Sunday, July 20, 2003

Results, results, results

Today's column by Review-Journal Editor Tom Mitchell does more than summarize the distinctions between the editorial policies of the city's two daily papers on the issue of the state budget impasse, among other things. He offers a microcosm of the world views of the two papers. For the framework, you have to understand the argument made by Thomas Sowell in his book A Conflict of Visions, recently reissued by Doubleday. In this brief volume, Sowell argues that most political debates are conducted by people talking past one another, because the people participating in the debates have different "visions" or assumptions about the way the world should work -- views on justice, equality, rights, all depend on your vision. The two visions -- the Constrained vs. the Unconstrained -- guide individuals' world views, whether they realize it or not.

While I can't do the book justice in a few sentences, here's a Sowell for Dummies summary: Those with the constrained vision define justice as a matter of process -- are policies and policy-makers guided by a set of well-established rules that apply evenly to everyone, or are some people "more equal" than others under the law? Those with the unconstrained vision are more concerned with results. As an example, those with the constrained vision abhor racial preferences, while those with the unconstrained vision view them as a necessary remedy for past discrimination. Boiling it down to cliches, a constrained statement might be, "play by the rules and let the chips fall where they may," as is the distaste for jurists who "legislate from the bench;" a person with the unconstrained vision might instead say, "the end justifies the means," or, "if you're going to make an omelet, you need to break a few eggs." Sowell travels centuries of political and philosophical thought to explain the two visions in an evenhanded fashion that's unfortunately absent in his later work, and the book provided an epiphany for me when I first read it about 15 years ago. Read it.

Anyway, back to Tom's column. For the most part, the RJ's vision is decidedly constrained; the Sun's unconstrained:


The editorial writers at the Las Vegas Sun embraced this thorny decision like a prodigal son. "For the good of the state, the court was asked to make a difficult decision and in doing so it has given the Legislature a chance to finally set this state on a path toward fair and sufficient taxation," the newspaper editorialized.
Two columnist/reporters at the Sun, Jeff German and Erin Neff, also opined that the procedural end justified the procedural means. Neff wrote: "Constitutions work because they aren't just sepia-colored documents withered from the light of decades. They work because they change and because they are interpreted." Might as well write the thing on an Etch-a-Sketch.

I'd also argue that the federal court decision handed down Friday was consistent with the constrained vision; the Nevada Supreme Court ruling that triggered the federal suit was unconstrained to the core.

Addendum

Tom's column alludes to the fact that Nevada's political system is most definitely unconstrained as well. Those who have money, clout and connections run roughshod over everyone else, to the extent they can get away with it. It's one reason the place is more of a haven for libertines than libertarians ... and why the inititiative process is used so frequently by voters to try to rein in the Juice Jobbers.


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