Tag: tolerance

The Establishment Comes Up Short

Today Politico Arena asks:

How does the Koran burning controversy relate to the Ground Zero mosque controversy?

My response:

As with the controversy over the Ground Zero mosque, Rev. Terry Jones and his tiny band of followers have a perfect right to burn Korans, but it would be well beyond insensitive to do so. Yet where are the establishment voices drawing the parallels? Where is President Obama, leaping to his defense?

Instead, we find the likes of the editorialists at the New York Times giving moral instruction to benighted New Yorkers, two-thirds of whom oppose siting a mosque at Ground Zero even as they defend Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s right to build it there. Meanwhile, last evening on the PBS NewsHour, the very essence of establishment TV, the sole guest on the Koran-burning segment, George Washington University’s Marc Lynch, lamented that across the Arab media, “on the jihadist forums, the newspapers, everywhere, there is a lot of focus on the fact that America right now is in the grip of this – of this trend towards anti-Islamic rhetoric and – and actions.” The fact? What Islamophobic “grip” are Americans in? As the most recent records show, hate crimes against Jews in America are 10 times more frequent than against Muslims.

So what is the principle by which the establishment distinguishes the two controversies, heaping scorn on Rev. Jones while defending Imam Rauf? Surely it’s not that Muslims worldwide will react violently to a tiny Koran burning incident while non-Muslim Americans will passively accept siting a mosque at Ground Zero. The heckler’s veto enjoys no currency in respectable parlors. And condescension is reserved for domestics unworthy of admission to such parlors, not for foreigners untutored in our nice distinctions. Nor of course can the explanation rest on so crass a premise as selective indignation based on religious sect, however often the unwashed might leap to such a conclusion.
 
But selectivity of a higher order does seem to be at play among the establishment voices. And we get a glimpse of it in Imam Rauf’s piece in this morning’s Times. Citing the support of “the downtown community, government at all levels and leaders from across the religious spectrum, who will be our partners,” he vows to proceed with building the mosque – the people be damned, one almost hears. But he does so only after noting how “inflamed and emotional” the mosque issue has become, adding that “the level of attention reflects the degree to which people care about the very American values under debate: recognition of the rights of others, tolerance and freedom of worship.” Singularly missing among those “American values” is respect for the feelings of others, quite apart from the rights of one’s self. Tolerance, in short, does not mean acceptance. New Yorkers, and Americans generally, will tolerate a mosque at Ground Zero, because they must, as a matter of principle, but in their hearts they will not accept it, because it is an insensitive affront to their deepest values.
 
It is that distinction, between rights and values, that the editorialists at the Times fail to grasp when they defend their position by writing: “Too bad other places are ahead of [New York]. Muslims hold daily prayer services in a chapel in the Pentagon, a place also hallowed by 9/11 dead.” The Pentagon, a public building, belongs to all of us, including Muslim-Americans. For that reason, all faiths have a right to use its chapel. And for the same reason, the government of New York City may not prohibit Imam Rauf from building his mosque on his own property. But it is no intolerance for the people of New York to make their values known. Those who condemn them for doing so, to put it biblically, know not whereof they speak.

Libertarian Politics in the Media

Peter Wallsten of the Wall Street Journal writes, “Libertarianism is enjoying a recent renaissance in the Republican Party.” He cites Ron Paul’s winning the presidential straw poll earlier this year at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Rand Paul’s upset victory in the Kentucky senatorial primary, and former governor Gary Johnson’s evident interest in a libertarian-leaning presidential campaign. Johnson tells Wallsten in an interview that he’ll campaign on spending cuts – including military spending, on entitlements reform, and on a rational approach to drug policy.

Meanwhile, on the same day, Rand Paul had a major op-ed in USA Today discussing whether he’s a libertarian. Not quite, he says. But sort of:

In my mind, the word “libertarian” has become an emotionally charged, and often misunderstood, word in our current political climate. But, I would argue very strongly that the vast coalition of Americans — including independents, moderates, Republicans, conservatives and “Tea Party” activists — share many libertarian points of view, as do I.

I choose to use a different phrase to describe my beliefs — I consider myself a constitutional conservative, which I take to mean a conservative who actually believes in smaller government and more individual freedom. The libertarian principles of limited government, self-reliance and respect for the Constitution are embedded within my constitutional conservatism, and in the views of countless Americans from across the political spectrum.

Our Founding Fathers were clearly libertarians, and constructed a Republic with strict limits on government power designed to protect the rights and freedom of the citizens above all else.

And he appeals to the authority of Ronald Reagan:

Liberty is our heritage; it’s the thing constitutional conservatives like myself wish to preserve, which is why Ronald Reagan declared in 1975, “I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism.”

Reagan said that several times, including in a Reason magazine interview and in a 1975 speech at Vanderbilt University that I attended. A lot of libertarians complained that he should stop confusing libertarianism and conservatism. And once he began his presidential campaign that fall, he doesn’t seem to have used the term any more.

You can see in both the Paul op-ed and the Johnson interview that major-party politicians are nervous about being tagged with a label that seems to imply a rigorous and radical platform covering a wide range of issues. But if you can call yourself a conservative without necessarily endorsing everything that William F. Buckley Jr. and the Heritage Foundation – or Jerry Falwell and Mike Huckabee – believe, then a politician should be able to be a moderate libertarian or a libertarian-leaning candidate. I wrote a book outlining the full libertarian perspective. But I’ve also coauthored studies on libertarian voters, in which I assume that you’re a libertarian voter if you favor free enterprise and social tolerance, even if you don’t embrace the full libertarian philosophy. At any rate, it’s good to see major officials, candidates, and newspapers talking about libertarian ideas and their relevance to our current problems.

Our Fellows in the News

Cato fellows Nat Hentoff and Penn Jillette have just been profiled in major publications – Hentoff in the New York Times and Penn in Vanity Fair. Warning: the Hentoff profile is mostly about jazz, and the Penn interview contains lots of four-letter words, obscene imagery, and harsh language about religion. So if you have a low tolerance for jazz or for obscenity and blasphemy, be forewarned. But it’s no surprise that both of them talk a lot about the importance of free speech.