Political wisdom in a hypocritical age

Freedom Watch
By HARVEY SILVERGLATE  |  September 19, 2012


I've been fighting for social justice all my professional life. I've litigated against the military-surveillance-censorship axis of repression; battled puritans, police, and drug warriors; and generally campaigned on behalf of citizens' rights. Once, I believed in the inevitable progress of freedom and decency, but things haven't worked out that way.

We've won a few battles: gays entered the mainstream, racial minorities took a place at the table, police brutality is less pervasive, or at least more exposed (due, perhaps, more to ubiquitous cellphone cameras than legal reform). But on balance, my generation has made a mess. When current events can be best understood by watching Comedy Central, we're in trouble.

This campaign season, I find myself reluctant to vote for either major party. I reject the Republicans' aggressive effort to intimidate the world and wreck civil liberties in a "war on terror," along with their destruction of the middle class by catering to the moguls. I similarly reject the Democrats' effort to intimidate the world and wreck civil liberties in the name of a "war on terror," and their willingness to betray the middle class by favoring a different set of interest groups.

So I registered Republican and voted for libertarian Ron Paul. I wanted to send a message that the "military-industrial complex" was threatening not only the stability of our economy, but also the fabric of our liberties. Paul's one drawback is his opposition to a floor beneath which citizens would not be allowed to fall. Paul's advocacy, however, for a smaller central government would allow states to resume that obligation. But when the Republican Party robbed Paul of many of his elected convention delegates, I despaired.

The drawbacks of the two major parties make them unacceptable choices for a voter who supports liberty but wants to assure all a fair opportunity to survive the competition.

The Democrats betray liberty by blaming speech for many social ills, banning "hate speech," "harassment" and "bullying," thus making free discourse impossible, especially on college campuses and in the workplace. They talk of amending the First Amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's Citizens United opinion. Democrats' unwavering support of public-sector (especially teachers') unions has wrecked municipal budgets and public education. They support an increased federal role in health care, even though the federal bureaucracy has become destructively remote and inefficient. Indeed, they support enhanced federal power in all spheres, which has been largely responsible for the creation of a dangerous national security and prosecutorial state — also favored by Republicans.

Republicans tout economic liberty but attack abortion, gay marriage, sexually explicit materials, and those who suffer economic misfortunes. They give lip service to free enterprise and cater to plutocrats' thirst for government's economic favors (banks got bailed out during the recent economic crisis, but not middle-class families mortgaged to the hilt), while abandoning the lower and middle classes.

And tacit bipartisan agreement has enabled the Department of Justice, once a protector of civil liberties, to accumulate power to imprison virtually any citizen, since no one can avoid arguably violating some vague federal statute. And despite Republicans' howls to the contrary, both parties are oblivious to the disastrous consequences of endemic overspending, as long as budgets reward their friends.

We need a political realignment, producing a party or coalition that protects liberty, reins in the national security state, educates the young, balances the budget, and erects a floor beneath which citizens cannot fall. Little did I earlier know that the parties of both left and right would turn out to be the problem rather than the solution.


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