Guard Your Thoughts

    “Not everything that is thought should be said, not everything that is said should be written, and not everything that is written should be published.” Those sentiments, alternately attributed to Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (the Beit HaLevi) or Rav Yisrael Salanter (the founder of the Mussar movement), are powerful reminders to exercise proper safeguards in publishing, writing, speaking – and especially thinking.

    Exhibit One was President Obama’s whining about the possibility that the US Supreme Court will overturn his signature takeover of the health care industry in the United States. “Ultimately, I’m confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”

There are serial untruths in this statement. First, Obama cannot be “confident” at all, or he would not have made such a bizarre, heavy-handed and false declaration. While many have dismissed this brazen attempt at influencing the Court’s decision (make that, Justice Kennedy’s opinion) as nothing of the sort, it has actually been tried before, successfully, and under quite similar circumstances. The New Deal also sought to assert government control over much of the economy, even going so far as having the federal government order kosher butchers to sell only chickens of defined quality to their customers, the famous Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States (1935) in which the Court unanimously struck down as unconstitutional the National Industrial Recovery Act, the linchpin of FDR’s New Deal. Justice Brandeis to FDR aides: “This is the end of this business of centralization, and I want you to go back and tell the president that we’re not going to let this government centralize everything.” That argument should strike a familiar chord today.

With his signature achievement tottering by this and other reversals, FDR after his re-election proposed to pack the Court by adding more justices to the Court, up to a maximum of 15, all of whom would be sympathetic to his causes. What thwarted FDR’s plans was not only the fierce objections of the Democratic Congress, but a change in the vote of one justice – Owen Roberts – and then the retirement of another, allowing FDR to replenish the Court with his ideological compatriots. The line of the day was “A switch in time saves nine,” i.e., the switch in one man’s vote saved the Supreme Court as a bench of nine, and that new Court began embracing extensive government regulation of the private sector.

Second untruth: the “unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law…” Granted, Obama was only an adjunct professor of Constitutional Law and never published anything of note, but even he must know that the Supreme Court has overturned legislation in excess of 150 times since Marbury v. Madison in 1803. Indeed, one of the primary functions of the Supreme Court is to review the constitutionality of both state and federal legislation. “Unprecedented”? “Extraordinary”? Hardly.

Third: “overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”

This legislation that purports to give the federal government control over 1/6 of the economy was passed with a bare majority – several votes in the House, and one vote in the Senate – and rushed through with back-room procedural maneuvering because by the time the House voted, the votes in the Senate were lacking. Indeed, there has never been such controversial legislation enacted with smaller majorities.

Add to that the obvious and strange definition of “a democratically elected Congress,” only so Obama could characterize the Supreme Court as “unelected.” Well, yes, the Justices are intentionally unelected so as to free themselves from political pressures. Can Obama’s tactic work? Can Justice Kennedy be swayed? Apparently, he has changed his vote in the past from the initial conference when he voted one way to the final decision – when his changed vote in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) saved Roe v. Wade by one – his – vote.

It might happen. And if it does happen, the relationship of the American citizen to his government will fundamentally change. If the government can order people to purchase a private product – health insurance – on the dubious grounds that it is thereby regulating commerce for the good of the public than the government can not only order restaurants to feed the hungry but order the average citizen to help subsidize those restaurants by eating out at least once a week.

The analogy to car insurance fails because only those who drive require auto insurance. The apt analogy would requiring every person – drivers and non-drivers – to pay an automobile insurance fee in order to cover the costs to society of those who drive without insurance.

Was Obama’s challenge to the Court an example of an unguarded thought that passed through the lips without due diligence or a calculated tactic to try to influence the Court after receiving preliminary notice from insiders that he had lost the initial conference vote 5-4? We shall see.

Exhibit Two was the taunt of Democratic operative and veteran liberal Hillary Rosen to Ann Romney that this gallant mother of five “has actually never worked a day in her life.” Ouch. There are few paying jobs that compete with motherhood in the “hard work” department. Even male troglodytes know that. And Rosen followed that arrow with the mealy-mouthed retraction to those (including Mrs. Romney) who were “offended.” In other words, the sentiments remain – it’s the offense caused (not to mention the political fallout) that mandates the apology. A genuine apology would follow the lines of “that was a dumb remark which somehow escaped my lips. I do not believe it, I do not know why I said it, and I am embarrassed for having said it. Obviously, Ann Romney has worked very hard every day of her life, as do all mothers, and their accomplishments in raising well-grounded and decent children is the greatest and most important job in the world. I apologize for stating that “motherhood” is not work.”

Look for the campaign and the Dems to ditch her as soon as it is feasible.

As above, the Baalei Musar even going back to the Talmud noted the slipperiness of words, and how unchecked and unguarded thoughts can cause untold damage. The Sages maintained that we could control our thoughts, and not just our words and our actions. It just takes work and commitment, and practice. Therein lies one of the true measures of perfection.

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2 responses to “Guard Your Thoughts

  1. It’s also been attributed to the Kotzker.

  2. Excellent article!