Thursday, February 28, 2013

Glenn the 'Libertarian'

Returning to the fray after somewhat of a long hiatus I think it is only proper to take up Glenn Beck and his recent ‘conversion’ to being somewhat of a libertarian, in his own words.  Mr. Beck seems to be very upset that there are people out there who might be just slightly hesitant to embrace him at this early stage of his conversion.  He was particularly upset with people such as Alexander McCobin of the Students for Liberty who said, and restated wonderfully here, that this is not a question of an ideological purity test, that some ‘small tent’ libertarians want to exclude him because of issue X or Y.  The issue here is that Beck must be the one, for more than a week or so, to show that he has actually changed through his rhetoric and actions.  It is fine to stand up and say “hey guys I was wrong, I’m part of the team now” and IF he starts backing words with action then people will start to judge and accept him on that basis, but he can’t jump up and expect, after a decade of very public resistance to most of the efforts of the liberty movement, to be crowned the titular head or spokesman of the movement coming right out of the gates (which quite honestly seems to be what he is so upset about).  Beck needs to start somewhat at the back of the line and do a little put up or shut up.  Now, he start of by having a discussion with some libertarians on his show, and right off the bat he shows the problem that many people have with this conversion.

In this video they start off with the topic of drugs, and the idea of legalizing drugs.  Beck instantly shows, and admits to, his ‘conservative’ bias in that he can’t wrap his mind around this idea of legal heroin, and the lost generation of people who would clog up the welfare state with their addiction.  Now the response dealing with the simultaneous dismantling of the welfare state is fine, but really the whole issue of the Drug War shows the gulf between libertarians and conservatives.  The issue, at least for me, is not about the drugs and the affect they might have, it is about government policy, and this is why Beck is not going to be openly embraced by many libertarians, until such time as HE starts to change.  When it comes to discussing legalizing drugs I always start with Prohibition.  Almost everyone can understand that Prohibition was a terrible policy that had terrible consequences.  Almost everyone knows who Al Capone was, and they understand that the only reason they know who this penny-ante thug was is because Prohibition made him a multi-millionaire and a cultural folk hero.  Almost everyone knows or has seen someone who is wasting their life away with alcohol, but even ardent teetotalers would be hard pressed to say “we need a law…” because everyone comprehends and understands the disaster that was Prohibition, but if you ask them to apply that same logical conclusion to the Drug War you all of the sudden have this massive cognitive dissonance occur.  It almost automatically comes down to drugs are bad and government needs to outlaw them.   No recognition that they have been fed decades of scary propaganda that lumps all drugs and drug users as equally evil and immoral.  They don’t see the interconnected nature of it all, the building blocks of the system.  Once upon a time it was considered necessary to pass a constitutional amendment to provide our limited government with the power to outlaw something like alcohol.  Not so now, it is all wonderfully Progressive ‘commerce clause’ and ‘necessary and proper’ actions that lock up millions of people and directly cause the deaths of thousand of others.  They don’t see the Black Market nature of the drug business being the impetus behind the entire cycle of gun violence, the erosion of constitutional protections, border and immigration issues, the lack of economic opportunity and mobility in the inner cities and a host of other problems.  They simply see drugs as being bad and why can’t some politician just do something to protect the poor little children from the scourge of drugs.

Libertarians loath the idea of the state interfering in your personal autonomy, of giving power to government to intercede on your behalf, to save you from yourself as it were.  Many conservatives can find all manner of reasons to use the power of the state to MAKE you behave in a way they believe to be proper.  Santorum, Bachmann and a whole host of conservatives, many of whom Beck has openly supported in the past, would gladly use the Federal government to force individuals to behave in a manner they believed proper.  This is the battle cry of the Progressive, that government can and should be a direct vehicle for changing people’s practices, actions and attitudes that are considered to be unhealthy or improper for the collective of the State.  Beck has railed against these ideas when they are coming out of the Left, but what about the Right?  You can say that forcing someone to buy health insurance they don’t want is an improper extension of power by the Federal government over individual autonomy, and I would agree.  You can say that regulating what, where, when and how much anyone eats is beyond the scope and power of our limited constitutional government and I would agree.  You can declare that the overreach of government into every sector of life and the economy is an abomination never intended by our Founders, and I would and do support you.  You can not however turn around, point at some wastoid in the corner who wants to sit around hastening himself to an early grave by mainlining crank and say “the Federal government needs to find the authority to outlaw that activity and ensure it can’t happen by investing billions of dollars on interdiction, eradication, imprisonment every year until the problem is eliminated!”  It is a logical disconnect, and while I am a big tent type who does not advocate ideological purity, I will certainly point out ideological inconsistency and ask questions.

So let’s start in that vein, which I believe to be Mr. McCobin’s point about Beck being the one who needs to move and not vice versa.  Can Beck explain how the Drug War or drug prohibition fits into his idea of how, where, when and in what fashion the (limited) Federal government should be acting?  Can he defend it without there being a glaring ideological inconsistency in that response, say when compared to something like a ‘Junk Food Tax’ which he has lambasted in the past?  Some Liberal Progressive busy body can make just as compelling case about a man’s ‘sugar induced diabetes imposing societal costs that need to be curtailed’ as a moralizing Conservative’s claim that individual consumption of Black Tar Heroin should be demonized and outlawed by the Feds, much in the same way as a whole host of people a century gone insisted I shouldn’t be enjoying as much Single Malt Whisky as I do.  All are positions that are interrelated mainly in the fact that none of them are ‘libertarian.’  We don’t have union cards, and you can call yourself the Emperor of Siam for all I care, but if you want to embrace, advocate and expand the liberty movement then please do so through your actions.  Show yourself to be the changed man, open to dialogue, more inclusive and receptive to ideas outside of the generally conservative, and then we will see what develops.