Political Activist Seeks Label
--passage of time –
--Barry Manilow in Muzak form fills your ears while you wait--
--Oh Mandy, you came and you brought me some bacon, but you cooked it flambé oh Mandy--See the difference? I took the subheading off my blog title. No more mention of “gonzo libertarianism.” No mention of libertarians at all. I’ve discarded that label for the same reason I quit calling myself a feminist: because both words have become so contaminated, their mainstream use is entirely different from their original meanings.
Whenever I said “I'm a feminist,” I meant men and women should be legal and social equals. But I quit applying the F-word to myself once I started collecting criticism from other self-described F-words who apparently believe feminism means “attractive women betray The Sisterhood” or “Ditto the women who work in the sex industry” or even “Andrea Dworkin was right: men are scum.”
I’ve written professional articles describing how I paid for college by working in exotic-dance clubs, and had self-described F-words in the comment threads tell me outright that I was a disgusting human being who caused harm to all women, and “should have” remained an impoverished high school graduate rather than dance my way to a college degree. I view feminism as a ladder to help women climb up; they view it as a cudgel to beat women down when we don't behave as they demand. I’m a strong advocate of ladder feminism and utterly abhor cudgel feminism, but the cudgel version is best-known today and I don’t want anybody thinking I adhere to it, which is why I’ve stopped saying “I’m a feminist” in favor of clunkier phrases like “equality for all.”
Which brings me to libertarianism. Or any political label, these days. Pop quiz: in modern American usage, what is the definition of a “political conservative?” I can give you multiple contradictory and equally valid answers off the top of my head: A conservative is someone who believes in smaller government and more personal liberty. Or someone who believes government should be small enough to fit inside a gay person's bedroom, drug user's bloodstream or woman's reproductive system, the better to regulate what goes on within. Someone who believes anything a Republican does is good because it’s a Republican doing it, and anything a Democrat does is bad for an equal and opposite reason. Someone who believes the Bible rather than the constitution should be the law of the land. There’s even conservatives who believe science is a left-wing atheist plot and the single greatest evil in the 6,000-year history of planet Earth. I consider myself a conservative according to the first definition I listed, but want nothing to do with the latter groups.
What is a “liberal?” It could mean “someone who believes in the importance of individual rights and civil liberties.” I’m extremely liberal, in that sense of the word. But it can also apply to someone who believes “anytime anything bad happens, it’s because the government didn’t pass the right regulations,” with a strong subcategory of “someone who believes only agents of the government should be allowed to own guns.”
And quite a few partisan-hack liberals believe “Destroying civil liberties is only bad if Republicans do it; TSA was an unconstitutional monstrosity as a Bush baby, but now that Obama’s president I fully support TSA’s fine efforts to keep me safe. Also, warrantless wiretapping is evil because – oh, wait, it’s Democrats doing it now? Never mind, then.”
I’ve even seen self-described liberals who sincerely believe “individuals must be forced to suffer in the name of the greater good” – like the ones who oppose school choice and believe poor-but-bright kids must remain in their dangerous, failing public schools, because if the poor-but-bright kid can leave and get a better education somewhere else, that would hurt the dangerous, failing school he just abandoned. The school doesn’t owe him a good education; he owes the school the state funding tied to his attendance.
And what is a “libertarian?” If you limit the definition to someone who plans to vote for Gary Johnson in the next presidential election, that’s me. If you stick with the old definition “someone who believes government power over individuals must be kept to a minimum, because power corrupts and attracts the corrupt, and also because adults are better off running their own lives than letting bureaucrats run their lives instead” … that’s me, too.
But I’m fed up with being mistaken for the self-described libertarians who support the racist drivel of the infamous Ron Paul newsletters, libertarians who support Bob Barr, libertarians who believe “any sort of law protecting a worker’s rights relative to his employer is a net loss for freedom,” libertarians who think Rush Limbaugh made a good argument when he called Sandra Fluke a slut and a prostitute for thinking medical insurance should cover ovarian cysts and other problems with women’s reproductive systems.
As the Fluke debacle played out on the national stage last March, I wrote “Sandra Fluke Was Not A Fluke: A Secular Crisis of Faith,” my first blog post where I wondered, publicly, if I really wanted to label myself a libertarian anymore:
Limbaugh's rant didn't surprise me at all. Here's what did surprise me: when I'd go on Facebook, or visit various political blogs and forums I'm prone to frequent, all run by people I'd considered political allies of a sort (mainly self-described libertarians who claim to share my mantra "Social liberal and fiscal conservative"), I saw to my dismay how many "libertarians" favor Limbaugh's view of ovarian-cyst treatment over Fluke's.A couple days later, my friend and fellow blogger Mark Draughn linked to me in a post of his own, which he called “How not to bring women into the libertarian movement.”
