Opinion » Bill Cope

Still Loony

A gratuitous update on Libertarianism


As I explained in last week's column, I went away for a few days and had two columns to complete before I left. Now, probably most of you are accustomed to having some extra work to do before leaving on a vacation, and I'm sure you do it admirably and without a lot of bitching. I have no doubt you buckle down, git 'er done, wrap it up, knock it out ... whatever ... all without a word of complaint or a hint of that disgruntled employee vibe.

Thankfully, I am not you. In my job, I am allowed to bitch all I want. I am actually encouraged to bitch. After all, what is an opinion column if not an opportunity to bitch about something on a regular basis, and get paid for it? Yes, that is essentially what opinion columnists are: professional bitchers. And if I choose to bitch about having to complete two columns in the same time it normally takes to write one, so be it. If anybody ever tries to tell me what I can or cannot bitch about, they will regret it as soon as my next column comes out.

So anyway, three days before we were scheduled to climb the brown walls of the Treasure Valley to cooler climes, I completed the first column--for what it's worth--and combed my bristly attitude for my next bitch. As I mentioned last week, the problem was not that there's a scarcity of bitchable issues. Goodness, no. I need do no more than open a newspaper to find enough to keep me bitching well into another incarnation.

The problem--and it seems to return every summer, just like crotch rash and aphids--is that I have a heck of a time caring about what's happening among the very people I'm supposed to be bitching about. It may be a symptom of the heat. I mean, I see something that disturbs me and my immune system says, Don't worry 'bout it, Bill. It's too damn hot to get all worked up.

As a result, with three days until deadline, I had no second column. And for that reason, my gratitude goes out to Caldwell City Councilman and Chair of the Idaho Libertarian Party Rob Oates. I don't know what I'd have done without him.

Here's what happened. A day or two after the last installment of my series "Mountain Socialism" (BW, Opinion, July 15, 2009) appeared--which was the same time frame in which I was desperately seeking a subject--Mr. Oates left the following comment online: "Thanks, Bill, for the weekly confirmation that you really know almost nothing about Libertarianism, free markets, or economics." And instantly, I knew where that second column was coming from.

Normally, I don't respond to online comments. It's not worth it. I doubt if anyone in the entire world has ever shifted positions even a centimeter because of what some snide snot anonymously scrawled onto the Internet blackboard.

But the particular subject becomes ever more relevant as the summer rolls on and President Barack Obama pushes for some sanity in the health-care industry. (Reminder: "Mountain Socialism" was a discussion about socialized medicine between my friend Badger Bob, a socialist-libertarian-capitalist, and his friend Hoot, a straight-up libertarian.) Moreover, I respect Mr. Oates for using his real name and not some phony virtual moniker, and I also respect the diligence with which he defends his political affiliations.

But he--as is common among libertarians--is wrong. It's true that I don't know anymore about economics than the next semi-aware, semi-literate, semi-intelligent citizen. But the fact is, normal citizens know a lot more about economics than some guy who's pushing a third-party, fringe ideology will ever give them credit for knowing. Economics is the sea in which we all swim, libertarians and socialists alike, and it doesn't take a genius to know whether the water is hot or cold. (Though, I happen to have a genius in my pocket from whom I occasionally seek support. His name is Paul Krugman, he won last year's Nobel Prize for economics, and I'm confident he would agree with my position on libertarians. And by the way, can anyone name the last libertarian to win the Nobel Prize for economics? No? Well, there's a good reason for that.)

Mr. Oates is also wrong that I know almost nothing about free markets. The sad truth is, all of us know more today about free markets now than we ever wanted to know, and the No. 1 lesson we take from the chaos that has resulted from the Bush gang driving our economy off the dock is that when markets are allowed to operate free of regulation, a whole lot of people are eventually going to pay. And dearly. Like ... through the nose.

Lastly, Mr. Oates would have it I know nothing about Libertarianism. Pal, it's not like you guys have been shrinking violets. For the last 40 years or so, we've heard your spiels, we've heard your candidates debate, we've read your literature, we've listened to you go on and on, usually about how nobody knows what libertarians stand for. We know your positions on illegal drugs and sexual privacy and unrestricted markets and this and that and all the rest. We know how you like to brag about how you combine the economic freedoms typical of Republicans with the social freedoms typical of Democrats--(though we can't help but notice you are a great deal more vocal about a citizen's inherent right to pollute his property or sell tainted groceries than you are about legalizing pot or letting gays marry)--and we know your general attitude toward government is that there is little if any virtue in government. It is safe to say that everyone who is ever going to know what libertarians stand for, already knows it. (The rest don't even know what Republicans and Democrats stand for.)

And after 40 years of organized libertarianism, what have you accomplished? What is your crowning achievement? What lofty goals have you reached?

Ron Paul ... there's your lofty goal. Ron Paul's presidential campaign is as close as you've ever come to serious attention. Ron Paul is the largest--maybe only--peg on your hat rack. Ron Paul--74-year-old Ron Paul, next to whom Dennis Kucinich looks presidential--is the best you could do. And ... oh, that's right ... he ran as a Republican, knowing full well how futile it is to run as a Libertarian. Even Gov. Butch Otter, who has spent more time crowing about his Libertarian values than anyone else in Idaho, has figured out you can't govern a state on magical thinking.

So Mr. Oates, you're wrong that I don't know anything about the fairy dust you've been peddling. In fact, judging by your record of success, it seems most voting Americans know all they need to know.