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The grand myth of live-and-let-live liberalism

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By Jonah Goldberg
Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

In Washington, D.C., the city's department of health wants to subject people seeking a tattoo or body piercing to a mandatory 24-hour waiting period before they can go through with it. That's just one of the regulations in a 66-page proposal of new rules for the tattoo and piercing industry.

Reasonable people may differ on the wisdom of these proposals, but as someone whose interest in such establishments begins and ends with keeping my daughter away from them, I can't get too worked up either way. What did catch my eye was this line from the write-up in the metro section of The Washington Post: “The body art rules are the latest product of a city government that has occasionally struggled to reconcile its socially liberal sensibilities with a zeal for regulation.”

As a conservative resident of Washington, D.C., where registered Republicans are outnumbered by about 9-to-1, I find such statements hilarious. There is a notion out there that being “socially liberal” means you're a libertarian at heart, a live-and-let-live sort of person who says “whatever floats your boat” a lot. The evidence disproving this comes in the form of pretty much everything else liberals say, do and believe.

Social liberalism is the foremost, predominant and in many instances sole impulse for zealous regulation in this country, particularly in big cities. I love it when liberals complain about a ridiculous bit of PC nanny-statism coming out of New York, LA, Chicago, D.C., Seattle, etc. — “What will they do next?”

Uh, sorry to tell you, but you are “they.” Outside of a “Law and Order” script — or an equally implausible MSNBC diatribe about who ruined Detroit — conservatives have as much influence on big-city liberalism as the Knights of Malta.

Seriously, who else do people think are behind efforts to ban big sodas or sue hairdressers for charging women more than men? Who harasses little kids for making toy guns out of sticks, Pop-Tarts or their own fingers? Who wants to regulate the air you breathe, the food you eat and the beverages you drink? Who wants to control your thermostat? Take your guns? Your cigarettes? Who's in favor of speech codes on campuses and “hate crime” laws everywhere? Who's in favor of free speech when it comes to taxpayer-subsidized “art” and pornography but then bangs their spoons on their highchairs for strict regulations when it comes to political speech? Who loves meddling, finger-wagging billionaires like Michael Bloomberg when they use state power and taxpayer money to herd, bully and nudge people but thinks billionaires like the Koch brothers who want to shrink government are the root of all tyranny?

At the national level, who bypassed Congress to empower the EPA to regulate the atmosphere? Oh, and who pushed ObamaCare on a country that didn't want it? Who defends bending the entire country into a national health-care scheme dedicated to the proposition of live and let live so long as you live the way the Department of Health and Human Services says you should?

Sure, today's liberalism does carry within it some genetic lineage to the classical liberalism — i.e., libertarianism — of J.S. Mill and John Locke. But social liberalism — better understood as progressivism — is a worldview that seeks to use the state to support its preferred values and culture. That isn't libertarianism.

Jonah Goldberg is the author of “The Tyranny of Clichés,” now on sale in paperback.

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