It is commonplace for liberals to sneer at “slippery slope” arguments – the fear that some infringement upon liberty will lead to further loss of freedom down the road. (For some reason, there seems to be little fear that “slippery slopes” can lead in the other direction.) Talk about the assault weapons ban leading to more stringent gun control, for example, and gun-control zealots will laugh at your silly concerns. Of course they don’t have a further agenda, once they get the American people accustomed to the latest Bill of Rights haircut! They’ll stop with a 15-round limit on magazine size, and banning rifles with two scary-looking features. Or 10 rounds and one scary-looking feature. Whatever. Just rest assured that nobody’s going to be pushing anybody down any well-greased inclines toward destinations that would be politically unreachable today.
In truth, slippery-slope concerns are perfectly reasonable. They are a standard part of the “progressive” battle plan. A core tenet of progressivism is to take incremental, but irreversible, steps toward the total State. They hope that each new expansion of government will swiftly acquire a dependent constituency that will fight much harder to protect their favorite programs than weary taxpayers will struggle to terminate them. Diffuse taxation pays for specific benefits. Who knows where each dollar paid to the tax man goes? But everyone receiving a dollar from Uncle Sugar most certainly knows where it comes from.
Also, the Left labors very hard to push the idea that government spending and regulation are the only way society can express proper concern about any given problem. Anyone who tries to roll back spending or regulatory power will therefore be accused of not “caring” about some vital issue, or actively “hating” some group of people. Knowing that all motion toward a state of higher liberty will be denounced as heartless disdain or disgusting greed, why shouldn’t we be concerned that movement toward the larger State is a downhill slide that will be very difficult to slow, let alone reverse?
Our highly legalistic society is very big on the idea of building from precedent. It happens constantly in both the courts, and political debate. Every loss of liberty becomes a building block for the next expansion of government power. If the State can do this, why not this? If one thing can be forbidden, or compelled, why not the next? This strategy has proven effective at swaying both judges and voters.
And government programs grow through failure. The importance of this process to the psychology of Big Government cannot be underestimated. An efficient program that delivers solid results under budget is going to find its budget cut. An agency that “solves” whatever problem it was formed to address will find itself stripped down or eliminated. The canny bureaucrat therefore presents his department as perpetually under-funded, while trying to grapple with ever more formidable challenges. Every agency is a plucky underdog doing a fantastic job on a shoestring budget against insurmountable odds… and there is always so much more work to be done. If there is any threat of a program’s original goals being met, it will suddenly contract an acute case of mission creep, discovering new problems it can address. This is a fertile environment for slippery-slope thinking. Government programs routinely end up exerting levels of authority, and spending sums of money, that would have astounded their original creators.
The purpose of the Constitution was to establish a set of inalienable rights that would never be infringed at all, and thus could not be rolled downhill. There are supposed to be some aspects of individual freedom that are forever off the table, no matter how urgently benevolent politicians and super-intelligent regulators want to violate them for the “greater good.” Once concessions have been made from an absolute right, it is no longer absolute, and its further dissolution becomes negotiable. It is now common for these concessions to be extracted through executive action and judicial decisions, rather than using the amendment process provided by the Constitution. But for an example of a very slippery slope that began the “right” way, with a Constitutional amendment, compare the current state of the income tax to the promises made at its inception. How much government power grew from the concession that income could be directly taxed – just a tiny little bit, mind you, and only from the vast income of millionaires, never the hard-won paychecks of the working man?
Today it seems as though we’re surrounded by issues that would have been dismissed as the fanciful delusions of slippery-slope paranoia only a few years ago. And of course, we are once again promised there will be no further developments, no efforts to take a political crusade in directions that today’s voters would never approve of. There seems to be little interest in exhuming the ignored warnings of yesterday’s critics, to measure the accuracy of concerns that were waved away. What receives less respect in today’s culture than the wisdom of previous ages? Tradition is inertia, mindless obedience to hollow ritual! And yet, those who insist on moving rapidly “forward” seem unable to consider the danger of racing down a decline marked with points of no return.
Here’s an example, courtesy of the Weekly Standard, in which a Planned Parenthood official in Florida stands up for outright infanticide:
Alisa Laport Snow, the lobbyist representing the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, testified that her organization believes the decision to kill an infant who survives a failed abortion should be left up to the woman seeking an abortion and her abortion doctor.
“So, um, it is just really hard for me to even ask you this question because I’m almost in disbelief,” said Rep. Jim Boyd. “If a baby is born on a table as a result of a botched abortion, what would Planned Parenthood want to have happen to that child that is struggling for life?”
“We believe that any decision that’s made should be left up to the woman, her family, and the physician,” said Planned Parenthood lobbyist Snow.
Rep. Daniel Davis then asked Snow, “What happens in a situation where a baby is alive, breathing on a table, moving. What do your physicians do at that point?”
“I do not have that information,” Snow replied. “I am not a physician, I am not an abortion provider. So I do not have that information.”
How many people who supported Roe v. Wade in 1974 thought it would ever lead to a conversation like this? What would have been said about Roe critics who proposed it as the destination lying at the bottom of the slippery abortion slope?