Editor's Note: This article was prompted by the news that the Justice Dept. is gathering private medical data on women who’ve used Planned Parenthood for reproductive services. Do you suppose Attorney General Ashcroft is trying to intimidate women who’ve had or are planning to have abortions? Of course, there’s quite a different attitude in Republican circles about the privacy of Rush Limbaugh’s medical records, but then he’s a rich, right-wing drug abuser, so what would you expect?
Like the bald eagle, the civil libertarian is a much-admired species. But in an election year, they’re equally rare.
Radio talk show host Neal Boortz, for example, identifies himself as a libertarian, but his claim is about as credible as Fox’s Bill O’Reilly calling himself an independent. Both should collect GOP paychecks for hosting programs that play like Bush campaign ads. A typical radio Republican, Boortz merely mouths the libertarian line.
It’s only natural that neither major party takes a libertarian stance. Few politicians have sought office looking to diminish their clout once they’ve acquired it. Recall how few term-limits advocates kept their promise not to seek re-election.
The difference between the two parties is whose ox they want to gore. Democrats distrust big business and expect it to be venal. They push environmental legislation, gun control and business regulation, and rarely pretend to be libertarians. Republicans distrust ordinary people and like to bully us sinners into doing the right thing. Nevertheless, lacking either self-awareness or sincerity, the GOP loves to paint itself as the party “that governs least.”
The American Civil Liberties Union has long supported libertarian causes without regard to ideology, which causes it to defend some unpopular positions; however, conservatives now see this as anathema. These days, the only issue on which right-wingers make common cause with the ACLU is keeping prosecutors away from Rush Limbaugh’s medical records.
Contrast this with the Republican attitude toward women’s medical files. John Ashcroft has subpoenaed thousands of patient records from Planned Parenthood to gather data supporting restrictions on abortion rights. Except when it gains them votes from the Religious Right, conservatives usually pretend to hate this sort of intimidation. But the bottom line is a right-wing millionaire’s “doctor shopping” to feed his drug habit merits a protected status that the legal right to reproductive choice doesn’t confer on ordinary women.
When powerful Republican junkies aren’t involved, Ashcroft’s war on drugs even trumps states’ rights, an erstwhile conservative article of faith venerated by real libertarians. At a time when you’d think he’d have more important things to do, the attorney general has come down hard on states such as California and Oregon that have legalized medical marijuana — arresting growers, doctors and terminal cancer patients.
The president is pandering to the GOP’s Pat Robertson wing with a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages. Libertarians generally favor local autonomy and view the Constitution as inviolable, but conservative activists are now pushing long lists of intrusive amendments. Would libertarians view personal relationships as a constitutional matter? Do we need an amendment adding “God” to the Pledge of Allegiance? Would libertarians amend the First Amendment to ban flag burning?
Incensed by the brief exposure of Janet Jackson’s breast at the Super Bowl, FCC Chairman Michael Powell has declared war on offensive speech. The FCC is threatening massive fines to force Howard Stern — admittedly not free speech’s best face — off the airwaves for broadcasting the same lewd content he’s aired for years. (Oddly, this began after Stern came out for Kerry in the upcoming election.) The FCC has also pressured the Victoria’s Secret show off television, delighting the social conservatives, who hate the libertarian alternative of changing the channel.
Time Magazine conservative columnist Andrew Sullivan has nicknamed Mr. Bush our “Nanny in Chief” for injecting big government into so many areas of America’s personal life. Republicans once professed indignation at Hillary Clinton’s notion that “it takes a village” to raise a child, but the Bush administration is appropriating billions to encourage marriage, test high school students for drugs, teach values, encourage virginity, and on and on. These may be laudable intentions, but when did family values become the bailiwick of politicians, rather than families and churches?
Republican activism on church/state issues is increasingly overbearing. GOP social conservatives push school prayer, the Ten Commandments and religious displays on the rest of us. Meanwhile, religious absolutism is hampering scientific progress in stem-cell research and contraception, and, in many areas, Republican legislators support the teaching of Christian pseudoscience (i.e., creationism) in the public schools.
Primetime right-wingers like O’Reilly sermonize nightly about “secularists” and “the culture war,” seeming not to understand that the opposite of secularism is not traditionalism — it’s theocracy. Big government is using our tax dollars to fund a slippery slope of faith-based initiatives run by evangelical groups, whose primary mission is proselytizing: Was George W elected our president or pastor?
At least libertarians can get behind the president’s desire to privatize social security. Having blown the surplus with his borrow-and-big-spend policies, Mr. Bush may not leave us with many benefits to worry about. Assuming Alan Greenspan isn’t just being an alarmist about the effects of the Bush deficits, we’re going to need huge private bankrolls on which to retire.
In November, the Libertarian Party has as much chance as Ralph Nader, so libertarians will be forced to choose between two big-government agendas. I’m basing my decision on taxes, Iraq and the economy, because no one, least of all the Republicans, is planning on leaving me alone.
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