Friday, 29 March 2013

Paul Mero And The Conservative "Freedom" Problem

posted 3/21/2013 by the Salt City Sinner
Photo: AP

Paul Mero has a freedom problem. And not a freedom problem in the sense that an alcoholic has a drinking problem.

Modern conservatives have made out like bandits by exploiting metaphors and ideas that are deeply embedded in American culture -- concepts like freedom, liberty, personal responsibility, and individualism.

During the Bush years, these linguistic tics took on a grim, ironic quality. Increasingly, they were deployed alongside other, older conservative idioms regarding patriotism, faith, and family as a smokescreen to cover concepts somewhat at odds with freedom: indefinite detention, warrantless wiretapping, and torture (proud new American traditions that continue under President Obama to this day).

I've  written before  about how an ideology -- any ideology -- is like a room in which conceptual furniture must be arranged. That's not my metaphor (although I wish I had thought of it first); I cribbed it from an excellent professor I had who used it to explain how any system of belief "conceals and reveals" certain ideas that it uses to order the world around us. Conservative rhetoric's emphasis on freedom and liberty has reached a fever pitch during the presidency of Barack Obama, and has also plummeted to new levels of stupid.

Exhibit A: Sarah Palin's recent vapid CPAC  speech , in which she was elevated to the status of American Freedom Fighter for her heroic struggle to beat back the nanny state's encroachment on the right of Real Americans to pour forty ounces of sugary soda water down their bloated gullets like gleeful children dousing a fire with gasoline.

this became a meme among right-wingers. not kidding.

This brings us to Paul Mero's Sutherland Institute and their freedom problem.

In a March 13th  transcript  of a "4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations," Mero himself points out the glaring inconsistency in his worldview. After taking a few (well-deserved, in my opinion) potshots at New York City's recent attempt to ban large sugary beverages, he launches into the tightrope act of balancing Sutherland's ostensible defense of liberty against a few of their...well, less liberty-oriented stances:

Now, for anybody who knows Sutherland Institute, you know we’re not opposed to using the law to complement private cultures in helping everyone become their better selves. Indeed, we argue consistently that a free society requires us to become our better selves. For example, we support laws that reduce liquor consumption...So what’s the difference between Utah’s tough liquor laws and New York City’s ban on Big Gulps? This is a great question if you’re a legislator wondering how you draw the line between appropriate government intervention to maintain a free society and the needless and offensive intrusions of a nanny state.  
Of course the first thing a legislator should do is decide upon the purpose of government. Does government in a free society exist to fix the worst about us or to encourage the best within us?
To give credit where credit is due, Mero is off to a stronger start than it may seem here. Outside of the hard-core libertarian position (which is, basically, "every wo/man for him/herself") most of us would agree that the purpose of government in a free society is to encourage the best within us.

In balancing liberty against principles of collective good and the advancement of society as a whole, the trick is to define how you think that government is appropriately and most efficiently used to promote that best self that lurks inside of every citizen. Those of us on the left side of the aisle would probably argue that an active government -- one that promotes education, health, provides an adequate social safety net, etc. -- is doing exactly that.

Here's the trick though: any encroachment on liberty can be justified via that raggedy old phantom, "the greater good."

Because of this potential for abuse, any curtailment of liberty, be it economic or civil, should be justified as not only a potential guarantor of a better society but (ideally) a way of increasing overall liberty.  For example, by enacting minimum wage laws and safe workplace regulations, the liberty of employers is slightly curtailed, but the overall liberty of workers is greatly increased.

At the very least, the logic behind laws should be internally consistent. So how does Paul " Mormon Plural Marriage Was Between One Man And One Woman " Mero differentiate between liquor laws and laws against gigantic sodas?
Is 20 ounces of Mountain Dew or Coke or Sprite a threat to a free society? How about 20 ounces of Jack Daniels or Wild Turkey or Budweiser? Are we freer, individually, as a result of consuming 20 ounces of Mountain Dew or 20 ounces of Jack Daniels? Hopefully a legislator could see the difference between the impacts of those two beverages on a free society.
If the Ron Paul Memorial Gold Standard of measuring freedom is a one-to-one comparison of liquid ounces, why is Mero apparently under the impression that 20 ounces of Budweiser and 20 ounces of Wild Turkey are the same thing? Could it be that, like when he  conflated  gay parenting and single motherhood with child sexual abuse, Mero is popping off about things that he has no knowledge about, first hand or otherwise, whatsoever?

And for someone who is such a "think tank" hot-shot, Mero seems to be leaving an awful lot of the thinking up to us. "Hopefully a legislator could see the difference" between restricting alcohol and restricting high-calorie drinks, Mero says.

Well my h*ck, Paul -- isn't that why you wrote this? To make that very point, not leave it up to us to "hopefully" see the difference?

Here's the thing about Paul Mero and the rest of the conservative movement: despite flaws in their political philosophy as a whole, the libertarians have pretty much put a lock on the whole "freedom" thing. They are internally consistent. Free markets and low taxes? Yes, please, a heapin' helpini' of those. Wars on drugs and terror? No, thank you, those sound pretty awful actually. While conservatives like Mero are busy trying to restrict private moral choices, libertarians are more or less happy to let people unfurl their freak flags and let them proudly fly, whether that consists of a person drinking a gallon of pure high fructose corn syrup, owning an anti-aircraft gun, or shooting heroin into their eyeballs while burning a Bible wrapped in an American flag. Liberals in America can also wax tyrannical about their own pet issues. The perennial and incredibly stupid campaign against pornography and violent video games and/or movies, for example, springs immediately to mind.

But here's the crucial difference: liberals are not out there marching around in bad Colonial cosplay outfits, tooting little plastic horns and shrieking "WOLVERINES!!" day and night in the name of freedom. Conservatives are, and apparently don't see why it makes them look silly and incoherent to do this while championing restrictions on individual moral choices.

Brother Mero, before you continue chucking the words "free society" around, you really ought to do a better job of defining exactly why you support the restrictions on liberty that you do. While you are thinking deep thoughts about this in preparation for your next piece justifying some incomprehensible liquor law in Utah, maybe you should try a little sip of Budweiser/Wild Turkey (same thing?) to lubricate your brain-parts -- some say it tastes a little like freedom.

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