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Republicans Just Don’t Get It

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Not without some controversy, the Democrats and Republicans have issued their new party platforms for 2012.

It was predictable, in the case of the Republicans, and surprising, in the case of the Democrats, that “civil liberties” are mentioned only one time in each platform. However, the term is not defined and no examples are given. The Democrats do have a section in their platform on civil rights, but it is focused mainly on abortion, same-sex marriage, and anti-discrimination legislation. In their discussion of the First Amendment, the Republicans focus mainly on religion. Both parties express concord with the Second Amendment. The Republicans give lip service to the Fourth Amendment. Both parties give credence to the drug war — one of the greatest violators of civil liberties that have ever existed.

The phrase “free speech” shows up only twice in the Republican platform and once in the Democratic platform. The Republicans don’t address free speech as a basic human right; they focus mainly on political speech. In their defense of the Citizens United decision, they talk about the “free speech right to devote one’s resources to whatever cause or candidate one supports.” Then they claim to “oppose governmental censorship of speech through the so-called Fairness Doctrine or by government enforcement of speech codes, free speech zones, or other forms of ‘political correctness’ on campus.” Free speech in the Democratic platform appears only in the context of the Internet: “President Obama is strongly committed to protecting an open Internet that fosters investment, innovation, creativity, consumer choice, and free speech, unfettered by censorship or undue violations of privacy.” When it comes to the Internet, the Republicans again focus on the political: “We insist that there should be no regulation of political speech on the Internet.”

Both parties have a section in their platform called “Internet Freedom.” The Democratic section is quite clear: “The Obama administration has led the world to recognize and defend Internet freedom — the freedom of expression, assembly, and association online for people everywhere.” The Republican section on Internet freedom focuses on such things as regulatory barriers, technology, and personal data — not on Internet freedom. For that we must go elsewhere in their platform:

The Internet offers a communications system uniquely free from government intervention.Recognizing the vital role of social media in recent efforts to promote democracy, we support unrestricted access to the Internet throughout the world to advance the free marketplace of ideas.

But that focuses merely on the Internet as a medium of communication. To find out what Republicans really believe about Internet freedom, we must go to their section on “Making the Internet Family-Friendly.” Just the title of this section is enough to inform the reader committed to an Internet “free from government intervention” that he is not going to like what he is about to read. The Republicans don’t disappoint:

We support the prohibition of gambling over the Internet and call for reversal of the Justice Department’s decision distorting the formerly accepted meaning of the Wire Act that could open the door to Internet betting.

“The Wire Act” refers to the Interstate Wire Act of 1961 (18 U.S.C. §1084),which reads in part,

Whoever being engaged in the business of betting or wagering knowingly uses a wire communication facility for the transmission in interstate or foreign commerce of bets or wagers or information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers on any sporting event or contest, or for the transmission of a wire communication which entitles the recipient to receive money or credit as a result of bets or wagers, or for information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.

In September 2011, Assistant Attorney General Virginia Seitz, in response to a query from officials of the New York State Division of the Lottery and the Office of the Governor of the State of Illinois, issued a “Memorandum Opinion” regarding the lawfulness of proposals by Illinois and New York to use the Internet and out-of-state transaction processors to sell lottery tickets to adults in their states. She concluded,

Given that the Wire Act does not reach interstate transmissions of wire communications that do not relate to a “sporting event or contest,” and that the state-run lotteries proposed by New York and Illinois do not involve sporting events or contests, we conclude that the Wire Act does not prohibit the lotteries described in these proposals.

This ever-so-slight loosening of the screw that binds Americans’ freedom to do anything that’s peaceful as long as they don’t violate other Americans’ person or property is what Republicans are so upset about.

Republicans just don’t get it.

First of all, Republicans don’t get it from a constitutional perspective. “We are the party of the Constitution,” they say in their platform. The Constitution is a “sacred document” and an “owner’s manual,” they say; it is the “greatest political document ever written.”

The Constitution gives the federal government no authority whatsoever to pass legislation and issue regulations that have anything to do with gambling. As James Madison explained in Federalist No. 45, “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the Federal Government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State Governments are numerous and indefinite.” The federal government has no right to prohibit, license, regulate, control, or discourage gambling — on the Internet or anywhere else. It is the states that have the sole authority to prohibit, license, regulate, control, or discourage any and all forms of gambling — on the Internet or anywhere else.

So since the Republicans maintain that “when the Constitution is evaded, transgressed, or ignored, so are the freedoms it guarantees,” they should repudiate not only the gambling prohibition in their platform, but all federal gambling laws.

Republicans also don’t get it from an economic perspective. “We are the party of maximum economic freedom,” they say in their platform. “Republicans will pursue free market policies that are the surest way to boost employment and create job growth and economic prosperity for all,” they add.

Casinos, poker rooms, bookies, Internet gambling sites, bingo halls, and state lotteries are all in the gambling business. They provide a service. They employ people. They stay in business by the voluntary actions of willing customers. There is no reason the free market should not include gambling establishments — online or otherwise. There is no reason the gambling industry should be governed by special government regulations.

But gambling is a vice and is not essential to society, counter gambling opponents. Yes, gambling is certainly both of these things. But vices are not crimes and there are plenty of services provided on the free market that are not “essential” — such as breast augmentation, nose jobs, and face-lifts.

And finally, Republicans don’t get it from a freedom perspective. “In a free society, the primary role of government is to protect the God-given, inalienable, inherent rights of its citizens, including the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” they say in their platform.

But if that is the case, then government has no business prohibiting people from engaging in peaceful behavior on or off the Internet. Whether such behavior is considered by some to be immoral or sinful or corrupting is irrelevant. It is a grave mistake to look to the state to enforce morality. And the costs associated with stopping peaceful activity always outweigh the benefits. The government should not be concerned with banning or regulating any activity that takes place between consenting adults or between a willing business and a willing customer.

Those who would seek to prohibit peaceful activity between consenting parties that does not aggress against the person or property of others are in opposition to the freedom philosophy, no matter how much they rail against socialism and liberalism and talk about their commitment to free markets and limited government. “The only freedom which deserves the name,” said political philosopher John Stuart Mill, “is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it.” And one does not have to be a gambler to also recognize that it should be possible for voluntary activities to take place without being supervised, taxed, or regulated by the state.

The statement in the Republican Party platform supporting a prohibition on Internet gambling should come as no surprise to anyone who has read the rest of the Republicans’ platform. Although they talk about freedom and federalism, they remain firmly committed to welfare, central planning, bloated military budgets, an interventionist foreign policy, the war on drugs, foreign aid, agricultural programs, and government intervention in health care and education.

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