Who Decides?

I used to tell my students that the Bill of Rights, read as an organic whole, answers a deceptively simple question: who decides? Not “what decision should be made” but who gets to make it? Who chooses the book you read, the God you do–or do not–worship, the person you marry?

The Bill of Rights draws a line between decisions government can properly make and decisions that, in a free society, must be left to the individual. One of the reasons the Dobbs decision was so shocking was that –suddenly–the government was authorized to enter a zone of intimacy from which it had long been banned; as I have often remarked, the question was never “should abortion be legal or illegal”? The question was (and is) who should decide that question in an individual situation?

America’s raging culture war tends to focus on the extent to which our individual rights are protected from government interference. MAGA Republicans insist that government has the right–the duty!–to determine everything from your reading materials to your reproductive decisions. As many former Republicans have noted, the “war on woke” is really a war on the Bill of Rights, and a sharp departure from what used to be GOP orthodoxy.

This deviation from that past Republican orthodoxy isn’t limited to the usurpation of individual life decisions. The party has also jettisoned its former support for free markets, as Dana Milbank recently documented.

Can you remember when Republicans still believed in the free market?
It was sometime before Donald Trump started routine attacks on the “globalists” of Goldman Sachs and the leaders of large U.S. corporations; before Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis used tax policy to attack the Walt Disney Co. because it dared to disagree with his “don’t say gay” legislation; before congressional Republicans harassed social media companies and book publishers over alleged “censorship” of their views; before they threatened Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and Major League Baseball over their support for voting rights; before they vowed to use federal resources to retaliate against the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for backing a few Democrats; before Republican governors enacted laws overriding private employers’ coronavirus vaccination policies; and before GOP-led states moved to disrupt interstate commerce to block abortion access and morning-after pills.

This week brought the latest evidence that the former party of laissez-faire capitalism has reimagined itself in the image of a Soviet State Planning Committee. Republican lawmakers are now telling investors which businesses they can and can’t invest in — and which investment criteria they will be permitted to consider.

Republicans have taken the culture war to business, in efforts to prevent asset managers from considering “environmental, social and governance” criteria, or ESG, when making their investments. Milbank quoted Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes’ assertion that there is a “conspiracy” of ESG-minded investors.

He was particularly worried that “asset managers who collectively own significant percentages of utilities’ stock are improperly influencing the operations of those utilities.”

Imagine that! The shareholders who own a company are trying to influence its operations! Will nobody rid us of this capitalist menace?

Twenty-five Red State attorneys general have sued to block a federal regulation that allows retirement-plan investors to consider ESG standards. The rule doesn’t mandate that investors do so. It merely gives them the option.

As one Democratic critic of this interference with business decisions points out, these rules block asset managers from

considering whether a car company “is aligned with market expectations and preparing for the shift to electric vehicles,” whether a pharmaceutical company “has exposure to massive lawsuits because of its role in the opioid epidemic” or whether “health-care companies understaff their operations and jeopardize the safety of patients.. ..ESG is simply additional information that investment professionals use to assess risk and return prospects.”

In our current “through the looking-glass” world, Democrats are defending the free market against Republican support for a planned economy that mandates what businesses have to invest in. Shades of Soviet central planning!

When I first became politically active, I was drawn to principles espoused by the then-Republican Party, especially its recognition that individual liberty requires limiting the power of the state. There were and are good faith arguments about where the line should be drawn in a variety of situations (and widespread misunderstandings of what “limited” government means. “Limited” is not the equivalent of “small”–a limited government respects limits on its authority, not its size.)

A government that can dictate your prayers, your reading materials, your reproductive decisions and your business’s approach to investment isn’t just unAmerican–it’s heading toward Soviet-style totalitarianism or Taliban-style theocracy.

In a genuinely free society, the decisions citizens and businesses make are far less important than who has the right to make them.


  1. I think it’s more Taliban- than Soviet-style. Both are very authoritarian, but the Taliban case is (more transparently) based on religion and misogyny.

    To Sheila, it must drive your civics-centred brain crazy that so many of these people truly believe they are _defenders_ of the constitution and bill of rights.

  2. One doesn’t have to look too far beyond the campaign coffers of the red states to see who influences these maniacs.

    My only problem is both political parties are performative. One doesn’t have to be woke to see how they handle the debt ceiling. These guys all hold stocks…are any of them shorting the market or buying put options?


    Do you think the market managers are fortune tellers?

    Once you step away from the game, it’s pretty easy to see the sleazy way it’s played, including the media underwriting the propaganda.

    Now that the Russian conspiracy has been debunked, does anybody want to look at Seth Rich’s murder?? 😉

  3. I agree with this analysis and with John H. It is more Taliban than Soviet style leaving the question “why?”
    Perhaps the answer is that so many people are terribly fearful all the time. Not so much of the changes themselves, or the speed those changes are taking place, but rather the unpredictability of those changes. In such fear they turn to the magical thinking of religion, the false sense of security of guns, and any demagogic fool with a megaphone. It is easy, too easy, to lead otherwise good people to attack their own in the name of their own safety.

  4. “Limited is not the equivalent of small – a limited government respects limits on its authority, not its size.” Excellent point. A huge, diverse, modern country can’t be well served by a small, backward government. And democracy cannot be sustained under a government that outlaws dissent.

  5. “In a genuinely free society, the decisions citizens and businesses make are far less important than who has the right to make them.”

