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“Parents Own The Children”: Libertarians Have A History Of Horrifying Views On Parenting

In a recent CNBC interview, Senator Rand Paul tempered some of his recent remarks about the alleged horrors of vaccination by claiming that he only opposes vaccine mandates because they infringe upon parents’ freedom. When confronted with the question of whether or not discouraging vaccination is a threat to children’s health, Paul launched into a meandering consideration of public health and liberty that concluded with the assertion that “the state doesn’t own your children, parents own the children.”

Paul’s bizarre rendering of the parent-child relationship as unilateral ownership is not the most unhinged thing a well-regarded libertarian has ever said about children. In fact, libertarians exhibit a historical inability to adequately explain how parents should relate to their children, why parents are obligated (if at all) to care for their children, and whether or not moral nations should require that parents feed, clothe, and shelter their children within a libertarian frame.

Consider Lew Rockwell, former congressional chief of staff for Rand’s father, Ron. Rockwell, who may or may not have had a hand in composing the now infamously racist and homophobic slew of newsletters sent out to Ron Paul fans between the late ’70s and early ’90s, is a professed fan of child labor. Complaining of laws that prevent, among other things, second-graders from operating forklifts, Rockwell opines that “we are still saddled with anti-work laws that stunt young people’s lives.” Like Rand Paul on vaccine mandates, Rockwell sees child labor laws as government overreach. “In a free and decent society, decisions about these matters are for parents, not bureaucrats,” Rockwell writes, referring to whether or not schoolchildren should be breadwinners. The type of society Rockwell envisions here hardly seems “decent,” but it would certainly be “free” in the way Paul imagines, and in that sense it is perfectly libertarian.

Rockwell’s mentor, Murray Rothbard, one of the twentieth century’s more famous libertarians, was similarly fond of kids in the workplace. Rothbard imagined that laws against child labor were passed in order to artificially inflate the wages of adults, who viewed children as competition capable of underbidding them. “Supposedly ‘humanitarian’ child labor laws,” Rothbard remarks in his book The Ethics of Liberty, “have systematically forcibly prevented children from entering the labor force, thereby privileging their adult competitors.” While the real impetus behind child labor laws was child welfare, it is telling that Rothbard tended to look upon kids with a suspicious eye, and his ethics bear out this cold approach. Later in The Ethics of Liberty, Rothbard, in keeping with the libertarian exaltation of personal freedom, argues that “no man can therefore have a ‘right’ to compel someone to do a positive act”that is, because all people are free, by his account, your rights cannot impose positive actions on others. This means, Rothbard goes on, that a parent “may not murder or mutilate his child, and the law properly outlaws a parent from doing so. But the parent should have the legal right not to feed the child, i.e., to allow it to die.” He concludes that “the law, therefore, may not properly compel the parent to feed a child or to keep it alive.” To do so, for Rothbard, would be pure government overreach.

Such dark fantasies are not restricted to the weird world of libertarian academia. Williamson “Bill” Evers, formerly a libertarian candidate for congress and advisor to the McCain 2008 campaign, also argues that there should be no laws preventing a parent from, say, starving an infant to death. In an article published in the Journal of Libertarian Studies, Evers concludes, “We have considered the hypothesis that there should be an enforced legal duty of parents to support their minor children. Having found the various reasons advanced in support of this duty inadequate, we can only conclude that no such duty exists … one has to regard the notion of a legal duty of parents to support their children as without merit.” Evers allows that parents might be morally obligated to do something for their children, but also that morals should not be legally enforced. Therefore, vaccination, labor, and finally whether or not to give one’s children the necessities of life ultimately comes down, for these classic libertarian thinkers, to the free will of the parents.

Libertarianism rests on the whimsical notion that all people are isolated, entirely free agents with no claims on others except those that they can negotiate through consensual contracts. The very existence of children flatly disproves this; any moral intuition indicates that children come into the world with claims on their parents at the very least, and their entire societies considered broadly. To avoid a hellish death spiral of infectious disease and neglect, we would all do well to reject Paul and his cohort on the subject of child rearing.

