We're becoming a nation of creeping, crawling minions, and more might notice it except for the cheering. It's loud because the responsible regulations are always presented as acts of salvation, and that's the case with the approaching Labor Department edict on hiring the disabled.
The yapping bureaucrats would have you believe they are singing angels as they try to justify a new quota for the 200,000 entities doing business with the federal government. If those small firms, big corporations and universities want to keep their $700 billion worth of contracts, 7 percent of their hires will have to be disabled applicants, and isn't that kind-hearted?
Actually, it is not. For starters, it is a phony interpretation of the 1970s disabilities law that was never intended to be an affirmative action measure, some note. The Labor Department replies that the quota isn't affirmative action, which is akin to saying a nose punch is not a nose punch, just cosmetic surgery.
Writings on the issue show that businesses are hiring the disabled at about the same rate as government, that Social Security's disability program is taking many of the disabled out of the workplace and that those available for jobs total less than the 7 percent figure.
It does get confusing because the government has lately been counting alcoholics, drug addicts and the depressed as among the disabled. Companies cannot legally ask applicants whether they are disabled, which complicates the whole process. By the way, it has been argued that there is a cheap rescue for companies that can't live up to the new hiring requirement: Get to a more satisfactory representation of the disabled in the workplace by firing appropriate numbers of the able-bodied.
Most of us do want the least fortunate among us to have more fortune, and worrying about helping the disabled is hardly evil, but what we have here is one more artificial, arbitrary piece of unworkable regulatory overreach that is nearly at the tipping point in America.
The Heritage Foundation has noted that the federal government regulates just about everything, mentioning "toilets, showerheads, light bulbs, mattresses, washing machines, dryers, cars, ovens, refrigerators, television sets and bicycles" by way of introducing a list that goes on with details for 73,000 pages in the Federal Register.
The cost in economic output has been put at $1.3 trillion, and the hurt is huge, even to the extent of preventable fatalities. Especially when you consider how state and local governments also play this game with just as many unintended consequences, you begin to understand just how right the prescient Alexis de Tocqueville was when he wrote about the barest beginnings of the phenomenon in his 1835 book, "Democracy in America."
In a widely quoted passage, this visiting Frenchman said those in authority in American government thought they had to watch over the citizenry. Their use of power was "absolute, attentive to detail, regular, provident and gentle. It would resemble the paternal power if, like that power, it had as its object to prepare men for manhood, but it seeks, to the contrary, to keep them irrevocably fixed in childhood."
The "sovereign," he continued, puts its arms around us through "petty regulations" too complicated for anyone to figure out. He added that it "does not tyrannize; it gets in the way; it curtails, it enervates, it extinguishes, it stupefies," ultimately reducing the people to timid animals "of which the government is the shepherd."
One day, said Tocqueville, the despotism will grow nastier and harder, though some of us figure there are ways to fight back: elect its enemies and start rescinding the bad old regulations and more closely review new ones. The question is whether large numbers of us have already become what Tocqueville feared: too little imbued with individualistic spirit to act purposefully. I hope not.
Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, lives in Colorado. Email: SpeaktoJay@aol.com.