No cheap political column today. The questions that are agitating those of us left in Washington when the big-shots went west to see the queen are all matters of first principle.
The questions are, in order of ascending importance: the Canadian films, which the Justice Department wants to label as propaganda; the president's proposal to deregulate natural gas; the so-called and misnamed "squeal rule," requiring parental notification for the prescription of contraceptives to young females; and, finally, the Herschel Walker case, involving the switch of an excellent running back from the University of Georgia to the New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League.
You may wonder whether, in fact, these seemingly disparate disputes are all aspects of a single deep philosophical controversy--what you might think of as the Canadian Gas Walker Squeal Film Caper. In just a few paragraphs, you will see that they are.
What confuses the scene is that people refuse to line up logically on the four issues, as principle would dictate. Liberals, so-called, who don't want the government labeling imported Canadian films as propaganda do want that same government setting the price for natural gas. Conservatives, so- called, who can see the advantage of a free market in gas cannot apply the same principle to contraception. Both sides go helter-skelter on the Walker case, depending, as near as I can tell, on how close their rooting affinity is to Athens, Ga., or East Rutherford, N.J. (Is there really an East Rutherford, N.J.? Has anyone ever seen it?)
But clearly the same principle should apply to the Walker case and natural gas. The government regulations that distinguish between "old gas" and "new gas," and purport to determine the right price for each, are just as arbitrary as the NCAA regulations that distinguish between a 20-year-old who fills the football stadium on Saturday and gets paid in malts and class credits, and the 21-year-old who fills it on Sunday and gets paid an amount equal to half the national debt.
Talent is talent, and gas is gas. And nothing but hypocrisy can result when the bureaucracy tries to segment or regulate the market.
I know that so-called liberals will scream that natural gas deregulation means higher prices. They said that about oil decontrol, and the prices have gone down. Oil glut, they explain. They said it about airline deregulation, and the prices have gone down. Plane glut, they explain.
Now some so-called conservatives (especially Good Ole Boys who love them 'Dogs) are bitter that Herschel Walker has deregulated himself into some big bucks. They forget that if there is a halfback glut, he is as vulnerable as Braniff. The market is the market is the market, as Jack Kemp (or maybe it was Gertrude Stein) has pointed out.
But the same clear-thinking free-market conservatives who can see that there is no other way to determine the logical price of gas or the right uniform for a halfback do not seem to understand that other forms of government interference can be equally capricious.
Why in the world should Attorney General William French Smith, who is supposed to be busy breaking up drug traffic, curbing organized crime and stopping the shredding at EPA, have to take time out to slap a "propaganda" label on Canadian films about acid rain and nuclear war?
The answer, he says, is that he is required to do it by the same wonderful Congress which, his colleagues at Health and Human Services say, also decreed that parents of teen-aged girls should get a letter when their daughters pop into a Planned Parenthood clinic for a pill. The courts are trying to figure out if Congress really did have such nonsense in mind, but those of us who operate on principle do not have to wait for an answer.
In these cases, as in those of natural gas and Herschel Walker, the right policy is to keep the cotton-picking bureaucrats' hands off.
The people who can't see this are seized with the idea that they have become special recipients of a higher truth. They flatter themselves that they know the just price of a halfback, and precisely at what stage of life he should run on Sunday instead of Saturday. Though the gas is natural, they are driven to set an artificial price. They know whether a girl should or shouldn't. And they know that the rest of us aren't smart enough to watch a film and make up our own minds whether it's propaganda.
Folly. Folly quadrupled. Let all such muddle- heads be barred from ever gazing on the queen!
And now that we've cleaned up the big questions, we can get back to counting the number of governors dancing on the head of the latest New Federalism pin. The brief respite from trivia is over.