for those children from their parents, what kind of adults are you likely to end up with? And if you can’t trust free-born citizens to reach their own judgments on cheeseburgers, what can you trust them with?

Mark Steyn is the senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator, and a nationally syndicated columnist.

Mark Steyn, 2005

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