Thursday, May 25, 2017

Democrats and Free Staters Meet In Exeter, NH

Last night, I went to a meeting of New Hampshire Democrats in Exeter, where a woman spoke who works for an organization (Granite State Progress?) which tracks a group called the New Hampshire Free State Project (FSP).
All I knew of the Free State Project is what I've read on the internet and Wikipedia from which I concluded these people believe in as little government as possible, government only to insure the rights of the individual to not be bothered by the oppressive hand of government. Government small enough to drown in a bathtub.

Part of their utopian dream is to make New Hampshire a place where like minded small-to-no government types can establish their ideal society, and possibly secede from the United States and set up a homeland for semi-anarchists.

The lady with the microphone asked if there were any Free Staters in the audience and about six stood up and introduced themselves.
Then she had them sit down and she proceeded to outline the nefarious plot the Free Staters were hatching, saying they infiltrated, undermined local government, town councils, and subversively denied they were up to anything at all.  But they have come to New Hampshire to take control of the state by getting themselves elected to the state legislature.
In Keene, she said they harass parking meter maids, who they claim are the agents of an oppressive government trying to extract parking fees. Several meter maids have had to retire because of post traumatic stress as a result of these encounters.
Meter maids with PSTD? Really?

The lady with the microphone gave her version of what Free Staters believe without ever allowing any of them to confirm or deny what she said.

She did sound very much like the old Joseph McCarthy news reels as she ticked off all the underhanded ways in which the FSP tried to destroy democratic town councils, the state legislature, the courts,   so people would lose patience with government and abandon it.

Her assumption seemed to be that we all know all there was to know about the ideas of the FSP and her job was simply to inform us how they intended to take over and what we could do about it.

One member of the audience rose to say he wondered what the FSP thought about the shift toward huge economic inequality, which the free market had fostered, not prevented and which as far as he could see only the government had the power or will to reverse. No FSP was allowed to respond to his question because the microphone lady seized control and moved on without calling on any FSP person to allow an answer.

I finally stood up and admitted I did not know much  about the FSP apart from some internet chatter about their belief we had too much government and I wanted to hear more from those people from the FSP who had come to the meeting, presumably to answer such questions.
I wanted to know, for example if the FSP believed that government had no role of any sort which could justify its existence, like for instance, protecting the public from terrorist acts.
If I saw a man belting on a suicide vest, or what I thought might be a suicide vest,  at the Manchester airport, I would go right to that government run TSA and tell them, but could I assume the FSP person would say, well this is a man who has the right to carry whatever ordinance he wants to carry--the FSP is for open carry gun laws--and would not want to bring the heavy hand of the TSA down on this individual who might want to express his displeasure with the public by blowing himself up in the airport?

To my surprise several of the FSP people said they would report the suicide bomber to the TSA. They were barely allowed to respond by the microphone lady, who was off to other assertions about how "ridiculous" their ideas were.

But what was evident is that some FSP disagreed with others about questions like this and they were by no means a top down organization with members. They insisted they were too free spirited to be members of any organization.
The big problem with the meeting was the scold with the microphone was simply not bright enough to allow the audience to tease out the FSP beliefs and to demolish them with questions.

She was a perfect example of what is wrong with the Democratic party,  which has been accused of being elitist, unwilling to listen to opinions from others who they believe are "ridiculous."

Fortunately, after the meeting we were allowed to stay and talk with the FSP people and I had some revealing exchanges which I wished the larger group of 100 had been allowed to hear.

I pressed the FSP about several examples which I thought illustrated the need for a government, as opposed to private sector efforts, and I pressed them about the value of being free from government interference vs the value of insuring the just functioning of a free society.

With respect to the TSA question, the FSP people told me we didn't need a government agency to protect us from suicide bombers at the airport because the airlines could hire their own security for that. But what about the public spaces? Would Southwest airlines pay for security in the bathrooms and hallways and gates?  Well, that could be worked out they said.
What about prisons? Should they be run for profit by the private sector rather than by the government? If the prisons are run for profit would it not be in their interest to keep prisoners as long as they can to keep beds filled? No time off for good behavior?
Well, no said the FSP, there is enough business for the prisons to have plenty of customers; they wouldn't need to keep prisoners in place to keep cells filled. But the experience, as I understand it, with private prisons show just the opposite.
The heavy hand of government

What about government intervening to right wrongs?
Take, for example, slavery.
Would the FSP people have sat home in 1860 and not gone off to force slave owners to give up their property in states where slavery was legal?  After all, the federal government waging war on slave owners trying to defend their property rights is the ultimate in the heavy hand of government.
Yes, they said, they would have sat home and allowed slavery to persist in the South.
But they would have opposed the Fugitive Slave Act to prevent the slave owners from pursuing slaves in New Hampshire.
But by what means would the FSP have opposed the private armies of the slave owners when they appeared in NH to reclaim their "property?"  Would the FSP have called out he NH national guard? Again, government getting between a man and his property. Or would the FSP have hired a private force to oppose the slave owners' armies? Who would have skin in that game, to pay for a force to protect runaway slaves? No profit in that.

