If Human Rights Aren’t Your Highest Priority, What Does That Say about You?

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by Tim Widowfield

The Bush Junior years — 2000 to 2008 — were interesting times, politically, here in the U.S. When Dubya’s positive polling percentage hit 29%, some of my conservative friends came out of the closet, so to speak. “Tim,” they told me, “I’m really more of a libertarian than a conservative or a Republican.”

“Don’t lump me in with those Neocons.”

Of course the realization that they no longer identified with the national G.O.P. (Grand Old Party) had more to do with the disenchantment with the Neocons than anything else. Specifically, it had become apparent that the Iraq War had been a tragic mistake — what kind of mistake exactly depends on whom you ask. Was it ill-conceived from the beginning and based on fabricated intelligence, or was it simply poorly executed? Either way, lots of weary Republicans all over the country were distancing themselves from a very unpopular president.

So now when I read news stories about the ballot initiative against gay marriage in North Carolina last week, or yesterday’s disgusting vote in the Virginia House of Delegates, I wonder what all those self-styled libertarians think. I know many libertarian-leaning people are appalled by government intrusion into citizens’ personal lives, and I wouldn’t doubt most Republicans I have known (the ones with university degrees and most of their teeth) aren’t homophobic. Will they distance themselves from this madness, too?

One of the Virginia delegates is reported to have said that the nominated judge, state prosecutor Tracy Thorne-Begland, a 20-year Navy veteran and former fighter pilot, was unfit to serve because he is “an aggressive activist for the pro-homosexual agenda.” That “agenda” apparently includes the belief in human rights, including marriage equality. Thorne-Begland and his partner are in a committed relationship, and they’re raising twins together. For some conservatives, the struggle to be ordinary — the dream to be allowed to live like everybody else with the protection of the law, and to be left alone — is part of a devious agenda and tantamount to asking for “special rights.”

“Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman — just the way my imaginary, invisible friend commanded it.”

One party in the U.S. has callously, repeatedly, and consistently used gay hatred to swing elections their way. We lived in Ohio in 2004, so I remember quite well how an anti-gay marriage ballot initiative drove enough conservatives to the polls that it swung the election. They came out to the polls to deprive their gay neighbors of their rights, and while they were there they voted for the Republican ticket — just as Karl Rove expected they would.

But the tide is turning in this country. Younger people just don’t care if their friends are gay. They know something my generation still hasn’t figured out — it just isn’t that big a deal. Here in our new home state, Iowa, gay marriage has been allowed for a little over three years now. Guess what. You’d never know it.

So my tolerant and open-mined libertarian friends, perhaps many readers of this blog, too, would probably agree with the kids. Johnny has two Moms?  Big deal.  Adam and Steve moved in next door?  So what. Live and let live.

“I’d like to help my gay friends, but I’m too busy trying to destroy the social safety net.”

But my question, then, is this: Is this a core libertarian principle or not? Let me rephrase that. Are human rights — basic equality, human dignity, equal justice, equal treatment — core moral values or not? I ask, since I know a lot of libertarians are going to “hold their noses” in November and vote straight “R” again, because they hate Obama, and because they think Romney is more likely to cut taxes, shrink government (seriously?), and finish dismantling the welfare state.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not endorsing Obama. I could very easily vote Green again. I’m simply asking my libertarian fellow citizens a very serious and basic question: Is the prospect of universal healthcare so odious that you’d rather vote in a party that has promised to return to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, that would start enforcing DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) again, and that openly works against civil rights for gay Americans? Are you saying that human rights take a back seat to lower taxes on the rich? Is it so important that we privatize Medicare and Social Security that you’re willing to sell your homosexual friends up the river?

When they asked Jesus what the greatest commandments were, he is supposed to have said:

And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.

And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. (Mark 12:30-31, KJV)

If you’re like me and no longer believe in a magical, easily angered, bronze-age storm god, then you’ve tossed aside the first commandment. However, as a basis for morality and ethics you could hardly do better than Jesus’ second commandment. If your personal morality puts property and economic principles ahead of loving your neighbor, what does that say about your political ideology? What does it say about you?

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Tim Widowfield

Tim is a retired vagabond who lives with his wife and multiple cats in a 20-year-old motor home. To read more about Tim, see our About page.

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12 thoughts on “If Human Rights Aren’t Your Highest Priority, What Does That Say about You?”

    1. I always thought Jesus’ addendum was useful, at least for Christians. What you do to others is done to Jesus.

      “I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.”

      I was thinking about that when I read the story yesterday about another innocent man executed in Texas. All those “loving” Christians who cheer for the death penalty . . . doing it to Jesus all over again.

