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Libertarianism’s Privilege Problem at the Montana Legislature

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A group of young Montana Republicans aligned with the Libertarian movement has gotten an awful lot of press for their “liberty” position during the session. While some of this praise is certainly warranted, they undermine their own credibility—and expose the privilege problem at the root of libertarianism– when they vote against those very same privacy protections for women and the poor.

I don’t disagree with a lot of their positions. I’ve been opposed to civil asset forfeiture since I researched it extensively for debate, way back in 2000. I think our unreasonably stoked fear of crime has led to a climate where law enforcement is given too free a hand to investigate people, just as our fear of terrorism has given government intelligence agencies far too much power. We need to reign in law enforcement and restore rights that feel as if they have eroded in an era of high-tech and high-force policing.

But if you are committed to the principles of liberty and privacy, you don’t get to put those aside when it comes to the reproductive health of women and the rights of those who are less privileged in our society. The GOP “liberty” caucus has been very silent, if not hostile to the privacy rights of women who want to seek legal medical services. No matter how you spin it, a cell phone does not deserve more privacy protection than a woman’s body.

And just last week, those Republican members of the MT House who have spent the session braying about their defense of liberty voted to require welfare recipients to undergo drug testing to receive their very limited benefits.

One of these libertarian Republicans, Daniel Zolninkov, explained his vote this way:

HB 200 requires a form that asks individuals if they are on drugs for temp assistance of needy families. This does not require a drug test. I voted yes, it passed.

But that’s just not true. The law requires recipients of TANF to fill out a questionnaire about their drug use, and says “If the results of the written questionnaire indicate a reasonable likelihood that the applicant has a substance abuse disorder involving the misuse of a controlled substance, the applicant shall complete a drug test at the department’s expense.”

This law is an ineffective bill, an expensive bill, and a discriminatory bill. Targeting an already disadvantaged group of people who receive government benefits while ignoring the tens of thousands more who also receive government benefits but happen to have more wealth strikes at the heart of our constitutional protections, which are premised on the belief that all people deserve them.

Needing a temporary helping hand from government assistance programs is not probable cause of a crime, no matter how supporters of this bill spin it.

Given the testimony of the disgruntled DPHHS workers from Libby and Kalispell a few weeks ago, how can anyone think that it’s a good idea to give someone the ability to mandate a drug test based on a “reasonable likelihood”?

Privilege is one of those fraught terms that people who possess privilege never like talking about, but a group of middle-class men legislating and bloviating about privacy rights while voting to deny it to women and the poor, both of whom are underrepresented in the Legislature, is its very definition. It’s hard to take the liberty movement seriously when its focus seems to be on protecting the rights of those who have the least to fear from an intrusive state or overly aggressive law enforcement.

Every time I’m tempted to believe that the libertarian movement is about anything other than protecting the rights of those already privileged in our society, those libertarians remind me of the truth: that liberty for some can never be justice for all.

 

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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  • The real irony here is that I would wager that probably HALF of the constituents in Rand “pee cup” Panucci’s district are ALL on some form of assistance! But they’re also inbred kristyeean fundiwackmentalists who believe that Cracker Jaysus wants them to vote against their own best interests! It’s truly a very strange situation. Ol’ Pee cup promises’em a heapin’ helpin’ anti-Obama nonsense mixed with a healthy does of Cracker Jaysus, and the suckers fall for it! It’s kinda like the old saying, there are only two kinds of republicans, rich guys and suckers! And ol’ Pee cup’s base is a bunch-o suckers for sure!
    And yes, a fella’s nickname should capture the essence of the man. For example, Andrew Jackson was a hard, fearless leader who would never break. Hence, Ol’ Hickory. Randy Panucci is a unqualified nutjob who loves to pander. Hence, Ol’ Pee cup! Pretty much captures the dude alright!

  • Libertarians aren’t for drug-testing welfare recipients, Pinocchi is, and he is an establishment Republican, lets call a spade a spade here pogey.

