The Libertarian "Dichotomy"

An article run by the Harvard Crimson titled “Down With the Dichotomy; if you’re truly liberal, you’re fiscally liberal” quips that people who politically identify as socially liberal and fiscally conservative attempt to “reconcile do-gooder inclinations and the economic theory learned in an intro class.” The author, Megan Corrigan, is correct.

I myself believe in both social liberalism and fiscal conservatism. I do not wish to limit a woman’s rights to an abortion, nor do I wish to impede upon anyone’s marriage: gay, straight, or otherwise. In addition, I do not wish to increase the national debt. Ms. Corrigan oversimplifies the political spectrum in characterizing this as a dichotomy.

Corrigan’s argument goes as follows: a strong economy begets a strong culture. She claims that reducing spending, which weakens the economy, cannot lead to an increase in cultural strength, and therefore limits the proliferation of social rights. Accordingly, to be both socially liberal and fiscally conservative is a contradiction. By narrowly defining social and fiscal policy in terms of liberal or conservative, Ms. Corrigan fails to recognize the overriding goal of fiscal conservatism paired with social liberalism—efficiency paired with self-determination. Moreover, in portraying political beliefs in such simplistic terms, the Crimson piece serves only to exacerbate the current trend of polarization along predetermined ideological lines.

Ms. Corrigan boils fiscal conservatism down to a reluctance to spend public funds. I, however, do not believe that we should haphazardly cut government spending. When I state that I am fiscally conservative, I mean that I do not support extravagance in expenditure. Just as Ms. Corrigan advises I might forego a second boat in order to increase my tax contributions, the federal government might forego some portion of the defense budget (a budget equal to the combined spending of the next seven highest national defense budgets). Similarly, the federal government might avoid wasting thirty percent of the healthcare budget. In this way, my wish to avoid national debt does not target social programs, but seeks to match spending with direct outcomes and an overall decrease in the presence of the national government.

By limiting the scope of the federal government’s involvement in civilian life, the national debt can decrease while necessary and efficient social programs can thrive. The first point is apparent: a reduction in government programs, when responsibly handled, necessarily leads to decreased government spending. The latter point, which Ms. Corrigan claims to be counter-intuitive, is entirely rational. Take the Bathroom Bill in North Carolina, a thoughtless piece of legislation that aimed to discriminate against transgender people. Courts striking down this bill incur no additional public debt and can increase the social well-being of a marginalized group within our society. Ms. Corrigan would point out that this is lovely in theory, but fear of incurring costs can stunt a libertarian’s capacity for social liberalism. I disagree. My lack of support for a single-payer healthcare system, for example, rests not on the basis of cost (programs can be made efficient), but because I believe in the importance of a limited government that fulfills its restricted responsibilities.

9/11 Memorial Vandalism

Early last Friday, the Hamilton College Republicans and Democrats clubs joined forces to place nearly 3,000 flags along Martin’s Way in remembrance of the brave Americans who lost their lives in the devastating attacks of September 11, 2001. For the last fifteen years, student organizations at colleges and universities around the country have done the same, setting aside political differences to honor the fallen through memorials, speeches, and candlelit vigils.

This year, however, a group of students from Occidental College, a small liberal arts school located in Los Angeles, California, demonstrated the utmost disrespect for the victims of 9/11 and their families by turning the college’s memorial into a political statement against both the war in Iraq and, more broadly, American patriotism.

At approximately 1 a.m. on the Sunday morning of the anniversary, members of the Occidental College Republican Club, the group sponsoring the memorial, discovered that some of the 2,996 flags they had placed in the campus quad had been broken and others were tossed in the trash. These students worked to restore the display and requested a member of campus security to stand guard.

Shortly after, the club alleged, four students walked up to the memorial and broke flags in front of the club members who had just finished repairing the display. “When we confronted them, those cowards got away as fast as they possibly could,” a member of the club explained. “We had thought the storm had passed. However, we were very wrong.”

Later, hundreds of flags were knocked down and others were smashed and thrown into the trash. “Of course, we put them back in the ground,” a member of the club said. Following the second destruction of the memorial, the club asked “that all students respect the memorial for the remainder of its time in the quad. If you try to destroy it, we will rebuild it.”

Following the destruction of the memorial, members of a student group, Coalition Oxy for Diversity and Equity, placed fliers around campus that displayed the image of the two World Trade Center towers, including the message: “R.I.P. The 2,996 Americans who died in 9/11. R.I.P. the 1,455,590 innocent Iraqis who died during the U.S. invasion for something they didn’t do.”

To accompany the fliers, the Coalition posted a statement on Facebook saying: “We were concerned by the complete disregard for the various peoples affected by this history. When this institution allows thousands of American flags to be placed in the center of campus, it speaks volumes to the students that have lived their lives under the oppression of this flag. From Native students whose land was stolen to undocumented students who live in fear of deportation to black students who see their communities destroyed by state-sanctioned murder, this school is saying your fear and trauma do not matter here.”

Students, the Coalition said, were confused by the display and asking about its purpose. “This is not a critique of desiring to remember the fallen, this is a critique of failing to comprehend who, or what, has been lost,” the group said. “To this end, we wanted to provide more information and more context in order to center the actual lives and individuals affected by 9/11 rather than simply placing a symbol of one nation.”

The proliferation of such posters and Facebook posts confirms that the attack on the memorial was not a partisan jab at the Republican club, as many members of the club first thought. Rather, the actions of the Coalition were, in effect, a protest against America’s handling of the war in Iraq, and frankly, an assault on both the demonstration of American patriotism and the commemoration of lives lost.

“This is beyond politics, this is about those lives that were so tragically taken,” the Republican club said in a statement on Facebook. Indeed, both the comments made by the Coalition and the actions of individuals who destroyed the memorial went far beyond the pale. Regardless of what they believe the appropriate military response to the September 11 attacks should have been, they cannot deny that the thousands of Americans – mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, husbands, wives, children, an friends - lost on a sunny Tuesday morning fifteen years ago was, and still is, a national tragedy worth remembering.