Monday, January 09, 2012


"I disagree but I respect your right to be stupid"

Some have said that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, that the only way to retain liberty is to be continually alert for attempts to steal it away for various reasons. The United States hasn't been very vigilant as year after year tiny liberties have been taken away for our own good or just to enrich those in power.

There's another price to liberty, though, this one more a cost than an effort to maintain it. That price is stupidity. It is not possible to have a truly free society without people around you having ideas and positions that are stupid - to you, at least. It is not possible to have a true democracy, whatever its form, without certain positions and ideas being implemented that you consider dumb or foolish. Liberty means tolerating stupidity and weakness in others.

For that's what true tolerance is: the enduring things you dislike or consider wrong in other people. No one ever has to tolerate what they like or appreciate. You only tolerate the bad or annoying. Consider this question by George Stephanopoulos in the recent of an apparently endless series of tedious debates by the GOP candidates:
Governor Romney, do you believe that states have the right to ban contraception? Or is that trumped by a constitutional right to privacy?
Now putting aside the blatant leading nature of the question and the clear attempt to "catch" a GOP candidate saying something and attack them for it, this question shows ignorance about democracy. If you are truly going to allow the people to rule themselves, even through representatives, then you're going to have to put up with stupid decisions and laws.

I would consider a governmental ban on contraception idiotic at the state level, and pointless. I would vote against such a ban, oppose it, and vote for people at least in part based on their opposition to this law. But if the majority of my fellow citizens vote for such a law, or their representatives do so, then that's the state's law and my job is to get it removed by the processes we have.

Now, Mr Stephanopoulos would argue that there's a secret penumbra of a nimbus of a right implied by the US Constitution which protects the right to contraceptives, so this law is inherently unconstitutional - that's pretty clear in his question. But whether there is or not, that's how democracies work. The people choose something, and if enough of them want it, it will tend to take place. When that stops working, then a democracy has ceased to be a democracy and has become - usually - an oligarchy with a ruling class that dictates to the people.

And that's when we cease to have liberty. And, I'd argue, if we aren't there yet, we're awfully close. That's why people are taking to the streets and yelling at those in power, that's why power has changed hands completely in Washington DC four times in the last seventeen years, and looks to be doing so again this election.

As for Mr Stephanopoulos' argument, there is an implied right to privacy in the US Constitution, which the 9th amendment protects, but that doesn't extend to every single action taken in private, as he well knows. Nor does it mean that a ban on using contraception is reasonably extended from this privacy, at least not at the federal level.

Still, this question was really about looking for a juicy sound bite to attack Romney with, not any genuine interest in important policy. People are worried about not having jobs, increasing food and energy prices, unrest in the middle east, terrorism, abuse of power by the President, and other pressing issues, not contraception.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Sometimes in a Democracy, you have to eat a crap sandwich. It is horrible but that is also the beauty of a Democracy as well.