      Some people like to feel that justice is being done, and that requires retribution. Their feeling of satisfaction requires punishment. That’s not justice. It’s bloodlust and revenge.

  1. The system is not meant to work, it is meant to placate.

    I am a social liberal but a fiscal conservative; seems contradictory I know. Let the gays marry, let weed be legal, lower taxes on those people who will actually move the economy, lessen the amount of government bureaucracy in our lives. More personal responsibility, but understand that those who are able to be responsible have a moral duty (as humans) to help those who can not be financially or emotionally responsible (not everyone either; our systems are abused). We should teach people to pick themselves up and live their own lives and not live on the dole.

    Lastly, I do not understand how enabling homosexual marriage will then lead to incest, bestiality and pedophilia; they are abjectly unrelated to each other. Sex, gay or straight (terms which are not opposite), if performed between consenting adults (age limits vary), is neither moral nor amoral (no matter the position or amount of partners). With incest, bestiality and pedophilia, it is a being forcing themselves on another living being. These last options are akin to rape, not homosexuality. People who love their cars or “pound sand” are rapists, too. If it is not consensual it is not moral.

  2. I’ve known I was in the libertarian area of the political spectrum before W. Bush ever ran for office, probably since sometime mid-late highschool. (Which was during the Clinton administration for me).

    Part of the problem is, for those of us who were coming to terms with our political leanings then, the religious right and the neocons weren’t yet dominating the republican party. Fiscal issues seemed to be the most important issues for the republican party then, and certainly where anything was going to get accomplished, and so many libertarian-leaning people ended up siding with the republicans. (Now, by the time I actually got to vote in a presidential election it was 2000, and I was less than thrilled with either party’s candidate – this is going to be a running theme.)

    Now, I’m not part of the libertarian party. A good number of them are at least as wacko as the religious right. My voting habits have mostly reflected a profound desire to have *neither* major party wield power. (To the point of frequently voting for the presidential candidate whose party probably would not control congress as the sole basis for my vote).

    But the real dilemma for those of us on the libertarian end of the spectrum is that *economic policy is frequently just as much a rights issue as social policy*. Universal health care is in fact as odious as failure to grant equal contract rights to all citizens regardless of gender preference. There are three fundamental rights: life, liberty, property. Each of them is essential, none of them has priority. So when given a choice between an anti-liberty agenda and an anti-property agenda, rational libertarians just sort of die inside.

    And don’t delude yourself, Obama is the absolute worst type of Democrat for a libertarian leaning voter. He had to be cajoled into a pro-marriage rights stance by his VP (who honestly might make a more attractive candidate than Obama himself). He made the major part of his first term about pushing through a healthcare law which compels citizens to have healthcare. Given the scope of that threat of force, its likely a larger rights violation than continuing to deny a minority marriage rights. And Obama has otherwise been highly interventionist in the economic sphere, like bailing out car companies and banks. (All of which should have been allowed to fail).

    Which does not make Romney more appealing. I don’t particularly support tax cuts for the rich (cut taxes for all americans instead, but only after cutting spending and balancing the budget), i despise his social agenda, and I’m not sure how much I can trust his centrism.

    So what’s the likelihood each president might realize their agenda?
    -DOMA: I’d bet on the Supreme Court striking it down as unconstitutional (because marriage law is fundamentally a legal sphere of the states), but Romney has full discretion on enforcing it if he’s president and so will do so until the SC gets around to it. Of course, a court could always issue an injunction suspending it while a case is pending.
    -Health Care: I doubt republicans will have enough votes in congress to repeal it over a presidential veto. Odds of it surviving the Supreme Court? Depends on which president is in office when and if a challenge makes it there (which could potentially systematically dismantle it), as the quality of the government’s defense will depend on presidential policy.

    Blah. So who does a libertarian vote for? Cthulhu?

    Really, the most compelling reason to vote republican is probably this: Rights issues where the government decides wrongly are relatively easy to reverse. It might take time, but as more people come around its just a matter of repealing a law or two. Something like healthcare frequently involves substantial government bureaucracy. And its omnipresent in people’s lives, so they get used to it. Then people will establish healthcare policies under it that will be a nightmare to untangle when it gets repealed. All of these things get worse as time goes on. Repealing it later becomes a nightmare struggle against a juggernaut. Look at social security, where even if you had enough people against it you couldn’t just vote to end it because of how entangled it is in everyone’s life. Effectively, it becomes impossible to do away with if it survives for long. If its going to die, it needs to die soon.

