Self-described "progressives" on the left have gone nuts over the past several years over creeping legislative and regulatory inroads made by religious conservatives. Fascism! They are quick to reply. The government can't tell us what to do with our own bodies, or in the privacy of our own homes! Abortion, homosexuality? Hey, that's our choice, its our bodies. NSA eavesdropping, warrant-less searches? Hey, those are our private phonecalls made from our private phones. Searches of private cars without probable cause to enforce seat belt use? Hey, what a great idea!
Boston Globe columnist Scot LeHigh editorializes against Massachusetts Democrats attempt to micro-regulate personal behavior:
THIS WEEK, the Massachusetts House of Representatives will face a telling test:
Can it resist a progressive Legislature's ever-present impulse toward pesky
The issue is seat belts, and whether the police will be allowed to stop
motorists upon suspicion that someone in their vehicle is not wearing a seat
belt or only ticket them for that grievous offense if they have first been
pulled over for something else.
This is exactly why I am suspicious of progressives and resist making common cause with them, even on issues where we tend to agree. For while they talk the libertarian talk pretty well when they want to (abortion with its "I should control decisions over my own body" defense being the most obvious example), progressives also have a very strong streak of "we are smarter than you are and sometimes will tell you what to do because it is for your own good". As a result, for example, progressives support abortion because a woman should make decisions for her body without government intrusion, but oppose the legality of breast implants and vioxx because a woman should, uh, not be able to make decisions for her body without government intrusion (more on this here).
And what decision could be more about my own body than what level of protection I want to afford myself in a vehicle? If I choose, for whatever reason, not to wear a motorcycle helmet or a seatbelt, who cares? It may be a really, really stupid choice on my part, but its my decision for my own body, right? (By the way, I know that some people will make the 'taxpayers pay for your medical care argument', which I dealt with earlier in my post about government health care funding as a Trojan horse for fascism).
But even beyond the issue of individual decision-making, what about the 4th amendment issues? It is amazing but true that progressives and the Massachusetts legislature, who would never in a million years give the police, the FBI, or anyone under George Bush's chain of command the right to stop a motorist without probable cause to check for evidence of terrorist intent, are actually endorsing that the police have this power to stop motorists without probable cause for freaking seat belt use. Is this really the alternative we are being offered today - you can choose fascism to stanch the threat of terrorism or you can choose fascism to increase seat belt use?
I predict that the left may come to regret setting this precedent, as they have come to regret other expansions of government power that their political enemies have used as stepping stones for their own agenda. A good example is Title IX, which is beloved by the left for using the fact of federal funding to browbeat even private universities into changing their admissions policies, but has been used as a precedent by the right to browbeat private universities into accepting military recruiters. Government micro-managing of individual decision-making is only fun as long as you and your gang are the ones doing the micro-managing.
I would love to see someone in Washington making a consistent case for freedom of decision-making for individuals when the decision affects only themselves or others with whom they are interacting in a consensual manner. But I am not holding my breath.