Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Racists, Barr and the shifting tides of social opinion.

It appears that Mr. Barr got an endorsement from one of the truly lunatic fringe types over at the racist Stormfront discussion group. It was done on the premise that Barr would “stop supporting wars for Israel.” The Nazi in question is apparently unaware that Barr’s VP candidate is Jewish and a staunch supporter of Israel.

Barr’s campaign does deserve a half a cheer for repudiating the endorsement. Russ Verney, Barr’s non-libertarian campaign manager said: “The Barr campaign is not going to be a vehicle for every fringe and hate group to promote itself. We do want and will not accept the support of haters.” Barr operative Steve Gordon said: “We denounce anybody who doesn’t want to treat everybody equally under the law.”

Some people are cheering this loudly. But really folks, this is 2008, does it really take any guts or principles to denounce Nazis today?

I am glad Barr did it. When Ron Paul got such support he refused to denounce it and that itself became news. The Right tried to defend Paul on that but if the shoe were on Obama’s foot, and he were endorsed by some radical Islamic group, his refusal to denounce the endorsement would be loudly proclaimed. The issue only became news worthy because Paul was unwilling to denounce it and tried to make the issue go away for some time before, I believe, finally saying he didn’t want their support.

Refusing the support of Nazis is not a particularly brave political move. It doesn’t necessarily show anything about Barr except to show that his people are savvy enough to know that the support of such blatant bigots is political poison. Still I’m glad he did it.

Mr. Gordon’s comment is an interesting one. He said the Barr campaign will “denounce anybody who doesn’t want to treat everybody equally under the law.” I hope so. But will this really apply if some major figure on the Religious Right comes out in support of Barr. The Religious Right tends to refuse to treat gay people equally -- in fact they are campaigning on unequal treatment for homosexuals. Will Barr denounce the support such people? Time will see.

It is, of course possible that he will. Even John McCain is doing that these days -- having rejected the support of two prominent ministers in the fundamentalist Right. With Barr’s background, in matters like the Defense of Marriage Act, it is even more necessary for him to denounce any whiff of bigotry. He is more vulnerable than McCain.

I would also note that there is another story here as well. It is one which I think the media has not notice and it is not about Barr though Barr’s alleged change of heart on social matters is indicative of the change. That story is that America has shifted directions on social matters. Cultural conservatism is on the way out and cultural liberalism is gaining.

The pendulum is going in the opposite direction. We saw a big shift in the mid 60s toward social liberalism -- or things sometimes considered social liberalism which weren’t. Two decades later the country shifted in the other direction. It is now shifting back. Here are things which I see as indications of this cultural shift:

South Dakota Republicans passed legislation outlawing abortion but the voters in South Dakota repealed the law almost immediately.

Republicans in Arizona but an antigay marriage amendment on the ballot in the last election only to find that voters rejected it.

Gay marriage repeal attempts in Massachusetts failed badly and support for marriage equality increased substantially in a very short time. Nationally support for gay marriage has almost doubled since 1998 from 27% to 46%.

States like Vermont, Connecticut and California have made giant moves in favor of marriage equality for gays. While an attempt to overturn the rights of gays to marry in California will be made this Fall by the Religious Right polls indicate that a majority of voters now support marriage equality for the first time.

America, the most religious modern nation in the world had a spate of books on the best-seller list espousing atheism. Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris all wrote best sellers which open championed the non-religious value system.

Polls of young Americans show that in the last ten years the numbers who admit to being atheists has doubled.

Recent polls of evangelical young adults show that a large segment of them are unhappy with the social positions of their own churches. They say that Christians come across as hateful and bigoted and they don’t want to have any part of it.

Only a few years ago 60% of Americans said that government should support “traditional morality”. As 2006 it was down to 48%. I suspect it is lower today but couldn’t find a more recent Gallup poll on the issue.

What I think this means is that the culture war is over, at least for the time being, and the Religious Right lost. Americans are moving rapidly and quickly toward social liberalism. I give much of the credit to Republicans, and to Mr. Bush in particular. Anything Bush has embraced has been discredited. Almost no one outside the hard core fundamentalist camp gives Bush much credibility on anything. (The downside is that Bush was falsely perceived as being pro-free market so he has also done a lot to discredit markets.) The hypocrisy of Republicans and Religious Right leaders, caught in numerous sex scandals, also helped discredit this movement.

The American people got tired of the culture wars and they seem to be abandoning the cultural conservatives.

This is no time for Libertarians, or libertarians, to play down their social positions. If anything those positions should go to the forefront of the campaign. Great gains can be made for social freedom over the next few years.

The problem, of course, is that the Left will also be using the new social tolerance to try to push a statist agenda on these issues. So they won’t want just marriage equality for gays but will work to stifle free speech with hate crime laws for instance. Libertarians, if they lead the charge for expanding social freedom, can do a lot to deflect the statist advances in those fields. If they mute their voices, or only act after others have done so, they will lose any chance of directing this cultural shift.

There are three areas in particular where I think social freedom can be advanced and should be:

1. The country is on the cusp of complete acceptance for the equality of rights for homosexuals. Libertarians should not be shy in demanding this. Stop pandering to the Right, they are the losers in this war and when a war is ending it is stupid to ally yourself with the losers.

2. Libertarians need to double their efforts to abolish the war on drugs. This will be a hard issue to promote, even with the new social liberalism I am expecting, but this is a good time to make the effort. At the very least we can repeal bans on marijuana -- and not just for medicinal purposes either. Libertarians should not take the conservative view of state’s rights and downplay the issue or ignore it. They ought to be in the front lines demanding a total end to the war on drugs.

3. America’s sex laws have gotten out of control with numerous unimportant or benign behaviours being classified as a “sex offense”. When kids are arrested for having sex with each other, and charged with being child molestors and put on trial, you know the laws have gone too far. The entire “sex offender” bogeyman is ripe for deconstruction. This does not mean there are no legitimate sex offenders but politicians have not made things better and are creating more victims than they are preventing. This was a politically created hysteria much as the “Satanic child abuse” scare in the 1990s. That one passed in a few short years and died. It is time for this hysteria to die out as well. More importantly many of the recent laws ought to be repealed.

I believe that we will see a major shift in social attitudes in the United States over the next few years. And libertarians ought to take advantage of that. It may be that the theological conservatism will make a comeback at some point but I sincerely doubt they will ever see the days of influence that say in the last two decades. America is moving toward a post-Christian culture, much the way all the other advanced nations of the world have done. And that is good for social freedom. Whether it is good for libertarianism depends on whether they lead the change or merely go along with it.

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