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David Boaz

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Cal Thomas's Confusion About Freedom

Posted: 03/22/2012 3:25 pm

Cal Thomas, who bills himself as "America's #1 nationally syndicated columnist," today excoriates New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has

...decided to limit food donations to city charities, including homeless shelters, because the government is unable to measure the nutritional value of the food.

Thomas rails against arrogant, paternalist government:
Are there no limits on government's power, no place where it cannot go?...

But more than the issue of salt and portion size is the greater issue of liberty, which is being slowly but steadily eroded by big government that wants to save us from ourselves. The freedom to choose what to eat, drink, smoke and a lot of other things -- and to accept the benefits and consequences that go with these choices -- are the wedge issues that government uses to snake its way into new areas of our lives.

Our Founding Fathers issued many warnings about the dangers of growing and intrusive government, which they sought to control with the Constitution. Among the best was from Thomas Jefferson: "Most bad government has grown out of too much government."


First, a caution: Like most quotations from Jefferson found on the world wide web, this one is spurious. But it's a good sentiment, as is the rest of Thomas's jeremiad.

But I wonder: Does Thomas apply his libertarian warnings against "growing and intrusive government," with "no limits," which is slowly and steadily eroding our liberty, broadly? No, not so much. Today he declares that "the freedom to choose what to eat, drink, smoke " is crucially important to liberty. But he doesn't think you should be free to smoke marijuana, an inconsistency for which Joel Miller took him to task a decade ago.

And of course when he says "the freedom to choose what to eat, drink, smoke and a lot of other things -- and to accept the benefits and consequences that go with these choices," he sounds a lot like ... well, me. But I add a few more freedoms, as in this essay where I wrote that "each of us should be free to think, to speak, to write, to create, to marry, to eat and drink and smoke ... " I could have included "free to love whom we want and read what we want." Thomas wouldn't go along with those freedoms; he wants the government to ban homosexual activity and pornography.

And the freedom to marry? Definitely not. When Thomas gets going on the subject of equal marriage rights for same-sex couples, you remember that he rose to prominence as the vice president of the Moral Majority in its heyday. When a Reagan-appointed federal judge in California restored marriage rights for gay couples that had been taken away by Proposition 8, Thomas practically sputtered:

No less a theological thinker than Abraham Lincoln concluded that our Civil War might have been God's judgment for America's toleration of slavery. If that were so, why should "the Almighty," as Lincoln frequently referred to God, stay His hand in the face of our celebration of same-sex marriage?...

Judge Vaughn Walker has joined a conga line of similarly activist judges who are accelerating us down the path to destruction.

We have been spiraling downward for some time, beginning in the '50s with the Playboy philosophy that gave men permission to avoid the bonds of marriage if they wanted to have sex. In rapid succession came the birth control pill (sex without biological consequences), "no-fault divorce" (nullifying "until death us do part"), cohabitation, easily available pornography, and a tolerance for just about anything except those who deem something intolerable. Such persons are now labeled "bigots" when once they were thought to be pillars of society.

A nation that loses its moral sense is a nation without any sense at all. Muslim fanatics who wish to destroy us are correct in their diagnosis of our moral rot: loss of a fear of God, immodesty, especially among women, materialism and much more....

What we tolerate, we get more of, and we have been tolerating a lot since the Age of Aquarius generation began the systematic destruction of what past generations believed they had sacrificed, fought and died to protect.


As I noted previously, in that column "he ranges from factual inaccuracy to a revelation of just how reactionary and authoritarian he really is, to a really striking biblical citation."

I agree with Cal Thomas that a government that presumes to regulate what we can eat and what we can donate to the poor is a government with seemingly no limits on its power. And I agree that the "greater issue [is] liberty, which is being slowly but steadily eroded by big government that wants to save us from ourselves," by restricting our "freedom to choose what to eat, drink, smoke and a lot of other things." But I'd suggest that the arrests of a million people a year for smoking marijuana, and the denial to millions of people of the right to marry the person they love, or even to engage in intimate relations, are more important intrusions on our freedom even than fat taxes, salt restrictions, and regulations on what food we can give to homeless shelters.