Drug companies are apparently forbidden from offering freebies to doctors in certain liberal states like Massachusetts and Vermont, under the theory that doctors’ loyalty can be bought simply by giving them free pens and beverages worth a few cents.
And the FTC just moved to restrict bloggers from praising books they receive as gifts from publishers, without disclosing the gift, under the theory that bloggers would praise dreck in order to receive it for free.
Yet when President Obama was awarded a far more substantial gift — a $1.4 million Nobel Peace Prize — by a foreign government, questions about its propriety were ridiculed by liberal commentators. (Nobel Peace Prize winners are selected by a committee chosen by Norway’s parliament. Obama was nominated after less than two weeks in office — when he had yet to achieve anything — seemingly to influence his future conduct in office as well as to reward him for not being George Bush).
In fact, some liberal commentators dismiss objections as being unpatriotic and putting the questioner on par with terrorists like the Taliban. (So much for their disingenuous claim during the Bush years that “dissent is the highest form of patriotism” — a phrase they falsely attributed to Jefferson, who never said it).
Why the double standard? Are doctors less trustworthy than politicians?
Given the notorious politicization of the Justice Department under Obama and his firing of inspector generals who uncover corruption and misuse of federal funds by Obama supporters (as well as the Bush Administration’s disgraceful “torture memos”), I would argue that presidents, like politicians in general, are less trustworthy than doctors, and ought to be subject to more scrutiny about the gifts they receive, not less.
Obama has already proven himself willing to take positions designed to cater to an international audience at the expense of civil liberties, such as backing UN proposals to ban hate speech and anti-Islam speech in the name of forging international consensus. Such bans may be popular in Europe, and in Norway’s socialist-led parliament (which recently imposed confiscatory taxes on the shipping industry), but they are contrary to America’s First Amendment and Supreme Court decisions like R.A.V. v. St. Paul (1992). What the international community wants is sometimes at odds with U.S. interests. The UN recently declared Cuba’s longtime anti-American dictator Castro a “World Hero.”
The Founding Fathers thought that federal officials like the President were in serious danger of being influenced by foreign gift givers. That’s why they drafted the Constitution to ban federal officials from accepting “any present” from foreign governments without Congressional consent. Constitutional law professor Eugene Volokh discusses the issue here.
Given that Norway is usually a friendly country, Obama’s Nobel Prize money may not cause any tangible harm, putting aside any legal issues (although Norway has differed with the U.S. on some major foreign policy issues in the past, like the Vietnam War). But it certainly is hypocritical to turn a blind eye to Obama’s lucrative $1.4 million, while obsessing over free pens and beverages being given to doctors, or free books given to bloggers. (Even if Obama gives the $1.4 million to charity, it still won’t change matters. A gift is a gift even if it’s later given to charity, and most people would be thrilled to have $1.4 million to give to charity).