Democrats often call themselves “pro-choice.” Republicans defend “freedom.” Unfortunately, neither party really believes in letting individuals do what we want.
When Democrats say they are “pro-choice,” they are talking about abortion. Some act as if a right to legal abortion is the most important freedom in America.
But Democrats aren’t very enthusiastic about other kinds of choice. They don’t want you to have the right to choose your kids’ school, work without joining a union, buy a gun, pay people whatever you contract to pay them if they choose to work for you, buy things you want to buy without regulations constantly interfering and so on.
Liberals, such as my Fox colleague Alan Colmes, say individualism is not enough. “‘Collective,’ sounds like communism,” says Colmes on my TV show this week (yes, Alan, it does), “but we do work and live in a society where there is a collective well-being.”
He thinks I should be grateful for regulations that limit access to guns and that force people to negotiate via labor unions instead of individual contracts. But if we were really grateful, it wouldn’t be necessary to force us to abide by those rules.
I want to try doing things my own way. I should be able to. As long as I don’t harm someone else’s body or property.
Democrats constantly increase limits on individual choice. President Obama won’t let people work in unpaid internships, and health officials in liberal cities ban trans fats from restaurants.
I like the way Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) summarized liberals’ love of crushing choice: “It’s light bulbs. It’s toilets. It’s cars. You name it. Your freedom of choice is gone. For a party that says they are the pro-choice party, this is the most anti-choice administration we’ve seen in a lifetime.”
Republicans have their own list of ways in which they want to control us. Many are not just anti-abortion (as is Sen. Paul); they’re also anti-gay marriage, anti-drugs, anti-gambling and, in a few cases, anti-free speech.
Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, says most of these rules are needed to protect society as a whole. When I challenge the war on drugs, asking, “Don’t I own my own body?” he answers, “It is your body, John, but the consequences are paid for by the broader society.”
For example, when he was a police officer, Perkins “had to go into homes [such as in] one case where there was an infant that was on the mother’s body, and the mother was dead from an overdose. I had to wait for child protection to come. And that child became a ward of the state, which we all pay for.”
The neglect of that child is a terrible thing, but where does this logic lead? I asked him if he’d ban alcohol and cigarettes, since those kill far more people. He said, “We restrict who can buy cigarettes, who can use them.”
But we impose those restrictions only on children. Adults are free to smoke. Adults should be free to do anything we damn well want to do — as long as we don’t directly harm others.
Perkins worries that controlled substances can be habit-forming. I worry more about people becoming habituated to being controlled.
I wonder just how many things social conservatives would outlaw if they thought the public would accept the bans. Perkins doesn’t approve of gambling, gay marriage, plural marriage, sex work or making a political statement by burning a flag.
And some of those things harm people. But we should use law to punish those who harm others, not to micromanage their lives.
Meanwhile, liberals keep adding new things to their own list of items to control: wages, hate speech, high-interest loans, plastic shopping bags, large cars, health care, e-cigarettes, Uber, AirBnB and more.
One choice America needs urgently is an alternative to politicians who constantly want to ban more things.
John Stossel is host of “Stossel” on Fox News and author of “No They Can’t! Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed.”