Human Events Blog

Sorry, these days paternalism is a liberal specialty

In a piece defending Michael Bloomberg’s soda ban, Timothy Noah of the New Republic offers up an argument that liberals like to make about the coercive inclinations of the modern left and right:

Yet, even as liberals and conservatives profess to hate the idea of government paternalism, both practice it. Liberals support restrictions on harmful things individuals do to their bodies, like smoking, driving without a seat belt, and riding a motorcycle without a helmet. Conservatives support restrictions on actions they deem harmful to the soul, like having abortions, using contraception, and marrying a person of the same sex.

It’s hard to argue with the basic point: both political parties embrace some restrictions. The rest is nonsense — particularly the idea that liberals merely want to regulate “harmful things” (so, real threats) while conservatives have a desire to regulate actions that are “harmful to the soul” (subjective and, probably, imagined ).

These days liberals advocate for restrictions on nearly every aspect of economic life – where you buy health care, what kind of health care you buy, where you send your kids to school, what kind of car you drive, what sort of energy you put in the car, what kind of light bulbs you can turn on, what kind of food you should give your kids … that’s just for starters. And nearly all these intrusions are imbued with some moral component. What left-wing budget isn’t based on the “morality” of spending? Which minor cut to government spending doesn’t corrode our souls?

Do conservatives support restrictions on personal freedom? Of course. Many. But, these days, it isn’t even close. Just take Noah’s  examples — if this is the best we can come up with — as proof.

No, conservatives do not support banning abortion because it’s merely “harmful to the soul” (though it may very well be) but because they believe– and I, a non-believer, agree – it’s the killing of a human being. It’s a debate about whose personal freedom should be defended.

Also, up until about five minutes ago, the head of the Democratic Party, as well most Democratic Party politician in Washington, did not support gay marriage — an argument that concerns the creation of a new right rather than one about  inhibiting the choice of all citizens.

And, as Noah must know, conservatives do not propose that government stop anyone from “using contraception.” Most conservatives want to stop government from forcing the Catholic Church to pay the condoms of other people. So the only ones being “nannied” in this case is the Church.

But, if you’re Noah, who says – and I’m not making this up — “the 16-ounce limit might actually enhance individual liberty by compelling restaurants and bottlers to sell soda in the smaller quantities that people often want but can’t get,” you apparently believe that forcing one party to sell another party something is a form freedom enhancement. Since most Americans still have a problem with the state dictating personal choices, it’s not surprising that folks who advocate for coercion continue to try and re-define “individual liberty.”

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