Print Friendly, PDF & Email

{Published in the Colorado Springs Gazette, 2009-12-14}

I must be the only writer in town who gets accused of both “liberal media bias” and “right wing dogma.” That’s fine by me, I get more readers that way. But I’d like to take today’s column to suggest a heretical idea. Right and left, liberal and conservative, Republican and Democrat, don’t really cover all the possibilities.

For example, I’ve used these pages to call for the repeal of drug prohibition. I’ve said that evolution is the best scientific explanation we have for the reality of life on this planet, that creationism is not only factually incorrect but personally embarrassing, that corporate welfare should be abolished, and that bikini-clad young women at coffee stands ought to be a celebrated and welcome part of American culture. Despite that, I routinely get emails calling me a right-wing ideologue. What do I have to do, get an award from the ACLU?

Actually, that wouldn’t do it, because I already have one. At the risk of sounding immodest, I won a 1997 National Civil Liberties Award from the ACLU for some work my family did opposing internet censorship, work that led to a 9-0 Supreme Court decision in our favor. Sorry to toot my own horn, but I’m trying to make a point here. How could anyone possibly think I was right wing? To say the least, I don’t advocate traditionally conservative positions.

In fact, I think I know the answer. People who take me to task for right wing ideology didn’t read any of those op-eds, and there’s no reason they would know anything about the case of Reno v. ACLU et. al. Instead, they read a column opposing national health care, trashing “intelligent design”, supporting the right to bear arms, arguing for vouchers, or something similar. By contrast, people who read about my support for real science in the public schools or criticisms of corporate welfare, will not hesitate to criticize me as a member of the liberal media. Sigh.

The right term for the perspective I espouse is “libertarian.” I actually prefer “classical liberal,” someone who thinks “the government that governs best governs least” and is strongly influenced by the Jeffersonian ideals of individual rights best articulated in the Declaration of Independence. Unfortunately, liberals pretty much stole the l-word in the 60’s and got it to mean something very different. So be it.

I’ve watched libertarian ideas make a lot of progress over the past 20 years, to the point where being a libertarian just isn’t that big a deal any more. When William Safire retired as the New York Times’ token conservative columnist, he was replaced with John Tierney, a libertarian. South Carolina Republican governor Mark Sanford said he thought the term libertarian was a “badge of honor.” Even Senator Olympia Snow admits to having a libertarian streak.

It’s a label people should be proud to wear. After all, we are the ones who came up with school vouchers, and we remain the only source of new ideas within the Republican party.

We’re the only people seriously trying to deal with the alarming growth of entitlements and the terrible legacy of debt we are leaving to our children. We understand how wealth is created, we are disproportionately represented among America’s entrepreneurs, and yes it’s true, most of us couldn’t care less about fairness. We think justice, prosperity, and freedom are more important.

I like to think that most people are libertarian on most issues, but everybody’s got one special thing they’ve just got to have government for. Health care for their sick mother. Protectionism for their union job. Welfare for their down-and-out cousin. Banning gay marriage to “send a message.” Most people want something from government, and as a result we get something nobody wants. Huge taxes, huge spending, huge debt, a decline in personal responsibility, and an increasing willingness to let elected and appointed officials run our lives because we have no confidence we can run them ourselves.

I don’t expect to convince anyone of the merits of libertarian ideas in the space of an opinion column. But I would like to suggest some things just slightly less radical. Right and left just don’t cut it any more. Ideas matter. Facts matter. History matters. And maybe, just maybe, libertarian/classical liberal ideas matter. At the banquet of modern politics, they deserve a place at the table.

Enhanced by Zemanta