    So there’s good practical reasons for wanting to end obamacare now, and thus the highest utility in rights protection involves getting Obama out of office. (Especially since the likelihood of Obama successfully doing anything proactive for gay rights is close to zero, so while he might have the higher moral ground on that topic his ability to act on it is very constrained, and the real gay rights benefit of electing Obama is practically zero.)

  3. One party in the U.S. has callously, repeatedly, and consistently used gay hatred to swing elections their way.

    Yes, the Democratic Party nominated Barack Obama and Joe Biden to the top of their ticket in 2008, and both of them ran on a political platform that declared publicly that marriage should be between only one man and one woman. Their position on this issue was callous, consistent and cynical.

  4. Its a shame that somebody does not ask those xians for lack of a better word, what they think of the law forcing maidens to marry their rapist or perhaps to explain why Saul and Samuel were naked with other all night as in


    He stripped off his robes and also prophesied in Samuel’s presence. He lay that way all that day and night. This is why people say, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”

    or perhaps they should explain Jonathan and David manly relationship ?

    Its also a shame they dont make their pledges the same way the ancient Jews in the Bible did, where they grab each others man bits, such in Abraham:

    24:2 And Abraham said unto his eldest servant of his house, that ruled over all that he had, Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh:

  5. Thank you, Mike Sylwester, for demonstrating the fine art of redirection and argument by assertion.

    You are wrong, Mike.

    From the 2008 Democratic Platform (warning: PDF):

    It is not enough to look back in wonder at how far we have come; those who came before us did not strike a blow against injustice only so that we would allow injustice to fester in our time. That means removing the barriers of prejudice and misunderstanding that still exist in America. We support the full inclusion of all families, including same-sex couples, in the life of our nation, and support equal responsibility, benefits, and protections. We will enact a comprehensive bipartisan employment non-discrimination act. We oppose the Defense of Marriage Act and all attempts to use this issue to divide us.

    From the 2008 Republican platform (warning: PDF):

    Because our childrenís future is best preserved within the traditional understanding of marriage, we call for a constitutional amendment that fully protects marriage as a union of a man and a woman, so that judges cannot make other arrangements equivalent to it. In the absence of a national amendment, we support the right of the people of the various states to affirm traditional marriage through state initiatives.

    So again, to all you libertarians out there, you’re happy with this? Is it more important to kill the welfare state, take away universal health care, and destroy unions, turning us into third-world, banana republic economy than it is to support equal rights?

    1. Firstly im going to answer this question by simply pointing to the examples set in the Bible by heroes who are said to be righteous, people like David, Jesus or Abraham. When did they ever help any orphan, poor or old person. Granted Jesus helped a few so called sick people but he never actually said that people should. WHie he did say we should be kind to each other an important question to ask is what exactly did he mean ? Did he mean everyone, because he didnt seem to care for the poor and damned half, the slaves. After all that good ness its easy to see why Re[ublicans dont care about the ordinary American, after all if Jesus or David or Joshua or Moses didnt why should they go further ?

    2. What they say and what they can actually accomplish are two entirely different things.

      If they could pass an amendment to the constitution to outlaw other understandings of marriage, they would have done so already. Amendments don’t involve the president at all, so the president is irrelevant to it.

      Obama has done nothing substantive to decrease discrimination against non-traditional families. So empty posturing is empty.

      Why don’t we consider the *actual consequences* of electing people rather than just looking at their meaningless rhetoric.

      That last paragraph betrays a number of false assumptions, like somehow its the welfare state, unions, and universal healthcare which makes the US economy strong. Its not. The US had a strong economy before all those things. I won’t deny that Unions had a positive impact at one point, but that point is *almost 100 years ago*, and they have been nothing but a hindrance and a nuisance for at least 30 if not 50 years or more.

      The welfare state and universal healthcare are government meddling where they don’t belong. They have no right to enact those programs (neither are in the list of enumerated powers and responsibilities in the constitution which wholly circumscribe everything the government is allowed to do), and no one has the right to use other people’s money in such a way. If I choose to donate my time or money its one thing, but to be forced to do so with a gun pointed at my head is obscene (and don’t kid yourself, taxation is backed up by threat of force).

      So am i happy about the ridiculous battle against permitting marriage to apply more generally? Not at all. Is it the most pressing rights issue in teh country today? No. And certainly not one that is likely to be resolved or even have substantive action taken on in the near future. By either side. The best and probably only hope for marriage equality in the next 10 years is judicial activism. So I can only conclude the question is meaningless for a presidential election.

      1. Squirreloid: “Obama has done nothing substantive to decrease discrimination against non-traditional families. So empty posturing is empty.”

