y Fred Reed, (Fred On Everything) columnist for The Washington Times

    We tell ourselves that in America we are the Free People.  I wonder
whether we might not better be called the Obedient People, the Passive
People, or the Admonished People.  I doubt that any country, anywhere,
has been so regulated, controlled, and directed as we are.  We are bred
to obey.  And obey we do.

    It begins with the sheer volume of law, rules, and administrative
duties.  Most of the regulation makes sense in isolation, or can be made
plausible.  Yet there is so much of it.  (One illegal act can result in
being charged for violating several applicable laws with accumulated
penalties.  This is why the USA has the world's largest percentage of
its population imprisoned.)

    Used to be if you wanted a dog, you got a dog.  It wasn't really the
government's business.  Today you need a dog license, a shot card for the
dog, a collar and tags, proof that the poor beast has been neutered, and
you have to keep it on a leash and walk it only in designated places.
Its all so we don't get rabies.

    Or consider cars.  You have to have a title, insurance, and keep it
up to date; tags, county sticker, inspection sticker, emissions test.
Depending where you are, you can't have chips in the windshield, and you
need a zoned parking permit.  You have to wear a seatbelt.  And of course
there are unending traffic laws.  You can get a ticket for virtually
anything, usually without knowing that you were doing anything wrong.

   Then there's paperwork.  If you have a couple of daughters with
college funds in the stock market, annually you have to fill out three
sets of federal taxes, three sets of state, and file four state and four
federal estimated tax forms, per person, for a total of twenty-four.
This doesn't include personal property taxes for the county, business
licenses, tangible business-assets forms, and so on.

    Now, I'm not suggesting that all these laws are bad.  Stupid,
frequently, but evil, no.  Stopping at traffic lights is probably a good
idea, and certainly is if I'm crossing the street.  But the laws never
end.  Bring a doughnut on the subway, and you get arrested.  Don't
replace your windows without permission in writing from the condo
association.  Nothing is too trivial to be regulated.  Nothing is not
some government's business.

    I wonder whether the habit of constant obedience to infinitely
numerous rules doesn't inculcate a tendency to obey any rule at all.  By
having every aspect of one's life regulated in detail, does one not
become accustomed to detailed regulation?  That is, detailed obedience?

    For many it may be hard to remember freer times.  Yet they existed.
In 1964, when I graduated from high school in rural Virginia, there were
speed limits, but nobody much enforced them, or much obeyed them.  If you
wanted to fish, you needed a pole, not a license.  You fished where you
wanted, not in designated fishing zones.  If you wanted to carry your
rifle to the bean field to shoot whistle pigs, you just did it.  You
didn't need a license and nobody got upset.

    To buy a shotgun in the country store, you needed money, not a
background check, waiting period, proof of age, certificate of training,
and a registration form.  If your tail light burned out, then you only
had one tail light.  If you wanted to park on a back road with your girl
friend, the cops, all both of them, didn't care.  If you wanted to swim
in the creek, you didn't need a Coast Guard approved life jacket.

    It felt different.  You lived in the world as you found it, and
behaved because you were supposed to, but you didn't feel as though you
were in a white-collar prison.  And if anybody had asked us, we would
have said that the freedom was worth more to us than any slightly greater
protection against rabies, thank you.  Which nobody ever got anyway.

    Today, the Mommy State never leaves off protecting us from things I'd
just as soon not be protected from.  We must wear a helmet on a
motorcycle.  Why is it Mommy Government's business whether I wear a
helmet?  In fact I do wear one, but it should be my decision.

    And so it goes from administrative minutiae (emissions inspections)
to gooberish Mommyknowsbestism ("Wea-a-ar your lifejacket, Johnny!") to
important moral decisions.  Obey in small things, obey in large things.

    You must hire the correct proportion of this and that ethnic group,
watch your sex balance, prove that you have the proper attitude toward
homosexuals.  You must let your children be politically indoctrinated in
appropriate values, must let your daughter get an abortion without
telling you, must accept affirmative action no matter how morally
repugnant you find it.  And we do.  We are the obedient people.

    As the regulation of our behavior becomes more pervasive, so does the
mechanism of enforcement grow more nearly omnipresent.  In Washington,
if you eat on the subway, they really will put you in handcuffs, as they
recently did to a girl of twelve.  In 1964 in King George County, the cop
would have said, "Sally, stop that."  Arresting a child for sucking on a
sourball would never have entered a state trooper's mind.

    Which brings us to an ominous observation.  America is absolutely
capable of totalitarianism.  It won't be the jackbooted variety, but
rather a mindless, bureaucratic insistence on conformity.  What we call
political correctness is an American approach to political control.

    Think about it. Arresting the girl eating on the subway, confiscating
nail clippers at security gates, the countless ejections from school of
little boys for drawing soldiers or the Trade Centers in flames, playing
cowboys and Indians, for pointing a chicken finger and saying Bang.

    This isn't intelligent authoritarianism aimed at purposeful if
disagreeable ends.  It is the behavior of petty and stupid people, of
minor minds over-empowered, ignorant, but angry and charmed to find that
they can push others around.  It is the exercise of power by people who
have no business having any. (The Judicial branch of government has
usurped power over the Executive and Legislative branches, but the judges
who ignored the required "good behavior" should be impeached.)--Fred Reed