Daniel Webster, Orlando Congressman, Invokes "Liberty" in Death Blow to Very Useful Survey | New Times Broward-Palm Beach


Daniel Webster, Orlando Congressman, Invokes "Liberty" in Death Blow to Very Useful Survey

I was checking out at Publix a few days ago when a man came up behind me in the express lane, put down his sandwich, and started muttering about whether they would screen him for putting terrorist weapons in the sandwich and how there is "no freedom left in this country," etc. I bristled at hearing a political rant while doing something so democratically neutral and gloriously capitalist as buying food to eat. 

He said something about how the U.S. government killed 38 of his family members. Anyway, that guy has some company talking about "freedom" or "liberty" and mongering fear: Many U.S. congressmen didn't get the message that this talking point has started to ring hollow and remind people of being terrified of terrorists and willing to run off to war.

The latest person to twist "liberty" to his own purpose: Daniel Webster, R-Florida (and not as smart of a Republican as this guy). The guy who beat progressive Alan Grayson in 2010. His cause? Slashing a census survey that gives us valuable information about the population used in formulating (and, yes, lowering) taxes. 

While we collect ever-more-sophisticated data on the lives of people who live in the Middle East, spying on them with drones, apparently it's declassé to know a damned thing about the people who live here in the U.S. and get the information necessary to direct some money back within our own borders. 

The American Community Survey (ACS) is the same supplement to the census that several right-wing pundits (and Michele Bachmann) announced before 2010 that they wouldn't be answering. The survey asks questions about things like age, sex, race, disabilities, and veteran status. All this sounds a little intrusive, but it's applied directly in determining things like where there are likely to be homeless veterans, how much of that evil government funding gets spent on local programs, and more patriotic duties like helping design programs in the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Webster, meanwhile, is first in line trying to kill the survey. He says, "What really promotes business... is liberty, not demand for information." Maybe the deaf should lead the blind in a fact-free, libertine dance of free enterprise, not giving a shit about where the homeless veterans are. They're done fighting for our freedoms and liberty, after all.

The Economist picked up the story on the ACS this week in print, writing in its English remove that "its results now shape policy at all levels of government, touching on $400 billion in annual spending, and are useful for businesses, too." The information collected is publicly available, and the survey is conducted once a year. The magazine continues: "Mr Webster complains that the survey is 'random' rather than 'scientific.' Yet random sampling is a vital part of statistical analysis."

Ten years of the program could cost up to $2.5 billion, and that's too much for Webster. He and other House Republicans voted on May 9 to throw the survey out for good. 

That man in the checkout line wasn't going to solve his problems, frustrations, or personal grief by being unfriendly to a cashier or telling a stranger about how oppressed he felt. And Webster is not going to solve our budget problems by eliminating a simple survey that helps decide what all those hard-earned tax dollars actually accomplish. The manic dance of freedom may feel good for a while, but after people get wise and see that you're not providing for them, you're just another ranting asshole in the Florida sun.

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