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Time to retire the word “libertarian”

By Amanda Marcotte
Thursday, June 2, 2011 12:21 EDT
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Slightly old-ish news, but worth talking about: Rand Paul, who calls himself a "libertarian", has revealed that he's more inclined to be the new Joe McCarthy, going on to Sean Hannity's show and saying this:

I’m not for profiling people on the color of their skin, or on their religion, but I would take into account where they’ve been traveling and perhaps, you might have to indirectly take into account whether or not they’ve been going to radical political speeches by religious leaders. It wouldn’t be that they are Islamic. But if someone is attending speeches from someone who is promoting the violent overthrow of our government, that’s really an offense that we should be going after — they should be deported or put in prison.

Paul's getting a lot of attention for blocking the Patriot Act, but we can't judge him on this alone.  He's not for civil liberties.

However, aside from his admirable stance on the Patriot Act, Paul’s record shows he’s hardly the paragon of civil liberties he claims to be, but rather is “indistinguishablefrom the rest of the GOP on national security issues,” noted The American Prospect’s Adam Serwer last year. He’s said he will “always fight” to keep GITMO open; has said “[f]oreign terrorists do not deserve the protections of our Constitution;” and has never taken a strong public stance against torture, staying silent most recently after the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Paul Krugman responded by saying this:

He’s not unusual. There are genuine libertarians out there. But political figures who talk a lot about liberty and freedom invariably turn out to mean the freedom to not pay taxes and discriminate based on race; freedom to hold different ideas and express them, not so much.

I'm somewhat sick of the "genuine libertarians" thing, by the way.  It's about as meaningful as saying, "There are genuine communists out there."  Technically true, pragmatically meaningless.  "Genuine libertarians" are, in my experience, like "whole cloth pro-lifers", the ones who supposedly are in it because they really are pro-life and also oppose war, the death penalty, eating meat, etc., and that it's not about sex and gender for them.  You hear about them—occasionally someone says they've met one—but they are so few on the ground that you can reasonably say that people who consider their number one issue to be the government concealing space aliens from us constitute a more substantial voting bloc.  Most people who identify as libertarian are golf pants–wearing Republican weenies who want you to think they're cooler than the average golf pants-wearing Republican weenie because they like Pearl Jam.  

Anyway, all this was totally predictable, if you believe that women are full human beings who deserve full human rights.  Those of us who take that belief seriously have been pointing out since the get-go that many to most "libertarians" do not support abortion rights, which automatically puts them in opposition to basic human rights.  Rand Paul is a particularly egregious misogynist; he has literally claimed that the right to own a specific kind of lightbulb matters more than the right of a woman to control her fertility, and he did so on the floor of the Senate. Just in case you didn't get the memo, Paul also claimed that his right to avoid flushing the toilet twice when he takes a giant shit is more important than your ability to choose when you have children.  For those of us who take women's claim to be full human beings seriously, this sort of thing is all you need to know about how libertarian "libertarians" are.  

The reason this isn't as obvious to the punditry at large as it is to we feminists who get shoved off in a corner and treated like the ladies' auxiliary is that men still dominate political discourse in this country, and so the facetious claim that libertarians "get" to oppose women's rights because they think abortion is "murder" is taken seriously.  And the reason is that even pro-choice liberal men are often suspectible to the underlying assumption of the "life at conception" argument, which is that it's men and not women who make babies.  Said men disagree intellectually, but emotionally, the belief that men make babies by ejaculating and that the nine months of bodily effort and substantial amount of nutrients and calories expended by women is just so much secretarial work.  (This is, incidentally, why you'll see many thoughtful men get more vehemently pro-choice if their partners give birth; actually witnessing exactly who put the work into making a baby makes the anti-abortion argument seem pathetic and weird if you're a thoughtful feminist.) And so they give the libertarians a pass on their blather about how killing a brainless fetus is a major crime, one perhaps on the level of forcing the delicate hand of Rand Paul to touch the toilet handle twice.  

Of course, if you abandon all emotional investment in patriarchal traditions that give men more biological credit than is observable in nature for baby-making, what is immediately clear is that anti-choice "libertarians" are basically just guys who want rich white guys to have even more power than they do now, and see the government's main role as shoring up that power instead of limiting it.  Everything else that comes pouring out of their mouths after that, including support for a new McCarthyism, is not a surprise.

And on the topic of why we should abandon the word "libertarian" altogether, I give you the latest Bloggingheads with myself in it, and my discourse partner being Michael Doughtery:

Michael, at one point, suggested my views on sexual and personal liberty—I'm all for it, and think that the best way to maximize human happiness is letting consentingn adults make their own decisions about how to fuck and how to order their personal relationships—are "liberatarian".  I don't blame him for using this word; it's out there, and I get why people use it.  But it's an empty word, and it really should be retired.  The word for my beliefs is "liberal" or "progressive".  Or, if you like, "socially liberal".  Liberalism, at its core, is about maximizing freedom, but in a substantive and not glib way like so-called libertarianism is.  We believe in civil liberties, but also other freedoms, such as the "freedom froms" that FDR spoke of: freedom from want, freedom from fear.  Thus, regulating business and supporting labor maximize freedom for the most number of people.  We consider the freedom to have a life outside of work for the working class to be more important than the freedom of the rich to make another buck, for instance. Using "libertarian" to mean "pro-freedom" is misleading; under a libertarian system, the vast majority of people live lives under the corporate bootheel and are not free people at all.  

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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