TN Fire Inflames Passions on Red Eye

Not a picture of the TN fire, but one probably similar to it

Wow. What a night. Let me start off by saying, don’t annoy Andy Levy, because he will totally take you down. Just kidding, Mr. Levy. I still think you’re swell.

In truth, I tweeted just before tonight’s Red Eye started that I’d vote for Levy because he is one of the kindest, most fair minded people on the planet. Despite his views on the TN house fire, with which I disagree, I still think that’s true. He’s free to think of me what he will. We’ve only exchanged a handful of tweets and neither of us knows the other from Adam (or Steve.)

So here’s what happened:

On September 29th, a house in Olbion County, TN caught fire. The homeowners called 911 in South Fulton. The problem? Residents in unincorporated Olbion County aren’t covered by the city’s services as they do not pay property taxes to the city. Consequently, they are given coverage by the city’s fire department if they pay an annual $75 fee. The homeowner in this case, one Gene Cranick, hadn’t paid the fee.

When the man called 911, apparently after his son had tried in vain, he offered to pay whatever it would take if the fire department would come and put out the fire. He was told it was “too late.” (source: Local 6 WPSD)

Eventually, when the fire spread to the property of a neighbor who had paid the fee, the Fire Department showed up to put out the flames on that neighbor’s land.

The story hit Red Eye tonight and was a little bit contentious, then Levy’s Halftime Report came on the air and the proverbial feces honed in on the atmospheric circulation device.

Host Greg Gutfeld made some of the same points I made earlier when discussing this subject with friends on Facebook

It’s like cops. If a homeless guy who doesn’t pay taxes is being beaten up, the cops jump in.

How lucky was the fireman that no one died?

Angela McGlowan voiced the opinion the family may have the right to sue.

Andy Levy disagreed with all of this. He seemed to take what I feel is a hardcore Libertarian stance (I am not claiming anything larger about Levy’s personal beliefs or party affiliations): that the cold hard facts are the family didn’t pay, so tough shit, though he phrased it more eloquently.

It was this statement that caused me to tweet the following

This segment proves where Libertarianism is a moral failure.

A bit of a dispute broke out and Levy eventually responded with

No, what annoyed me was you made a stupid statement about libertarianism.

I stand by my statement, and here’s why.

I’ve been involved with Libertarianism for over 15 years. Not always as a participant, but as a bystander. Libertarianism tends toward a core set of laws and recognizes no moral responsibility to act outside those laws. Aside from championing the works of Ayn Rand, the earlier novels of Robert Heinlein are often Libertarian favorites. There is a “the dwarves are for the dwarves” attitude running through Libertarianism. Or, if you’re not a C.S. Lewis fan, “get off my lawn!”

You may be a Libertarian and disagree with this view personally, but if you don’t recognize it exists, I can’t imagine you’ve ever talked to any significant number of Libertarians.

But here’s the thing. I said Libertarianism showed a moral failure. And I meant it. I did not say all Libertarians suffer a moral failure.

As a conservative, I agree with Levy  – and many of the Red Eye fans on Twitter – that the homeowner should have paid the fee. Expecting something for nothing is not a conservative value. Nor is it an ethical one. The story above states the homeowner thought the FD would come even if he didn’t pay the fee. But where’s the context? Did he mean he never intended on paying the fee and thought he could just get free services? Or had he paid in previous years and simply forgot?

What bothers me about the point of view that Levy, and many others online tonight,  expressed is this: where’s the human compassion? The sense of community?

Let me be very clear: I am not accusing Levy, or anyone else, of being a person lacking in compassion. I’m saying his point of view on this issue did.

I am not saying it was wrong of the city to ask a fee for expanding its services to a non-incorporated, non-tax paying area.

What I am saying is that the fire department, Levy and others seem to be clinging almost slavishly to the letter of the law in this issue, rather than the spirit of the law.

Libertarianism does often remove every aspect of “spirit” from the law. Not only are laws to be restricted to the bare necessities, but all morality is left to the individual. And that’s fine.


