Two kinds of conservatives

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A couple of issues from the American election I’d like to focus on.

You’ve likely heard Washington and Colorado passed ballots legalizing recreational marijuana:

This is a big deal, a sea change really. Federal law still contradicts this state initiative and it remains unclear if the feds will be busting people under federal statutes. Since no bureaucracy ever gives up power willingly, I expect D.C. will continue to make life miserable for the taxpayers of those two progressive states, for a while at least. But I suspect this is the crack in the dam. The obvious hypocrisy of alcohol’s legal status, the extravagant waste of taxpayer money, and the gross infringement of individual liberty represented by pot prohibition will lead to its demise.

When will Canada get its act together? Hard to say. It was in the early 1970s the LeDain commission recommended decriminalizing possession of the plant:

Decades later, surveys indicate a majority of Canadians want to see it decriminalized, too. Yet it’s highly unlikely Harper would move in that direction.

That’s unfortunate. It’s not a niche issue. You may not smoke pot. Your friends may not smoke pot. But your tax dollars are used to enforce the prohibition, organized criminal gangs across the country profit from its sale, your fellow citizens are fined and imprisoned for growing it, and police here in Amherst are required to – and do – actively seek out drug users to apprehend.

For me, it’s very simple. It’s an issue of freedom. 

Penn Jillette, the magician, pundit and entertainer – and right winger – claims he’s never smoked drugs or drunk alcohol:

But presumably his libertarian leanings have led him to the obvious: By what reasonable authority does a group of people, organized under a flag, tell an individual what plant he can grow and consume on his own property, in private (particularly when that plant has not been clearly demonstrated to cause more harm to that person or others than numerous other legal substances or activities)?

Which leads me to the second issue I’d like to highlight: the damage Republicans and conservatives do when they hitch their wagon to social conservatism instead of focusing on the other branch of right-wing ideology, namely liberty.

Liberty will sell better than moral high-horses. Consider the level of distrust (founded or unfounded) most of us have for politicians. Given most of us think most of them are swindlers, a strong case can be made for radically smaller government and lower taxes. It’s a clear choice: You can decide what to do with your money, or the guy you elect can decide what to do with your money. We’re all adults. Why do I want someone I only know from slick commercials and a few debate appearances to have a third of my paycheque to spend how he sees fit? I wouldn’t give my own parents that right, never mind a stranger.

This isn’t a call for anarchy, or even libertarianism. We need government. But we need a reboot on how we think of government. There’s nothing immoral about thinking government should be half its current size, and should restrict its activities to a few core communal goods: banking and industrial oversight; environmental protection; education and medical standards; helping the destitute elderly, poverty-stricken children, or disabled; domestic defense and policing; roads and other vital infrastructure.

Clearly, these few things still require large amounts of cash. But wherever money can be kept in the hands of those who earned it, it should be.

Besides, big government is failing. We spend and spend, and demand for entitlements grows and grows. Bankruptcy looms on the horizon. The welfare state is incompatible with freedom: there is an inverse relationship between the amount of freedom a citizen can have, and the amount of power a government wields.

I expect social engineers and proponents of vast public works and wealth redistribution to be fine with that. What I don’t understand is how the right-wing went down the same path: big government and overbearing management of personal behavior.

There’s a fork in the road. Smart conservatives will take the branch to fiscal and environmental responsibility, and leave judgment to the theologians.

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