  • I think the real heart and soul of personal liberty is a belief that since corporations are people, they are free and clear to do whatever they want, but those who are not wealthy and well-connected have to be regulated into oblivion. Which is why I think libertarianism is a load of crapola and won’t ever vote for one of them.

  • Hooooooly SH*T! I’m impressed! That is the BEST, BAR NONE, nose hair mustache I have EVER seen! Dude, you got your sh*t together! Nuthin’ says old west Montana (for an outta stater) like a tree MENDOUS nose hair mustache! I take my hat off to you, moron! I only wish that I had enough nose hair for a stache like that! You the winner!
    http://billingsgazette.com/news/government-and-politics/committee-hears-bills-allowing-guns-in-schools-bars-and-banks/article_719eebca-c4f9-5eaf-a1d3-5ce3b1e252b6.html
    Pubbies. Gettin’ dumber than dog doo doo by the minute!

    • p.s. maybe youse and general marsbutt should get a room so’s that you can play with your guns to see whose shoots first! hey, it’s a thought! and really, when you think about it, makes about as much sense as your bil! DAMN but I still wish I had that much nose hair! you the nasally hirsute MARLBORO man, dude! but don’t light UP around that thing! you libel to cause a FOREST fire!

  • A) Your assertion that protecting things like privacy for cell phones only benefits the “privileged” is asinine at best. People of all socio-economic strata possess cell phones, and the poor and minorities are already the ones being targeted most by police. So, in actuality, while you envision this bill as somehow protecting the cell phones and privacy of rich fat cats, it’s the poor and minorities who are having the most contact with law enforcement, and thus have the most to benefit from a bill ensuring things like cell phone privacy.
    B) Your criticism of libertarians on the basis that they are not truly protecting freedoms unless they believe in across the board abortion rights is an oversimplification you’re merely using to score points here. Libertarians themselves don’t even agree on the fundamental question of whether or not a life begins at conception, so to say that they should all be supporting abortion on demand when the philosophy itself doesn’t have a simple answer to the fundamental question of the issue is absurd. If a libertarian believes that an unborn child is a life, then it would be grossly against their principles to provide protections for someone who’s ending a life.
    Why don’t you just admit that you have a lot of baggage with the older crowd and are actively looking for reasons and justifications to throw that pile of luggage on the younger. If the main litmus test you’re using to determine whether or not someone supports the concept of “liberty” is if they’ll vote to always uphold the protection of shoving a medical instrument into the skull of a 9 month old unborn child, perhaps it’s you who should recheck his premises.

    • If you could explain what you possibly mean with this metaphor I’d appreciate it, because it doesn’t make any sense at all:

      a lot of baggage with the older crowd and are actively looking for reasons and justifications to throw that pile of luggage on the younger.

      And your terrible arguments about abortion rights aside, I notice you left out the other core of my argument. Explain how these champions of liberty voted to mandate government drug testing?

      • Just calling an argument terrible without giving any reasons why is poor. If they really are so terrible it wouldn’t be hard to refute them.
        As for the “government mandate,” that’s probably one of the most toothless mandates I’ve ever seen. Even evil conservatives should be appalled at the notion that the only way a person would actually ever get drug tested is if they happen to check one box on a form. Do you honestly think anything is going to willingly disqualify themselves from public assistance by admitting truthfully if they have a history of drug use/abuse? I guess I’ll put them in the same category as the illegal immigrants who willingly turn themselves over to ICE.
        There’s also the question of your classification of people like Zolnikov as a “libertarian,” since he has run and won twice as a member of the Republican party. We do have Libertarian as a registered party here, so either he’s not 100% and agrees with conservatives on enough issues to fail the libertarian purity test, or actively lying for political benefit. If he’s not 100% libertarian, then there is the possibility he actually sides more with conservatives on this issue, and thus wouldn’t be a hypocrite at all by finding an instance where he thinks it’s appropriate for government to take an active role.

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