The Libertarian Scourge: How Conservatives Sold and Liberals Bought the Idea of Government as the Enemy of Liberty

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In my other geek life, I follow technology. In the course of following technology, I come across a lot of opinion especially now targeting and ridiculing the government - mostly from people who, politically speaking, are liberals. These hitjobs generally center around the NSA's metadata programs, generally misrepresented as some sort of police state tactics.

That many modern day liberals see it fashionable to excoriate President Obama and his national security team for doing things to protect the country that are entirely legal and should be completely non-controversial isn't a sudden phenomenon, however. The anti-government, libertarian streak among a good chunk of today's influential liberals is - I believe - the product of a well crafted sales job. A conservative sales job.

Libertarianism may have its own name, but in reality it isn't much more than the conservative view of government and society wrapped in a feel-good name. The conservative worldview in essence comes down to government being a evil, debilitative force holding back the cause of what they term freedom. In accordance with that view, they argue that government should be as powerless as possible, lest its evil nature prevail on the liberties of a free people. In the conservative world, the freedoms of people and the powers of the government are inversely proportional - as one rises, the other must fall.

That is exactly what libertarianism is: government as the big, bad boogyman.

Now, it is true that modern conservatives tend to use this view more often on economics, arguing that government should stay out of protecting consumers, regulating businesses, or taxing individuals; whereas modern liberals tend to apply that theory of government to law enforcement and national security, contending that government has no right to conduct surveillance, arrest protesters who break the law or construct classified courts.

But whatever issue one is applying libertarian argument to, the very application of rank libertarianism is a win for conservatives. The more the citizenry grows weary and distrustful of its own democratically elected government, the more conservatives win. If you believe that the NSA is doing nefarious things - without any evidence of actual intentional lawbreaking - why wouldn't you believe the same about the IRS? If you lead your flock to believe that the President is reading their emails, you can't exactly complain when that flock rejects health care because they're afraid the President is going to look at their colonoscopies.

The term libertarian is as deceptive as it is Orwellian. Libertarianism, in fact, has nothing to do with liberty. Any idea that makes government a definional enemy of freedom is farcical. America's founders wrote in the preamble of our Constitution:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

And to secure the blessings of liberty, they outlined a... government. A government powerful enough to secure the people's liberties, look after their welfare, and provide for the common defense.

Our history is laden with examples of the need for government to secure the blessings of liberty. From the government that fought a civil war to free the slaves to one that integrated schools under the watchful eyes of the National Guard and against the protestations of state politicians, the American story has been one in which government, at its best, protecting and expanding liberties - and not just at home. It is our government that took the initiatives to first form the League of Nations and then the United Nations to lay a foundation to protect human rights across the globe. It is our government that fought two world wars to secure the freedoms of people across the pond.

Yes, American history is also filled with counterexamples of government overreach and injustice. After all, the same government that fought for freedom in Europe interned American citizens at home. Our government has launched ill-advised wars in Vietnam and Iraq. And at times, our government has sought to intimidate and silence champions of civil and voting rights.

But not one of those abuses were resolved through abandoning government or by making it something to fear. Whenever our government has overreached, it was changed so that its role of protecting rights could be restored. The March on Washington culminated in a president signing the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.

This certainly is not to say that government does not deserve scrutiny. On the contrary, the separation of powers, an independent judiciary, and a free press are meant to perform the function of holding government accountable and either preventing or exposing abuse of power.

The Founders invested the most power to hold the government accountable in the fourth estate - the press. They did not, however, imagine the press to be an instrument of ideology. A free press is, in its reporting, free from legal restraint, from business interests, and most importantly, free from ideological agenda.

The American Right was the first to abuse the necessary nature of the press being free from government regulations to undermine its freedom from ideological agenda-driven reporting. After the Right's success, the Left swept in to fill the void - creating more "press" with ideological agenda, albeit a different ideology. As the Right wing press moved to attack government for its legitimate functions of taxation, social spending, and business regulations, the Left wing press took up the cause of attacking the government over other legitimate functions, most notably national security and law enforcement.

How did this happen? After all, it wasn't always this way. The Left wasn't always paranoid about government, law enforcement and national security. There wasn't a big liberal uproar when you could find everyone's name and phone number listed in the local White Pages - but now suddenly the fact that the government has a database of your phone number unassociated with your name or any other information is sending liberals up the wall. Liberals did not rebel when the government decided to create a database of nearly every single individual living or working in the country, by way of assigning each of them a Social Security number. Liberals didn't get bent out of shape when government began to find out exactly when you turn 65 so that they could send you your Medicare enrollment material.

It happened because conservatives - more aptly, the conservative ideologue press - did a bang  up sales job on their liberal counterparts. They sold liberals on things like Watergate and McCarthyism being the modus operandi for government, rather than grave mistakes and out-of-bound exceptions to the rule.

And they did so by packaging conservative hatred for government in a new word: libertarianism, which, at its very core, sees government as the enemy to liberty. Many liberals looking to fill a void in the media and looking for a way to oppose war policies took the bait and began to see the government as the enemy. These members of the press had an ideological agenda too, an agenda to reshape the world rather than to simply get to the truth.

As conservatives held out the idea of government as the enemy of liberty (libertarianism), Left's ideologues ate it up. In the process, they gave conservatives a win beyond their wildest dreams: they got even people who believe in rights and freedoms that need to be protected by the government to hate that same government.

Liberalism is the farthest thing from libertarianism. None of the blessings of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness is secure if there isn't a people's government strong enough to protect them. Part of that protection is national security, part of which necessarily has to happen through intelligence gathering in secret. That service is as essential to the people as is clean water, clean air and regulations to protect from financial fraud. The NSA performs as essential a service as the EPA , and while each has the potential to screw up, neither should be subject to automatic distrust, ridicule or attack.

Liberal charges of government forming a "national security state" for conducting legal, restricted surveillance is no better than conservative charges of "socialist state" for basic regulations and taxation of businesses and individuals. Both require an entrenched idea without proof - the specific idea that government is the enemy of freedom.

As long as liberals keep falling for the conservative hoax of libertarianism, they will continue to help conservatives dominate politics.



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