FLOTSAM & JETSAM: Helicopter politics

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Helicopter politics

Sam Smith - One of the reasons I'm leery of the liberal approach to gun control is that it already shows signs of being what I think of as helicopter politics, which is to say doing to citizens what helicopter parents do to children. Here, for example, is the latest from New York:

NY Times - The most significant new [New York] proposal would require mental health professionals to report to local mental health officials when they believe that patients are likely to harm themselves or others. Law enforcement would then be authorized to confiscate any firearm owned by a dangerous patient; therapists would not be sanctioned for a failure to report such patients if they acted “in good faith.”

... Such a requirement “represents a major change in the presumption of confidentiality that has been inherent in mental health treatment,” said Dr. Paul S. Appelbaum, the director of the Division of Law, Ethics, and Psychiatry at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, who said the Legislature should hold hearings on possible consequences of the proposal.

“The prospect of being reported to the local authorities, even if they do not have weapons, may be enough to discourage patients with suicidal or homicidal thoughts from seeking treatment or from being honest about their impulses,” he said.
Like Mayor Bloomberg's plan to limit the use of certain drugs in hospitals, this is another example of politicians intruding on the space of medicine because, after all, they're the ones in charge.

But beyond this, it is another example of the growing over-simplicity of American politics: a struggle between liberal puritanism and conservative libertarianism.

On the liberal side, as with the children of helicopter parents, everything else gets downgraded or shoved aside in the name of control. Community intervention, institutional assistance, school curriculum, funding of useful programs, all these and much more becomes victims of the god of control.

Which is why we create some 50 new federal crimes every year and have passed more laws in the past few decades than we did in our first two centuries. . . yet have so little to show for it. 

Barack Obama is a classic example of a helicopter politician, as exemplified by a 2,000 page healthcare act that presumes to solve problems in ways that will have outcomes even the experts can't yet predict. Driven not by the classic politics of common sense confronting compromise, but by an uncritical faith in control.

There are plenty of changes in gun laws that could be worked out sensibly, but you need to start with existing consensus and go from there, and not pass laws that, for example, endanger mentally troubled patients just to prove you're doing something because you have the power to do so.