Immigration: A Response

I began “Liberty: Why Right > Left” with a disclaimer: “The support of mainstream conservatives for authoritarian policies is a real and pressing problem.”

In his recent column on immigration, Alex provided an example of just such a policy.

Republicans and conservatives tend to favor solving the border security issues before the topic of the legal status of illegal immigrants in the United States even can be discussed. They are also generally against any mass amnesty (automatic citizenship) of illegal immigrants.

Alex went on to suggest that it would be prudent for libertarians to affirm national border enforcement. I’d like to quickly respond in the negative.

When I argue that it’s far easier to bring the average Republican to libertarianism than the average Democrat, I mean by “libertarianism” the full arsenal of libertarian positions – not libertarianism minus immigration.

This is an essential difference between libertarian strategies for outreach to the right and to the left. The latter tends to entirely disappear fundamental issues like gun control from its advocacy. On immigration, right-libertarians need not do the same.

Hoppe: Not So Pragmatic

In his column, Alex discusses the costs of illegal immigration to public services, alluding to the argument that open immigration is incompatible with the welfare state. Libertarians are likely familiar with this position thanks to Austrian economist Hans-Hermann Hoppe.

The problem with making advocacy in one area conditional on success in another is that the entire libertarian repertoire can quickly cancel itself out. Ann Coulter, for example – during her infamous Sossel appearance – suggested that libertarians should forestall the decriminalization of drugs until the welfare state has been abolished (lest taxpayers be made to finance drug abuse).

By this logic, however, libertarians in 1933 ought to have opposed the repeal of alcohol prohibition. That would make the liberty movement less libertarian than FDR.

Certainly, some libertarians loudly oppose drug laws but never dare criticize the welfare state; against these people, Coulter’s concern is a fair point. Yet if libertarians who are outspoken on both issues ought to abandon one, the whole prescriptive worldview collapses into incoherence.

It’s easy to see how libertarians who followed Coulter’s thinking might find themselves ironically defending big government in most areas – as, tellingly, Coulter herself does.

Localism is Better

When Ronald Reagan called libertarianism “the very heart and soul of conservatism”, he pointed to a shared desire for “less centralized authority”.

When authority is not centralized, of course, communities have the right to manage their own internal affairs. Said Russell Kirk:

Conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism. Although Americans have been attached strongly to privacy and private rights, they also have been a people conspicuous for a successful spirit of community. In a genuine community, the decisions most directly affecting the lives of citizens are made locally and voluntarily… But when these functions pass by default or usurpation to centralized authority, then community is in serious danger.

Apply this conservative principle to immigration, and you’ve answered all of Alex’s concerns. If a locality wishes to welcome all newcomers on the one hand and liberally provide welfare on the other, let them – but also, let them shoulder the costs, rather than displacing them onto people not represented in the decision.

Over time, the market of competing solutions would pressure local governments to neither provide universal cradle-to-grave services nor exclude immigrants for ridiculous reasons (like because they’re Hispanic).

On both immigration and welfare, then, libertarians ought to simultaneously advocate decentralizing decision-making to local governments. This strategy would appeal to a conservative tradition while allowing Hoppe’s problem to solve itself.

If my suggestion sounds too dogmatic, note that a former Speaker of the House has proposed much the same thing.

[He] is for the idea of a local community review board, where citizens can decide whether or not their neighbors who have come here illegally should find a path to legality.

To Alex and the many libertarians who share his sentiments, I’d suggest that we should all be at least as libertarian as Newt Gingrich.

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Liberty and the Bible

29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.”
Acts 5:29

Denizens of the libertarian social media milieu who opine on Christianity reliably fall into one of two camps.

In one corner, a loud minority of militant atheists regularly attempt to offend and alienate Christians. In the last several days, libertarian outlets on facebook have decorated my newsfeed with a depiction of Lucifer as the first libertarian à la Mikhail Bakunin, a picture of Christ and Satan making out, and an image of some centuries-past witch-burning – accompanied by text telling Christians to stop calling themselves libertarians.

