Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Libertarians and the Delaware blogosphere: You know you're making headway when they develop talking points to use against you

I was going to do this as a top ten list, but could not decide on which one was absolutely either (a) the dumbest or (b) the most hypocritical.

Recently both Dana Garrett of Delaware Watch and jason of Delawareliberal have decided to turn their attention to Libertarians. This is a good thing, despite the biased nature of the coverage, because it indicates that they are now having to deal with Libertarian ideas as the primary opposition philosophy rather than the strange rantings of the Lawn Jockey Caucus of the Old Confederacy and Buffalo Commons Party (the political entity formerly known as the GOP). This has brought a whole host of other local commenters out to try their hand at stupid put-down lines for Libertarians.

It's worth a trip through the tripe to take a look at just what passes for political discourse in Delaware these days.

We'll start with the one-liners and work up to jason and Dana.


The problem with the Libertarian Party is they can’t agree on what they stand for. Ask 100 Libertarians to define Libertarianism and you’ll receive 100 different answers. I’m still confused.

This is pretty good coming from a Democrat whose party includes both Dennis Kucinich and Max Baucus, Henry Waxman and Tom Carper. There is the germ of a real issue here, as I have written before. There is no Democrat nor any Republican philosophy, only parties. And what holds them together is the urge to elect more Democrats and more Republicans, pretty much regardless of the ideological bent of the individual candidate. Thus the Delaware Democrats trumpet their progressivism, but depended for years on the likes of Thurman Adams to hold their majority in the State Senate, as he killed on liberal bill after another. Now they've nominated Polly [my husband speaks for me because I'm a Barbie doll with no opinions] ADAMSADAMSADAMS Mervine to replace Daddy. Pretty much the only issue-oriented question Polly has answered is that she opposes discrimination protection for Delaware's LGBT community because all those nasty Mennonites in her district won't let her have another opinion.

So what ideology drives Democrats? Pretty much seems to be power for Democrats. The Libertarian mistake has been to name a party after a philosophy rather than choose some high-sounding meaningless pseudo-patriotic title which actually commits them to nothing.

Von Cracker:

Libertarianism = Utopian fantasy.

All ideologies, VC, if seeking 100% adoption of their ideals, represent utopian fantasies. The concept of a representative democracy with essentiall universal suffrage was considered, for centuries, to be a utopian fantasy in Europe until the Americans did it. Want a utopian fantasy? How about the current liberal fantasy that we can simply spend multiples of our entire GDP by printing money, provide stimulus and health care for everyone, and never actually have to pay for it? Or the GOP fantasy that we can keep women in back alleys looking for abortions on coat-hangers, gays inside closets, and funnel all our tax dollars to faith-based charities.

See? It's only a utopian fantasy when you are criticizing somebody else's agenda. When you're supporting a President who employs dozens of high-powered lobbyists in key positions [but says he isn't], compares same-sex marriage to child abuse [but says he is pro-LGBT], and finds endless excuses to increase the military and fight additional foreign wars, your idea of utopian is bound to be a bit biased.

Then there's jason (1):

Where the eff were you Libertarians when George Bush was blowing up shit will nilly, establishing the department of homeland security, saying illegal wire taps were great, getting rid of habeas corpus, adding billions to the national debt, and trying to legislate morality?

Gee, jason, as you admitted on 24 April 2009, the national Libertarian Party opposed every single one of these issues, at a time when large numbers of your beloved Democrats were (a) voting for the Patriot Act; (b) voting to authorize the invasion of Iraq; (c) voting for telecom immunity in the wiretapping issues; (d) spending bazillions of dollars we didn't have; and (e) legislating morality. Unfortunately, jason, you have the infantile fantasy that what you don't notice didn't happen. Works great when you are four years old, but most people have to grow out of it.

Then there's jason (2):

I was paying attention the entire Bush maladministration and I never heard a peep from local or national libertarians. Somebody find me a libertarian site that was prominently anti-Bush. Just one. I beg of you.

OK jason, we won't count this site, because I have only been posting since November 2007. You want one--just one?--try Knappster. Try the national Libertarian Party website. Try Outright Libertarians. Try Next Free Voice.

Oh, sorry, that's four. I shouldn't use big numbers with the numerically challenged.

There's jason (3):

Either the is no real Libertarian Party or you guys seriously suck. Or, you know what? You are really Republicans, but are sick of being looked at funny so now you call yourselves Libertarians. Same wingnut bullshit, new package. That’s probably it.