Not only am I a Libertarian-leaning conservative, I’m a guy who grew up in a small town with a strong sense of family and community. When I was a kid, people in our neighborhood who were “kid friendly” put up a sticker on their front windows. When children saw those stickers, we knew we could go to those houses if we needed help. People weren’t paid to do this; they did it because they felt it was the right thing to do. And individual choice. One a Libertarian could clearly make.

The 911 dispatchers, the firefighters: all felt compelled to adhere to the letter of the law. The homeowner offered to pay whatever amount of money it took to get the firefighters to respond. In essence, the response was “Burn, baby, burn!”

I have no idea what their political affiliations were, but the thinking that seems to have gone into this decision does appear to me to represent a purely objectivist Libertarian point of view.

People on both sides of the argument compared the situation with ObamaCare. I’d like to draw a completely different analogy: to the Ground Zero Mosque. We almost all agreed (at least the people I spoke with) that the Cordoba Initiative has the right to build the mosque. Most of us agreed that it was a crappy and immoral thing to do, whether they had the right to do it or not.

Yes, the firefighters had the right to not fight the fire: the homeowner hadn’t paid for the service. Maybe they even had a legal obligation not to fight it, regardless of whether they personally wanted to. But, even if you have no religious belief, I’d like to suggest a higher morality than the letter of the law: a sense of humanity.

Personally, I’d rather go home jobless than live with myself knowing I had the power to help a fellow human being and chose not to. I don’t claim that’s a superior morality to anyone else; I just claim it’s mine.

If the homeowner had said, “You’ll come out and fight this fire for free whether I pay for it or not,” I’d be making a different argument. But he didn’t. He offered to pay whatever it took.

I believe in personal responsibility and in paying your own way. But I also believe in some wiggle room, the power of forgiving mistakes before it’s too late, and the power of the human spirit to overcome a dispassionate law when the well being of neighbors are on the line.

And if you disagree with me, you’re probably a racist homophobe who likes Keith Olbermann.

Red Eye” air date – October 5, 2010. Guests: Angela McGlowan, first-timer Ryan Reiss and Larry Gatlin. Cast: Host – Greg Gutfeld, Sequential Hermaphroditic Sidekick – Bill Schulz and Ombudsman – TV’s Andy Levy

The views in this post are entirely my own (except where I’m quoting.) Neither “Red Eye” nor Fox News endorse or support my “Red Eye” posts. I am not affiliated with the show in any way, other than being an avid fan.

Help a hard working “Red Eye” fan. Support the campaign to get my posts mentioned on the show (just once!) Write to “Red Eye” and mention this blog.

24 Responses to “TN Fire Inflames Passions on Red Eye”
  1. kelliejane says:

    I strongly suspect that in this small community, the firemen knew something about this property owner that we don’t. Because honestly, who ignores a fire??

    • You may be right. @Jeremycrow4life says, for example, that there is a waiver Olbion County residents sign if they decide NOT to pay the fee. And who else knows what’s going on?

      another point I didn’t make in the post: What about the neighbors whose field caught fire? Will THEY sure because the FD only rolled after there was damage. In many places, firefighters are there to prevent fire from spreading.

      This is one of those issues that divides, unites and refines. Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed the Twitter debate/argument. It made me think, as I hope it did others.

    • OK. here’s more info. The homeowner had paid the fee in past years and had simply forgotten. So, no waiver. And apparently no notification of his lapse. Oddly enough, this link appeared on the Red Eye Daily (an aggregate of Red Eye related stories) as having been tweeted by … Andy Levy.

    • John says:

      You are a fool. You know nothing of the situation and apparently have no human qualities. Are you saying this man was such a bad person that he deserved to lose everything he had? Are you really that cold? The man forgot to pay the fee. Even if he purposely neglected to pay it,. what manner of reasoning could possibly make it acceptable for the fire dept. to decline his (and his neighbors’) offers to pay the fee before the fire had even reached his home? This is disgusting, abhorent behavior. Anyone who thinks this is OK cannot be classified as human, much less American. Such people are the real cause for distress over the downward spiral of this country. The insanity of the religious right now has to weigh some kind of balance between their “pay your own way” ideology and their supposed Christian values. No Christian I ever heard of would allow this to happen. It seems that any decent human being would let Mr. Cranick hand him/her the $75 and put out the fire. The paperwork can be done later.

