Friday, March 30, 2007

Could Bush be good for liberty? (Gag, gag)

Events can change minds about long held beliefs. This is especially true if those beliefs are out of sync with reality.

There were times in the past when I wanted to fry Congressman Bob Barr in hot oil. Other times I thought he was right. But what I find interesting is that Barr has become much better on the issues after he got out office.

Out of office Barr is starting to figure out something important. Something I wish he had realized in office. But it took those two horrific disasters, 9/11 and George Bush, to get him to reconsider his views. Barr started working with the American Civil Liberties Union because of his concerns about the abolition of Constitutional rights under the Bush regime. Then he went and joined the Libertarian Party. I wasn’t sure they should have welcomed as a member or not. I’m still wavering on that one.

Now he’s moved one step closer to sanity and decency. He’s admitted he was quite wrong on something he did. Some time ago the people of Washington, D.C. approved a medicinal marijuana law. Barr introduced a law in Congress to block the District from doing that. Not only does Barr say he was wrong. He’s helping the Marijuana Policy Project lobby against the very law he pushed through. Barr explains his his change of heart:

I, over the years, have taken a very strong stand on drug issues, but in light of the tremendous growth of government power since 9/11, it has forced me and other conservatives to go back and take a renewed look at how big and powerful we want the government to be in people’s lives.

This reminded me of another piece I read in The Hoya, the campus newspaper for Georgetown University. There Professor Carol Lancaster wrote an article entitled “Somebody Help Me, I Think I’m Becoming a Libertarian.” She says she started out life as a “content, optimistic liberal” -- she doesn’t mean classical liberal but modern left-liberal who “thought governments could and should help solve” the problems of the world. (I wonder if this is a coincidence? We have a regular reader at Georgetown University who is often on the site. I don't know the identity just the location. Hey, Carol is that you?)

She, however, learned that “governments are inefficient, bumbling, heavy-handed and sometimes corrupt.” Carol, you forgot dangerous and deadly as well. She says government usually goes wrong “as a result of incompetence or bad luck”. Now while I sympathize with her sentiments I think she is wrong on that bit. Government goes wrong because the feed-back loops in government are wrong. Put “good guys” in charge and the same thing happens. It is not the people in the department but the system itself that is problematic. Changing personnel doesn’t change counterproductive feed back loops that encourage the wrong actions.

Lancaster, like Barr, says: “Events of the past five years in Washington have frightened me still further to the right — even into seeing libertarians in a new and more favorable light. What libertarians value most is individual freedom from tyranny, oppression, confiscation of one’s property and government interference in what should be private choices.” She is right in her description but I suggest wrong to think that is moving to the Right.

She finds recent authoritarian actions taken by the Bush government to be very unsettling. Prof. Lancaster says she’s still “enough of a liberal to believe in the good that government can do. But we’ve got to keep an eye on them, too. Thanks to terrorism, I’m also becoming a libertarian.”

I sympathize greatly with what she wrote. There are many “good” things I wish were possible. I just don’t see government as being the best way of achieving them. Long-term it destroys a lot of the good things we want accomplished. In my personal sentiments I am very much with the Left on issues like poverty, hunger, disease, minority rights, etc. I would like to think that government could pass a law and problems would be solved. But that just doesn’t happen.

One of the wisest things I learned, when living in South Africa, is that the best kind of government is one you would be happy living under even if your worst enemy won the election. There is a lot of wisdom packed into that idea.

I am a staunch supporter of sex education. But look what happened to the sex education programs that liberals created in the 1960s and 1970s. They are now abstinence programs pushing fundamentalist morality and misinforming kids about condoms and birth control. Just because you set up a program doesn’t mean you will run it. Good intentions don’t mean the “bad guys” won’t take over. And when they do you are the one who gave the power to do all the bad things they will be doing.

That Bob Barr and Carol Lancaster are both moving toward a classical liberal/libertarian perspective from opposite sides of the political spectrum is encouraging. I can only pray this is part of a trend and not an anomaly

This does remind me of an interesting 1952 novel by the slightly deranged Taylor Caldwell entitled The Devil’s Advocate. It dealt with a totalitarian America under the heel of an evil regime. An underground movement has arisen to overthrow the government. Eventually you discover that the head of the underground movement is the president himself. He saw what the government was doing as evil and realized the only way to stop it was to create a counter-movement against the state. But the only thing that inspired people to oppose the accumulation of power was the government doing more bad things. In order to create a pro-freedom movement he intentionally continued pushing bad laws.

A strange book in several ways but interesting. But it did remind me that state oppression does create a movement against the state. Each new repression creates a backlash. The problem in the United States is that it created a backlash against only one party -- as is happening with the Republicans now -- but without necessarily attacking state power. Hopeful that will change. And if we see figures on the Right, like Barr, and on the Left, like Lancaster, continuing to move in a libertarian direction there may still be hope for America yet. But I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you. But it is nice to dream.

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