Let's not ask jason to discuss structural barriers to ballot access for third parties, in which his Democrats collude with their arch-enemies the GOPers to insure that nobody else can even get candidates on the ballot while taking millions of dollars in Federal tax money to support their own campaigns.

There is an accidental kernel of truth in jason's statement (stopped clocks and all that): Libertarians used to be one of the three legs of the GOP back between Buckley (late 50's), Goldwater (60's), and Reagan (80's), but the social conservatives essentially gave us the boot in the 1990s. Oh, and jason, like there are both pro- and anti-abortion rights Democrats (a few) there are also pro- and anti-abortion rights Libertarians. Like there are leftist and centrist Democrats, there are left-Libertarians and right-Libertarians. But in your simplistic world, there is no such thing as a political spectrum within a party, which is why Delaware is represented by that amazingly liberal Tom Carper, huh?

All of the foregoing commenter quotations are from here.

Then there is Dana Garrett's critique of Libertarians, which is too extensive to handle in one go, so I will just start with his concerns about seat belts and helmets:

Debates about budget hikes are very important and honest differences can surround them. But seat-belt laws and, let me add, motorcycle helmet laws?

This is something I don't get about Libertarians. They seem to think that almost any government intrusion is ipso facto bad. That virtually none are beneficial. But surely that seat belts and motorcycle helmets save lives and people from serious injury is uncontroversial to any rational person. I have even heard Libertarians argue to the point of shouting that laws requiring the use of car seats for children were a serious assault on their liberty as parents. Imagine that. Because they hold personal liberty in extremis (as a fetish, in my view), they would willingly let many children risk death and serious injury, children which could be saved by a law only intended to protect them. I think that is bizarre.

Notice, please, that Dana starts by assuming his own political viewpoint [Government should have a primary role in keeping us safe from our own bad decisions] is a universal, and therefore unquestionable, value. To oppose this value makes one, by definition, irrational. And to grind in that point, Dana uses the anecdotal detail, I have even heard Libertarians argue to the point of shouting to imply that because some people with a particular viewpoint argue in a certain way, anybody who shares their philosophy must be irrational.

But let's take his central point: But surely that seat belts and motorcycle helmets save lives and people from serious injury is uncontroversial to any rational person.

In other words, Dana is arguing that it is the State and not the individual which should decide for all individuals what is and what is not appropriate risk-taking. I'll address seat-belt laws, but since I don't ride a motorcycle I will convert that one into mandatory bicycle helmet laws just to be able to use personal examples.

Seat belts: I use my seat belt. I make my children use seat belts. I did so long before the State got around to mandating it. Of course, the State doesn't mandate seat belts for school children riding in government-owned school buses because that would be too expensive. Nor does the State look at the fact that government-mandated airbags in cars increase the fatality rates for smaller adults in the front seats of most vehicles. Nor does the State actually mandate a three-point restraint system in seat belts (based on that used in aircraft) which is known to be far safer than the current shoulder-and-lap belt system now used in American cars. Why? Because the State, in this case, is not a paternalistic, disinterested guardian of the public safety, it is a political process for making deals with special interest groups. And because an individual state like Delaware might decide not to make seat belt usage a primary offense, the Federal government gets its way by threatening to remove highway funds necessary to regrade roads, build guard-rails, or install traffic lights at dangerous intersections.

So point one is that none of these laws are immaculate conceptions of a protective government: they are exercises in State power over individual decision-making.

Point two is that Libertarians do reject the State's power to define risk-taking for individuals. Just last week I allowed my thirteen-year-old son to go rock-climbing in Colorado, hanging by his fingers from mountain ledges over 200 feet above the ground. He was wearing protective gear--the best protective gear I could afford--and working with an expert instructor. But, you know what? Hundreds of rock climbers fall and get injured or die every year even with all the precautions. Certainly the State should step and tell me that my son is not allowed to rock climb. Or ski. Or motocross. Or that my daughter should not be allowed to step into a soccer goal as the keeper wearing only shin guards when she spends a large part of every game diving under the cleats of the opposing players and crashing into metal goal posts.

I make my children wear seat belts because I think it is the right thing to do. The fact that the State wants to coerce me into doing it does not stop me or make me do it.

But from the time they turned twelve I have knowingly flouted the law that requires them to wear bicycle helmets. At age twelve we made the determination that for riding around the neighborhood (as opposed to racing, riding on the highway, or mountain biking) that our children were old enough to make the appropriate decisions about their biking safety. Don't agree with me? Then make your own kids wear their helmets, and I won't try to stop you--unlike Senator Margaret Rose Henry who thinks that even people old enough to have drivers' licenses should have to wear bike helmets under penalty of law.

