Generally speaking, I don’t agree with libertarians. But occasionally, I see things that way in spite of myself.
An example is “hate crimes.” It’s just unAmerican — downright Orwellian, in fact — to punish a person for his opinions rather than for what he did.
The majority in the Congress disagrees, as we saw today.
This puts me in another awkward position — agreeing with a partisan position. I haven’t seen a breakdown of the vote yet, but so far it seems to be Republicans who are putting out releases that denounce the outcome.
As much as I detest the rhetorical excesses to which parties resort to make their points, on this one I think the dissenters had a point. A release from Rep. Joe Wilson echoed the party line when it was headlined, “Wilson Opposes Thought Crimes Legislation.”
Like I said, Orwellian.
But this is a really funky issue. Here I am agreeing for once with the libertarian, don’t-tell-me-how-to-think position, but some avowed libertarians are taking the opposite tack:
Washington, DC — The American Civil Liberties Union today cheered the House of Representatives for passing H.R. 1592, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, with strong bipartisan support. This legislation would allow federal law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute hate crimes offenses in cases where local law enforcement lacks the resources, or in some cases the willingness to do so.
That makes me feel a little better.
Now, let me see if I can help you feel better, in case you’re one of the many very nice people who think “Hate Crime” legislation is a good idea, and that I must be a really mean person to disagree…
If a person commits a murder, it should not matter — in a society guided by the rule of law — whether that person holds opinions that we regard as utterly abhorrent. The criminal justice system should be blind to such things, concentrating on actions rather than attitudes.
If people hold offensive opinions, let’s try to change their hearts and minds. But let’s save the punitive power of the criminal justice system for when they DO something bad, rather than THINK something bad.
And yes, the legislation goes out of its way to reaffirm our rights to free speech. But why do they need reaffirming, unless the overall bill implies otherwise? Which it does.
And the fact is, something like this does have a chilling effect on speech. I hesitated to write this because it can be so easily misunderstood. (You’re sticking up for those people? Well, no I’m not; I’m sticking up for impartial law.) And in the end, what the hell? If we have yet another reason to throw the book at a murderous monster, it’s not a thing to lose sleep over, right? Except that that’s not how our system of justice is supposed to work, or so I grok.
That’s what I think, anyway. But I could easily be wrong, since I am taking the libertarian position here…