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What’s Right Is Right

Several years ago, I was riding a city bus when it stopped short. For the next 15 minutes the 26 passengers sat, while the president of the United States and his entourage passed. Many people on the bus didn’t particularly care for the president. Many of them hadn’t voted for him. So why should all …

Several years ago, I was riding a city bus when it stopped short. For the next 15 minutes the 26 passengers sat, while the president of the United States and his entourage passed. Many people on the bus didn’t particularly care for the president. Many of them hadn’t voted for him. So why should all of us-Democrats and Republicans alike be inconvenienced while the Secret Service shuttled a politician we didn’t vote for across town?

I broached the subject to the bus driver.

“Why don’t you ask how many riders voted for the president?” I suggested. “If the majority didn’t vote for him, why don’t we just keep moving? If those who did vote for him think that’s unfair, drop them off, and the rest of us will continue.”

The driver, who had voted for the president, thought I was nuts. Maybe I was. But ever since that annoying incident, which made me miss the first part of the concert, I’ve felt there was at least a germ of validity in my idea. If this is truly a democratic society, in which the rights of the minority are to be guarded, what’s wrong with forcing people to live by the consequences of their voting actions, while those of us who took a different electoral stance simply get on with our lives?

Obviously, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to implement my program in the case of the president’s convoy. For example, if Bill Clinton were visiting a town in rural Virginia, and the local police said Republicans were free to use all public thoroughfares, but Democrats had to walk, the president might be stuck in traffic for three weeks.

But in other areas, it would be easy to enact my program. Take the capital gains tax, which Congress almost certainly will halve this year. Under my initiative, if you were a left-leaning citizen who thinks reducing the capital gains tax is unfair to all but the wealthiest Americans, you could write a letter to the IRS stipulating that the next time you sell stocks, bonds, or mutual funds, the government should tax you at the full rate. Conversely, right-leaning sorts who helped lift the Republican Party to its current primacy in Congress would get their taxes chopped in half.

The same philosophy could apply to gun control. If you don’t think people should have the right to bear arms, don’t bear them. Only those who voted for pro-NRA candidates would be allowed to keep weapons in their houses. Local governments could even publish lists of those with artillery laying around the house. This would make things a lot easier on criminals, who then would know which houses to break into.

Under this bold new program, the rights of the minority would be zealously protected as well. All those Republicans in favor of reducing the National Endowment for the Arts’ budget would be prohibited from visiting art museums or going to the ballet. Citizens who oppose using taxpayers’ money to fund performance art, mime, traditional folk dancing, ethnic storytelling, or poetry readings would be barred from all such public displays. Many citizens would find this prohibition relatively easy to swallow.

In certain instances, of course, a voter’s stance on an issue could come back to haunt him or her. Citizens who oppose government regulation of domestic airlines would only be allowed to fly on specially designated, unregulated airlines, or airlines regulated by Carl Icahn. Citizens who voted to eliminate the Coast Guard would have to earmark a portion of their tax savings to buy extra rigging and inflatable lifeboats the next time they go yachting.

What impact would such a sweeping overhaul have on the way Americans lead their lives? Such innovation most probably would trigger a massive new wave of internal migrations. People who like to keep Glock 9mms around the house would move to states where everybody owns one. People who don’t mind turning over 50 percent of their income to shiftless bureaucrats would move to New York City, where they probably could land good jobs as shiftless bureaucrats.

Other pressing national problems could be addressed through the judicious redeployment of our scarce natural resources. East-Coast types deeply concerned about the plight of the snail darter or spotted owl would be required to keep them in their apartments, so West Coast loggers could get on with their business. People opposed to federal funding to study rare diseases would not be allowed to die of these diseases, but would be required to die of cancer or old age. Let’s face facts: Everyone in this country agrees it’s time for a change. Well, these are a few changes worth contemplating.

Now, as for Ross Perot’s constituency…


Joe Queenan is a regular contributor on business issues, corporate culture, and financial follies to Barron’s and The Wall Street Journal.

About Joe Queenan

Joe Queenan is a regular contributor on business issues, corporate culture, and financial follies to Barron's and The Wall Street Journal.