    And how deeply will the coming inundation of AI penetrate into the lessening of our rights to decide at any level? Even those working in and creating AI have warned there are not enough regulations to provide safety measures; like the deregulation of Climate Change regarding protecting the environment from further destruction. AI comes with the same possibility of “garbage in, garbage out” in our electronically run lives; who will be creating the AI sources and what is their source of information? AI appears to me to be the coming of a dictatorship not unlike Trump’s MAGA, White Nationalist, Freedom Caucus which now has this country on the precipice of defaulting on our debts at the global level. To end the ongoing discussions, McCarthy will have to give up enough to prevent this from happening to have the House members vote him out (which he agreed to for their votes) and immediately put Marjory Taylor Greene in the Speaker position to carry out Trump’s agenda…with or without Trump. McCarthy alone, without the FIFTEEN VOTES it took with him relinquishing any and all common sense decisions as Speaker, MIGHT not have been a poor choice. But…it wasn’t and isn’t McCarthy who is speaking from the position of Speaker of the House, it is Trump’s insane agenda being carried out.

    “Who Decides?” It sure as hell won’t be us.

  6. Off topic, but only a bit, I read this morning that Mike Prince’s allies are forming a super Pac. That led me to wonder who has so much time, money, and is clueless enough to be a Pence ally? It’s too bad we won’t know who contributes to it. The money will more than likely be used to buy Mike a cushy job.

  7. Have you listened to George Carlin’s “Why Education Sucks.”? Go to Utube and listen. I heard this just yesterday and was reminded why and for how long this problem has been around. The language is raw, but when you think of how many people have suffered for so long and why we are falling behind the rest of the world in so many areas – – just think health, education, living conditions, etc. – – raw language is appropriate sometimes. I fear for my country every day. I try to do things to calm my anxiety and vote and support the truly good politicians, but still feel that I’m loosing. Please keep up the great work that you do and I wish you could run for office and live forever.

  8. I believe its more Soviet style. The GOP seems to espouse states’ rights over federal or individual rights (tho’ they certainly use individual rights as an excuse when it suits them – as with firearms). If the federal government is not allowed to set standards for how legislation should be crafted across the states, are we not any better than the old Soviet-style bloc countries? Each state with its own set of individual rights does not a country make. Why should citizens in one state have more or fewer civil rights than citizens in another state?

  9. The degenerate radical right sinks to new lows every week and the greedy corrupt right wing media profits by spreading their garbage to their willfully ignorant audiences.

    The right wing politicians have chosen self-preservation and personal power over doing what is best for our country and the citizens they claim to represent. After fully selling their souls to corporations and mega millionaires/billionaires, all they have left to sell to their constituents is culture war BS. It appears to be working very well.

    ALEC, the Federalist Society and other corrupt corporate owned organizations have successfully taken control of state legislatures and the current illegitimate supreme court. If they keep pushing toward complete authoritarianism I really do believe society will eventually violently rise up to stop it.

  10. As I recall, citizens United claimed that corporations were basically citizens, and as such they could contribute to, or have unlimited access to politicians. Now those very politicians are going after corporations once they’ve decided they are not as valuable as they once were. It’s become a monster that can’t be controlled. It brings out of the woodwork all of those seeking power and authority but not the common good of the people.

    As the hand is writing it’s epitaph on the wall, you can see the political realm not liking what they read, but are incapable of doing anything about it because it’s as if they have hooks in their jaws, leading them to an outcome that they really don’t wish to be involved in.

    I will turn you around and put hooks in your jaws and bring you out with all your army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed in splendor, a vast assembly with large shields and bucklers, all of them wielding swords. (Ezekiel 38:4)

    This used to be a tactic, those that actually thought they were in control with all of their technology and power, were actually lead in a way that caught them by surprise. They would be fooled into the trap. And they would be wiped out.

    The monster that was created, is laying in wait for those who think they are in control. You can see it if you pay attention, slowly at first but speeding up rapidly towards its own demise. All of their power, knowledge, wisdom and riches won’t save them from the monster they created themselves and prostrated themselves in front of.

  11. I’ll go with Taliban, as it all seems so connected to religious dogma.
    Todd, I do not think that “these people truly believe they are _defenders_ of
    the constitution and bill of rights.” I think they just like to frame/hide their
    theocracy in that way.

  12. It seems like our federal Government should have the authority to protect our American way of life from foreign dark monies infiltrating and influencing policy. Their currency has been trickling down to state/local levels confusing the issues and reinforcing their hold on the electorate through gerrymandering. There has been reports that cable, social media have been infiltrated by dark money too, with anti-American intent.
    I’ve always thought of the Fed. as a watch dog for our freedoms (justice department), anti-trust capabilities, like an umpire for fair play.
    The arrogant attitude of local law makers over the personal rights of individuals needs to be fairly addressed by the citizens. We need to preserve our freedoms, and allow for the corruption in government and business to be exposed and dealt with for what it is.

  13. It’s been a long time coming.

    I remember being taught that “people” invested in companies that they liked and if they found management not to their taste, they sold their stock. Then things changed. If you don’t like the management, you (with your rich friends) take it over, and maybe dismantle it for a profit.

    I don’t know when, or how, but somehow, the only valid measure became return on stockholders (not stakeholder) money. Anything less, any other considerations and it was considered a breach of fiduciary responsibility.

    Only “woke” people would want to go back to a time of bridling greed — or move forward to a time when long term planning beats out short term profits.

    Just saying – the writing has been on the wall for a long time.

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