GWB: Darling of the Left?

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My left-leaning
friends — and right-leaning ones, too, for that matter — get terribly
riled up when I trot out the old libertarian line that, from our
perspective, it’s hard to tell a Republican from a Democrat. I certainly
can see why either of them would be insulted by the lumpification,
but maybe I can lay out my argument here with a thought experiment.

A somewhat
chilling thought experiment.

What if George
W. Bush woke up tomorrow "reformed"? What if, instead
of crowing hysterically about "Islamic extremism," bombing
innocents, funding right-wing dictators and running up the national
debt, Bush instead made his lame-duck presidency into a mandate
for national health care, environmentalism, and urban planning —
and, of course, funding left-wing dictators and running up the national
debt?

Would liberals
(and I use that word in the fully modern American, not the classical,
sense) be unhappy because Homeland Energy was running around spying
on SUV drivers to see if they brought black-market gasoline instead
of state-sanctioned biofuels? Would they be appalled to see purveyors
of "hate speech" sent to Gitmo? Hardly!

Some liberals
would be angry, yes; the libertarian soulmates (though they may
not acknowledge the bond) of the sort of conservatives who are appalled
by Bush’s insistence on War For Democracy. The overwhelming majority
of liberals, though, would not be unhappy with this reformed Dubya.
They’d adore him — he would be Bill Clinton and Lyndon Johnson and
FDR all rolled into one — the perfect socialist dictator.

What blue-staters
and red-staters have in common — and it is a much stronger bond
than the petty details of tyranny which divide them so publicly
— is a love of dictatorship, a belief that if only their guys
were in power all the same terrible methods developed to control
people for all the wrong reasons could be turned to the service
of Triumphant Good. The very reason for the red-state/blue-state
bitterness is that they are fighting for the exact same prize —
the control of millions of people’s lives. Those who fight for freedom
stand against both of these groups — which explains both the sometimes
bizarre alliances often formed between far right and far left, and
the edginess of the libertarian community, where dope-smoking peaceniks
look warily at their gun-toting isolationist comrades.

A Green shared
with me these words from Mencken as (in her words) a "peace
quote": “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the
populace alarmed by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins,
all of them imaginary.” I’m sure in her mind this is Mencken speaking
from the grave about the Axis of Evil and the Global War on Terrorism
and whatnot, but to me it’s just as clear that he is speaking about
Global Warming and Bird Flu and Peak Oil as well. It’s all of a
piece when the medium is politics — it’s about forcing others to
do what you think is right for them.

And, hey, maybe
you’re right! Maybe the sky is falling. After all, who can
dispute that there are Muslims who wanted the WTC bombed? Who can
dispute that many people could be doing business in a more energy
parsimonious way? The proper question of politics is not whether
the world vision of red-staters or blue-staters is better or should
prevail, but whether any one person or group’s world vision should
be forced on another person or group. That is the only relevant
political question — and to libertarians at least the answer is
a loud and clear “NO!”

A libertarian-leaning
colleague once said to me that “Freedom is extremely valuable, but
it is not the only value.” Of course it is not; charity and mercy
and bravery and wisdom are all important values, too. The vital
thing, though, is that freedom is the only political value
we should strive for. Pursuing values other than freedom with the
tools of politics leads with absolute certainty — as long as men
rule other men — to tyranny, slavery, and dictatorship. That’s why,
when I look at GWB declaring War-on-Whatever, I see Lyndon Johnson,
and FDR, and Stalin and Mao and… well, Big Brother, behind them
all.

June
3, 2006

Susan
Hogarth [send her mail]
is sometimes a scientist and sometimes a copy editor. Her husband’s
ingenuity and hard work allows her the luxury of living completely
off the state electrical grid. Visit her
website
.

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