Friday, May 21, 2010

Freedom means never having to say you're sorry

Extremely adorable WaPo journalist Ezra (I-cannot-believe-he's-not-a-Yalie) Klein has some questions for Rand Paul:

Can the federal government set the private sector's minimum wage? Can it tell private businesses not to hire illegal immigrants? Can it tell oil companies what safety systems to build into an offshore drilling platform? Can it tell toy companies to test for lead? Can it tell liquor stores not to sell to minors? These are the sort of questions that Paul needs to be asked now....

These are fine questions indeed, but I think I'd prefer to get a little more biblical -- as in the "thou shalt nots".  For instance, God may have commanded that we not kill or steal, but is it the place of the federal government to enforce these "laws"?  Taken to its logical extreme, could not someone argue that killing or stealing is a form of "speech" and should be protected under the First Amendment?

I honestly doubt Dr. Paul would, but where, then, does he draw the line?  He clearly has misgivings about telling a private business owner they must serve people they would rather not.  Even if he finds such behavior abhorrent, he does not feel the federal government has the right to outlaw it.

Perhaps Dr. Paul should revisit his Hippocratic Oath -- especially the part about doing no harm.  Just as we are not free to kill or steal, we are also not free to discriminate...because it does harm. Our society has finally evolved to the point where we recognize that denying someone accommodation because of their race (among other things) does harm.  Chris Matthews shared an excellent example on his show Hardball last night.  Imagine a black couple driving through Jim Crow Georgia.  The very pregnant wife has to use the bathroom; but, after finally finding one, she is denied because the private business owner has chosen to serve whites only.  Whereas this is hardly a worst-case scenario, it still drives home the very human side of what Dr. Paul's "misgivings" might mean (and did mean) in the real world.

No one should have the freedom to cause harm, and our laws reflect this.  Mostly.  We still have some ground to cover before we truly realize this goal.  You can still be legally fired because you're not heterosexual in most of the United States.  Companies can still pollute legally.  Women are still legally paid less than men.  It's a painfully slow process, but evolve we will.  Rand Paul, too, hopefully.