Sometime this summer, my colleague Chris Bedford had to be dragged kicking and screaming to discuss the “infrastructure” negotiations on Federalist Radio Hour. His instinct, we ultimately agreed, was correct.
Why, wondered Chris, should we spend a second worrying about deficits while the culture is crumbling around us? Why should we waste precious time fretting over the growth of the state when children are being mutilated in the name of social justice, with the full support of our institutions?
Chris came around. President Biden’s new federal vaccine requirements show the dangers of treating these issues as mutually exclusive. Indeed, many on the right are increasingly tempted to treat them as such, exhausted by the useless Republican establishment and animated by the swift radicalization of our institutions.
It’s boring and sounds tired, I know, but ballooning state power is not a silly fear of “Zombie Reaganites” and insufferable libertarians. It’s a vehicle of cultural tyranny as much as economic. It’s a tool for the political establishment to bulldoze our culture from their sad office buildings here in Washington.
As the chattering class debates Biden’s sweeping vaccine policy, the vast scope of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) power is coming into focus. Biden invoked the Labor Department agency’s authority in announcing the policy, tasking them with overseeing its implementation under the scope of their powers.
See this reference to Cass Sunstein’s explanation of that scope for a harrowing reminder on the federal bureaucracy’s growth. Whether Biden’s policy should fail in court is a different question than whether it will.
We're instead dealing with OSHA, a regulatory entity created by act of Congress that Congress has granted really super-duper broad regulatory authority over private businesses. How broad? I'll let @CassSunstein explain /5: https://t.co/FQpSVsg8mq pic.twitter.com/rqJzyEdWlz
— David French (@DavidAFrench) September 10, 2021
Here’s how the New York Times described the agency’s authority to carry out Biden’s rule:
OSHA has the authority to quickly issue a rule, known as an emergency temporary standard, if it can show that workers are exposed to a grave danger and that the rule is necessary to address that danger. The rule must also be feasible for employers to enforce.
Such a standard would pre-empt existing rules by state governments, except in states that have their own OSHA-approved workplace agencies — about half the states in the country. States with their own programs have 30 days to adopt a standard that is at least as effective, and that must cover state and local government employees, such as teachers. Federal OSHA rules do not cover state and local government employees.
This brings us to the definitions of “emergency,” “grave,” and “necessary.” The “reasonably necessary or appropriate” standard Sunstein highlighted is incredibly broad. Legal interpretations will obviously vary, but we needn’t delve into debate over constitutional law to consider that Biden, his party, and his supporters in politics and the public are happy with his interpretation.
The popularity of that interpretation is a statement on our sprawling federal bureaucracy’s latent power to control our freedoms and our culture from D.C. I’m vaccinated and personally hope all my loved ones are too, but people’s hesitance is entirely reasonable, as Matt Mehan of Hillsdale argues below.
But our immense cultural sorting renders the unvaccinated into toothless MAGA rubes in the eyes of our cultural elites, whose hands control the powerful levers of our massive bureaucracy. Their trigger fingers are itchy.
David, isn’t Trump-era warp speed an issue on the prudential merits? It’s a rushed vaccine that has not had the long term studies done ordinarily, regardless of FDA’s rushed approval, right? Doesn’t that recommend more caution re: mandates?
— Matt Mehan (@MTMehan) September 10, 2021
Two of the political establishment’s most powerful publications, Politico Playbook and Axios AM, gave telling treatment to Biden’s decision on Friday morning. Playbook decided the neutral take on Biden’s mandate was to treat it objectively as “federal authority,” and refer to the position that it’s not in his authority as “stubborn” and deadly.
Presuming, similarly, that Biden had done something relatively uncontroversial, Axios AM wrote a classic “Republicans pounce,” deciding the primary news value was the GOP reaction to Biden’s policy, not the policy itself. These casual insights into the worldview of an elite cultural leftist are important. The reality that Biden’s policy will be popular with a decent slice of the broader public is important as well.
Elites love corporate power, but they also love federal power. (Unless, of course, Donald Trump is exerting it.) Note that the Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable both supported Biden’s vaccine requirements.
As the patterns of socioeconomic sorting worsen, the bureaucracy will grow and its stewards will be more eager to use it and more disconnected from the country they oversee. Some of the public will become numb to federal power grabs, many people will even welcome them.
From Biden’s “child tax credit” extension, which conditions nearly all families to depend on the federal government every month for aid, to his extension of the federal eviction moratorium, this president and his elite champions are not worried about these power grabs. The blueprint for Democrats’ infrastructure bill is more proof of that. Their goal is to create a leftist elites’ utopia, blending cultural leftism with neoliberal economics and imposing it on America by any means necessary.
Mocking libertarians is a conservative tradition, made all the more fun in recent years as many reflexively defend Big Tech and woke capital. But reflexively dismissing their dry warnings about liberty does not serve conservatives well in this perilous moment.
Simply put, we’ve let our government become very big as its stewards have become very radical. It’s a vehicle for their cultural revolution, not a distraction from it.