7b699628-02a5-42c7-a0a5-d2780d447fa9Opposite these paragons of pragmatism and cultural sensitivity, a quiet majority of libertarian Christians meekly contend that that liberty and their faith are not incompatible.

As a libertarian Christian[1], I’m frankly more offended by the weakness of this latter camp than the ignorance of the former. Christianity is not merely compatible with my libertarianism – it fundamentally grounds and invigorates it.

Moreover, I’m of the opinion that the church is one of the largest and least tapped reservoirs of potential libertarians in America. I don’t blame atheism-first libertarians for their sophomoric shock tactics, however. I blame the libertarian Christians who too often fail to respond by emphasizing the motivating power of their faith.

I’ll very roughly detail that power here.

The Parable of the Trees

Nearly as long as I’ve been a Christian, Judges 9:8-15 has been one of my favorite pieces of scripture. Rarely does its poetry fail to produce chill-down-my-spine reverence.

From the American Standard Version:

The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive-tree, Reign thou over us.

But the olive-tree said unto them, Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honor God and man, and go to wave to and fro over the trees?

10 And the trees said to the fig-tree, Come thou, and reign over us.

11 But the fig-tree said unto them, Should I leave my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to wave to and fro over the trees?

12 And the trees said unto the vine, Come thou, and reign over us.

13 And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my new wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to wave to and fro over the trees?

14 Then said all the trees unto the bramble, Come thou, and reign over us.

15 And the bramble said unto the trees, If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade; and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon.

In the community of trees described in Judges, power attracts a tyrant – bramble – but is passed over by the virtuous olive, fig, and vine – all of whom choose God over the might of the shrub state.

borntobebadAs this passage beautifully elucidates, a Christian[2] is called to buck the kingdoms of the Earth for a compounding of reasons. “We must obey God rather than men” – to quote Peter – not simply because earthly authority may find itself overruled, but because man, intrinsically, is fallen.

Power may corrupt, but more fundamentally, it attracts people who are already corrupted. Because mankind is imperfectible, such people will always emerge and be attracted to power to the extent that it is offered.

If man is a perfectible blank slate, this obstacle to statism does not exist – or, at least, is less of a problem. As a possible example, Muslims categorically reject the doctrine of original sin; the regimes of the Islamic world are generally more authoritarian than those of the West.

I’ll further assert that earthly utopianism is, and has been historically, more common among secular than religious Westerners. The word “Utopia” may have been popularized by a believer, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Thomas More’s fictional island was not a Christian one.

Israel Demands a King

In 1 Samuel 8, the elders of Israel come before an elderly Samuel and tell him to “appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” Apparently upset by this desire for an earthly governor, Samuel prays for guidance.

God replies by telling Samuel that, in demanding a human king, the Israelites “have rejected me from being king over them.”  He instructs Samuel to “solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”

From the English Standard Version:

Samuel’s Warning Against Kings

10 So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him. 11 He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. 12 And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. 15 He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. 16 He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men[a] and your donkeys, and put them to his work. 17 He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

The Lord Grants Israel’s Request

19 But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, 20 that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” 21 And when Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the Lord. 22 And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey their voice and make them a king.”

This story constitutes a clear-cut call to libertarianism. God does not respond to Israel’s request for a ruler “to go out before us and fight our battles” by ordaining a theocracy – He characterizes their statism as idolatry and warns against taxes.

Jesus Clears the Temple

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As a teenager, I was as hostile to Christianity as are many of the people I’ve criticized here. In particular, I was fond of cherry-picking horrifying verses from Zechariah and Isaiah and throwing them in the faces of Christians who weren’t prepared to respond to them. In doing so, I painted a narrative that put God on the side of oppressive earthly authoritarians.

