by Ari Armstrong
The following article originally appeared at Boulder Weekly on December 7, 2006.
I'm a little embarrassed by my comment to Ann Coulter. Jon Caldara of the Independence Institute (II) was telling her something about me, and she said, "Oh, so he IS a libertarian." I didn't think her remark was dismissive enough, so I emphasized, "A godless libertarian."
Coulter was in Denver on Nov. 29 for the II's 22nd annual awards banquet. (The II gave me tickets, and I returned a disc of photos.) Coulter's latest book is Godless: The Church of Liberalism.
But I'm not really a libertarian. I advocate individual rights and a government limited to protecting rights. Many libertarians at best defend a loose, out-of-context "freedom" and, at worst, react against governance. Yet I don't mind too much when somebody uses the term to describe free markets. Perhaps I was thrown off by the big sparkly cross Coulter wears around her neck.
Godless? Yes, and proud of it. Liberal? Only if you consider Ayn Rand, Ludwig von Mises, Milton Friedman, and Friedrich Hayek to be liberals. None of them liked being called a conservative. (Rand wrote of "that embarrassing conglomeration of impotence, futility, inconsistency and superficiality which is loosely designated today as 'conservatism.'" Nor did she have nice things to say about Friedman.)
Coulter dismissed the notion of recapturing the term "liberal" to describe economic liberty. She suggested that using "leftist" (as I do) instead of "liberal" is a semantic word game. But subtlety is not Coulter's strong suit. Liberty is nothing without economic liberty. But Coulter is more an advocate of Republicans and more still an opponent of "liberal" Democrats.
Caldara was funnier than Coulter was. He broke down in lighthearted, politically incorrect faux lamentation that women are taking over the "free-market movement." Women work harder, get more done, and "work for pennies on the dollar," he mused. Coulter's jokes seemed a little worn.
Behind Caldara's jocularity is an obvious passion for liberty. Even when he fails at humor, he comes through with zestful sincerity. He took his own shots at the opposition; "I've got the luckiest job in the world—I get paid to piss off socialists." Yet he also talked about a positive agenda, such as the idea that individuals can make choices for their own lives better than the collective can. He spoke of his organization as "a true free-market beacon" with roots in the Declaration of Independence.
Caldara told a fun story about Friedman. Caldara recounted that, by accident, he met Milton and his wife Rose (who together wrote Free to Choose) at a resort in Hawaii. The three ended up having breakfast, and Friedman said that the Taxpayers' Bill of Rights saved our state.
Furthermore, he called the so-called "ratchet effect" the measure's best feature. In commemoration, Caldara said, "We are here to carry on the work that you started."
Coulter excoriated Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Nancy Pelosi, Michael Moore, The New York Times, and Democrats. And don't forget the French. She also blasted the easy targets of Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. Of course, it is Carter who gave fundamentalist Islam a foothold, and the ones who have been "attacking America for 50 years" are the "liberals."
Her criticisms are not without merit. But it's easier to be against something than it is to be for something. Not once did I hear Coulter mention individual rights, free markets, liberty or what it is that she thinks government should be limited to pursuing.
And, while the Democrats deserve a drubbing, where is Coulter's acerbic wit when it comes to Republicans? As Ryan Sager writes in The Elephant in the Room, Dubya Bush pushed through a massive expansion of the federal education bureaucracy, increased federal spending "33 percent since... 2001" (or "twice the rate at which it had grown under President Clinton"), approved subsidies for farms, and pushed "a massive new middle-class entitlement to prescription drugs through Medicare..." Bush signed the anti-free-speech McCain-Feingold Act, signed the oppressively anti-business Sarbanes-Oxley bill, and for a time upped protectionist steel tariffs, Sager notes.
No honest person can pretend that Bush has anything to do with free markets or individual rights. Bush is "conservative" only in the big-government sense. He opposes stem-cell research and abortion, favors religious welfare, and interfered in the tragic case of Terri Schiavo.
Even his short-lived attempts to "reform" Social Security consisted of pushing for accounts mandated and regulated by the national government.
But Sager, with his slightly receded hairline, weaker chin, baggier clothing, probably hairier legs, and less-amusing presentation (I had the chance to meet him recently at a Liberty Fund event in D.C.), wouldn't be as big of a draw. Republicans don't want to pay big money to hear why Republicans suck. They want to hear why Democrats suck. And Coulter delivers.
Coulter didn't say much about religion. She refuses to call Islam a "religion of peace." The Soviet Union at least had a history of Christianity and civilization; "they weren't insane," she says. Coulter seems more interested in attacking (some of) the godless than in discussing what it means to be godful. Coulter's world is too small for the dynamic, free-market liberalism of Mises and Friedman or the godless rational egoism of Rand.