Monday, September 25, 2006

Gas Prices vs Constitutional Principles

I read over the weekend that gas prices are going down. I have also read some suspicions that this may be a bid on the part of the energy companies to help ensure that the Republicans keep control of the Senate and the House. If true, then it is having its desired effect, as people cite lower gasoline prices as one of the reasons for their shift in attitude.

Accusations of Conspiracy

I'm one of those who believe that accusations require evidence. It is never the job of the accused to prove that he is innocent - it is the job of the accuser to make his case. It is intellectually irresponsible to adopt a belief of guilt in the absence of evidence.

This is not to say that it is wrong to be suspicious. Every criminal investigator knows that you start the investigation with the most likely suspects, even if the only evidence one has a statistical correlation of past cases. When investigating a murder, start the list of suspects with those who knew the victim - friends, family. If somebody reports finding a bomb or a house on fire, that person is likely to be the bomber or the arsonist, looking for an opportunity to be a hero.

A drop in gasoline prices of 24 cents in two weeks? Well, energy companies are being lead by people who desire to keep a Republican majority in both houses of Congress. They believe that if they lower the price of gasoline that Republican candidates will get more votes, increasing the chance that they will retain control of Congress. They have means, motive, and opportunity. It may be time to start an investigation to see if we can find a smoking gun.

We have reason for suspicion. However, those who assert that the verdict is "guilty" based on this evidence are people who either do not understand or who do not care enough to uphold the basic principles of justice.

We also have a history of prior offenses, at least on the part of Exxon-Mobile. This company has heavily funded a campaign to deny global warming. This proves that they have no interest in truth or fiction. They are willing to risk having whole cities destroyed so that the value of their stock goes up. We certainly have no evidence that they would have moral objections that would prevent them from subverting the democratic process for personal gain.

A Question of Priorities

Yet, these data suggest an even more important moral concern than the energy company’s' moral failings. These data suggest that such a strategy, if it were intentional, would work. However, for such a strategy to work, we need a significant portion of the population who would be willing to sell several key provisions of the Constitution of the United States for 25 cents per gallon.

Imagine a gasoline station putting a sign on its window that says, "Special discount; 10% off for those who will renounce key provisions of the Bill of Rights."

Imagine a line of eager customers eagerly waiting for the station to open.

This data suggests that the country is filled with such people. They do not base their vote on whether substantial portions of the Constitution are being defended or undermined. They base their vote on the price of gasoline, with their vote going to those who would undermine the Constitution as long as the price of gasoline has dropped by 25 cents per gallon.

The data do not suggest that this is a huge portion of the population. We are talking, perhaps, three or four people out of every 100. However, they may be the ones who determine who wins and loses in the upcoming election, giving the edge to those whose record is clearly one of undermining the Constitution.

This argument does not depend in any way on whether Exxon-Mobile is subverting the democratic process for political gain. The drop in gasoline prices might be entirely due to market forces. Yet, whatever the cause of this reduction happens to be, the effect is to entice a group of people who are willing to shift their vote. The effect alone (regardless of the cause) tells us that there is a group of people in this country who will sell several important provisions of the Constitution for 25 cents per gallon, and that these types of people find Democratic candidates more attractive than Republican candidates.

Constitutional Principles and Morality

I want to remind the readers that I never defend the Constitution for its own sake. I have never been one who says that, just because something is in the Constitution, this means that it is right and must be defended. Slavery was once written into the Constitution. Yet, it was never right and never worthy of defense.

This time, however, we are talking about constitutional provisions and principles that the founding fathers got right. We are talking about the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth Amendments to the Constitution, as well as the doctrine of separation of powers, which requires one branch (e.g., the Executive) to work with the other branches before it can usurp the rights of the people. These, I argue, are important moral principles that are worthy of our defense.

These are principles that are so important to some people that they not only refuse to sell those principles for 25 cents per gallon, they sacrifice life and limb in defense of those principles. It is tragic, in a sense, for them to die to protect something that those who benefit from their death sell so cheaply.


I am also aware of the fact that many of those who are selling their Constitutional rights for such a low price do not actually see their actions in this light. The do not think of the fact that they are selling their Constitutional rights. They are like the rock collector who sells 'just another rock,' for a few dollars, only to discover that the rock they sold was a rare gem worth millions of dollars - or, in this case, worth hundreds of thousands of lives.

Yet, they are not entirely off the hook for not realizing the value of what they sell. It is something that they ought to know. They are selling not only their own rights but those of their neighbors - those of people who consider these rights worth a whole lot more than 25 cents per gallon. When a person's actions affect others in this way, they have an obligation to consider the effect, and may be held morally responsible for negligence if they do harm to others that they should have realized was harm.


Ultimately, my objection applies to anybody who thinks that the price of gasoline is an election issue. Who are these people who, against a backdrop of war, terror, torture, rendition, arbitrary arrest, indefinite imprisonment without trials, warrantless searches and seizures, put these considerations aside and allow their vote to be decided on what happens to the price of gas over the course of a couple of weeks.

We are not even talking about any type of absolute benefit, but only a relative benefit over the course of a couple of weeks. I am forced to wonder if those who love the Bush Administration because the price of gasoline went up to $3.00 two weeks ago and has now dropped to $2.75, would have found the Bush Administration even more admirable if the price of gas had risen to $3.50 then dropped to $3.00. The values expressed by this particular block of voters suggests that they would have been ecstatic at such news.

I think that people need to let this voting block in on a little secret. They can go ahead and collect any savings on gasoline that exists between now and election day, and still vote to protect and defend the principles written into the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Nobody is tallying up how much money you save with the plan on asking for the money back in November if the public's defense of the Constitution should fail. In this case, you can have your cheep gas prices for a few weeks and your Constitutional rights.

You just need to decide if those rights are worth defending.


Sheldon said...

"However, those who assert that the verdict is "guilty" based on this evidence are people who either do not understand or who do not care enough to uphold the basic principles of justice."

Alternatively, and just as likely. There are many people who are just more likely to settle on conclusions that they are predisposed to believe. They may simply not be accustumed to reflecting on their conclusion and how they arrived at them.

Regardless, as usual, an excellent and thought provoking article.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Actually, Sheldon, I classify those who "settle on conclusions they are predisposed to believe" without a fair and just evaluation of the evidence to be people who "do not understand or who do not care enough to uphold the basic principles of justice."

A person of character will recognize their own predisposition and take that into consideration, to the point of recusing himself and claiming, "I'm biased. I cannot render a just and impartial judgment."