Back when Ronald Reagan defeated the hapless Jimmy Carter in 1980,
Reagan asked this simple question of the electorate: "Are you better
off today than you were four years ago?"
It's too bad the current presidential race doesn't hinge on a simple
question, albeit far different than the one the Gipper asked: "Is
America a freer country today than it was four, eight, 20 or even
50 years ago?"
In my view, the only reason to support a candidate is if he will
increase our freedoms - the right to live our lives as we please,
free from government interference and confiscation. Yet both major
candidates for president would be loath to ask voters that question.
On some occasions, Democrats complain (although not so loudly when
it was put to a vote in Congress) that the Patriot Act and the war
on terror are eroding civil liberties at home.
They are right, but then they propose a host of government programs
to regulate every last aspect of our lives. They propose rolling
back tax rebates and expanding government agencies. They want to
federalize everything known to mankind, in direct contradiction
to the Constitution, which left most matters to the people and the
Unfortunately, Republicans aren't just bad on the Patriot Act and
war-related incursions on our freedom. President Bush has yet to
veto a bill, and he continues to expand federal involvement in education
and federal programs, such as the costly expansion of Medicare to
include prescription drugs.
No one even talks about freedom, except in the most banal ways
as it relates to the War on Terror (as in, "We need to expand the
federal government to fight terrorists who hate our freedom").
Republicans argue that John Kerry amassed perhaps the most liberal
voting record in the Senate, and that he will appoint liberal judges
to the federal bench if he is elected president. Both arguments
are true, but Republican judges have sometimes been less than stellar,
if we again focus on that essential question about freedom.
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that cops can walk up
to you for virtually any reason and demand your name. The cop needs
no probable cause to stop you, take your name and run it through
one of those zillions of intrusive government databases to check
you out for any reason at all.
Police officers can go on what one critic called a "fishing expedition."
Not that they couldn't before, but now it's even easier for them
to say, "Show us your papers, give us your name."
It's none of your business why they need the information.
The case involved a Nevada man who was stopped after a deputy was
called about a loud argument. The man, Larry Hiibel, was never arrested
for any crime related to the argument. He was, however, convicted
under Nevada's "stop and identify" statute - a statute similar to
ones on the book in 20 other states, not including California.
The name of the law, at least, is appropriately totalitarian. I'm
sure they had rules similar to it in the Soviet Union and in Saddam
Stop and obey!
The majority opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Republican
appointee, found it outrageous that, "As best as we can tell, petitioner
refused to identify himself only because he thought his name was
none of the officer's business."
As I see it, the officer should have arrested the man if there
was evidence he committed a crime or simply have left him alone.
But, to Justice Kennedy, giving the government power to demand a
person's name, with reasonable suspicion rather than probable cause,
"serves important government interests."
I'm sorry, but the government's interests should not take precedence
over the individual's rights. In this case, all the conservative
justices sided with the state and the liberal ones with the individual.
I know, liberal justices hate property rights and generally are
worse than conservative ones. Think about decisions on busing, eminent
domain and racial quotas, where liberal majorities have given the
government carte blanche.
Unfortunately, the conservatives seem equally willing to give police
agencies carte blanche, so liberty gets assaulted from both sides
against the middle. Does it really matter whether GOP-appointed
judges or Democratic-appointed judges do the damage?
So which candidate advances liberty?
Where's that "none of the above" alternative when you need it?
Don't tell me that issues about freedom are too impractical to
make their way onto the agenda. The reason freedom isn't discussed,
and won't seriously be discussed in the presidential race, is because
neither candidate cares sufficiently about it to force this issue
onto the public stage.
When candidates do care about freedom, then freedom-related issues
can easily make their way onto the agenda.
I'd like to shift gears, back to the local level.
The Anaheim City Council is moving ahead with the latest measure
in its increasingly long list of impressive actions designed to
expand the freedom of residents of that city. The council voted
to downgrade thousands of city ordinances and code violations from
misdemeanor crimes to infractions. The goal is to make government
a little less heavy-handed, and to use the code book to go after
real troublemakers rather than residents who accidentally commit
In recent months, three council members - Mayor Curt Pringle, Tom
Tait and Richard Chavez - have united to roll back regulations.
They declared a moratorium on building fees, which meant that for
a limited time residents were allowed to add on to their own property
without paying thousands of dollars in pointless "fees" to the city.
They revised the city's general plan to give property owners far
more latitude in doing what they choose on their own property. In
Southern California and most of the rest of the country these days,
property owners are free to do whatever the bureaucrats say they
can do. So this is radical stuff, by the standards of our supposedly
The council members also have, in every case that has come before
them, ruled on the side of property owners seeking variances for
their homes and businesses. They refuse to use eminent domain for
non-public uses and they seek to make Anaheim more freedom-friendly,
not just for the well-connected and wealthy, but for everyone.
Freedom is improving in Anaheim because the council members decided
to make increasing freedom a central part of their agenda.
Are you freer today than you were four years ago?
That's a question Anaheim officials would gladly ask their residents,
but one that the candidates for the nation's highest office consistently
avoid. That's a sad commentary, and it's probably only going to
get sadder as the conventions - think of them as pander-fests -
get under way.