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The Progressives' Freedom Agenda

A Commentary By Froma Harrop

Thursday, September 01, 2011

The third week in July, Republican Gov. Rick Perry said that the U.S. Constitution -- whose 10th Amendment limits federal power -- gives states the right to decide on such matters as abortion and gay marriage. The fourth week in July, the Texan recanted. He now supports a federal ban on abortion and gay marriage. Social conservatives told him they didn't cotton to giving states the right to defy their views on things they care about.

Perhaps it's time for progressives to pick up the freedom banner that was so quickly dropped in the mud of Republican primary politics. Here are examples of intrusive state and federal government, ripped from the headlines:

--"Gun Query Off Limits for Doctors in Florida." Florida recently passed a law forbidding doctors to ask patients whether they keep a gun unless the physicians find the matter "relevant." (Your guess of what "relevant" means is as good as mine.)

Questions such as "Do you wear seatbelts?" and "Is rat poison within your toddler's reach?" are still permitted in the semi-free state of Florida. But an inquiry as to whether Junior has easy access to guns -- the source of thousands of children's deaths a year -- is forbidden.

Some gun nuts apparently see stomping on the First Amendment right to free speech as necessary to protect their Second Amendment right to bear arms. The logical problem here is that a doctor's words can't take anyone's guns away.

As a practical matter, sensitive gun owners could find a doctor who doesn't care whether their 13-year-old can get his hands on Dad's loaded assault rifle. They can also ignore the doctor's advice.

This weird legislation stems from a complaint by a central Florida woman that her doctor refused to see her again after she wouldn't answer the gun question. Well, doctors also have the right to turn away uncooperative patients, don't they? The law was signed by Republican Gov. Rick Scott -- he who goes on about not letting government get between you and your doctor.

--"Authorities Seize $800 Million Worth of Pot in California." Last month, federal agents said they had uprooted $632,000 worth of marijuana plants in Mendocino National Forest. The raid also picked up 38 guns, 20 vehicles, trash, chemicals and 40 miles of irrigation lines in what's supposed to be a repository of nature in Northern California. The growers are said to be Mexican-based drug traffickers who threatened hikers.

So much wrong with this picture. If marijuana were legal, there would be no associated garbage in our national forests. It would grow freely on American farms. Thousands of drug traffickers would be put out of business, and the taxpayers would save the billions they spend on eradicating a natural plant.

Law enforcement officials have a habit of overstating the size of their drug seizures, but suppose the pot pulled up in the Mendocino National Forest raid were sold legally and taxed? Harvard's Jeffrey Miron, who specializes in drug war economics, told me that the state and federal government could have "plausibly" collected $250 million to $300 million on this haul "if regular taxes were collected at all stages of production, transportation, etc." That number might be large, he added. Some economic activity in growing pot, such as fertilizer, is already taxed. "But still, some non-trivial fraction would be collected in taxes."

And Rick Perry? Ten months ago, he said that medical marijuana was OK for California but not for Texas. But he said the same thing about New York state and gay marriage, before the social conservatives revised him.

What did Thomas Paine say about "summer soldiers and sunshine patriots" abandoning principle for political expediency? Rick Perry couldn't hold firm for one lousy month.

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