King Patrick the tyrannical

Governor Patrick issued an executive order on Friday that banned vehicular traffic in the state after 4:00 during a major snowstorm.  Cue the overreaction. 

In the Globe, Evan Kenney declared the Governor’s action “tyrannical.”

In a twitter exchange, Rob Eno, always on the lookout for evidence of a greater Nanny State, asked:

Also on twitter, GOP state rep Jim Lyons declared

The criticism continued today with an opinion piece in the Boston Business Journal by George Donnelly, who updated his piece by declaring “I had never before had my personal liberty as an adult stripped from me, and the feeling was very uncomfortable.”  Donnelly objected, in part, to the fines and threat of jail time for anyone violating the ban.

Of course, the repercussions of violating the ban are embedded in the legislation the Governor used as the basis of his Executive Order.  He did not impose them arbitrarily.  Nor did he send out orders to the State Police or local policy to rigidly enforce the ban.  And as far as I can tell, no one has gone to jail as a result.  King Patrick the tyrannical is off to a rather uninspiring start.

I’m actually a fan of those who cast a critical eye on the powers of Chief Executives, those officials who retain enormous power, because crises can bring about an abuse of that power which ought to very clearly be monitored and exposed.  But a travel ban during a storm that stranded hundreds on Long Island who did not get off the road is not tyranny.  It is hardly a violation of one’s rights.

The idea that people are always rational enough to understand how the risks they might take can result in significant costs to the rest of society is refuted not only by the actions of our friends in New York during the storm, but also by the theories that underlay the basis of our government.

In defending the complicated system of federalism and checks and balances, James Madison wrote in Federalist 51:

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

Government is necessary because people are not always reasonable or rational.  The Governor’s Executive Order was a temporary restraint on our movement designed to ensure public safety during a storm that has left tens of thousands (including this author) without power three days later.  And it reflected the long understood reality that people do not always act in their own best interests or in the best interest of their community.

The legislature can change the law (an auxiliary precaution) if they find that the Governor acted arbitrarily and voters can ask any candidate for high office if they support Governor’s action and vote accordingly.

But the great swath of citizens fill find the Governor’s action to be the stuff of common sense, a limited ban designed to protect public safety during a dangerous storm.  Comparisons to tyranny and segregation as well as the over-hyped rhetoric that cast the Governor as a dictator who decides what’s best for his subjects are, to put it mildly, wrong and misleading.

And I imagine those who live under real tyranny or segregation might not well appreciate the comparison.

About Peter Ubertaccio

Peter Ubertaccio is the Director of Joseph Martin Institute for Law & Society at Stonehill College in Easton and Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science & International Studies. His work focuses on political parties, marketing and institutions. He received his Ph.D. in Politics from Brandeis University in Waltham, MA. Professor Ubertaccio and his family live on Cape Cod where he is on the Board of Directors of the OpenCape Corporation and the Sandwich Economic Initiative Corporation.
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