The problem is, the profit motive does not motivate change for those who cannot immediately contribute to your profit. (I would argue there are whole parts of the economy where the profit motive has proved a conspicuous failure, driving up costs and decreasing quality, e.g. health care.)

The big vulnerability in the FSP people was they had never thought through the implications of what they were saying, which is they basically are anti social, and if you follow their line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, they want to live "off the grid." 
How much appeal would these hermits have to the 1.3 million citizens of New Hampshire?  The best disinfectant for these thinkers is sunlight. Just let them talk in open venues and they will burn up under the glaring light of scrutiny.

What about the lunch counter question? If a man owns a lunch counter and hangs up a sign saying "No Negroes served. Whites Only,"  are we wrong to bring the heavy hand of government down on him to get him to serve the public, all the public, as he is holding himself out to do?
Well, the FSP people said, market forces would drive out of business the guy who refuses Blacks service. Now that's a practical argument, but for 100 years in the South no market force drove those segregated businesses out of business. This response is a dodge. It avoids the moral question of whether such expressions of racism as they take the form of concrete action should be permitted. It says the rights of private property (owning a soda fountain) should be ascendant over the right of every citizen to enjoy the benefits of public access to public places and to not be discriminated against on the basis of race.

 And  what of public bathrooms labeled Whites Only or Blacks Only? This practice was by local governments acting as a matter of policy to support segregation.
The FSP answers:  Well those bathrooms could have been privatized.
And what would be the profit motive in integrating private bathrooms?

And what about public health?
If an agent from the federal government shows up at a man's private farm and says he wants to test his cows for Mad Cow Disease, would the FSP be opposed to that heavy hand of government? 
--Yes. The market would close that man down if his cows had Mad Cow disease.
--Ah, but the disease does not show up for 15 years in human beings who eat that meat, the market is too slow. That cow is out of the barn. 
--Well, private companies could certify the meat free of Mad Cow disease. 
-- But that's like Moody's and all those private companies rating stocks--they were motivated by profit to rate stocks highly, for fear of losing the business of the companies they were rating. What company paid by the farmer would find the disease in the cattle of the man who is paying them?

What about thalidomide? 
The FSP hates that heavy handed agency of the Federal government which harasses drug companies.  Had there been no FDA unsuspecting American mothers would have been swallowing thalidomide and giving birth to thousands of babies who had no arms or legs, as happened in England. Would the FSP think that's just fine?
Better than laying the heavy hand of government on the drug companies?

And what of the polio vaccine? 
Many FSP people oppose requiring polio vaccination (or any vaccination, measles, mump, tetanus) for kids to attend public schools. Again the right of the individual to place the group at threat.
Government requiring the individual to not be a threat to others or a burden to others.
Many also oppose requirements for health insurance as a government intrusion into their lives.
If we had an Ebola outbreak in New Hampshire and vaccine to prevent it, would you oppose mandatory vaccinations, knowing those who refused vaccination could pose a threat to the entire population by getting and spreading Ebola?
Blank stares in response and much blinking.
Back in the 1940's and 1950's every child and parent knew about and feared the yearly epidemics of polio--would you want to return to that?
FSP answer: It's up to the individual to assess risks for himself.

We went back and forth about all this and I understood the FSP stance, or rather, their variety of stances, always coming from the point of no government, and I understood it is no more monolithic than the Catholic population of America.  The pope would forbid contraceptives, but American Catholics use them anyway. They reject parts of the orthodoxy but still consider themselves Catholics. So it is with the Free Staters who disagree with some dogma and embrace other parts of it.

They are not "ridiculous," although as is true of many absolutists, their absolutism gets them into precarious intellectual positions.
Even the American Civil Liberty Union accolyte gets hung up on his absolute belief in free speech when Oliver Wendell Holmes asks, "But do you have the right to shout 'Fire!' in a crowded theater when there is no fire?" 
Small government guru. Worked for him. Owned slaves. Except for the Louisana Purchase

The microphone lady kept going on ominously about the 20,000 FSP subversives who have moved in to the state to seize control.
Personally, I've got no problem with 100,000 true believers moving here--they still have to convince others they are right and given my conversations with them last night, I doubt they'll ever be able to persuade more than their own numbers. They find few converts beating up on meter maids as the example of the oppressive hand of an overweening government.

If you want to look to a model, look at Utah, where true believers flocked and set up a utopia which over time gave way to the demands of the greater nation.

I would hate NH to become Utah, but we are a free and open nation, with no borders which prevent free travel and relocation. We have to defend our ideas, not our borders. Even the Mormons had to change their beliefs to accommodate the heavy hand of a federal government which forbade polygamy.

The trouble with Democrats is they react in the authoritarian /scold mode.
I do not fear these FSP guys.
They collapse quickly enough when you press them on their positions.
They are hardly a pernicious threat. Listen to them. Argue with them. Respect their right to believe crazy things and then demolish those crazy things and watch to see if they are capable of seeing the truth as you see it.

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