In the two-party charade that is American politics, our choices are limited. You’re either for the wars that exist, or you’re for the wars that exist plus a couple that don’t yet. You’re either for an increase in spending domestically, or an increase in spending abroad. You either want the Fed to increase the debt, or you want the Fed to monetize it. However, even in the few instances where the media and the party leadership tilt the fun house mirror to make the two sides look different, the truth is that they differ in execution – in which rights to usurp – rather than fundamental philosophy.
A shining example of a major party with phony principles is the “defense” of civil rights in America by the Democrats. You see, the Democrats want to protect civil rights. Countless party leaders have spoken out in outrage over the discrimination against minority groups. The Democrats of today support the right of marriage for all people, regardless of their sexuality. They want equal pay and equal opportunity for people of all backgrounds when it comes to employment or housing. In fact, according to their website: “Democrats will fight to end discrimination based on race, sex, ethnicity, national origin, language, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, and disability in every corner of our country, because that’s the America we believe in.” Few Americans would argue with the underlying principle: equal opportunity for all, and discrimination against none.
However, the same Democratic Party that wants equality of opportunity in marriage or the workforce would willfully overlook that equality when it comes to other choices that individuals might make. The philosophical principle of equal opportunity must necessarily mean free choice, lest it be inconsistent and hypocritical. Freedom to pursue the job that we want or the familial structure that we are most comfortable with must mean the freedom to choose what foods or drinks that we want to consume, or the freedom to decide manner in which we defend our own property, or the freedom to select the most appropriate form of health insurance for our families (even if it means no health insurance at all). As it turns out, though, the party that champions civil rights actually defends just a small subset of rights – those which will rally its base, scream injustice, and are not uncomfortable to defend.
A prominent and current front for the assault on American civil liberties by the liberal left is the epidemic of restaurant smoking bans that have swept through the country. Presently, 38 states have imposed smoking bans in restaurants or bars, with the number on the rise. The indoor smoking bans have been a predominantly Democratic issue: California became the first state to enact such a ban in 1995, and the practice spread next to the liberal bastions of Delaware (2002), New York (2003), and Connecticut (2003). Among states who have refused to implement such bans are Republican strongholds: Texas, Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi, Kentucky.
The angle you’ll never hear from the left, of course, is that the protection of the personal choices of smokers and restaurant owners are just as fundamental to the concept of freedom as the protection of the personal choices of homosexuals. Who is government to force a restaurant owner into banning a practice that might make his customers happier? Furthermore, in the absence of such legislation, aren’t non-smokers who wish to breathe easier perfectly capable of patronizing an establishment where the owner, and not the government, bans the practice?
When it comes to your right to consume substances, though, the smoking ban is just the latest in a line of ever-expanding government prohibitions on the choices of non-violent Americans. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, one of the most prolific Democrats of the past century, signed the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 into law, leading the way for the permanent criminalization of the drug. After Ronald Reagan created the Office of National Drug Control Policy in 1988, Democrat Bill Clinton one-upped him by making the director a Cabinet-level position five years later. And, although current president Barack Obama downgraded the office from its Cabinet perch, Joe Biden criticized the Bush administration in his introduction of the new “Drug Czar,” stating that he was “a little disappointed the last eight years it hasn’t gotten the attention that it should have gotten.”
This seldom-mentioned front of personal liberty is, in fact, perpetually berated by liberal politicians in new, creative ways. Congress recently took up a proposal to implement a federal tax on soda, an idea that first came from Democrat David Paterson when he proposed such a tax as governor of New York. New York City, one of the most liberal populaces in the nation, currently imposes a draconian trans-fat ban city-wide, and recently held discussion on a bill that would ban the use of salt in restaurants as well. All of these measures are blatant violations of civil liberties: the implication that individuals do not own their own bodies or that they must be protected by a paternalistic government from making bad decisions is as absurd as it is frightening.
Nor do the Democrats seem to be bothered with protecting the property rights of Americans. In the highly publicized Supreme Court case of Kelo v. New London in 2005, the 5-4 decision went in favor of the City of New London, CT to take the homes of city residents in order to build a tourist and shopping haven that would entice tax revenues. Of the 3 Supreme Court justices who were nominated by Democratic presidents, all 3 voted to uphold the blatant violation of property rights, justified by the “eminent domain” clause in the Constitution that was implemented specifically to restrict the government’s authority to take land, not to enhance or enable it. In response to the outrage caused by this decision, the case prompted 42 states to pass legislation which restricted the ability to invoke eminent domain for private use; of the 8 states which did not reinforce the property rights of their citizens, 7 of them had Democratic governors.
As of today, the lots taken from those citizens sit empty, unused by the government that unjustly stole it and providing no benefit, public or private, to anyone. Furthermore, the case represented a situation where the left, sympathetic in their rhetoric towards the poor, took from the poor to give to the wealthy developers and Pfizer, a large pharmaceutical. As Judge Andrew Napolitano explains in his New York Times bestseller, Lies the Government Told You:
“In Kelo, Uncle Sam is saying that the government can take away your land, simply because it doesn’t value the way you use it. Kelo also gives the government an easy target, by allowing the government to infringe unduly upon the rights of poor people. Many of these people worked very hard to buy these homes, to achieve their own version of the American Dream. Who is the government to take it away?”
Simply put, the leadership of the Democratic Party in recent history has stood for their own version of rights, primarily because they don’t understand what rights are. The right to own property, speak freely, and make our own personal decisions are not granted to us by the government – individuals are born with these abilities inherent to them. Mainstream Democrats have been hoodwinked into thinking that the “equality” their leaders speak of is the meaningful equality of opportunity that prevails in a moral society, while they have in fact been granting favors to certain groups – non-smokers, property owners, gun owners, and others – with the intent of equalizing wealth rather than opportunity.
If only the other major party were doing any better…