STOP STEPPING ON MY BREAKTHROUGH

Doing his best to sweet-talk electorally-ascendent liberals into hitching their wagon to the libertarian rickshaw, Brink Lindsey offers a list of shared victories in which liberals and libertarians can revel together:

an honest survey of the past half-century shows a much better match between libertarian means and progressive ends. Most obviously, many of the great libertarian breakthroughs of the era–the fall of Jim Crow, the end of censorship, the legalization of abortion, the liberalization of divorce laws, the increased protection of the rights of the accused, the reopening of immigration–were championed by the political left.

If these are victories for libertarians, then this is a better argument for why libertarians should support liberals and leftists – the people who actually won each of these victories – than for why the left should turn libertarian. But it’s worth asking whether these markers of social progress even qualify as “libertarian breakthroughs” or “libertarian ends.”

The Jim Crow regime was undone in part by the elimination of the poll tax, a nasty law which restricts access to a government function to those able to pay for it and rewards those with more money to spend on their politics with more voice in them. What about undoing those laws qualifies as libertarian? The Jim Crow regime was undone in part by anti-discrimination laws that empower government to use regulation to limit the freedom of employers to employ a workforce that looks like themselves. Inflicting government intervention on market transactions is not exactly the libertarian m.o. Neither is government-mandated busing to integrate a public school system that if libertarians had their way wouldn’t exist in the first place.

Many libertarians no doubt break with Barry Goldwater and support the Civil Rights legislation of 1964 and 1965. But their support for good progressive law doesn’t demonstrate a fundamental affinity between liberalism and libertarianism. It simply demonstrates that even its devotees sometimes reject the maxim that “the government is best which governs least” when faced with the liberty-denying consequences of the “free market” whose “relentless dynamism” Lindsey urges liberals to recognize.

Libertarians may support freedom of the press from censorship, but they’re more likely to fret over how to sell off our publically-owned airwaves than how to ensure airtime for grassroots candidates. They may support a woman’s right to choose, but I wouldn’t count on their assistance in ensuring that women have the economic means to choose abortion or childbirth, or the educational resources to make informed choices. They may support the rights of the accused to a trial, but they’re not the first to line up to be taxed to pay for decent lawyers to represent them (then there are the ones who would like to replace the criminal justice system with a system of private torts). They may support allowing more immigrants into this country, but if you expect them to face down employers who exploit the fear of deportation to suppress the right to organize, you’ve got another think coming.

And though the Cato Institute won’t be joining Rick Santorum’s crusade against no-fault divorce any time soon, there’s no need for an earnest Ayn Rand devotee to support a right to divorce at all. After all, isn’t marriage a binding contract that the parties should know better than to get into lightly? Aside from the reality that it presides over marriage in the first place, why should government have any more right to stop consenting adults from entering contracts for lifelong marriage than it does to bar contracts for human organ sales or pennies-an-hour employment?

Advertisements

Watching the Young America Foundation Conference, where young conservatives are asking questions of a pair of Barry Goldwater experts. Just saw one of them go up and say he “couldn’t imagine why anyone is thinking of voting for George Bush” given his perceived selling out of the right on immigration, deficits, medicare and such. One panelist proffered the tax cuts as the main conservative accomplishment on Bush’s watch. The other panelist, Goldwater biographer Lee Edwards, sidestepped the question of domestic policy entirely, simply invoking the idea that “Everything changed on 9/11,” saying a few words about how frightening the prospect of another terror attack is, and then – without suggesting any Bush policy which would make us safer – nodded to suggest that the question had been settled.

I’d be curious to know how the kids in the room took his answer.

In today’s Times Reagan archivist Kiron K. Skinner takes the occasion of Martin Luther King Day to claim MLK as Reagan’s soulmate:

Dr. King invoked God-given and constitutional rights in defense of extending civil rights to every man. He believed in his country’s distinct ability to maintain a steadfast commitment to its values even when institutional realities pointed in other directions. Dr. King personified the American creed. That it was Ronald Reagan who bestowed on Dr. King the honor of a national holiday should no longer come as a surprise.

Skinner acknowledges that Reagan first came under the national radar pushing the explicitly anti-Civil Rights Goldwater candidacy, but argues that Reagan’s personal sympathetic behavior towards Blacks and his shared vocabulary of God, democracy, and constitution constitutes more common ground than division. It’s an absurd argument which depends on the falacious reasoning that

In the president’s mind, the values Dr. King championed trumped political differences.

The distinction between “politics” and “values” is always suspect, but few times has it been manipulated more cynically than here in arguing that whether or not Black men and women are to be systematically discriminated against in all spheres of life on account of race and poverty is a more superficial issue than whether the American constitution is suitable for appeals to political change.

Skinner obscures the historical Reagan, who kicked off his Presidential Campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where civil rights activists had been brutally murdered, with a call for “states’ rights” and an excoriation of “welfare queens.”

And Skinner obscures the historical King, the radical who deserves celebration today, who wrote:

I want to say to you as I move to my conclusion, as we talk about “Where do we go from here,” that we honestly face the fact that the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society. There are forty million poor people here. And one day we must ask the question, “Why are there forty million poor people in America?” And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I’m simply saying that more and more, we’ve got to begin to ask questions about the whole society. We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life’s marketplace. But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. It means that questions must be raised. You see, my friends, when you deal with this, you begin to ask the question, “Who owns the oil?” You begin to ask the question, “Who owns the iron ore?” You begin to ask the question, “Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that is two-thirds water?” These are questions that must be asked.”