Treading water with libertarians

Like the tide brushing against any coast, Ann Coulter made waves last week.

While these recent ripples of rage had far less “oomph” than some of what her highlight reel has provided throughout the years, it was still another installment in the "pot versus kettle" name-calling and finger-pointing feud of which so many are so fond.

In the shark-infested waters whose depths only Coulter knows, the conversation during Dennis Prager's radio show last Monday turned to the murky, sometimes shallow existence of libertarians — especially those in college.

She said, "They ought to put down their pro-pot signs and read some Richard Epstein — probably the leading libertarian in the country.

She added that, like liberals, college libertarians are consumed by “groupthink.”

What made parts of this conversation so painful was that I found myself agreeing in part with Coulter's analysis. College libertarians do seem overly fixated on “pot” and the “personal freedoms” being denied by an — as they see it — oppressive federal government.

The debate over the proper use of rhetoric in all its forms and varieties presents headaches to the public sphere.

Rhetoric rarely ever proves or extinguishes the issue at hand. It only facilitates harming ourselves, one another and our ability to work together.

If anything in Washington has bipartisan support, it is the willingness to take and apply any literal or metaphorical “personal” anecdote and wield it as pretentiously or insincerely as they choose.

In truth, we all do it. From Facebook posts to tweets about celebrities or politicians, we throw stones in an attempt to garner attention on a subject we care about. What we have failed to realize, however, is that the very creation of a distraction such as aggressive rhetoric ultimately neither persuades nor informs.

Ann Coulter does it. Democrats and Republicans do it, and now with the zombie-like spread and popularity of libertarianism, a newer and far craftier fox of rhetoric seems to be making its way to the front of the pack.

In Rand Paul’s March 14 speech at CPAC, he made a direct pander to the “Facebook generation.” He did this immediately after claiming that we must “jealously guard all our liberties.”

“The Facebook generation can detect falseness and hypocrisy a mile away,” Paul said. (Never mind that the Facebook generation also invented and subsequently fell for “catfishing”)

Members of the Facebook generation doubt that Social Security will still be around in the future. They worry about jobs. They want leaders who won’t sell them short, and they aren’t afraid of individual liberty.

It sounds great. If I were daft enough to align myself with either the libertarians or the Facebook hierarchy, then I, too, would be excited over Paul winning the straw poll. But I’m not.

While many of the points Paul and his fellow libertarians attempt to make have validity to them, the core tenet of unleashing a near-abolishment of a number of key federal government programs under the guise of “liberty” is not only reckless but hypocritical as well.

Lessons cannot be learned by a jealous hoarder or their party affiliations, particularly lessons on liberty.


Reach the columnist at jbfortne@asu.edu or follow him at @JOMOFO40


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