So there is now concern by some so called journalists that “in his 1987 manifesto ‘Freedom Under Siege: The U.S. Constitution after 200-Plus Years,’ Presidential hopeful Ron Paul wrote that AIDS patients were victims of their own lifestyle, questioned the rights of minorities and argued that people who are sexually harassed at work should quit their jobs.” Of these only the last could be objected to on rational grounds and only if the harassment involved coercion. Thus if some colleague happened to place an objectionable picture on his office wall, a picture that others do not have to look at and can easily avoid, that would be a matter of office privacy unless the firm had a policy against it. There is no universal right to be free of annoying colleagues.
Arguably, though probably not in all cases, AIDS patients did invite their illness through risky activities they choose to engage in. At most Paul was exaggerating: some AIDS patients become infected from blood transfusions for which a hospital or medical office, not the patients, in responsible. In most instances it is probably true that AIDS patients are more like those who experience motorcycle or mountain climbing mishaps; they took on risks that landed them in medical trouble, something we all do now and then as we move through a risk infested life.
These complaints against Ron Paul demonstrate a total failure to understand what democratic politics is about, namely, debating public policy. No such policy is sacrosanct apart from the commitment to the philosophy of the Declaration and the Bill of Rights and to constant debate. Just as many liberal democrats disagree with the War on Drugs and free trade measures and are willing to challenge these in public discussions, so libertarians have their list of public policies they want to challenge and change.
Reporters who express shock with Ron Paul’s positions should realize that in a democracy innumerable matters are up for debate, including the right to an abortion, to assisted suicide, minimum wage laws, undeclared wars in Libya or elsewhere. Ron Paul, just as any other candidate, may be open to criticism for the side he takes on any of these issues but it is a complete misunderstanding of the nature of political debate to consider simply holding views with which others disagree as something objectionable. What do these people want, anyway? Do they expect that elections will be about what spices should one use when baking a turkey or colors to decorate one’s garden?
The pretended outrage with Paul’s positions of several decade ago also fails to allow for any nuance in his libertarian stance, or indeed for some change in his political views. Why is this objectionable about Paul but not about Romney or Gingrich? It shouldn’t be about anyone who has a long time ago professed to hold views that he or she no longer considers sound. It is especially hypocritical to object when so many journalists are rank radical pragmatists, like Paul Krugman and President Obama, people who proudly reject principled thinking about anything.
Moreover, when journalists get into the fray and start championing the views of some of the candidates they cover, there is no longer any integrity to what they are doing; indeed, their journalism is seriously corrupted. This is why so many in America have a negative attitude toward the media--to many of these folks put themselves up high as if someone appointed judges and juries of public debate. They should, instead, keep their political opinions to themselves as they carry out their work, just as doctors, teachers, and others should.
December 31, 2011
We are delighted to present Lessons in Freedom, essays by Dr. Tibor Machan, for your pleasure.
Dr. Machan holds the R. C. Hoiles Chair in Business Ethics & Free Enterprise at Chapman University's Argyros School of B&E.