Gradually, I began to suspect that the opposite might be true. In Matthew, for example, Satan’s tempting Christ with “all the Kingdoms of the world and their glory” implies that these Kingdoms are Satan’s to offer. When I discovered “Jesus Clears the Temple Courts” in John, I felt this suspicion was wholly affirmed.

From the New International Version:

13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”[a]

18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

Although Christians may be relatively unfamiliar with these verses, I do think the passages have contributed to an intrinsic – though underutilized – anti-authoritarian character in Christendom.

This streak is the reason many young Christians grew up reading the Left Behind series, which centers around resistance to a tyrannical government (I’ve admittedly not read any of them myself). Additionally, I’d wager it’s one reason that the many Senators who recently filibustered for 13 hours to obstruct unilateral executive power were a bunch of conservative Christians.


[1]Besides its policy implications, I enjoy debating about my faith itself. Depending on your level of interest, you may wish to check out a short piece here or a much longer piece there.

[2]I feel like there’s a good scriptural case to be made for original sin on Judaism alone. However, as I know Jewish scholars traditionally reject the doctrine, I’ll leave the applicability of my arguments to Judaism for another day. If any Jewish readers would like to comment with their take on this, I’d be interested in discussing the matter further.

Liberty: Why Right > Left

“Legislators and revolutionaries who promise equality and liberty at the same time are either psychopaths or mountebanks.”
Goethe

To cover this expansive topic as efficiently as possible, I’m going to begin by clarifying my position with two points.

satan_santorum-2I. Firstly, allow me to preempt those who might respond simply by naming some horrendously statist position that many right-wingers support.

The support of mainstream conservatives for authoritarian policies is a real and pressing problem, and I am not suggesting anything like the contrary.

I’ve written quite a bit against the prohibition of drugs, prostitution, and all manner of libertine pastimes. These issues are not trivial. Libertarians should not abandon them. I will happily affirm my libertarian stance on them in front of a group of elderly Rick Santorum supporters or whomever you wish.

I do say, however, that I could do so in a way that many of them would find appealing. Moreover, I maintain that I’ll have far more luck convincing the Santorum supporters to decriminalize hard drugs than you will convincing an equivalent bunch of Obama supporters to let you own an automatic weapon.

Think about it for two minutes. I’ll tell my audience “the government should not punish taxpayers to protect drug users from making poor choices in their own homes”. What will you say?

Invoke slave rebellions or whatever historical event you like. In their eyes, the government has never truly been the primary antagonist. The government didn’t enforce slavery, they imagine, so much as it allowed slavery to occur. The problem was never that the government did too much, but that it did too little. Mainstream leftism, in the very marrow of its bones, is the ideology of the modern state.

Then again, I may be giving you too much credit. You probably wouldn’t even broach the subject of gun rights with the Obama supporters. You’re not ‘that kind of’ libertarian, after all.

uncle_marx_257105II. My argument that leftism is comparatively statist by nature assumes two relationships – one between egalitarianism and the left and another between non-egalitarianism and the right.

By egalitarianism, I mean the descriptive position. I do not mean a preference for equality of opportunity, especially given that most egalitarians are A-okay with 8-to-1 racist discrimination. On the contrary, I mean someone who is inclined to view unequal results as proof of unequal opportunity.

This association is well-supported. Karl Marx repeatedly predicated his ideas on the notion that humans were blank slates – excepted from the laws of nature via egalitarian fairy dust. For example, he sought to bring about “the disappearance of all culture” and to “abolish countries and nationality”. He promoted the “abolition of the family”, a unit that “will vanish as a matter of course when its complement [capitalism] vanishes”.

These were viable goals to Marx precisely because he saw no innate human predisposition towards favoring one’s own community or family. He even criticized those who would “transform into eternal laws of nature and of reason, the social forms springing from your present mode of production and form of property”.

Conversely, figures from Paul to Burke to Kirk anticipated the action of nature upon human behavior. It is this conclusion’s steady affirmation by modern empiricism that Marxists have built an entire ivory tower of pseudo-philosophical ‘anti-scientism’ to escape. Moreover, it was vital to the survival of their ideology that they do so.

