I have often said that the real difference between liberals and conservatives is not necessarily philosophy. We both tend to want the same things and both believe in limited government. I am not saying there are no real differences in philosophy, because of course there are, but that the real differences have to do with the role of government: How big we want the state to be and what we want it to do, instead of being concerned that there is too much freedom here or there. It is really about government’s role in regulating activities instead of forbidding them or whether it is acceptable for government to get out of the way completely. Of course there are exceptions to this, but the 2012 presidential election pretty much made my point.
I am about to give you a perfect example of this (self-high-five): what should be allowed and what should not be allowed in a free society, whatever your definition of that is, because both liberals and conservatives complain about the nanny state and want to see much less government regulation in their own lives. Now of course there are people further to the left and right of liberals and conservatives, respectively, who are in love with the nanny state, but liberals like to talk about freedom. Conservatives like to talk about responsibility and we both believe in a certain degree of both but tend to preach the other thing.
As a liberal I believe in both and I am sure that sounds weak, but, seriously, what good is one without the other. Imagine a free society where we are as free as we want to be but do not have to pay for any of our decisions and freedoms. You drive a car without a seatbelt and crash it and are now looking at medical bills in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Assuming you survived, perhaps you were saved by an airbag. But remember, this would be a society free of responsibility so the state, meaning the taxpayers, are going to pick up your tab like an alcoholic at a bar giving away free booze all night but only to alcoholics.
This type of freedom would become very unaffordable in a hot minute with all sorts of people making assholes of themselves doing the dumbest of activities and not having to pay for hurting themselves. We simply could not afford that type of freedom unless we lived off Monopoly money and could pay for everything. I am cool with allowing free adults to live their own lives again as long as they are not hurting any innocent people, but that is not good enough. They must pay for the consequences of their bad decisions as well as reap the rewards of their good decisions.
Now try to imagine responsibility without any freedom. Now try to imagine a CEO, whether the CEO of a company or just his own life. What good would that role and the responsibility for all the decisions that are made on behalf of that company or individual if that person lacks the power to affect the company’s affairs or his own life, or others are calling all the shots for that company or individual, with the CEO relegated to the role of puppet and responsible for whatever happens to the company or himself for good or bad. That CEO would have a title without a job.
There are plenty of things I would not do because I either do not want to do them because they do not interest me or I consider them too dangerous and risky. I could give you some examples. I do not smoke tobacco or use any other drug legal or otherwise. I do not drink alcohol. I do not gamble and if what you read earlier has not put you to sleep, perhaps hearing about things I don’t do will. But my broader point is that my choosing not to engage in certain activities because I believe they are dangerous doesn’t mean I believe they should be illegal, because I don’t.
If certain activities are dangerous, they should not necessarily be illegal, again with reference to a free society. It is about the amount of freedom that allows people to live their own lives and benefits society as a whole so we can all be productive and not require government to babysit us and make most of our personal and economic decisions. And that freedom ends for me when it comes to hurting innocent people and not taking responsibility for my own mistakes.