        Your statement is demonstrably false.

        Squirreloid: “Why don’t we consider the *actual consequences* of electing people rather than just looking at their meaningless rhetoric.”

        You underestimate the power of the presidency. Much can be done and has been done to make the lives of LGBT people better. Let me give you a short list of substantive things Obama has done so far.

        1. Repealed “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” This is a huge deal, and something Republican candidates have said they would immediately reverse.

        2. Extended benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/presidential-memorandum-extension-benefits-same-sex-domestic-partners-federal-emplo

        3. Established HHS rules to forbid hospitals from denying visitation rights by same-sex partners. http://www.cnn.com/2010/POLITICS/04/15/hospital.gay.visitation/index.html

        4. Stopped gender identification discrimination in federal employment. http://www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights/administration-adds-gender-identity-equal-employment-opportunity-policies

        5. Extended the Family and Medical Leave Act to cover employees taking unpaid leave to care for the children of same-sex partners. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/22/us/politics/22rights.html

        6. Is now actively seeking to overturn DOMA. I’m very happy that this upsets the Baptist Press –> http://www.bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=37837 Do you like how they put the word marriage in quotes?

        These are just a few of the significant steps the administration has taken. These were the actual consequences of his election to office. And they are all steps that could be reversed by a Republican president.

  6. I think the key to this is that libertarians do not see themselves as members of a civilization. They often argue that there is no such thing as society, there are only individuals who should be making it on their own in a competitive unregulated market economy. From this perspective, there is no such thing as “human rights” (i.e., rights that all humans should have), since that assumes a collective “humanity” that can benefit collectively and individually from the societal recognition of such rights. Since there is no “collective” and no “society,” there are no “human” rights, only individual rights–that is, the particular libertarian’s own rights.

    Unless the libertarian is hirself gay, restrictions on the rights of gays have no impact on their rights. The libertarian attitude to rights is the same as their attitude to everything else (wealth, access to education, health care, clean air and water, etc.): “I got mine. If anybody doesn’t, that’s their problem, and nobody has a right to come and Take My Money At Gunpoint to make sure they do.” Since a heterosexual libertarian’s own, individual rights aren’t at stake in the gay rights issue, it’s completely consistent for them to vote Republican. If the Republicans wanted to hang all the gays from the lampposts, while abolishing all taxes for everybody making over $100,000 a year, that would be a boon for any heterosexual libertarian who’s either making $100K or imagines that they will be someday.

    When they look at government, they think, “Wait, what?! Who the hell are these people?! What right to they have to Take My Money at Gunpoint?! It’s mine! MINE! MINE! MINE! I didn’t sign any social contract!” Never mind that their ability to make money depends entirely on the institutions of civilization–courts, laws, a common currency, public infrastructure, police forces, fire departments, the military, government funding for scientific research and so on. Also forget that a childless libertarian benefits from the education of other people’s children (since that provides them with a literate customer base able to participate in the economy) and other public goods provided universally rather than just to those who are already wealthy enough to afford them.

    All of those Other People are fundamentally outside the libertarian’s area of concern. Oh, sure, libertarians don’t object to private charity. You can take that up as a hobby if you like, with your own money. And if there aren’t enough hobbyists, and people starve? Well, too bad, that’s life. Or, look at the libertarian approach to environmental protection. If a company pollutes local air or water, sue ’em; otherwise, we don’t need no steenkin’ environmental regulations. If the polluting company isn’t causing the libertarian, themselves, to choke or their own tap water to catch on fire, so what? Assuming the company’s execs are smart enough to locate in an area where there’s only poor people who can’t afford fancy lawyers and hire scientists to test the air and water supply, who cares? If those people pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps, they’d be living in a nice neighborhood like mine, and they wouldn’t be having deformed babies, now, would they?

    And if the pollution in question causes its worst effects only on a global scale, like CO2 emissions, and there’s nobody specific to sue? Well, presumably the Free Market (all hail its holy name) will provide some terrific real estate opportunities along the new coastlines when the cities drown.

    The very notion of caring in any deep sense about the rights of Other People in cases where your own ox isn’t getting gored is something that comes with sharing mutually reciprocal bonds with those other people as members of a civilization, a species, and (on a larger scale) with organisms of other species in a shared planetary biosphere. Libertarians consider such reciprocal bonds as an alien imposition on their individual rights, and the fates of all those Other People as essentially irrelevant to their own lives; other species and the planetary biosphere even more so. From that perspective, voting Republican makes perfect sense, especially if the libertarian is heterosexual, white, and male (and most of them are).

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