1164There is a reason Murray Rothbard described egalitarians as “spoiled children”, “profoundly anti-human” and “profoundly evil” creatures who have “a fair chance of destroying the very universe that they wish to deny and transcend”. Egalitarianism, necessarily, justifies the violence of the state.

Suppose that a maximally libertarian society has been achieved. Because humans, contra Marx, are not magical blank slates, people will continue to produce different results in different areas. Women, at least by way of getting pregnant more often than men, will continue to spend comparatively less time working and consequently tend to earn less than men in the same jobs.

To anyone who subscribes to something like the Kirkian principles of imperfectability and variety, all is well. To an egalitarian, however, the varying per capita incomes of men and women constitute prima facie evidence that women are being robbed or defrauded via an insidious patriarchy. An egalitarian who compensated women using a system of corrective redistribution would therefore simply be defending women from theft. If egalitarianism is true, in fact, it would be un-libertarian not to continually take this money back from the hegemonic thiefmen – creating a de facto state.

From pogrom era anti-Semitism to progressive taxation, Westerners have cloaked violence in virtue by assuming that anyone who is better at something than someone else must have cheated somehow. By casting government violence as defensive rather than offensive, egalitarianism serves as the best possible moral justification for statism.

When egalitarianism is dismantled, the state’s veil of legitimacy is removed and it can clearly be seen as simply initiating force against innocent people. It’s for this reason that I believe conservatives are, in the generality, far more amiable to liberty – even in areas where we might expect more success with liberals.

War

You don’t need to go back to the Old Right to find a tradition of right-wing non-interventionism. Revisit 2000’s Bush-Gore debate and you’ll clearly see a Democratic Party that wanted to police the world more and a Republican Party that wanted to police it less.

Like many libertarians, I didn’t watch this debate when it aired because I was 10. Instead, I was given a warped education in foreign policy by the post-9/11 triumph of Cheney-style neoconservatism. Having come into politics under the Bush Shadow, my generation has, perhaps, a more skewed understanding of the left-right spectrum than any other in American history.

Young libertarians expect to connect with the left on foreign policy because Bush is still blocking our view. We don’t stop to ask ourselves why the Bush-era anti-war movement totally vanished after an even more interventionist president came to power.

A crowd of young people wearing Kony 2012 T-Shirts make the peace signI propose that the anti-war left we think we remember never really existed. It was populated largely by people who imagined that Bush was Reagan Come Again and posed a threat to their redistributive programs. Moreover, if you think hard, you’ll recall that alongside criticisms of the Iraq war as oil-driven, one could often find creepy implications that countries other than Iraq much more urgently needed to be invaded.

Sure enough, as conservatives show signs of returning to non-interventionism, the left has returned to its more overt internationalism. Even at the height of American support for the Iraq War, I don’t imagine that many College Republicans were chalking “Hussein 2003” around campus. Yet, at my university, “Kony 2012” chalking abounded after a viral internet video harkened back to a certain English poem.

C.S. Lewis’ observation that “It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies” is here especially relevant. Even the most bloodthirsty right-winger will be satisfied when all potential threats to their nation have been eliminated. The bloodlust of the New Left, however, will only be satisfied when there are no more Joseph Konys – in other words, never.

Leftist warmongering is infinitely more dangerous because it immutably denies the very “structure of reality”. Its passion can never be reasoned with and its violence never exhausted. Unlike Cheneyite jingoism, its goal cannot, in even the remotest of possibilities, be attained while free human beings still live on the Earth.

Social Issues

I received some enlightening feedback when, in 2011, I argued in my school paper that prostitution should be decriminalized. I wrote:

In 2005, a Yale behavioral scientist trained a group of capuchin monkeys to use money. To receive food, monkeys had to turn in coins that visionary Keith Chen provided them. Trading in more coins meant getting more food.

