Sometimes my 5-year-old wants to sit down and play a game. When we play, he likes to tell me the rules—of course he makes them up as we go. And the rules always end with him winning.
In 2010, the Tampa Bay Rays changed their ground (or more properly, air) rules prior to the American League Division Series. If you know anything about Tropicana Field—which hardly deserves to be called a field, it’s more like wall-to-wall carpet under a salad bowl—you know that there are weird catwalks supporting the roof. The highest catwalks, cleverly labeled “A” and “B,” prior to 2010 were fair play for balls that hit them. Then they weren’t for the ALDS.
Then in 2011, the Rays changed it again, and the position of the ball where it hit the ground (if it ever comes down) determined fair or foul. Many sure pop-up outs became foul balls in the “magical land of catwalks.” But, you know, rules.
The Major League Baseball rule book was 240 pages long in 2014. Here’s one that Washington Post writer Brian Costa cited as one of his favorites: Rule 6.07, batting out of order. It’s against the rules, but only if the other team catches it. The umpires are instructed not to react, and if the opposing team doesn’t appeal before the first pitch to the next batter, the change is legal.
And Rule 3.13 applies to fields like Tropicana Field or Chicago’s Wrigley Field, where the ivy grows thick in the outfield. That rule allows the home team manager to make any ground rules he wants, as long as the visiting manager agrees, if there is “an overflow of spectators on the playing field.” They can make ground-rule triples happen, or call balls dead, and the umpires have to obey (it happened in 1903, and the rules still stands).
The point? Rules are for losers. Every 5-year-old knows that winners make up their own rules.
The U.S. Congress is Constitutionally permitted to operate according to whatever rules it wants. Our country’s founders assumed, for better or for worse, that the nation wouldn’t be run by 5-year-olds.
President Obama uses his “pen and his phone” to make up whatever pops into his head that day. When drugmaker Allergan wanted to legally merge with Pfizer to avoid high U.S. corporate taxes, Obama simply made up a rule to stop it. National Review’s Kevin D. Williamson called it “a bill of attainder by presidential fiat, which is the stuff of banana republics.”
“We followed the rules that Congress had set,” Allergan CEO Brent Saunders said in an interview with Business Insider. “For the rules to have changed after the game had started to be played is a bit un-American, but that’s the situation we’re in.”
The rules don’t let companies escape, and they don’t let you escape either.
Let’s say you’re the American CEO of an American company, and want to move to Brazil. The U.S. charges more than double any other country on Earth to renounce citizenship (the runner-up is Jamaica, which charges $1,010), according to Williamson. If you manage to get your case to the top of the State Department’s backlog, the IRS might decide to tax your income or wealth for the rest of your life after you’ve turned in your U.S. passport. There’s no fleeing the long reach of capricious rule-making satraps.
You might agree that Americans shouldn’t take their cash, their companies, and leave. But shouldn’t freedom to live in America as an American include the freedom not to live in America and not be American? Why do we want to lock people in and then deport eleven million who want to be here so badly they break the law to get here? I say if you want to deport the illegals (and we should), we should also allow those who wish to leave to do so freely (and for free).
But I don’t make the rules.
The guy who wants to build a big, beautiful wall to keep people out (we already keep people in) wants to make up his own rules for the Republican National Convention. Those rules (based in law) state that he needs 1,237 (50 percent plus one) delegates to win the nomination. If we rewrite those rules, why bother having Congress or laws?
Why not just treat the presidency like baseball’s Rule 3.13? As long as nobody tries to overthrow the government, let him act like a dictator. Or a 5-year-old.
(Published in the Houston Home Journal 4/9/16)