  2. Kim_AE says:

    I agree, the issue that compares more closely to this situation is the what’s going on with the GZ mosque rather than the new health care law. It’s lawful but that doesn’t mean it’s right.

    And my favorite line:
    if you’re not a C.S. Lewis fan, “get off my lawn!” Heh.

    That was an excellent debate… everyone really got fired up, and unlike the lefties we managed not to call anyone names or start slinging swear words. Feeling the love.

  3. steveinmo says:

    As I mentioned last night on twitter, I believe you are mistaken here. It is illogical to point to a law that most libertarians would call ridiculous, and say that it demonstrates a moral failure in libertarianism. While libertarians tend to believe in a very strict interpretations of the law, that is only so far as that law follows natural law. What is natural about a law dictating the terms of a contract in a manner in which there is no room for voluntary compassion? I understand that Levy’s hard line interpretation seems heartless, but that’s what you get when the state dictates contracts. While individuals are free to act on the spot to give up their rights as laid out by contract, the state does not have the same ability, as it necessarily takes bureaucracy and/or legislative action to do so. In fact, voluntarism and voluntary compassion is at the very heart of the free society envisioned by libertarians.

    Also as I pointed out last night, I think you are letting ‘Rand’ian Objectivists speak for libertarians as a whole (as you make a nod to it here). From what I have seen, Rand tended to be very preachy in pushing “selfishness as the ultimate good” or something like that (I’ll admit, I have not yet gotten around to reading any of her work). I tend to view the world more through the Austrian view, which leaves plenty of room for voluntary action, but states that commerce is good, because in order for a transaction to take place, both parties must value the goods/services more highly than the goods/services they surrender. This leaves room for compassion as human beings inevitably experience good feelings, and often other material compensation later, for great acts of compassion.

    I feel I’ve gone on too long, but the point is: libertarians are a diverse group, just like any other political ideology, and I think you went a bit far here in both misinterpreting libertarianism and in painting with too broad a brush.

    • steveinmo,

      I respect your point of view, but I think it’s wrong. For instance, John Stossel – famed FOX Libertarian – and Glenn Beck – another one – have both maintained the hard “a contract is a contract” stance.

      If you haven’t read Rand, I wouldn’t be too sure about interpreting her. She does come across as selfish in many respects, but she also has some good points. True, they can be lost in absolutely horrid prose. If you can make it through the John Galt radio address in Atlas Shrugged, you’re a better man than I.

      I was very clear in my post I was talking about the moral failing of Libertarianism, not of Libertarians. The philosophy, not the people. Of course, any time one speaks in generalities, one loses a lot of granularity. We all often make sweeping statements about liberals and progressives, but truth be told, I know many a fine person who espouses a liberal philosophy politically.

      I’m sorry, but once again I’ve spent years around Libertarians of all kinds, and I think my point is a valid one.

      • steveinmo says:

        And I will have to continue to respectfully disagree. Libertarianism advocates the shifting of decisions and choices to individuals, away from state authority. In this way, it advocates a shift away from state morals, and instead allows individuals to shape their own morality. So in this way, by questioning the morality of Liibertarianism, you are also impugning the morality of libertarians and human beings as a whole (a point I don’t necessarily disagree with based on many things going on around the world).

        I agree whole-heartedly with John Stossel that ‘a contract is a contract’; I don’t think anyone is disagreeing on this point. The fire department had every right to deny service, as laid out by law (public contract). My point is that there are many libertarians who would point to this is a moral failure of the state, and advocate for the replacement of public services with private business, in turn replacing slow moving law with more nimble private contract. Under private contract, an individual business would have had the right (but not the legal obligation, the moral obligation is up for debate) to waive or modify contractual rights on the spot, and put out the fire.

