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Democrats and the Right to Choose - What?

Abortion sure brings out the libertarian rhetoric in Democrats. The six Democratic presidential candidates shared a stage for the first time at a gala dinner put on by NARAL Pro-Choice America, the new name of the National Abortion Rights Action League.

The candidates fell over themselves to make the most ringing defense of abortion rights and the sharpest criticism of President Bush and the Republican Congress.

It's unfortunate that abortion apparently is the only individual "choice" the Democrats support.

Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont, proclaimed, "This government is so impressed with itself in promoting individual freedom they can't wait to get into your bedroom and tell you how to behave."

Of course, abortions don't usually take place in the bedroom, but rather in doctors' offices, places where Governor Dean does want government to tell you how to behave through his government-run health care program. He even distinguished himself in Vermont by fervently opposing the right of terminally ill patients to choose medical marijuana to ease their pain.

Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., promised to bring up the abortion issue if he finds himself debating President Bush next year.

 "I'll tell him, 'There's a fundamental difference between he and I (sic; it's been a long time since Kerry's prep school grammar classes): I trust women to make their own decisions. You don't," Kerry said. Fine words. But it looks like the only decision John Kerry trusts women to make is the decision to have or not have an abortion.

He doesn't trust a woman to make the decision to invest her Social Security taxes in private accounts that would provide her a more comfortable retirement. He doesn't trust a woman to own a gun. He doesn't trust a woman to make her own decision on where her children will go to school.

Former House Democratic leader Richard A. Gephardt acknowledged a change of heart on the abortion issue: "I came to realize that the question of choice is to be answered not by the state but by the individual."

With language like that, Gephardt could run for the Libertarian Party nomination. But what question of choice--other than abortion--does Gephardt think should be answered "not by the state but by the individual"? Like Kerry, he opposes Social Security choice, school choice, and the right of individuals to choose what drugs they will use, either for medical or recreational purposes. He voted to deny gays and lesbians the right to marry the person they choose.

Too many people these days think "choice" only refers to abortion. I'd like to hear a presidential candidate say, "I believe in a woman's right to choose. I believe in a woman's right to choose whether to have a child. I believe in a woman's right to choose any job someone will hire her for. I believe in a woman's right to choose to own a gun. I believe in a woman's right to choose the school she thinks is best for her child, public or private. I believe in a woman's right to choose what kinds of art she will spend her money on, even if she prefers Madonna or Randy Travis and Congress wants to give her money to Robert Mapplethorpe or Luciano Pavarotti. I believe in a woman's right to choose to drive a cab, even if she doesn't have a license. I believe in a woman's right to choose the employees she wants for her business, even if they don't fit some government quota. I believe in a woman's right to choose the drugs she prefers for recreation, whether she chooses Coors or cocaine. I believe in a woman's right to choose how to spend all of her hard-earned money, without giving half of it to the government."

Whether or not you support the right to choose abortion, surely that is a more difficult issue, involving more lives and more complexities than the right to choose a school for your child, to use marijuana, or to own a gun. And yet many of the supporters of "a woman's right to choose" don't support a woman's right to make those choices.

When a Republican president is holding U.S. citizens without a court hearing, implementing a Total Information Awareness program to compile information on all citizens, and spending more taxpayers' money on every nook and cranny of the federal government, it's great to hear leading Democrats talk about freedom, trusting people to make their own decisions, and limiting the power of the state. It would be even better if they applied those noble principles to more than one, and only one, issue.

David Boaz is executive vice president of the Cato Institute and author of "Libertarianism: A Primer" (The Free Press).