Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Postcards from Haiti (viii)


Liberty and Justice

Monday, my wife came back from a disgusting meeting with a government employee of the Social Security Administration, a meeting she was dreading because she knew it would turn out badly and it did--worse than she'd imagined, in fact. Not necessarily "worse" with regard to our financial future as retired folks, but worse because, dang it, government doesn't work very efficiently. Often as not it stifles growth and gets the heck in your way. She left that office boiling mad because what the Social Security officer needed from her was more forms, more orders, more bureaucratic bullshit (pardon my French, and it's mine, not hers).

Monday, Rand Paul, who some look upon as a possible candidate for the Presidency of the United States, was quoted as going way, way, way out on a limb to accuse former Vice President Dick Cheney of bringing the U.S. of A. into war in Iraq to feather his own Halliburton nest, to make money. He said it in a speech in 2009, this amazing bit of interpretation only recently excavated. I don't know that Vermont's Bernie Sanders, a confirmed socialist, would have gone quite that far with respect to Cheney's deviousness.

That Rand Paul said what he did--and was recorded saying it--is interesting and may well be an indication, I think, of how strong the sentiment for libertarian line is these days in this country. In an essay in Politico, David Boaz claims "Libertarianism. . .is having its moment." Paul's father, Ron, an also-ran in Presidential sweepstakes for years and the progenitor of most of the political theories son Rand espouses, was something of a textbook libertarian. A libertarian view of nationhood is not at all new.

The base word of libertarian is, of course, liberty, a precious commodity in this country; always has been and always will be. People may well fight about whether "under God" has a place in the national pledge of allegiance, but no one argues about "liberty and justice for all."

It's just that the other word has currency too--"justice." There are countless pols and professors of political science who can balance the equation that twosome juxtaposes more expertly than I can, who can explain clearly how a culture such as ours can, at one time, promote both liberty and justice. I've got a harder time, but I haven't studied the founding fathers, not that I think they were infallible, as some obviously do.

Juggling freedom and fairness requires some deftness methinks. Even Arizona's gritty Governor  Brewer had to back away from legislation that would have insured religious people the right not to serve homosexuals. Listen, if I don't want to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple, I shouldn't have to, right? If I do, you're making me do something I don't want to do--you're jumping on the toes of my liberty and pursuit of happiness.

Still, the vast majority of Americans would say that putting whites at one lunch counter and blacks at another, or keeping Native Americans out altogether is flat wrong.  It's a matter of justice, of treating people, who are, after all, created equal, fairly. The same with LGBTs. The majority of Americans, it seems, felt Gov. Brewer did the right thing.

Justice and liberty don't always get along, but right now it seems clear to me that in this country a whole lot of white people, people who know at least something about the New Testament, are going over to Rand Paul's side of the balance or ledger and singing hymns to  liberty. Lots of red-blooded Americans don't want the government messing things up, clogging their lives, sticking sharp sticks in their eyes; and it's understandable why.  Post 9-11 Boaz says, the country went almost hog wild with government--bailouts, privacy snooping, and even, as Paul himself must believe, wars. 

I couldn't help thinking, when we were there, that Haiti is a libertarian dream, really, because, mostly, there is no government--or, where there is (at ports where goods come into the country, for instance) it is fierce and perplexing because totally corrupt. But downtown Port au Prince there are no traffic lights, no health codes, no environmental watch dogs, no social security, precious little infrastructure, and a police force that, for better or for worse, is supplemented by UN forces. What government there is is on the take, which means, of course, that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer because, after all, in Haiti those who have the cash can pretty much do what they want.

There is no control, save that exerted by individual Haitians, because Haiti, people say, is a "failed state," a country that doesn't do things countries need to do, a place, for the most part, without a government.

If Rand Paul wants to cut his losses with the Republican establishment, he's well on his way after the statements released yesterday. If he doesn't, he'll require a trip to the woodshed from Cheney himself, I'm sure. But, in a way, what he said doesn't surprise me because he is a libertarian and libertarians really can't help but be isolationists--the best government is no government at all. 

Yesterday, that sentiment made good sense to my wife after her two-hour, worthless trip to the SSA in Sioux City, Iowa. Yesterday, for many of us, the best government is no government at all.

Put it on a bumper sticker. Or a t-shirt.

Then wear it on the streets of Port au Prince. 

1 comment:

jdb said...

Thanks again for another view from Haiti. To take it to the extreme, Mogadishu, Somalia should be a libertarian dream. More guns and less government than you find even in Port au Prince. Yet few would trade the US nanny state for either of these options in spite of what the rhetoric would suggest. Many of us subscribe to the line, "Keep the government out of health care, but don't mess with my medicare." Or in another arena, "Get the government out of agriculture, and where's my subsidiy check" (said in a single breath, paraphrasing Opus in "Bloom County" some years ago)