        This is, of course, a purely theoretical point, as there is no debate or movement large enough to allow for private fire service, but I think that it demonstrates that this is no sign of a lack of morality of Libertarianism, but is instead a failure of bad policy or philosophy (which I think most people, regardless of their stance on the morality issue, agree that this was a dumb policy). Anyway, I appreciate the discussion.

        • You are free to disagree of course, but I’m hardly the only person making this point.

          Your assertion, however, that I’m impugning all of humanity is laughable. Especially when I’ve made a distinction between a political philosophy and the people, of whom I am one.

          Then you prove my point nicely by affirming the FD had “every right” to deny service.

          • steveinmo says:

            Are you arguing that they had no right no refuse service? Even if you think they were morally obligated, the fact is that the law not only left them free to refuse service (written and natural law), it (written law) required that they did nothing. I agree with you 100% that they ‘should’ have put out the fire, but if you believe the ‘had’ to, then you have rejected a major tenet of voluntarism, which is largely intertwined with Libertarianism, and have embraced a sort of measured etatism. I’m not trying to seriously accuse you of etatism or saying you are intentionally attacking individual humans or libertarians in this case, but trying to use it to point out that you cannot use a situation in which a stupid law prevented logical action as an attack on a philosophy which tends to reject the very institutions and laws which are at fault. I tend to agree with most of your articles, but I think you are simply wrong when you point to this as an example of Libertarianism as a ‘moral failure’. Anyway, feel free to respond, and I look forward to it, but I think we have run our course here and are at the point where it’s best to just drop it and focus on more important things, especially as I continue to wander into abstract pseudo-utopia that seems to always draw me into market anarchism.

    • Steve,

      One can only reply to nested comments 5 deep here, so this is a response to your latest comment.

      You claim the firefighters had the right to refuse service, not only legally but under “natural law.” Perhaps it would be useful to further define that term. Usually, when I see people use it, they are referring to “nature and nature’s God” and this almost always equates to Biblical morality. If that’s the sense in which you are using it, you are wrong. If, however, your understanding of it is like mine – that which occurs in nature – then sure. Survival of the fittest also applies. So really, they could have made a “natural law” to have killed the homeowners and taken their possessions, too, assuming they had the might to overcome them. If you’re using it in a finer sense, well, the discussion could take an entirely different turn.

      So let’s make sure we’re on the same page with that term before we proceed down that path any further. I don’t want us to be talking apples and oranges, using the same words to do it.

      You also approach a point I was trying, apparently very inelegantly, to make. As far as I know, this contract with county residents was NOT a statute. I’m not an attorney, so I have no idea how this contract might differ from one entered into between a homeowner and a privately run business. If there is a difference in this particular case, I’d like to know what it is. As you say, or at least intimate, there should be an ability to alter the terms of a contract when it is mutually beneficial or agreed upon by all parties.

      Also, you are still misconstruing my words. I never said Libertarianism is a moral failure. I said this situation shows WHERE it is a moral failure. That is to say, I am not claiming Libertarianism is a losing philosophy overall. Just that it has holes. Again, I am not the only person making this statement. Are others of like mind statistically significant? I have no idea. But I am far from alone in linking this with a Libertarian philosophy.

      You mentioned Ayn Rand earlier, but I think a closer comparison is with Heinlein. Specifically, I’m thinking of a situation in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, where a person not paying for his air in a space station would be immediately shoved out of an airlock.

      Essentially, what I’m arguing aside from the “bad contract” nature of the situation, is that Libertarians often make the argument that someone is morally obligated NOT to help when payment hasn’t been tendered. I know, I know. You might see this as a philosophy peculiar to Rand, but I see it differently.

      As you say, perhaps we’ve run our course. But I really enjoyed the discussion and look forward to many more. And, if you ever get around to reading Atlas Shrugged I’d love to discuss it with you.

      Again, thank you for all your comments. While you didn’t change my mind, you made me think, and I truly appreciate that.

