2021 Sep 13, 10:59am
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Many things once done as a matter of right are now privileges to be dispensed or withheld by those in power.J.D. TUCCILLE | 8.16.2021 7:00 AMThe COVID-19 pandemic has been a bonanza for government officials, allowing them to extend authority that they then exercise with relatively little oversight or restraint in ways that would have been inconceivable in the past. It has accelerated the transformation of previously free societies into permission-based states, where things once done as a matter of right are now considered privileges to be dispensed or withheld by those in power. Case in point: the Biden administration reportedly discussed making travel within the United States conditional on vaccination status but is holding back out of fear that the public has yet to be sufficiently softened-up for such an intrusive restriction."While more severe measures — such as mandating vaccines for interstate travel or changing how the federal government reimburses treatment for those who are unvaccinated and become ill with COVID-19 — have been discussed, the administration worried that they would be too polarizing for the moment," the Associated Press reported last week after discussions with administration insiders. "That's not to say they won't be implemented in the future, as public opinion continues to shift toward requiring vaccinations as a means to restore normalcy."The AP emphasizes that "White House officials say Biden wanted to initially operate with restraint to ensure that Americans were ready for the strong-arming from the federal government." The piece is unusually blunt in the glimpse it offers of an administration that embraces coercive measures to achieve its goals but is trying to co-opt businesses and localities as its proxies until Americans are more ready to do as they're told.This isn't the first time that conditions have been imposed on travel and other activities in the name of public health during the pandemic. The administration had already announced that it plans to require foreigners traveling to the United States to be vaccinated, a restriction likely to excite little opposition in an age when border controls are popular and other countries have similar rules. Before that, states and localities imposed testing and quarantine rules on visitors and even travel bans, though most were haphazardly enforced. Hawaii, surrounded as it is by a natural moat, has most successfully imposed a masked-and-gowned version of the iron curtain. But that's just evidence of how far we've already gone down the path of turning travel from the right it once was into a privilege. "As a general rule, until 1941, U.S. citizens were not required to have a passport for travel abroad," reports the National Archives."Airline travel in the early 1960s was still fairly carefree: If you had a ticket, you could board a plane," the Los Angeles Times noted in 2014.Invoking security concerns, officialdom imposed documentation requirements and subjected people and their luggage to the extensive screenings with which we're now all too familiar. Starting in 2009, Americans had to show passports to be readmitted to the United States on their return from journeys beyond the border. So, the federal government making interstate travel a privilege granted only to those in its good graces would be just one more step down a path traveled before—but a big one. ...