It wasn’t long before Chen observed male capuchins paying females for sex.  It got so bad that Chen had to separate the monkeys. “It wouldn’t reflect well on anyone if the money turned the lab into a brothel”, said a 2005 New York Times article on Chen’s research.

Even among monkeys, trading sex for resources doesn’t seem to be a novel idea. In 2008, Animal Behavior published a paper called “Payment for Sex in a Macaque Mating Market”. It showed that, in the world of Indonesia’s wild monkeys, the going rate for paid sex increases when the number of available females declines.

Prostitution cannot be blamed on our media or culture; it is older than either. Prostitution is natural. It is an inevitable consequence of our ability to fulfill basic needs through negotiation.

When I argue that a particular behavior is natural, people often spuriously assume that I’m offering a moral defense of the behavior. On the contrary, it’s simply more prudent to recognize that a behavior is likely to occur than idealistically insist it be made to disappear.

As far as academic institutions go, mine is reasonably conservative. Most of the opposition my column received, however, came from self-styled feminists. They asserted that, whatever my monkey studies might indicate, no human woman could possibly wish to be a prostitute. That some women are prostitutes, then, is proof that they’ve been forced into the profession and require the salvation of legislation.

My critics used an egalitarian assumption of sameness to justify government imposition of a personal choice. To them, criminalizing prostitution is not the offensive action that libertarians suppose it to be, but a defensive reaction to artificial inequality.

Notably, I did receive one email from a concerned Christian. He proposed that legalizing prostitution would weaken the family. I replied with something to the effect of “Are you suggesting that, if prostitution became legal, good husbands and fathers would patronize prostitutes? That good wives and mothers would become prostitutes? Anyone that would engage in prostitution, were it legal tomorrow, is not of good moral character today”. He conceded that I’d raised a good point and we went on to have a pleasant exchange.

This latter respondent, like myself, subscribed to the principles of variety and imperfectability – and they ultimately worked to undermine his social authoritarianism. Conversely, the opposite principles – sameness and perfectibility – supported the social authoritarianism of my feminist critics.

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Moreover, even where liberty and the left are potential allies on paper, they are enemies in practice. To a libertarian it is certainly a condemnable injustice that gay couples, for example, are often subject to a different tax code and can be prevented from visiting one another in the hospital.

The politically correct left, however, does not particularly concern itself with these areas. Instead, it leaps straight to expelling businesses and prosecuting people over personal opinions.

On those issues where it could comfortably advance liberty, the left soon regresses into its authoritarian comfort zone. It is a machine that simply lacks the hardware to increase freedom.

Since 2003, there have been no laws against sodomy in the United States. In 2013, however, it’s illegal to say “sodomite” in Canada.

Gun Rights

In any search for potential libertarians, the right to own a weapon should be a central focus. The maintenance of any other freedom imaginable, after all, is entirely contingent on the right to defend it. It’s difficult to start a business, for instance, if you’re dead.

Consequently gun rights, more than any other single issue, are a good general indicator of one’s inclination towards liberty.

gun-rights-equalizer-comic

After the Aurora massacre, the repulsively archetypal Jason Alexander opined “a crowd of people firing away in a chaotic arena without training or planning – I tend to think that scenario could produce even more victims”.

Alexander felt, apparently, that it’s better to let a massacre of children run its course unopposed than risk “making things worse” by allowing an action with the potential to stem the slaughter. I find it difficult to imagine a more thoroughly evil or less libertarian position.

Likewise, Democratic State Senator Evie Hudak recently told a rape victim “chances are that if you had had a gun, then he would have been able to get that from you and possibly use it against you”.

Whenever I hear some libertarian suggest that leftists are our natural allies “on social issues”, I think of comments like these. It doesn’t matter one iota if gays have the right to marry if they don’t have the right to live. It doesn’t matter if a woman has the right to make decisions about her body if she has no ability to decide who has access to it.