  4. DCG says:

    Come on, they let a house burn down b/c of a $75 fee they offered to pay if they showed up? Really, I know there are laws but can’t we apply some common sense (like you say in GZM)? Why couldn’t they just be good samaritans and put the fire out? What if people were trapped inside – would they have still let it burn w/out trying to rescue those trapped? Seems cold to me…

    • In general, I agree. To be fair to the other side of the argument, Andy Levy did point out on Twitter and on “Red Eye” that the firefighters stated they would have stepped in had a human life been in danger. All people were present and accounted for.

  5. Joseph Veca says:

    There is an say that goes something like “An problem on your part, doesn’t constitute an emergency on my part.”

    The man who didn’t pay $75 a year (which by the way is frigging cheap) deserves what happened, he took a risk and failed. That is no ones fault but his. From a libertarian point of view, the second man has a case against the first because the fire spread to his land because he failed to pay a nominal fee for Fire Dept. service.

    In all honesty, this isn’t a moral failure of libertarianism. It was the failure of a man who didn’t take the proper precautions and his failure came back to haunt him. There is also the issue that the man was trying to steal services he hadn’t paid for.

    Here is something else to take into consideration, if that FD had answer the call, and one of the paying property owners called and lost everything, because the FD couldn’t get to paying property owners property in time because of dealing with the guy who refused to pay. That FD would have been on the hook for breach of contract law suit.

    • Joseph,

      This is the moral failure: that the man “deserves” it. According to all reports I’ve read where it’s mentioned, this man HAD been paying his dues in years past and had simply forgotten this year. If he’s lying…well, that’s one thing. If he’s telling the truth, entirely another.

      From what I know of the case, the man wasn’t trying to steal anything, and the insistence of people to claim otherwise, in the face of reported facts, is the theft: the theft of facts and of a man’s character.

      • Joseph Veca says:

        Chris, I have a question for you and please think about it before you answer.

        If I fail to pay my car insurance, and get into an accident, even though I had been paying for years before, is the insurance company obligated to pay?

        This is the same type of case.

        The part about Libertarianism that the left doesn’t and many on the right don’t as well, is that Libertarianism is about PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY. It wasn’t the fire departments fault he didn’t pay the annual fee. If it was the fire departments fault he didn’t pay the fee then you would have a case. But that isn’t what happened.

        Actions have consequences, and this mans failure came back to haunt him. That simple.

        • Joseph,

          No need to think about. We discussed this very type of thing on Twitter the day this post was written.

          First, you’re making an entirely different case then your first comment, where you said the man deserved it and pretty much called him a thief.

          Second, if you’d like to make this an apples to apples comparison, which it isn’t, then let’s extend the comparison. If a man doesn’t pay his insurance, of course the insurance company is not obligated to pay for his accident, but he can pay for the repairs himself. This man tried to do just that. Instead of the $75 premium (which all reports still claim he’d forgotten and paid in years NOT a thief), he offered to pay “whatever it took.”

          In other words, he offered to pay for his wreck.

          And, again, I am not saying the FD was obligated to help him legally, which they clearly were not, I’m saying the “moral” argument claiming they were obligated NOT to help him is a total moral and ethical failure.

          • Joseph Veca says:

            Just because he offered to pay, doesn’t change the fact that he was in effect stealing a service he hadn’t paid for.

            Of this type of thinking I am well acquainted with. I use to work loss prevention at both of the QFC’s there on Capital Hill (Pike & Broadway and the Harrison and Broadway E). And it wasn’t unsual for us to catch a shoplifter who actually had the money to pay for what they took, get caught and then offer to pay. And they use to get quite upset with us because we wouldn’t take payment and wouldn’t let them go because we caught them stealing.

            This is a similar situation, it is still theft and there could have been unforeseen consequences had the FD answered his pleas when they were not legally, morally or ethically obligated to help him.

          • Joseph,

            Normally, I find you a very intelligent and introspective person. But I’m sorry to say I find your views on this issue shallow and repugnant. Your insistence the man is a thief I think proves my entire point: the moral failure.

            Forgetting to pay and intentionally NOT paying are entirely different. Your repeated comparison of this man with a thief is just … disgusting.

            I think your comments make my point much better than they make yours.

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