“Your freedom to extend your fist stops where my nose begins.”
Today’s Republicans/conservatives/libertarians have made personal freedom a centerpiece of their philosophy. They seem to believe that if government got out of the way, everything would be wonderful. The economy would boom, the free market would keep us safe, and everyone would have all the food, housing, health care, and education they need.
I would love to believe in such a world, but the world I live in is inhabited by human beings, and humans come with lots of frailties. Because of this, people have been forming governments since time immemorial. Governments are needed to create and enforce laws and keep people safe. The struggle comes with the conflict between public good versus individual rights - how much control should government have over our lives?
I lived in Gardnerville many years ago. There was an incident concerning a cattle rancher and a newcomer to the area. The newcomer had a dog, and he believed that his dog should be able to run free. The dog began harassing the rancher’s cattle; the rancher threatened to kill the dog.
The dog owner was outraged. His solution? The rancher should take his cattle and move! The dog owner thought freedom meant his dog running loose. The rancher thought freedom meant his cattle grazing without being harmed. Someone’s freedom had to be restricted.
This is why we need regulations, so people aren’t running around shooting each other or their animals. Maybe tea partyers think this free-for-all is best, but I prefer having laws, so I don’t have to make them up as I go along. (FYI, I was on the rancher’s side.)
The preamble to our Constitution includes “promote the general Welfare.” This principle may interfere with someone’s freedom, since what is best for society may not fit with someone’s personal inclinations. The current debate over vaccinations is one example.
On Jan. 19, 2015, in Miami-Dade County, Fla., a large group of motorcyclists took over highway I-95 and adjoining streets. They were speeding, weaving in and out of traffic, driving on the wrong side of the road, and generally endangering the public. One commenter on this said, “As a ‘conservative’ voter I actually love to see these type of road rallies - Just a little reminder to Gubment that we can take back this land if/when we all join forces... In other words the streets and towns belong to us - not the cops or any other national or STATE bureaucrat ... So continue to back-off Florida Highway Patrol — you’re powerless when we unite... It’s called freedom...” Is this “freedom”? I’d call it chaos.
On Feb. 2, Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said he didn’t think restaurants should require employees to wash their hands after using the bathroom. He said, “I don’t have any problem with Starbucks if they choose to opt out of this (hand washing) policy as long as they post a sign that says we don’t require our employees to wash their hands after leaving the restroom.” Of course, who would enforce the “No Hand Washing” signs? Personally, I’m in favor of mandatory hygiene; does that mean I favor a dictatorship?
During a debate in September 2011, former Congressman Ron Paul, R-Texas, said he didn’t believe in federal regulations for cars. “… [D]o we need the federal government to tell us whether we buy a safe car? I say the consumers of America are smart enough to decide what kind of car they can buy and whether it’s safe or not…” Sure, after a few people are killed, sales may drop, but do you really want your child to be the manufacturer’s test dummy?
When the right-wing starts bleating about wanting to eliminate regulations, think about what they actually mean. They mean we should shut up and learn to live with polluted water, air, and land. We should learn to live with food that may not be safe and medicines that may kill us. We should get used to unsafe workplaces and cars that may blow up. After all, to them, that’s freedom.
In 1960, former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt wrote, “Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility.” Our freedom is priceless. It should be cherished. But when someone’s recklessness endangers my life, safety or property, I want laws and regulations in place to protect me and those I love. Otherwise freedom becomes an excuse for anarchy. That’s not what this country was founded on.
Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.