 

By: Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig, The New Republic, February 4, 2015

February 6, 2015 Posted by | Libertarians, Public Health, Rand Paul | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Highly Situational Principles”: How The Vaccine Controversy Shows The Limits Of GOP Libertarianism

As a demonstration that anything can become political and you never know what issue is going to take over a campaign, every potential presidential candidate is now thinking very carefully about what they should say on the topic of childhood immunizations. Chris Christie kicked things off when he answered a question about a spreading measles outbreak with some comments about parental choice that he sort-of walked back, but the real news came when Rand Paul — a graduate of Duke University medical school, which I’m fairly certain is a real thing — gave an interview to CNBC in which he said, “I’ve heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.”

Needless to say, this is utterly bogus. What Paul should have noted was that this question has been studied exhaustively, and there is no evidence whatsoever that vaccines cause autism or any other “mental disorder.”

But if you thought that every GOP candidate would be rushing to pander to people’s fears about big government forcing them to stick needles in their kids, you’d be wrong. In fact, the ones we’ve heard from so far have been clearly pro-vaccine. And this shows just where the limits of libertarianism within the Republican Party are.

As the New York Times noted this morning, Mike Huckabee has in the past advocated that vaccines be widely used, and specifically dismissed the debunked connection to autism, while Rick Perry has also touted his administration’s efforts to increase vaccination. You’ll recall that Perry was criticized by his Republican opponents in 2012 for mandating that girls in Texas public schools receive the HPV vaccine (though he eventually reversed himself when he was convinced by other Texas conservatives that giving a 10-year-old girl a shot to prevent her from getting cervical cancer after she becomes an adult would obviously turn her into a sex maniac). Ben Carson also made clear that mandatory vaccination is critical to preventing disease, no matter what religious or philosophical objections people might have. John Boehner too said that every child should be vaccinated.

While there are a few candidates we haven’t yet heard from, it may be surprising that Paul isn’t getting more company; indeed, he’s probably surprised, given how much Republicans have talked about individual liberty in the last few years. Paul doesn’t deny that there are risks to not vaccinating children, but he says that it’s a matter of personal freedom: parents, not the government, should make the choice. However, it turns out that other Republicans don’t agree. In this case they believe that the welfare of the community trumps the individual’s right to decide.

What that tells us is that the broader Republican commitment to libertarian principles is highly situational. Libertarians laud themselves for their philosophical consistency (though Rand Paul is a quasi-libertarian at most), but ordinary conservatives are picking and choosing based on who’s getting what and who’s paying what. In the case of something like guns, where there’s an analogous situation (individuals want to make a choice that potentially endangers others), conservatives see the gun owner getting a benefit, and one many of them enjoy. When they say that companies should be released from environmental regulations, they’re thinking about people and organizations they admire getting the benefit of unconstrained market freedom, and the cost (environmental degradation) is something they’re only marginally concerned about.

But in the case of vaccines, the beneficiaries are a bunch of wackos and conspiracy theorists who are gaining nothing more than the ability to endanger their own children, at the cost of endangering everybody else’s children. And I’m guessing it also matters that a lot of the vaccine truthers who get attention are liberals, the Marin County types who think that because they feed their children organic food that the kids will have super-charged immune systems and therefore can’t become sick. (It should be noted that vaccine trutherism is a non-partisan affliction: liberals are no more likely than conservatives to think vaccines cause autism.)

What’s more, while it’s also true that advocating for vaccines requires conservatives to agree with Science, this issue isn’t like climate change, where many on the right think the entire scientific community is engaged in a vast conspiracy of deception. On climate, people fear that they’ll lose something (like their SUVs) and have to change their lifestyle in order to address the problem; the issue also threatens their traditional allies in the energy industry. There are few such considerations in the vaccine issue.

