Ann Coulter is probably one of the most hated political figures in the United States, just behind George Bush and just ahead of Rush Limbaugh. In her ideology she exudes what the Republican Party probably ought to be if it ever wants to be credible again, and is a bone fide conservative, and in her contempt for left-wingers she is inflammatory and scathing. She is therefore loathed by left and right.
I love reading her stuff. So do some surprising other people—’the right-wing Judy Garland‘ is not an accidental handle.
I love her even though she sometimes takes a shot at libertarians, as in her most recent column. And even though I love her, I’ve gotta fisk her.
She takes issue with Ron Paul for advocating that the government ‘get out of’ marriage but carry on with providing health and social care benefits for ‘children and the elderly’ because so many of them are currently ‘dependent on the government.’
In one sense I agree with her; I think Ron Paul is being a bit weird here in the context she points out. Marriage, says Coulter, is a contract on which many, many legal attributes depend. Adoption, child custody, health insurance, inheritance, medical proxy, etc etc. Fair enough.
On the other hand, she’s missing the point and tilting at a massive straw man. I can’t speak for Ron Paul, but I do know a good bit about what libertarians think, and that tends to go something like this:
Contracts, and the ability to enforce them, are a basic pillar of civilised society. In the absence of Rothbardian private justice, one of the legitimate functions of government is to arbitrate and enforce contracts. Marriage, whilst for many people religious in nature, is just a particular type of contract in the eyes of the state. It carries implicit agreements about child custody, insurance, inheritance, and so forth. There is nothing special about marriage that should make it any different to any other type of contract—in the eyes of the state.
Except that in the US, for some reason, there is a strange moral attribute to the marriage contract. Homosexuals cannot enter into this contract with each other. They are specifically and specially debarred, in a way that is utterly exceptional in a country that usually only refuses to recognise your right to contract if you are (a) a child, or (b) non compos mentis. There is nothing, even, to stop a gay person from marrying someone of the opposite sex. It’s only each other they can’t contract with in this way.
The state is not there to enshrine the religious or moral connotations of marriage; in fact it doesn’t do so for straight people at all. Straight people can contract marriage in front of the state without ever getting close enough to sniff a priest or a rabbi or an imam.
So why should gay people be denied this same legal status? The US government isn’t trying to pretend that gay people are as incapable of consenting to agreements as children or the mad; it isn’t trying to pretend that straight marriages always and everywhere carry a moral or religious weight. It’s either (a) bowing stupidly to pressures from people who would use the government to impose a moral sanction, or more worryingly (b) sees nothing wrong with making arbitrary exceptions to normal jurisprudence when it suits.
The exceptional treatment homosexuals receive in the context of this one contract is not only hypocritical and wrong, it is dangerous to the body politic.
I would guess that this sort of thing is really what Ron Paul is getting at.
However, obviously in Coulter’s mind he is some kind of pansy jackass for saying, essentially, ‘It’s not the state’s place to disbar consenting mindful adults from entering voluntarily into contracts with one another, but I don’t think at this stage I would eliminate Medicare and Social Security at a stroke, because it’s some old folks’ only income and some children’s only health insurance. I’d sort of prefer a different approach.’
The idea that Ron Paul is ‘pretending to be [a] Randian purist, but [is] perfectly comfortable issuing politically expedient answers’ is ridiculous. So is that idea that all libertarians are like that. I know a lot of libertarians but not many who even pretend to be Randian purists.
I make the case that liberals, and never conservatives, appeal to irrational mobs to attain power. There is, I now recall, one group of people who look like conservatives, but also appeal to the mob. They’re called “libertarians.”
Is hilarious. The mob? Please. There is no irrational mob in this universe that finds libertarians appealing. There isn’t even such a thing as a libertarian mob. When libertarians gather together, they don’t chant slogans together or march in unison. At the Rally Against Debt, as large a gathering of libertarians as I personally have witnessed, someone tried to start the slogan-chanting thing. About 3 people joined in for a round, then got bored. The speakers, far from being cheered like messiahs, received polite applause. The closest thing to a mob was the three ‘anarchists’ (left-wingers) chanting in the pen, where the police had put them in case a fight started. They needn’t have worried. Libertarians don’t fight with left-wingers, they fight with each other. It’s the only ‘mob’ you’ll ever see where the crowd hears a rousing speech and says to one another, ‘You know, I’m not sure I agree with him. He misses Friedman’s point about the fact that…’ and then argues all the way to the pub, where they’d all much rather be anyway.
As much as I like Ann Coulter, she doesn’t seem to understand the libertarian perspective at all. And it’s a shame, not because I think she should agree, but because I think if she could be as accurately nasty about us as she is about left-wingers, her occasional potshots would be a lot more entertaining.