FLOODGATES AND SLIPPERY SLOPES
Tuesday, July 6, 2022
"The time will soon be here when my grandchild will long for the cry of a loon, the flash of a salmon, the whisper of spruce needles, or the screech of an eagle. But he will not make friends with any of these creatures and when his heart aches with longing, he will curse me. Have I done all to keep the air fresh? Have I cared enough about the water? Have I left the eagle to soar in freedom? Have I done everything I could to earn my grandchild's fondness?"
Chief Dan George
Over the past few weeks, two occurrences have left me more troubled than usual — latest school shooting in Texas and the baby formula shortage. These incidents lead my weary mind to ask the question: What is our cultural and governmental policy toward children? To me the future seems bleak.
In 1978, the late Marvin Gaye wrote and sang the song "Save the Children." The context of that song was the Vietnam War and Gaye's concern about the effect of war on children. In today's political climate, it seems that our children are now facing a different kind of war: a cultural and governmental conflict that fails to protect them. We would be wise to heed Gaye's warning that to save the world we must save our children.
So, what do slippery slopes and floodgates have to do with our cultural or governmental policies toward children?
Let me first address the baby formula shortage.
From the meager press reporting on this critical issue, it appears that a single factory owned by Abbott Labs was closed due to a possible contamination of its production of baby formula. It is unclear whether Abbott shut the plant voluntarily or whether the government forced the shutdown. It also was reported that in the US there are only four manufacturers of baby formula. No one seems to have anticipated the national effect on the shuttering of the Abbott plant until the supply reached critically short levels.
I do not know what the time period was between the shutdown of the plant and when everyone realized that there was a danger of seriously short supplies. The government had previously imposed strict import regulations and tariffs on the importation of baby formulas from Europe and banned importation of baby formulas from China. In light of the known limitations on imported formula, the closure of a key US based plant surely must have signaled at least the possibility of the shortage crisis. If memory serves, and I believe it does, we have had many incidents of contaminated food and drugs over the years. In past instances when plants were closed there was a concerted effort to get them quickly cleaned up and running. Not so for baby formula.
The government's temporary solution was to import formula, duty free, from Europe to stem the tide. Bully for that effort, but where is the investment in an infrastructure to assure that this would not happen again? Corporate culture seems to have minimized the need for baby formula; it must be a product with a low profit margin. Shuttering a plant was probably seen as a cost savings effort — after all, bottom line takes precedence over babies. Since babies don't vote, politicians don't react. When governmental policy puts a low priority on children, and concern for profits exceeds concern for human lives, I think our future is in jeopardy.
Now, let me turn to Uvalde, Texas. An 18-year-old boy without a criminal history, but maybe emotional problems, buys two assault weapons with enough ammunition to create mayhem and murder in an elementary school, which ultimately cost 17 children and two adults their lives and caused unimaginable stress on the surviving children and family members. Whether more aggressive police action would have saved any of those children remains an unanswered question. People argue that because it is the person, not the gun, who does the killing the Second Amendment does not create a risk and therefore must be preserved in its most extreme form. To preserve a "constitutional right," we the people must endure this risk, we are told, because otherwise the rights of some to "keep and bear Arms" — even against children — outweigh our collective need for safety and security.
Franklin D. Roosevelt's famous "Four Freedoms" speech in 1941 placed freedom from fear as one of four essential human rights. (The other three freedoms were freedom of speech, freedom of worship and freedom of want.)
What is our government doing to eliminate the very real feeling of fear amongst our children and adult citizenry?
On the perspective of the gun crisis, 'freedom from fear' can be only be realized when individuals no longer have unfettered access to armaments that put them in a position to commit acts of mass physical aggression.
Children today do not have this freedom from fear, nor do they vote, nor do they have well-funded lobbyists to advocate for them. Just to live in our society and go to school, they must endure regular active-shooter drills, lectures on evil people and the failure of parents and teachers to be able to comfort them after a disaster like Uvalde — all because those who worship the second amendment have opposed any regulations to keep weapons out of the hands of people whose activities remain legal up until the exact moment when they start shooting children and teachers.
Professor Thomas B. Crocker (University of South Carolina law school) says that, "proposals to make schools more like fortresses only add to the costs children bear rather than addressing the root constitutional problem — that insufficient regulation of guns impairs the liberties of all."
How can our political class live with themselves?
So, what does all this have to do with slippery slopes and floodgates? While both of these expressions have been used most often in legal contexts, they have gained popularity with our elected officials. Wikipedia tells us that the "slippery slope argument in logic, critical thinking, political rhetoric and caselaw is an argument in which a party asserts that relatively small first steps lead to a chain of related events culminating in some significant (usually negative) effect." The core of the slippery slope argument is that a specific decision under debate is likely to result in unintended consequences. Despite our recognition of the danger to innocent people, when applied to gun control, the slippery slope phenomenon in our current political rhetoric indicates that any legislation dealing with gun control will lead to an abolition of second amendment rights, and other constitutionally guaranteed rights.
The floodgates concept probably emanates from the Bible's Book of Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament. The quote is: "'Test me in this,' says the Lord Almighty, 'and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit.'"
There is a disparity in our cultural zeitgeist: in the ways of guns control, we have a paucity of regulations, but when it comes to the baby formula crisis, we have arguably too much regulation.
What we don't need is the application of tired expressions like slippery slopes and opening the floodgates to resolve our social problems. What we do need is common sense regulation.
Polls indicate that there is overwhelming support for increased background checks, red flag laws and mental health restrictions. Polls disappointingly indicate that support for a ban on assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, and restrictions on handguns is lacking. I have yet to see a poll on or study of the baby formula crisis, or prioritizing profit over needy babies. We need to impress on our government that the American culture protects and cherishes our children.
Doing nothing at all at the governmental levels is not an option if we are to "save the children," and as Gaye predicted, "save a world destined to die."