I never thought I’d live to see the day, but Dick Cheney offered his nation a powerful lesson in citizenship this week. When, at one of his daily Obama bashings, he was asked where he stood on the gay marriage debate, the following came out of his mouth:
“I think, you know, freedom means freedom for everyone.”
In the immortal words of Emperor Hirohito, I am going to “endure the unendurable” and applaud Mr. Cheney for his enlightened statement. “Freedom means freedom for everyone.”
Way to go, Dick. I know you don’t really mean it, you just happen to have a gay daughter. You’re just looking after your own, but, then again, so are we all.
In that fundamental way, Dick Cheney is no worse than any of us, and no better. We’re all libertarians, for ourselves.
We’re all libertarians where we are concerned. I trust me with anything, I trust you about as far as I can throw you, and I will, given half a chance. You’re a reckless speeder; I’m in a hurry. I can handle it; you can’t. I treat me like Jefferson; I treat you like Stalin.
And if what we demand of others becomes inconvenient for us, we simply change our demands. People shed their beliefs as easily as they shed their sweaters and for the same reason—things got too hot.
If a liberal is a conservative who has not yet been mugged, a social conservative is a social liberal whose daughter hasn’t yet “gotten into trouble.”
Some anti-abortion politician’s seventeen-year-old daughter gets herself pregnant. A discreet trip is arranged, unless the politician is running for president at the time, in which case the trouble becomes a blessed event. The abortion laws we’ve passed don’t mean a thing when it comes to family, not our family, we’re a special case.
But we’re all special cases. The existential question for a democratic society is how do you reconcile 300 million people who don’t want anyone telling them what to do with 300 million people who want to tell everyone else what to do, when it’s the same 300 million people?
The answer is simple: Rights and Laws.
We have Rights to protect us from others and we have Laws to protect others from us.
But simple doesn’t mean easy. Getting the balance right has been the work of generations.
The Founding Fathers and their enlightenment tutors knew their history. They’d seen the arbitrary rule of King, Pope and Despot, they knew the corruption it led to, they saw how those rules applied to “everybody else” while the Sun King MILFed his way through Versailles.
But they didn’t trust democracy, either, because tyranny is tyranny and it doesn’t matter who the tyrants are, or how many of them are oppressing how few of the rest.
It took a stoke of genius to untie that knot, and fortunately for us and the rest of mankind, geniuses were a farthing a dozen a few hundred years ago, when we needed them most.