Sowing the Seeds

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It seems to
be a near-universal trait among statists, that they cannot conceive
the possibility of the state powers they endorse being wielded by
rivals. They eagerly call for government interference in this or
that, and then recoil in shock and horror when their political rivals
win an election and start using the powerful state that has been
built for their ends. It happens again and again, and most
statists never seem to notice the pattern.

This has been
forcefully demonstrated in recent times. Consider, for instance,
all the calls from conservatives for massive expansion of the power
of the state for the supposed purpose of security from terrorism.
I was an ardent conservative in the 1990’s before evolving into
a libertarian, and I vividly remember conservative anger over law
enforcement outrages like Waco and Ruby Ridge. I shared that anger.
More importantly, I learned from it, which is something most people
calling themselves conservatives today can’t claim.

Whenever I
hear or read about Republicans calling for the government to have
the power to spy on Americans, detain people without trial, or engage
in torture, I want to ask them, “Would you want a President Kerry
or President Gore to have that power? Would it have been a good
thing if Bill Clinton had possessed those powers?” Their answer
would almost certainly be “no,” but that possibility doesn’t seem
to phase them, or else simply does not occur to them.

Republicans
won’t be in power forever, and it probably won’t be long before
some liberal administration takes advantage of the powers thoughtfully
provided to them by conservatives to serve their own ends. We’ll
see the government spying on, harassing, and abusing pro-life groups,
gun owners, home schoolers, and anyone who falls under liberalism’s
rather loose definition of “racism,” and the laws and precedents
created by conservatives will have made it possible. Likewise, there’s
no reason to expect a Democratic President to be shy about using
“signing statements” to usurp power from the legislature, now that
Bush has set that precedent. (It’s not as if liberals are any more
concerned than conservatives about constitutional niceties, after
all.) Conservatives will be rightly outraged, but they’ll never
think to blame themselves.

It’s not just
conservatives who are guilty of this. One of the great government
achievements that liberals like to point to is the public school
system, which they have long used to indoctrinate a captive audience
with statist propaganda, which they dress up as “creating common
values” and “good citizenship.” They have never had a problem with
a school system that pushes environmentalism, liberal statism, and
the conventional “progressive” view of American history. Now the
shoe is on the other foot, with various conservatives calling for
the schools to teach creationism and abstinence-only sex education,
and liberals scream bloody murder about it. Using the government
to push your opinions on other people’s kids is all good fun until
someone else tries to do the same thing. They seem totally oblivious
to the fact that conservatives are now in a position to push their
own values on children only because of the educational establishment
that liberals helped to build, and which liberals have vehemently
defended from all challenges and criticisms.

Or consider
medicine. Many on the left have been angered by the fact that certain
forms of contraception were until recently prescription-only, which
means that women who wanted them could be blocked by doctors or
pharmacists who oppose their use for religious or philosophical
reasons. Liberals were generally quite outraged by this.

And yet, that
state of affairs was the foreseeable result of institutions that
virtually all liberals eagerly support. The problem of women being
unable to get emergency contraceptives was the product of government
licensing (that is, barriers to entry to reduce competition) of
these professions, combined with the fact that the government decides
which medications can and cannot be bought without the permission
of a licensed doctor and pharmacist. In other words, it was only
able to happen because of the state’s power over medicine –
a power liberals have eagerly supported and consider necessary to
protect us from ourselves. Sadly, the causal link between the liberal-supported
regulatory state and an outcome that liberals abhorred never seemed
to occur to anyone who would have benefited from the realization.

It is my hope
that their years out of power have taught liberals this lesson,
and that their loss of total control of the government will force
conservatives to begin learning it. I am not confident, however;
conservatives seem to have learned nothing from the Clinton years,
and the fixation of most liberals on George Bush as the uniquely
wicked fountainhead of all political evil will probably stop them
from realizing that the problem with state power goes deeper than
one man or small group of men. Until both groups realize that these
powers do not belong in anyone’s hands, they will have learned
nothing.

December
8, 2006

John
Markley [send him mail]
is a freelance newspaper reporter from Illinois. He maintains a
blog at The Superfluous
Man
.

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