Thursday, May 31, 2007

Nanny State Neocons

The NH Senate has been debating the passage of a law mandating seatbelt use in our state. NH is the last state in the union that does not require seatbelt use in passenger vehicles. The state of the first in the nation primary is familiar with being last – we were the last state to recognize the Martin Luther King Day holiday. We’re among the four remaining states that don’t mandate helmet use for motorcyclists.

The cries of “NANNY STATE” have resounded across our borders. Rabid Republitarians have been weeping copiously in the pages of the Union Leader. Lots of sobbing about how our personal freedoms are under attack. To listen to these folks, the right to ride without a seatbelt and smoke in restaurants are the very proof of truth, justice, and the American Way. Take those away from us and we may as well surrender to our fate – emulating those darned European socialists.

For the record, I should state that I don’t much care, one way or the other. A seatbelt saved my life when I hit a moose with my car in 2003. New Jersey Governor John Corzine disobeyed the laws of his state – by not wearing a seatbelt, and not adhering to the speed limit. He’s lucky he lived through his recent accident. I look at not having seatbelt or helmet laws as making a strong contribution to the law of natural selection, which may be the best argument for defeating the proposed legislation.

The freedom to wear or not wear a seatbelt does not come close to being at the top of personal freedoms I would fight to protect. The nanny state crowd will wail about their right to smoke in restaurants – but they are silent on the subject of my right to remain free of illegal government wiretapping. They don’t care about Jose Padilla’s rights as a US citizen, imprisoned for years without a trial. The wailing about personal freedoms goes right out the window when it comes to abortion, civil union, or marriage equality. They’re perfectly happy to let the government make those decisions for individuals. Some of the same nanny state neocons who decry the money the federal government would give NH (for instituting a seatbelt law) as a bribe were gnashing their teeth over the potential loss of the paltry $3 million NH would get for complying with REAL ID. Yep, the nanny state crowd didn’t have much of a problem with REAL ID –even though it would give us a national ID card, with all of our personal information in a national database. Apparently we need to surrender those freedoms “in the name of national security,” but they’ll fight to the death to smoke in a restaurant.

It’s worth noting that under the Bush administration, the non-military workforce has expanded by over 700,000 employees. Non-military federal spending has jumped by $222 billion – though to be fair, there were 9/11, Katrina, and other weather related disasters. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the Bush admin has almost doubled the rate of federal spending we saw during the Clinton administration. The Patriot Act has removed many of our individual freedoms, but since it didn’t force us to wear seatbelts, our NH Republitarians were okay with it.

The same nanny state neocons who moan about the welfare state seem to have no objection to corporate welfare or pork projects. They don’t want a poor family getting food stamps – but taxpayer subsidies (aka corporate welfare) to Big Oil? Not a problem, folks – we HAVE to subsidize them or they won’t keep exploring for more oil. Right. Welfare payments to Big Pharma? Hell yeah!! We’ll keep slinging taxpayer money at them, so they can turn around and charge us more for prescription drugs than any other country in the world pays. That’s just common sense, according to the nanny state whinniers. They give similar arguments for subsidizing factory farms, and shoveling money at very wealthy faith based charities – but confront them with a potential seatbelt or a smoking law, and you’ll hear an outcry from sea to shining sea.

By the time you read this, Governor Lynch will have signed the NH Civil Union bill into law. A poll done by the NH Union Leader showed that 53% of their readers were against civil unions. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise, given the target audience. The same people who voted in this poll are undoubtedly wailing about the seatbelt law, completely oblivious to their own hypocrisy. The Civil Union bill gives our gay residents some legal protections, and a measure of equality. It is not enough, not by a long shot – but it’s better than nothing. The signing of this bill strikes a blow against government interference in our personal affairs, and lets adults make their own decisions. This is cause for celebration.

“My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular.” Adlai Stevenson

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