Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mushy libertarianism vs the religious impulse.

One of the themes that I periodically pay attention to is what I call the mushy libertarianism of the American mainstream. I wrote that the mainstream politics in this country is libertarian but "not consistent" and "not principled." I have called this mushy libertarianism a revival of the Mugwumps.

A new poll from Associated Press backs up my general analysis. Over and over the dominant opinion, among Americas, leans in a libertarian direction. Here are some of the details:

Three-quarters of the public say that the US Constitution "is an enduring document that remains relevant today." Sixty percent say that that the "rule of law" should come first, even if it does at the expense of public safety.

The Religious Right regularly argues that the rights of gay people should be subjected to a majority vote. The majority doesn't agree. Just 35% say, "If a majority of people want something to happen, the rights of a few shouldn't stand in the way" and 62% agree that "the rights of everyone should be protected, even when that means saying no to something majority of people want to happen."

Only one in four Americans would support giving the president more power, even if it would improve the economy. Three-quarters of the public opposed the idea. Half the public say "it is up to each individual to secure health insurance" and less than half say the government ought to provide it. But 83% oppose the central feature of Obama's health care plan, government mandates requiring people to buy health insurance.

Half of all Americans say they favor a way for illegal immigrants, already in the country, to legalize their position, while just under half oppose the idea. Seventy-percent agree that "people should have the right say what they believe even if they take positions that seem deeply offensive to most people."

A clear majority, 58%, now believe that same-sex couples are entitled to same benefits as opposite-sex couples and that government should not distinguish between them. In 2008, 51% agreed, in 2009 it was 54%. While support rose by 7 points opposition declined by 5 points. Even more encouraging, from a libertarian point of view, is that a majority of Americans now believe the federal government ought to recognize gay marriages: 52% to 46% opposed. This is the second national poll in recent weeks showing a majority of Americans now support gay marriage.

Fifty-one percent of Americans say that gun control laws "infringe" the right to keep and bear arms. A plurality, 42%, say that the government restricts too much information from the public.

One area where the majority goes wrong is that 64% do not thinking that banning minors from violent video games is a proper function of government. One thing you can be sure of is that if people are afraid their children are at risk they turn into raving maniacs willing to lynch anyone. This is the sort of irrational fear that the National Organization for Marriage relies upon with their anti-gay scare commercials.

Other results of interest include the fact that 43% of the public are not confident in the federal government, only 10% are strongly confident in the feds. Similarly 37% are not confident in state governments, where 10% are, and 49% are not confident in Congress, where 7% are. Other areas with high levels of distrust are: banks, 52%; large corporations , 42%; labor unions, 41%; the media, 38%; blogs, 54%; organized religion, 35%; and public schools, 37%.

Other matters of interest is that 36% of the public consider themselves to be born-again Christians and 24% say they don't belong to a religion.

A different poll indicates that almost all opposition to equality of rights for gay people is rooted in religion, and not based on other concerns. Sixty-percent of conservatives admit that they oppose same-sex marriage because of their religion. All the evidence shows that opposition to legal equality exists because people want their religion legislated onto others:
Almost six-in-ten regular churchgoers (59%) say their clergy speak out on the issue of abortion, higher than for any other issue in the survey except hunger and poverty (88%). Despite divided opinions on abortion among Catholics as a whole, seven-in-ten Catholics (70%) who attend church at least once a month report that their clergy speak out on the issue of abortion. Similarly, 65% of white evangelical Protestants and 55% of black Protestants who attend services at least once a month report that their clergy talk about abortion, while fewer mainline Protestants (39%) say this.

Among those who attend religious services at least once a month and say abortion should be illegal in most or all cases, two-thirds (66%) report having heard about the issue from their clergy. Among regular worship attenders who think abortion should be legal in most or all cases, fewer (50%) report having heard about this issue from their clergy. Half of those who say their clergy speak out on abortion cite religion as the most important influence on their views on abortion, compared with 29% of those who do not hear from their clergy about the issue.

On the issue of same-sex marriage, about four-in-ten Americans (41%) say they favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally while 48% are opposed. A slight majority of Democrats (52%) favor same-sex marriage, while independents are evenly split (44% favor, 45% oppose) and two-thirds (67%) of Republicans are opposed. Democrats are divided sharply along racial lines; 63% of white Democrats favor same-sex marriage, compared with just 27% of black Democrats and 46% of Hispanic Democrats.
This sort of theocratic viewpoint applies even to laws forbidding gay people to openly serve in the military—something the Republican Party just killed in the U.S. Senate with unanimous support from their caucus. In other words, not a single Republican Senator voted to allow gay people to serve in the military.

On the matter of gays in the military 60% of all Americans support equality. Even a slim plurality of Republicans, 47-43%, support equality. Of all the various subgroups the only group to oppose allowing gay people to serve in the military are white evangelical Christians, where a plurality 47-43% oppose the measure. Most blacks support equality here, most conservatives do, most independent voters do—only white born again Christians oppose the measure and that appears to be the ONLY group in American politics that Republicans listen to.

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