I have no objection to the State attempting to convince anybody to do the right thing other than I resent my tax dollars being spent on government propaganda. Give people the stats on trans-fats, on smoking, on mountain-climbing, on neck injuries in football games, on sunscreen....

And then STFU and let people make their own decisions.

What is amazing is that civilization has not come to an end with people making their own decisions about safety and risk-taking in the past 5,000 years. Yes: a lot of good people have made choices that left them incapacitated or dead. And a lot of others have gone on to conquer risks and achieved great things that they otherwise might never have attempted had your nanny state been successful in regimenting them into cocoons.

While we're at it, we should probably cancel the Olympic Games and most sports programs except yoga, since there really isn't any way to make downhill skiing into a safe exercise. Hit a damn tree and I don't care what kind of protective gear you are wearing, your time is up.

Is that making a fetish out of indiidual liberty, as Dana likes to say? At first I didn't like the term, but now I'm OK with it.

I would rather make a fetish out of personal liberty than a fetish out of nanny state regulations intended to keep everyone safe from anything more dangerous than a paper cut.

I would rather make a fetish out of personal liberty than a fetish out the idea that only my particular views on what constitutes legitimate political differences of opinions is the only rational viewpoint.

The irony of all this attention to Libertarians is this: all of you criticizing the Libertarian philosophy have libertarian urges that you so zealously protect in your own life. You demand the freedom to make your own decisions, because your own particular case is special.

You're just unwilling to extend the same level of freedom to your fellow citizens.


Anonymous said...

The so called Liberaterian Party consists of as many voters or less than the Independent Party of Delaware. Until you shuck yourselves of the ultra lunatics, and start adopting good government legislation for the people you pretend to support, what makes your little gig any different than the repubkes at the top of your party. Time to throw the wingnuts out of the party, but that would ultimately mean you are throwing out your BASE! At least some democrats are willing to call another demorat what they are, corporate whores! I know there are some demorats who would support another demorat like Carper who continuously supports big business and collects his millions in campaign contributions. At least some of us are willing to "out" them when they are not willing to support citizen initiatives.

Tyler Nixon said...

Excellent points, Steve. I am glad you addressed Dana's example re: seat belts, where I hadn't had a chance yet.

What bothered me beyond Dana's a priori assumption that his own affirmation of nanny government mandates can only be contradicted "irrationally", was his use of children to make his point.

This to me has been one of the most insidious subterfuges for asserting controls over the entire adult population : "protecting the children".

Leaving out the fact of people inflicting their children and/or their parental negligence on the rest of us, there are almost no law laws/regulations/mandates that can't be tailored very narrowly to protect children, without burdening the mass of the population of otherwise responsible adults.

The drug war has been kept going for decades, imprisoning 100's of 1000's of non-violent offenders, in large part on the basis of such reprehensible demagoguery as the "save the children" card.

Such protestations and arguments are purely emotive and have little or no basis in reality. You can limit and control the freedom of everyone to the ends of the earth down to the minutiae (as some are intent upon), but children will still be at-risk in the world, they will still engage in bad or dangerous behavior, and parents will still be negligent or even abusive.

No adult should have to suffer laws, restrictions, and nanny nonsense aimed at (or based upon) making the entire goddamn world "child-proof".

Child safety and health, as you pointed out Steve, is for parents to worry about.

Child abuse or dangerous neglect is for the state to deal with on a case-by-case basis, not by ham-fisted all-encompassing behavior laws.

I understand Dana is raising a little one (and has raised a great daughter, now an adult) and is probably sensitive to the dangers facing young children. But that is no reason to control the entire population and his points really make the libertarian point, if you ask me.

Delaware Watch said...

Yes or no? There should be no laws requiring the use of car seats for children?

And your right, I do think someone is irrational if they disagree w/ that for reasons that are so self evident that they border on being an analytic truth.

Still interested in your view, though.

Tyler Nixon said...

Don't you mean should it be illegal for adults to transport toddlers in vehicles, without putting them in a child safety seat?

Yes, I believe it should be.

What this has to do with government mandates purportedly protecting adults from their own behavior by criminalizing or penalizing them "for their own good" is beyond me.

Anonymous said...

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Frank Popper
Rutgers and Princeton Universities,
732-932-4009, X689