Libertarians

In an election, you're not choosing someone to live next door, you're deciding who should make policy. And in this case, ideology trumps morality, in a number of powerful ways.
05/22/2010 03:55 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

When I first got to Orange County, Libertarians were like Martians to me: strange, exotic creatures, and I'd never actually known one.

But living in the OC broadens your horizons, and I am now acquainted with several of this rare species. Like the rest of humanity, some are despicable, and some are generous and honorable. When I became disabled, for example, one of the most caring of my colleagues is a Libertarian. I am grateful to him.

But I wouldn't vote for him, nor would I cast a ballot for Rand Paul.

The problem is that in an election, you're not choosing someone to live next door, you're deciding who should make policy. And in this case, ideology trumps morality, in a number of powerful ways.

So far the hot issue around Dr. Paul seems to be race, so let's start there. My friend is an eminently decent person on this subject, and helped my school reach out to the African-American community back in the sixties, when the John Birch society held a prominent position on the local scene. He would never dream of discriminating against anyone; we first met when someone tried to pit us in a debate over gay rights; he declared that as a Libertarian, he would never deny anyone rights, and thus there was no difference in his position and mine.

But he is also not in favor of civil rights laws, only because he is opposed to government regulation of the workplace. In his eyes, any employer who discriminates is a fool, and will damage his business by not hiring the best candidate for the job. And what could be a worse penalty than that?

What indeed? Because of his ideology, he fails to see that government can be a force for social justice in our society, and can right wrongs. It can prevent a child from feeling pain, the pain of rejection from a school, or an adult gay man being denied a position because of who he sleeps with. And his position ignores the fact that I can cross a sidewalk in my wheelchair because of cut outs, and I can eat in just about any restaurant, because of government guarantees of my rights.

But Libertarianism can be even more insidious than that. Advocates like Dr. Paul claim that they are speaking on behalf of the little guy, against the steam-roller of a large institution like big government.

The problem with this claim is that there is another big institution that harms the ordinary citizen in our world, and that is big business. And in that case, libertarians have little to condemn, and thus show their true colors.

A couple of recent examples highlight this. Many Americans are outraged by the BP oil spill, and its destruction of our environment. And the guilty party is an oil company, nobody's hero, and a foreign one to boot (it's not named British Petroleum for nothing). This seems like the perfect foil for a supporter of the Tea-Party and the ordinary American, both of which Dr. Paul claims he is a champion.

Oops. During an interview on Good Morning America, Dr. Paul claimed that by lashing out at oil giant BP, President Obama had been "un-American in his criticism of business." So much for fighting for the little guy against the big bad oil company; BP's publicists could not have put it better. Dr. Paul's position is pro-big business, anti government, and let the little guy take the hindmost. In his fervor, he is defending, not a citizen's right, but the right of a large company to do as it pleases, the public interest be damned.

Or take the case of Scott Brown's recent vote in favor of bank regulation. Brown was elected with Tea Party support, and many of their folks seem angry at the bank bailouts. Reining in the banks seems like a tailor made issue for them.

And it would be, if their agenda was to stand up for the little American. Instead, according to the Winnipeg Free Press, there was a sense of betrayal by many of his former supporters. Sandra Burkhart wrote on his Facebook wall, "You are a pig....Oink oink and you just sealed your tomb with us voters...." Kevin Minnehan decided, "Your days in D.C. will soon be over. You lied....." Someone observed on Twitter, "Do you really expect better from guy who posed nude and pimps his daughters on TV?"

So their dirty little secret is out. Libertarians are not really for the little guy, against structures that would grind down our individuality. They're really just right-wingers, pro-business and anti government, the only institution with the power to limit large corporations when they commit abuses. Rand Paul is sincere, but in his blindness and dogmatism, he becomes a shill for big business, not the champion of citizen's rights he claims to be.