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Santorum, gambling, and absolute freedom

 

In an interview with Jon Ralston of the Las Vegas Sun, in which the topic of gambling predictably came up, Rick Santorum made a comment that has many libertarian hackles rising:

I’m someone who takes the opinion that gaming is not something that is beneficial, particularly having that access on the Internet. Just as we’ve seen from a lot of other things that are vices on the Internet, they end to grow exponentially as a result of that.

It’s one thing to come to Las Vegas and do gaming and participate in the shows and that kind of thing as entertainment, it’s another thing to sit in your home and have access to that it. I think it would be dangerous to our country to have that type of access to gaming on the Internet.

Freedom is not absolute. What rights in the Constitution are absolute? There is no right to absolute freedom. There are limitations. You might want to say the same thing about a whole variety of other things that are on the Internet — “let everybody have it, let everybody do it.” No. There are certain things that actually do cost people a lot of money, cost them their lives, cost them their fortunes that we shouldn’t have and make available, to make it that easy to do.  That’s why we regulate gambling. You have a big commission here that regulates gambling, for a reason. 

(Emphasis added, in case your libertarian hackles needed an extra afternoon boost, to achieve the properly elevated state.)  As when discussing Santorum’s remarks on contraception, I’ve got to lay my cards on the table by saying I disagree with his position.  I don’t think Internet gambling is one of the top 20 issues I’m looking for the next President to address.  Furthermore, the logic of prohibiting people from doing things the political class deems “bad” for them leads to the Nanny State, and Republican nannies are no more appealing than Democrat nannies.

We are, however, discussing a scale of restrictions, which Santorum made plain with the hackle-inducing probably-not-gonna-be-on-a-T-shirt-at-CPAC-next-year “freedom is not absolute” statement.  He’s right, of course.  All of the people snarling that Santorum just disqualified himself from the conservative movement should ask themselves: is there really nothing you would prohibit, beyond outright theft and physical assault?

Both as a matter of logic and legal precedent, we accept a certain degree of regulation upon our activities.  The question is one of degree – and it’s a very good question, one that will never really be resolved, as a free society perpetually tinkers with its rules.  There is nothing wrong with putting this question to Rick Santorum, or any other candidate, and nothing wrong with deciding their answers do not respect liberty to an acceptable degree, but flaying Santorum for merely discussing the fallacy of “absolute freedom” is unreasonable.

In the matter at hand, as Santorum pointed out, we already have laws and commissions to regulate gambling.  He’s hardly the first one to propose laws constraining it, or the first one to oppose legalized gambling in his state.  He goes as far as saying, during his interview with Ralston, that he thinks coming to Las Vegas and enjoying its mixture of night life, family entertainment and gambling is different than sitting in a dark room and maxing out your credit cards with online poker tournaments… particularly since plenty of underage kids are sitting in those dark rooms.

Modern conservatism has a strong libertarian streak, but there is a difference between “conservative” and “libertarian” thought.  It’s evidently quite easy to pinpoint that difference at the moment: just look for the man in the sweater vest.  Santorum might be off-base to oppose online gaming, but tossing him out of the conservative movement because he talks about the limits of freedom betrays a misunderstanding of conservatism. 

For that matter, without hearing a bit more from Santorum about where he thinks the boundaries of personal freedom lie, it’s hard to say exactly how far from the libertarian ideal he has strayed.  There is a difference between condemning something, regulating it, and banning it.  I don’t blame the resistance against our modern regulation-happy moratorium-enabled super-State for groaning when they hear one of the Republican candidates talking about what “we shouldn’t have, shouldn’t make available, or shouldn’t make easy to do.”  It would be better to put the immediate questions of personal liberty, on topics far more relevant than online gambling, to Santorum and hear his answers, rather than judging him for what we’re afraid he will say.

 

Written By

John Hayward began his blogging career as a guest writer at Hot Air under the pen name "Doctor Zero," producing a collection of essays entitled Doctor Zero: Year One. He is a great admirer of free-market thinkers such as Arthur Laffer, Milton Friedman, and Thomas Sowell. He writes both political and cultural commentary, including book and movie reviews. An avid fan of horror and fantasy fiction, he has produced an e-book collection of short horror stories entitled Persistent Dread. John is a former staff writer for Human Events. He is a regular guest on the Rusty Humphries radio show, and has appeared on numerous other local and national radio programs, including G. Gordon Liddy, BattleLine, and Dennis Miller.

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