Gun rights may be the only issue on which Republicans are consistently better than Democrats, but it’s the most fundamentally important issue there is.

Allie Young – who was wounded in the Aurora shooting and survived – was one of my residents at KSU while I worked as an RA. In a recent interview, Young said “I don’t think gun laws would help… I got my concealed license a month after everything happened to me. I’m very strongly convinced that people kill people, not guns”.

Government is not the best answer, Young seemed to think, when people are the problem.

On the other hand, if people are never the problem, government invariably becomes the solution.

Where Have all the Daisies Gone?

Since the beginning of Obama’s first term, the anti-war left has been nowhere to be found. Once constantly in the streets protesting against Bush’s civil liberty violations, the anti-war left has become silent. Obama’s election was seen as the new age for civil liberties, as his first promise was to close down Guantanamo Bay. Since then, Obama reneged on his promise to close Guantanamo Bay, jailed Bradley Manning for exposing the lack of transparency in “the most transparent administration”, intentionally misled the public about withdrawal dates, signed the National Defense Authorization Act, renewed the PATRIOT Act, and sent drone strikes to various countries without Constitutional approval of war. Despite all of this, people have not been chaining themselves to the White House fence. Obama is still the darling of the anti-war left simply because he is a Democrat. To question Obama would be to question the moral superiority Democrats claim to hold on the issue of civil freedoms.

Instead, the Republican Party has been picking up the fight against the government’s assault on civil liberties. During a Senate Judiciary Hearing, Senator Ted Cruz asked Eric Holder if it is Constitutional for the government to kill an American citizen, not actively engaged in combat, on American soil. As opposed to directly answering the question with a definitive “no”, Holder attempted to evade the question by talking about hypothetical situations, with zero reference to the Constitution. A few days later, Rand Paul engaged in an approximately thirteen-hour filibuster to delay the confirmation of now CIA director John Brennan. Rand Paul’s filibuster made reference to the use of drones overseas, expressing concern over the possible use of drones in America against Americans. Paul demonstrated how the CIA policy of drone usage was not clearly defined and could be used to target Americans who, as Ted Cruz mentioned, were merely sitting in a café.

Rand Paul’s filibuster was joined by thirteen fellow Republicans. The filibuster generated support of mainstream Republicans through the “#StandWithRand” Twitter hastag. Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, former presidential candidate Herman Cain, and even Reince Priebus, the establishment Republican National Committee Chairman, Tweeted support for Rand Paul. They were joined by a Facebook post by Rick Santorum, a glowing review by Newt Gingrich, and a monologue by Mike Huckabee. Rand Paul was even on Rush Limbaugh’s show, where he received praise for being a “hero.” Limbaugh later condemned “neoconservative” RINOs John McCain and Lindsey Graham for not standing with Rand.

Rand Paul was capable of energizing the Republican Party on the issue of protecting the rights of every American not to be assassinated by the government via drone. Rand Paul unified the libertarian right with even the most conservative faction of the right to stand up against the government taking away the liberties of the American people.

In contrast (with the exception of CODEPINK), the traditional “we care about civil liberties” left responded to the filibuster by defending Obama. The hashtag “WhyRepublicansNeedtoGo” was created to attack Republicans for standing up against Brennan and drone usage. The “Being Liberal” Facebook page mocked the idea of droning American citizens being a threat, since it “hasn’t been done yet.” This should not surprise anyone: 78% of MSNBC viewers claim to be okay with the government droning Americans. These are the same individuals who were screaming and crying about the evil Bush administration just a few years ago. What completely non-partisan freedom fighters!

The anti-war, pro-civil liberties movement by the left is nothing more than a façade. The left does not care about civil liberties; rather, the left just cares about making Republicans look bad. When a Democrat is doing something egregious, the issue of big government is suddenly not a concern. When a Democrat supports the idea of killing American citizens on American soil, it is wrong to question his judgment. When a Democrat claims to be on your side, the left assumes words mean more than actions.