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How to Kill an Idea 

While President Bush praised individual rights in words, he violated individual rights in action. Like all tyrants since the French Revolution, he talked about freedom and liberty, and gave you the opposite: “Total Information Awareness” monitoring your financial transactions, “National Security Letters” which compel businesses to surrender confidential information on you without a court order, warrantless searches, unlimited detention without charge or trial, torture, etc., combined with socialist welfare programs beyond anything FDR would have dared dream about. “Freedom and liberty” become mere decorative words uttered by the all-powerful state, and the idea of real freedom becomes confused and moribund.

Which brings us to what was probably the ugliest essay at the time by an ARI associate:

“Bush’s Speech on Freedom” by Harry Binswanger (Capitalism Magazine  March 14, 2005).

On March 8, 2005, says Mr. Binswanger,
“President Bush gave an important, and generally excellent, speech on our foreign policy re the middle east. He reiterated, and further explained, his Forward Strategy of Freedom.

“The highlight of the speech was this remarkable passage, strategically placed near the end:
“ ‘Americans, of all people, should not be surprised by freedom’s power. A nation founded on the universal claim of individual rights should not be surprised when other people claim those rights.’ ”
We interrupt Mr. Binswanger quoting Bush praising individual rights. America was indeed founded on the idea of individual rights, but the man saying it here was violating individual rights as much as he could get away with, and he got away with a lot. The above quote is not just hypocrisy. By mixing up individual rights with their violation, Bush helped undermine the very idea of individual rights.

Mr. Binswanger explains his admiration for Bush as follows:

“Terminology is important. The term ‘individual rights,’ as it gets more use and acceptance, orients people to the individualist frame of reference, rescuing social-political thought from collectivist practice of thinking in terms of community ...”
Terminology is important, important enough that terms like “individual rights” ought to be used properly, sincerely, with understanding. Judging from his earlier actions either President Bush used “individual rights” with intent to deceive or else he hadn’t a clue what “individual rights” really means. He uttered the phrase as you would press a button on a vending machine to get a bag of peanuts. Say it and boost your ratings in opinion polls of the uninformed. Say it and fool people into thinking America isn’t turning into a police state.

Mr. Binswanger continues:

“Bush has now stated that America was founded upon individual rights. In an age in which intellectuals vilify America as the most violent, racist, imperialist nation in history, it takes courage to proudly assert that America was founded upon the principle of rights. Making that point means something; it takes a stand.”
“Courage” ? !  Mr. Binswanger gives no example to illustrate the practice of Bush’s courageous stand, nothing to flesh out what Bush meant by “individual rights.” Mr. Binswanger fails to note that in the speech from which he quotes, Bush promotes about a dozen new federal welfare programs – read property transfer programs – every one of which violates individual rights.

As it happens, the very day I read Mr. Binswanger’s essay a local newspaper carried the story that the U.S. Education Department is considering creating a “national student unit record system,” a federal database of “all higher education students in the nation.” Is this an example of individual rights in action? Was the Patriot Act’s suspension of habeas corpus?

In her essay “The Wreckage of the Consensus,” written at the height of the Vietnam war, Ayn Rand noted the perversity of “conservatives,” the alleged defenders of freedom and capitalism, supporting the draft, and the extreme “left” opposing it.

“In line with the anti-ideological methods of all other groups, the Vietniks – whose sympathies are on the side of Russia, China and North Vietnam – are screaming against the draft in the name of their ‘individual rights’ – individual rights, believe it or not. ... What is still worse is the fact that they are the only group that even mentions individual rights ... .”
Clearly Ayn Rand took a dim view of hypocrites spouting about individual rights.

Bush’s pronouncement and Mr. Binswanger’s praise of it reminds me of the following by Prodos Marinakis (ironically an ARI advocate), only instead of “Left” read “Neocons”:

“The Left does with words and language what it does with people’s lives and properties: It takes, confiscates, hijacks, perverts, twists, destroys. It has no creative power, and no sense of honesty or honor.”

After muddying the language of political discourse Mr. Binswanger ends his essay egocentrically:

“... for proclaiming that America was founded upon individual rights, he [Bush] has my gratitude.”
And for praising such monumental hypocrisy, and engaging in it himself, Mr. Binswanger will have any decent person’s condemnation.