Very well, I admit it, I went too far recently when I said angry opponents of government health care have no qualms about big government when it comes to making war, torturing prisoners and in general being brutal.
That’s accurate enough for most of the Angry Ones, those who misleadingly identify themselves as conservatives, but it’s not accurate for the small minority that identify themselves as libertarians.
That small minority of liberty-minded people are more consistent. They oppose almost everything government does, including the invasion of Iraq, the Patriot Act, the torture of prisoners, the bugging of telephones by the National Security Agency and the subsidizing of business, as well as such benign programs as Medicare, education, and now the “public option” in President Obama’s health care reform.
So I apologize to them. They may be goofy, they may be hopelessly romantic, but they are more or less consistent. The purest of them would take us back to an imaginary past when proudly free savages, in their privately owned caves, educated their children and worshipped their gods without interference from any tribal council.
They come in many stripes, from far right to far left, with gradations in between that need not concern us, but in the end they are not a mass movement that dominates our national life the way self-described conservatives dominate it, and they are not the people I have in mind when I talk about the hypocrisy of scorning big government when it’s benign and cheering for it when it’s malevolent.
Their most prominent organization is the Libertarian Party, and their most prominent public figure is Ron Paul, a nominally Republican congressman from Texas who ran for president as the Libertarian candidate in 1988 and as a Republican candidate in 2008.
Never mind his quaint and colorful positions. Suffice it to say he is a fringe figure in American politics. He got on the ballot in only two states in 2008, and his best showing was in sparsely populated Montana, where he received 2 percent of the vote.
By contrast, Sarah Palin, homecoming queen of the Angry Right, got 58 million votes nationwide to be vice president. More people listen to Rush Limbaugh every week (14 million to 25 million) than have probably ever heard of Ron Paul or the Libertarian Party.
When I talk about the hyprocrisy of the Angry Ones, I’m talking about the Sarah Palin followers and the Rush Limbaugh followers, not the Ron Paul followers or any other faction of libertarian persuasion, even if there is plenty of overlap on positions between them.
I admit I have not sorted the factions all out, they proliferate so fast.
You’ve got your “Tenthers,” who swear by the 10th Amendment, which limits the power of the federal government.
You’ve got your “birthers,” who insist that President Obama is not a natural-born U.S. citizen and clamor to see his “long-form” birth certificate.
You’ve got your “9/11 truthers,” who believe the attacks of 9/11 were an inside job by the U.S. government.
You’ve got more crackpots running around loose and launching Web sites than a poor columnist can keep up with.
But what you’ve got dominating the national dialogue, such as it is, is a mass movement of angry people who profess to hate big government but who actually hate it only when it tries to be benevolent and who cheer enthusiastically for it when it is brutal and oppressive (brutal and oppressive to other people, that is).
These are the people who object to the president of the United States speaking to schoolchildren lest he corrupt them with Marxist ideas.
And these are the ones who had a fit when he mentioned empathy as a standard for choosing judges.
The basis of their world-view, as near as I can divine, is simple selfishness.
But wait, several readers protest. Haven’t you read the book “Who Really Cares?” which shows that conservatives are actually more generous than liberals?
I confess that I have not. I have ordered it, but it hasn’t come yet.
I have seen the author’s later opus, proving that conservatives are happier than liberals, and it delighted me no end, so I hope for the same with his earlier effort.
I just think it’s funny they need a book, just as it was funny that George W. Bush needed to describe himself as a “compassionate conservative,” when he first ran for president, the idea being, it’s perfectly obvious we have a mean, selfish philosophy, so let’s sweeten and obscure that bitter fact. Let’s call ourselves compassionate.
And now a book, from the president of a Washington think tank that counts among its “senior fellows” such academic eminences as Newt Gingrich and Paul Wolfowitz, reaching the stunning conclusion that the angry belligerent ones, those who get their thrills from watching Bill O’Reilly, are really very charitable. I will read it, and I will report on it when I do.
In the meantime, I exempt from my analysis those citizen-philosphers who subscribe to the libertarian school of thought. At least I exempt them insofar as they diverge from the hypocritical mainstream of conservative thought.
I do recommend to them, however, that they engage in something useful and monitor government as it affects the lives of ordinary people, as for example in our family courts. If they truly object to government intrusion in our lives, in practice and not just in the abstract, that would be an excellent place for them to start.
GAZETTE COVERAGEEnsure access to everything we do, today and every day, check out our subscribe page at DailyGazette.com/Subscribe
More from The Daily Gazette: