America's New Libertarianism
For the past two days, I have been answering calls from Christians, bewildered by this week's election returns. And not surprising. Look at the puzzling contradictions.
According to polls, 40 percent of the people believe the President should resign, yet they voted against those who wanted to remove him.
In the heart of the Bible Belt, two born-again Christians were defeated—Governor David Beasley and Bob Inglis running for Senator—both from South Carolina.
Most startling, ballot initiatives in Colorado and Washington to outlaw partial-birth abortions failed—though polls show 70 to 80 percent of the people oppose partial-birth abortion.
WHY IS HE STILL IN OFFICE?
In state after state, people expressed utter disgust at negative ads, then turned right around and voted for candidates who ran them.
And in one of the most startling elections ever, a professional wrestler, Jesse "The Body" Ventura, came from nowhere on Ross Perot's Reform ticket to be elected governor of Minnesota, one of the most liberal states.
Finally, Arizona, Nevada, Washington, and Alaska voters approved the medical use of marijuana; and in Arizona, heroin and cocaine as well.
How did this happen? Well, there are conventional explanations. The polls show that moral conservatives simply did not turn out, while minorities, overwhelmingly democratic, did.
But there's a deeper reason. One consistent theme drawn from the voting patterns is what I call a new libertarianism, people saying, "Leave me alone." Privacy has become a dominant issue.
This accounts for what would otherwise be a cognitive disconnect on the Clinton case. According to some polls, almost 80 percent thought he should resign or be impeached; yet candidates pressing for impeachment were defeated. Why? I believe it's because many think the Starr Report invaded Clinton's privacy.
Similarly, on the state referendums. The public is opposed to partial-birth abortions, but people don't want the government taking over this moral issue. They're against drug abuse, but they pass referenda to legalize drugs for medical purposes.
Now, there's nothing wrong with American rugged individualism. But today we're in danger of losing all sense of the public good. Public policy ought to be shaped by a conviction about the greater good of society as a whole.
But today we see the opposite—the public sphere is justifying our worst behavior. In one poll, only 3 percent of the people said Clinton's morality is better than theirs. So why is he still in office? Because virtually all of us have done something we hope to keep private, and Clinton's behavior in a perverse way makes us feel better about it.
This is what the Gospel of John means when it says "the Light is come into the world and men loved the darkness rather than the Light for their deeds were evil."
By covering up for Clinton, many Americans are in a sense covering up their own secret shame.
This new libertarianism can easily become a way of keeping our private lives from any moral scrutiny. As Christians, we need to stand against the darkness and bring the light to bear. Resist the pull to privatize all morality—and instead argue that society can't survive unless we all support the public good.
So don't be discourage by what you've seen this week. It is the natural reaction of the natural man who rejects the light, who prefers to keep his own deeds in darkness. Learn instead that what we must do is confront the culture, gently showing people that if they carry their views to their logical conclusion, society becomes impossible. Public order is essential for liberty.
And even rugged individualists can understand that.