I watch election results to gauge whether America has become freer or more tyrannical. It’s hard to know whether Tuesday’s results will make much difference. Often, individual liberty erodes in ways that neither major political party much cares about.
Last weekend, I suffered through the New York Marathon. I suffered not because I ran 26.2 miles but because I live near Central Park, and at Marathon time, officials turn my neighborhood into a little police state. Four thousand police officers, 20 boats and four blimps “guarded” the Marathon. Barricades, bomb-sniffing dogs and surveillance cameras were everywhere.
This is new. Marathons used to be fun, people-friendly events. Athletes and spectators mingled freely. No more. New York’s authorities now treat marathon spectators as annoyances, if not threats. Even runners must pass through magnetometers before they may race.
This happened, of course, because of the horrible bombing in Boston. That shut down parts of Boston for nine days. But other countries’ response to terrorism is less extreme. Fifty-two people were killed in the London Underground bombing of 2005. By 4 p.m. that same day, bus service resumed.
In my neighborhood, concrete blocks and parked garbage trucks (manned by a union driver) prevent civilian vehicles from entering or leaving (in case terrorists drive a car over Central Park’s wall and then through the trees to kill runners?). We were allowed to walk home, but only if we showed ID's that proved we lived on that street. The ground was covered in litter, since authorities remove every trash can, lest a terrorist hide a bomb in one.
I can’t imagine what all this costs.
Police barricades are everywhere these days. If you want to watch the Fourth of July fireworks in New York City, you may no longer just gather with friends and have a picnic. Police herd spectators into barricaded pens, and if people try to climb out to use a bathroom, cops yell: “Stop! Once you’re in, you’re in.”
I doubt that such “security theater” makes us safer. If terrorists want to make a statement, they will find other locations.
Government always grows. Police departments are no exception. The incentive is always: do more. Politicians reason, “If anything goes wrong, I’ll be blamed. Someone else pays for prevention, though, so I’ll take every precaution.”
I once asked New York City’s police commissioner if there was now “too much security.” He replied, “people want to feel safe.”
Yes, most people will give up liberty for security.
But when we change society this way, we let the terrorists win.
That’s one reason I fight with Ann Coulter. She wrote, “If you are considering voting for the Libertarian candidate in any Senate election, please send me your name and address so I can track you down and drown you … [because] nothing matters more to the country than Republicans taking a majority in the Senate.”
That mindset distracts us from defending something far more important than either party: individual liberty. Neither Republicans nor Democrats consistently protect it.
When I told Coulter that I often vote Libertarian, she replied: “Influence the Republican Party. … Do not be the spoiler to hand the government over to Democrats, who I promise do not share a single principle with you.”
Democrats do want government control of the economy and more regulation of speech, innovation, medicine, school and all kinds of things that ought to be fun. But I feel threatened by Republicans, too. Some want to control our personal lives and fight constant wars abroad.
I don’t want government to regulate every inch of my life. That’s why I’m a libertarian.
Most Republicans and Democrats don’t love liberty enough to remove those barricades near Central Park, or countless other impediments to doing what we want. They impose a million boring, bureaucratic intrusions on daily life.
It’s time America obsessed less about Republicans vs. Democrats and more about liberty, in all its forms.
Still, I’m delighted that Republicans won the Senate yesterday, finally taking power from the destructive Harry Reid. They did, didn’t they? Please, tell me they did.
John Stossel is the author of "No They Can't! Why Government Fails -- But Individuals Succeed" and host of "Stossel" (Fridays at 9 PM/ET), a weekly program highlighting current consumer issues with a libertarian viewpoint. Stossel also appears regularly on Fox News Channel (FNC) providing signature analysis. Click here for more information on John Stossel.