I saw countless photos of Fluke's face with captions suggesting she wants taxpayers to buy her silk sheets, Barry White albums and vibrating dildos; captions suggesting that only whores want or need healthy reproductive systems. I saw self-described libertarians who view women's hormone pills the same way callous drug warriors view pain medicine for the dying: if there's even the theoretical possibility a drug or medical treatment can be used solely for fun -- a painkiller that can also get you high, a hormone-balancing treatment that can also let you have sex without fear of pregnancy -- then let's pretend these treatments are only used for fun, and furthermore that only irresponsible criminal loser-types would ever use those treatments. Only hopeless-loser potheads would ever use marijuana, only trashy-filth meth whores would ever buy decongestants, and only promiscuous sluts would ever take hormone pills, right?
He quoted parts of my post, added commentary of his own, then said this:
Like many other radical movements, libertarianism has some very dark corners. Probably the darkest of these corners — the ones we talk about the least — are the corners where all the bigots are hiding.
I think it’s a reaction to shifting political power. There was no such thing as the Ku Klux Klan when white people were completely in charge and black people were literally slaves. But once the slaves were emancipated, white bigots lost some power in the world, and they fought back by forming a terrorist organization, with the goal of keeping blacks in their place.
That hasn’t worked out real well for them: Just check the skin color of our current President. It took a damned long time, but black people have risen up in this country and begun to take their share of political power. Women have been on the same path, gaining in power and influence every decade. These changes frighten a lot of bigots, and when people who frighten you are beginning to control the government, the idea of a smaller government begins to look really attractive. So they start calling themselves libertarians.
(Stripped of the racist elements, that’s a pretty good description of why I’m a libertarian: The people who control our government are frightening me.)
We all know a few of those libertarians. They’re the ones who complain endlessly about the government’s abuse of power, but the only example they ever come up with is Affirmative Action. They’re the ones who can only list “welfare” when asked for an example of government waste. They’re the ones who oppose gun control because “the streets are filled with savages.” They’re the ones who wrote the worst of the Ron Paul newsletters. And when the government wants to restructure healthcare, they’re the ones who only seem really upset about the parts that help women.
That darkling breed of libertarian Draughn calls out is part of the reason I’m shying away from the label now. But the bigoted libertarians aren’t the only reason. I’m also fed up with the ones who might, for lack of a better word, be called “libertopians”: those who believe that, since X law would not be necessary in a true free-market libertopia, this means X law should not exist now, and anyone who argues for it must only be a freedom-hating statist. Take, for example, the ones who oppose Sandra Fluke – NOT because they hate women, but because they honestly, sincerely believe that making employers pay for health insurance benefits if they don’t want to is detrimental to their freedom.
Yes, it would be in libertopia. But we don’t live there: we live in a country where the laws effectively makes it impossible for most people to buy decent health insurance on their own; either you get it through your employer or you don’t get it at all. Yet even under these warped circumstances, as far from a truly free market as you can get, libertopians insist that “freedom” means employers need the right to pry into their employees’ medical records and make decisions regarding employees’ medical care. And if that means Sandra Fluke’s friend loses her ovary because medical treatment for ovarian cysts offends her employer’s religious sensibilities — let freedom ring! The system works as advertised!
Or consider the libertarians who say they oppose gay marriage because they think government should get out of the marriage business altogether. Meanwhile, they’re willing to stick with the status quo “straight people can marry and get government benefits that wouldn’t exist in libertopia,” then claim that extending these same privileges to gay couples would be a step backwards, freedom-wise.
“Gay couples shouldn’t be getting government privileges” would be a valid anti-gay marriage argument if we lived in libertopia, where NO couples got special government bennies and gays sought to make themselves the exception to that rule. But in our world, our real, utterly non-libertopian world, where such privileges are already doled out to everyone except gay couples, such arguments reek of utter cluelessness at best, rank bigotry at worst.
I’m imagining today’s libertarian-utopians circa 1850: “Yeah, in libertopia, divorce will be legal, and wives free to leave abusive husbands. Until then, though, it would be antithetical to freedom if we pass laws telling men they can’t beat their wives. We can’t let the government interfere with the family! Men NEED the freedom to manage their households as they see fit, and women still have the freedom to just say no to a marriage proposal from an abuser.”
Around the time of the Fluke debacle, some Arizona legislators proposed a law that would make it legal for employers to look at all employees' medical records and fire any women who take birth control pills.
And I know self-described libertarians who supported that law, and opposed any counterlaw banning employers from perusing their employees’ medical records, in the name of supporting employers' freedom. Which, again, might persuade me if we lived in libertopia, but we don’t. If true libertarian freedom requires codifying into law an employer’s “right” to peer into every aspect of an employee’s physical condition and personal life, and fire those who take legal medications the employer dislikes, then true libertarian freedom can go fuck itself with the taxpayer-subsidized dildo it pretends Sandra Fluke actually demanded.
So how do I describe my political beliefs? Liberal, conservative, feminist, libertarian? All apply to some extent – but only if you focus on what they used to mean, and not enough people do anymore.