So the vaccine issue demonstrates that while nearly every Republican agrees with libertarian ideas on some issues, this doesn’t necessarily reflect just an inviolable philosophical commitment to individual liberty. When being a libertarian means getting something they want without having to give up anything they like, they’re happy to wave the anti-government flag. But if it means their kids might get sick because some people are dumb enough to take their medical advice from Jenny McCarthy, the needs of the many begin to look much more pressing than the delusions of the few.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, February 3, 2015

February 6, 2015 Posted by | Communicable Diseases, GOP, Libertarians | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No, No, A Thousand Times No”: What Chris Christie Gets Wrong About Vaccine Deniers

Chris Christie is in England, because like so many candidates before him, he knows that the way to show American voters that you will make wise foreign policy decisions is to demonstrate that you have, in fact, visited another country. And while he’s there, he managed to make news by taking a position that is not only controversial but spectacularly wrong, on the topic of the spreading measles outbreak caused by unvaccinated children:

“Mary Pat and I have had our children vaccinated and we think that it’s an important part of being sure we protect their health and the public health,” Christie told reporters here Monday. But the likely Republican presidential candidate added: “I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well, so that’s the balance that the government has to decide.”

And it gets worse: Christie said, “It’s more important what you think as a parent than what you think as a public official.”

No, no, a thousand times no. It’s great that Christie vaccinated his children, but it’s also completely irrelevant. And what he thinks as a parent is absolutely not more important than what he thinks as a public official. Want to know why? Because he’s a public official. That means that he has a responsibility for the health and welfare of the nine million people who live in his state. I am so tired of politicians who say, “My most important title is Mom/Dad.” It isn’t. When you decided to run for public office, you accepted that there would be times when you’d have to act in the public interest regardless of your family’s interest, or your friends’ interest, or the interest of the town you grew up in. When you took the oath of office you made a covenant that you’d work on behalf of the larger community. The fact that you’re a parent can help you understand other parents and their concerns, but it doesn’t change your primary responsibility.

One can certainly express some measure of understanding toward anti-vaxxers while still holding that their views are not just mistaken but profoundly dangerous. Fear for the health of one’s children is a powerful force. As a general matter there’s nothing wrong with distrusting the pharmaceutical industry. One can understand how someone might end up with such views. That being said, there’s about as much real evidence that vaccines cause autism as there is that volcanoes cause post-nasal drip.

So the responsible thing for a governor to say would be, “As a parent, I get where they’re coming from. But as a public official it’s my responsibility to say that they’re wrong, and in their error they aren’t just threatening their own children’s health, they’re threatening the entire community.” You don’t have to think parents who refuse to vaccinate their kids should be arrested, but their ideas ought to be condemned for the harm they do. If Chris Christie has sympathy for them as a father, that’s fine. But he has a more important job to do.

After getting some criticism over his initial remarks, Christie clarified through a spokesperson that he believes all kids should be vaccinated. Which is good, and I hope that this episode provides a lesson for him and other officeholders. Politicians are always trying to tell us that they’re just regular folks like us, and all you need to succeed in high office is common sense and a strong memory of your humble roots. It’s baloney. We choose them for those offices because we need them to make complex and difficult decisions that require more than common sense. We don’t try to elect the best dad to be governor or president, we try to elect the person who’ll be the best governor or president.

Are Republicans more likely than Democrats to fall into this regular-guy routine? Politicians from both parties do it, but the GOP has certainly embraced know-nothingism on other issues. “I’m not a scientist” has become the standard Republican way to say we shouldn’t do anything to address climate change. For a long time they have played the identity politics game, which requires demonstrating that you’re “one of us” and your opponent is alien and contemptible, with particular vigor. That’s an argument that denies there’s anything special about public office; all we need is to find a candidate with “[insert our state here] values,” and everything will be fine.

But it won’t, and it would be nice if the people vying for office stopped pretending otherwise.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, February 2, 2015

February 3, 2015 Posted by | Chris Christie, Public Health, Vaccinations | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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