Monday, April 30, 2001

Week of 04/30/2001

Conservatives: Freedom for me, but not for thee…
- by David Matthews 2

"Conservatism is sometimes a symptom of sterility. Those who have nothing in them that can grow and develop must cling to what they have in beliefs, ideas and possessions. The sterile radical, too, is basically conservative. He is afraid to let go of the ideas and beliefs he picked up in his youth lest his life be seen as empty and wasted." - Eric Hoffer

One of the few advantages of being a libertarian commentator is being able to pick and choose from a wide variety of news sources to comment from. I sometimes refer to it jokingly as being able to "pick from the best and piss on the rest." I can pull articles from anywhere across the political spectrum, from the liberal reporters on CNN and MSNBC, to the not-so "fair and balanced" conservative sources of Fox News, World Net Daily, and NewsMax. I pluck from each of them their more liberty-oriented articles and arguments, and then rant relentlessly about their failings.

However, I was genuinely surprised by the take of some of the more conservative commentators on a recent decision by the US Supreme Court.

The decision surrounded a police officer in Texas who arrested a woman for driving without her seatbelt. Now this "crime" carries only a nominal fine, but instead of writing this mother of two a ticket, the police officer put her in handcuffs and hauled her to jail, to be incarcerated along with thieves, robbers, rapists, and murderers. The case went before the US Supreme Court, and in a 5-4 decision, the justices said it was perfectly within the rights of the police officer to arrest ANYONE for ANY offense, no matter how slight.

Think about that for a minute.. ANY offense. Speeding, jaywalking, improper lane changing, talking back to a police officer, spitting on the sidewalk, littering. ANY kind of law or ordinance - no matter how slight, no matter how obscure, no matter how outdated - now can result in you being arrested, handcuffed, searched, and thrown in jail.. even if the punishment is only a pittance of a fine.

Now a libertarian like myself would naturally rail against such a decision, and rightly so. This is yet again another instance of that government tyranny that I have been warning people about.

But then I saw something strange in my searching of my kaleidoscope of news services that I never expected to see. I saw some conservatives actually condemn the decision! I saw them smack their foreheads over this decision along purely philosophical lines and they asked to themselves and out loud just what the hell were those justices thinking! How could they do this, they ask themselves.

Well I say it’s about time some of those self-confessed conservatives actually woke up!

Let’s get brutally honest here.. the conservatives are NOT the great defenders of freedom and liberty that they pretend to be. Oh sure, they can talk the talk, but when it comes to walking the walk, they are often doing pratfalls.

When it comes to freedom, conservatives operate under one hypocritical premise: "Freedom for me, but not necessarily for thee."

Oh yes, conservatives will fight for free speech.. but only if it is their freedom to speak that is on the line. When it comes to fighting so-called "hate crime" legislation, they are the first to grab a philosophical sword in defense of the freedom of speech, because they know that what they say could very well be the first kind of speech censored. However, if that speech involves something they don’t like.. such as speech that involves sex or violence.. then they’re the first to turn that philosophical sword AGAINST freedom. The forthcoming battle by conservatives against the entertainment world is perhaps the biggest example of this hypocrisy. They’re all for the freedom of speech, but only as long as THEY get to determine what that speech is.

How about the freedom of religion? Oh yes, to give the devils their due, the conservatives are very passionate about religion, and they’ll be the first to tell you that. They’ll talk in depth about the benefits of their religious beliefs in building good social lives. They’ll rally on about how they feel religion is the universal cure to all of society’s modern ills, and how it would be such a wonderful world if everyone just embraced religion.

Of course, the discussion takes a much different tone when the topic turns towards other people’s religious beliefs... especially those that are not considered mainstream. Suddenly the discussion of religion becomes the IMPOSITION of another person’s religious beliefs onto others. And some don’t even refer to those other beliefs as religious beliefs, but rather as cults… which, in their terminology, doesn’t warrant the freedom of religion that the conservatives so treasure. In fact, the conservatives created a religion called "secular humanism" as a means to protest against not imposing their religious beliefs in school and other veins of government. Sort of a "damned if you do, damned if you don’t" kind of Catch-22 argument. So in the mind of the conservatives, it is perfectly okay to talk about Judeo-Christian values.. but all other so-called "cults" had better watch their tongues, and leave their own beliefs in their respective churches.

Mind you, these failings of the conservatives are nothing new.. I’ve talked about them before. It is the reason why the conservatives were so stymied when a liberal like Bill Clinton managed to thwart their every move by using their own hypocrisy against them. But this time what has managed to get under the skin of many conservative commentators is the fact that it is being done by their own people! The ones that they claim to be better than their liberal counterparts.

The truth of the matter is that conservatives are guided by a principle that goes much deeper than their supposed claims of protecting freedom. Much deeper than their claim - as was once explained to me by columnist Robert Novak - of "going back to what as worked before." This principle is one that has been embraced by all kinds of leaders, from the most peaceful of republics to the most tyrannical of despots.

That principle can be summed up in four words: Order at all costs.

Many a conservative believe that rights and freedoms are considered a luxury in society, to be given only at the discretion of those in power, and only under certain circumstances. They believe that order is essential, and that anything that risks that order must be contained at best, and outlawed at worst. That has been at the heart of the conservative movement for hundreds of years, irregardless of country or party.. not freedom, not tradition, but order.

Clearly order at all costs was the thought that had gone through the minds of at least three of those five Supreme Court justices when they decided that the police - the agents of that order - should be given broad enough powers to curtail anything that would challenge their authority. The Constitution be damned, they would say.. it is order that shall rule the day.

And that, perhaps, is what has some of my conservative brethren in a quandary. Here it is, as presented by the Supreme Court, conservative philosophy in its purest form; stripped down from any pretense of supporting freedom or of maintaining tradition or of supporting family values. A philosophy so raw that it cannot be defended without making one appear to be a tyrant. How can one defend it and still claim to treasure freedom and liberty? The answer is that you can’t.

For many a conservative, politics is just a game. They get to sit there at their news desks, or their think tank offices, or somewhere out in academia, or even out there in the shallow halls of the legislature, and play their little strategy games against their liberal counterparts. They risk nothing if they lose, and serve to gain a wealth of power if they win.

But politics is not a game for the rest of us. Politics can have a very real effect on the way we live. When all is said and done, it will not be those conservatives who will risk losing their homes, or their businesses, or even their freedom.. but we will.

One can only hope that the Supreme Court decision serves as a wake-up call for those defenders of freedom who consider themselves conservatives; because at some point real soon, they are going to have to make a decision of which trait they value more.. order, or freedom. They will no longer have the luxury of selecting them both.

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