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The Daily Tar Heel

If you listen to the cable talk shows, you might start to think that the real crisis facing America isn’t our economy, but the looming threat of right-wing jackboots intent on dragging our country back to the 1950s (all wearing “Santorum for president” sweater vests, of course). The recent Catholic and conservative revolt over the Obama administration’s contraception mandate is all the evidence they need.

But let’s face it, this wasn’t really about contraception. The real issue at stake is whether or not civil society ought to be subservient to the all-encompassing state.

It’s hard to argue that access to contraception is the real victim here. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 90 percent of all private health care plans insure contraceptives. The federal government guarantees contraception coverage for employees, in addition to offering free or reduced contraceptives to low-income individuals under Title X. If you want contraceptive coverage, the solution is simple: don’t work for a Catholic institution.

In reality, the aggressor was President Obama. In keeping with his progressive vision for America, he is trying to break the back of civil society to ensure that every organization stays in lockstep with his particular policy preferences. Just listen to his stump speech: a Republican victory in 2012 means the government will tell us, “You’re on your own.”

In our world — filled with charities, hospitals and service organizations like the Campus Y — this is obviously untrue. Two centuries ago, Tocqueville recognized the crucial role that these groups or associations play in our national life. He pointed out that when Americans want to get something done, we voluntarily organize and do it, whereas in France or England, it would be left up to a local magistrate to accomplish.

That ethos has remained with us today. Arthur Brooks, author of “Who Really Cares,” points out that “in 1995 (the most recent year for which data are available), Americans gave, per capita, three and a half times as much to causes and charities as the French, seven times as much as the Germans, and 14 times as much as the Italians.”

We see the same pattern for volunteering: “In 1998, Americans were 15 percent more likely to volunteer their time than the Dutch, 21 percent more likely than the Swiss, and 32 percent more likely than the Germans.”

All the giving and volunteering that we do is what’s at stake. I’m sure in President Obama’s mind, Catholics violating their conscience is of no consequence — it’s for the “greater good.” His accommodation — a mere accounting gimmick — proved that he doesn’t care to compromise on this point. It’s his way or the highway.

Of course, this November, it may be someone else’s way (a president Santorum’s way, perhaps?) or the highway. The left is unconcerned about the long-term consequences of this decision.

At the end of the day, civil society’s role shouldn’t be diminished by an ever-expanding government, nor should we subject organizations who are all striving for the common good to the caprice of our electoral system. We mustn’t forget that “planning becomes necessarily a planning in favor of some and against others,” as Friedrich Hayek observed. Today, the planning was against the Catholic Church and religious charities. Tomorrow, who will it be?

Anthony Dent is a senior economics major from Lumberton. Contact him at adent@live.unc.edu

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