Democratic Underground

Ask Auntie Pinko

October 15, 2004

Dear Auntie Pinko,

I am always amused that "liberals" (I will use the old stereotypical left-right, liberal-conservative lingo for sake of argument only) want the government to stay out of our bedrooms, while "conservatives" seem to want the government in our bedrooms.

Yet when it comes to the rest of our house, liberals seem to want the government in every other room - including the garage (no SUV's, unless they are Theresa's SUVs) the kitchen (trying to sue McDonald's for fat kids) the living room (V-chips and Tipper Gore's PMRC) the bathroom (minimal flush toilets) and the home office (taxing the Internet). They are even in my phone (no call lists) and garbage (mandatory recycling).

Why can't the government stay out of my entire house - bedroom included?


Cincinnati, OH

Dear Jeff,

Auntie is delighted to have the opportunity to revisit some of these topics, as I think it allows me to once again highlight some of the very best aspects of the Democratic Party and its agenda. And I'm proud to be included under the category "liberal," even with all our faults.

I'm pretty certain that there's no "faultless" way to run a nation that will please all of its citizens, so decisions often come down to - whose faults can we live with? I'd make a strong case for liberal faults, Jeff.

Here's a general principle that might help you understand all of the "liberal" positions you bring up (I'll deal with the relative merits of each in a moment):

The liberal ideal of government is to protect the maximum possible liberty, privacy, and freedom of choice for each individual to pursue their self-interest, while ensuring that the pursuit of our self-interest does not conflict with, or cause harm to, our neighbors who have an equal right to that pursuit.

It's that simple: We think everyone should have the freedom to do what they want as long as doing so doesn't harm others.

Let's take it on a case-by-case (or, as you've put it) a room-by-room basis, starting with the bedroom. As you point out, most liberals agree that whatever two consenting adults do in the privacy of their bedroom is unlikely to harm anyone but themselves.

As a liberal, I want the government to spend a certain amount of time in your garage, because the choices you make there have some impact on me. They affect the quality of the air I will breathe. And they determine how dependent my nation is upon a non-renewable fuel source that is largely under the control of people whose self-interest often conflicts with America's. I make no apology for this, Jeff, just as I wouldn't expect you to apologize if you had to call the police to get me to stop emitting noxious chemical fumes from my garage into your yard next door.

So, yes, I want the government to define certain minimum standards that will protect the quality of the air I breathe, and reduce my nation's dependency on oil. However, within those minimum standards, I will fight hard for your right to choose any vehicle you want to purchase, just as I will fight hard for my right to express personal disapproval of your choice. My disapproval of your choice within those minimum standards is my right, just as the choice is your right, and I would defend both vigorously.

As a liberal, I want the government to spend a certain amount of time in our kitchens, because the choices we make there also have an impact on one another. I want to keep insurance rates low (because I pay them,) and that depends on the overall health of everyone, not just me. And I want to protect my own health by maintaining an array of healthy food choices, even if that cuts into the profit margins of big agribusiness, and costs me something in taxes to have my meat inspected, and so on.

Now, would I personally file a lawsuit as a means of drawing attention to the exploitive practices of major agribusinesses - practices clearly linked to increased rates of obesity, a disease that has a long-term (even permanent) and expensive (for everyone) negative consequences? Probably not, because I don't have the money, time, or energy to do so, and frankly I think there are better ways to handle the situation. But we liberals will fight hard to protect the rights of any American who feels that they have a valid grievance against another, to seek redress for that grievance in a fair, open, accessible, and affordable legal system.

But as Mr. Kerry has already pointed out, we will also fight hard for the rights of the community to maintain the quality and affordability of our justice system by penalizing those who knowingly pursue invalid or frivolous claims for malicious purposes.

As a liberal, I want the government to spend some time in your living room, because if you are a parent I want you to have the option of appropriately supervising the entertainment media to which you expose your children. Quality parenting results in quality future citizens, and that is in everyone's self-interest. I also want the government to ensure that your entertainment is not controlled by a few monopolistic conglomerates who will put their profits before their obligation to use community property (the bandwidth that belongs to all of us) responsibly.

Of course, you are probably also aware that we liberals will fight hard for your right as a consenting adult to consume any dreck you find entertaining (so long as it isn't snuff films or kiddie porn) in sufficient privacy that it won't expose others to something they'd rather do without. This is not a claim that Mr. Ashcroft and his merry men can match - they want the government even more restrictively in your living room than we liberals do.

And yes, as a liberal, I definitely want the government in your bathroom, because I live downstream from you, and the quality of the water supply I use is directly affected by what goes on there.

I'm not aware of any liberals who want to "tax the Internet," Jeff. It's unlikely, because such a tax would be pretty regressive, like property and sales taxes, and we liberals don't like them. We prefer progressive taxes that burden everyone equitably at a level appropriate for their ability to pay.

However, I want the government in your home office, because if you're using it to run a spamscam on the Web, or engage in predatory loan practices, or shill worthless penny stocks to little old ladies, that's going to harm me or my neighbors. Keeping you safe from me and me safe from you is what the government is all about.

As for the no call lists, as far as I'm aware they're not mandatory for anyone. And the only people who dislike them are those unpleasant folks who drag Auntie away from her garden to listen to a pitch for aluminum siding. Since my house is brick, this is a singularly profitless exercise for all concerned, so I'll happily claim liberal "credit" for this voluntary aid to privacy, sanity, and the freedom to enjoy one's telephone without irritating pointless interruptions for someone else's profit. (Although, to be fair, I think a lot of conservatives were in on this one, too.)

Yep, darn us ol' liberals, there we go again…

And since I don't want my great-grand-nieces and -nephews to drown in piles of garbage, I'll cop to the recycling one, too. There we go again, trying to save the planet for future generations to survive on, even if it puts the government in your garbage today, Jeff.

Of course, perhaps that's where you think government belongs? I'm afraid I can't agree, but thanks for asking Auntie Pinko anyway!

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