Jun 152011

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.

Furthermore, this?

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.

  12 Responses to “Whatchoo talkin’ bout, Ann?”

  1. Great article

    I don’t know too much about current political goings on in the States , but I am familiar with the general themes here. It sounds like Coulter is instinctively reaching in defence of that part of the political spectrum which speaks to an infliuential and powerful lobby – the arch traditionalist and oft religious wing that views marriage in a serious light and gays with a dose of, at bare minimum, scepticism.

    Ron Paul is clearly the more principled of the two. I will never see eye to eye with anyone who thinks that someone’s life style choice is wrong, with or without state interference. It is illiberal and wicked. What harm or business is it to anyone who someone chooses to marry?

    America lays host to some political wackos. I don’t know so much about Coulter, but from what you talk about, I’m not overwhelmingly impressed.

    It is all about Paul. Bring him. Bring him on.

  2. Hi Bella

    Oft a lurker, I feel compelled to thank you for for the post – about something I would not have seen otherwise in the usual blog rounds. Long time no see – I hope you and Chris are well?!

    I agree with your points, but it seems to me that the crux of AC’s post is thinly veiled anti-gay, which seems rather hypocritical when she says:

    “Most libertarians are cowering frauds too afraid to upset anyone to take a stand on some of the most important cultural issues of our time. ”

    On a tangent, thank you for the level headed, objective posting. It seems to me that in the small world of interesting lady commentators, the majority (Coulter, Klein etc.) are prone to metaphoric hyperbole; somewhat offputting to read. A welcome reprieve when you post!

    Best wishes…

  3. I think it should also be noted that Ron Paul, running in the GOP primaries, is answering questions in the context of what he would do if he was president, and as a strict constitutionalist, his answer to most questions will be “I will do nothing”, because constitutionally the president should indeed do nothing in the case in point. In contrast, when asked about the military at the NH debate, he made it clear that as Commander in Chief, the troops would be coming home no matter what the generals were saying.

    As for caring for children and old people, he’s merely being pragmatic about rolling back the state. He also knows a fair deal more about such issues, due to working as a doctor for so many years.

    I love Ron Paul, and he’s nothing if not consistent. If you check out interviews he gave back in the ’80s, he’s saying the same things – true then, true now.

  4. Coulter clearly doesn’t know a lot about mobs, does she?

  5. “as actually happened in Britain a few years ago after taking the government-mandated blood test for marriage. ”

    It would seem she doesnlt know much about Britain either….

  6. When ever I see Coulter, for some reason Zombie movies pop into my head. I think these days she just says contraversial stuff for the TV and the book sales.

  7. Well put, even though I disagree with some of your positions. However, the following is only partly true:

    Libertarians don’t fight with left-wingers, they fight with each other.

    We fight with everyone…though I must admit, it sometimes seems that we reserve our harshest words for one another, a phenomenon I cannot explain.

    If we are to be effective politically, we must understand and internalize the key premise of all reasoning: Every idea has a domain of applicability, outside which it is useless or dangerous. Conservatives and libertarians both must accept this before they can accept one another as allies and friends.

    We must also re-learn the core attribute of a free people: the ability to disagree without being disagreeable. To call ourselves libertarians makes it a moral obligation.

  8. Good post. One exhibits integrity who is willing to take to task whom one loves. As for Ms. Coulter’s criticism of Ron Paul, it could be because she harbors some (slight) fear that the “libertarian perspective” may at some point catch fire with a lot of voters.

  9. Ann Coulter is a hate-filled racist. Don’t try to dress that up in an acceptable way.

  10. “So why should gay people be denied this same legal status? ”

    Good question. Replace “gay people” with “siblings” or “father and daughter” and tell us what you think about that.

    • My opinion is no different when I make that replacement. On what grounds does the state make that distinction? I suppose you will say due to the risk of birth defects. I don’t recognise the state’s right to make laws designed to prevent children being born with birth defects. Logically that would suggest the state should disallow marriage between congenitally disabled people, a practice which, when instituted elsewhere, is largely considered a gross breach of human rights. You would think the ‘breach of human rights’ argument might thus also apply to homosexuals, who are hardly likely to produce children with birth defects.

      If there is some other distinction which you think gives the state the right to disallow incestuous marriage, I’d be interested in hearing it.

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