Libertarianism on the Cheap

Pete Buttigieg speaks at the 2019 National Action Network convention in New York City, April 4, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Asked about the possibility of putting some restrictions on horrifying late-term abortions — which are legal in many places up until the moment of birth — Pete Buttigieg showed himself to be fundamentally unserious. It is, he said, a question of “who gets to draw the line,” taking refuge in an easy libertarianism that he brings to no other issue.

The federal government is not at all shy about deciding that it gets to draw lines. Go read some OSHA regulations sometime: Not only do they specify the colors used in safety signs, they also take into consideration that color words mean different things to different people (ask famous “professor of color” Elizabeth Warren, PANTONE 11-0602 TPX) it specifies exactly which shades are meant by such subtle terms as “black,” “white,” and “red.” Seriously:

The colors red, black, and white shall be those of opaque glossy samples as specified in Table 1, “”Fundamental Specification of Safety Colors for CIE Standard Source ‘C,’” of ANSI Z53.1-1967 or in Table 1, “Specification of the Safety Colors for CIE Illuminate C and the CIE 1931, 2° Standard Observer,” of ANSI Z535.1-2006(R2011), incorporated by reference in § 1910.6.

Buttigieg and his fellow progressives are not hesitant about drawing lines when it comes to things like defining someone’s “fair share” of taxes — 34.5 percent? 35.4 percent? Is there really an objective standard? — nor do they extend that libertarian scruple to such concerns such as the legal sale of synthetic cannabinoids (Buttigieg says he supports the legalization of marijuana, but his only act in office on anything related to recreational drug use was backing a ban on so-called synthetic marijuana, which his office described as “much more dangerous than actual marijuana”) or prostitution (Kamala Harris says she supports legalizing exchange between “consenting adults” but joined Amy Klobuchar and Donald Trump in supporting legislation aimed at doing the opposite). Buttigieg did not get in touch with his inner libertarian when it came to things like being allowed to smoke in a bar in his little town.

No, these are single-issue libertarians. They’ll micromanage your life ten different ways before they’ve had their first cup of coffee on a Monday morning, but when it comes to the brutal dismemberment of children — well, who are we to judge?

In fairness, a lot of honest libertarians get abortion wrong, too. It is an issue that presents us with the uncomfortable fact that even if we had a state organized according to libertarian principles, nature is not organized according to libertarian principles.

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