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Consistency of Opinion, Not Belief

August 1, 2012

Over at Reason Magazine this morning, A. Barton Hinkle has a few things to say about the consistency of opinion.  He starts by mentioning one of the favority punching bags of the liberal establishment: Dick Cheney.

And therein was Cheney’s ethical rationale: Individual rights and constitutional rules might be important, but saving lives was more important by far. As David Addison, Cheney’s chief of staff, once insisted when the Office of Legal Counsel was threatening to withhold approval of one counterterrorism program: “If you rule that way, the blood of the hundred thousand people who die in the next attack will be on your hands.”

To liberals, this was absolute hogwash. The threat of a terrorist attack—even one as horrific as 9/11—did not justify the manifold constitutional affronts, from warrantless wiretapping to demanding library patrons’ records under the Patriot Act, that the Bush administration was committing. Yes, saving lives was important—but not at the expense of civil liberties and constitutional law.

All of that, however, was before Aurora.

Making a case for gun control, he argues, is precisely following the argument of Mr. Cheney.  The rights of millions of law-abiding gun owners are nothing compared to the potential victims of a few whack-jobs who choose to use guns (instead of fertilizer trucks, airplanes, etc.).  And what’s the reasoning?

Answer: Because—just like conservatives who favor profiling—they consider some rights important and others not.

When the Supreme Court upheld the habeas corpus rights of alleged enemy combatants in Boumediene v. Bush, The New York Times lavished praise on its “stirring defense” of “human decency” and a “cherished right . . . so central to the American legal system that it has its own clause in the Constitution.” Two years later, when the court upheld an individual right to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment (another “clause in the Constitution,” you might say) The Times struck a far different tone. Citing the thousands of lives lost to gun violence, it wrote: “The arguments that led to Monday’s decision undermining Chicago’s [handgun ban] were infuriatingly abstract, but the results will be all too real and bloody.”

I can’t claim to be pure in this either, so I’m not even going to try.  That said, I do spend a lot of time looking at my opinions and strategies to see if they’re consistent with my basic beliefs and motivations.  If I vector to pursuing freedom in certain areas (such as gun ownership), how do I rationalize preventing freedoms in other areas (such as gambling, or strip clubs)?  I’d note that any inconsistency does not stop me from voting my conscience.  Since I lean more Chick-fil-A than I do DNC platform on certain issues, you can probably expect that my voting record would lean that way as well…  I can’t stop settled law, though, and I don’t want to restrict what is otherwise legal behavior even if I’ll seek to change the law through my vote.

One thing I’ll say, though, is that I’m not confused about my belief.  And that sets my opinion and how I argue my side.  I wonder at the underpinnings of the other side (both liberal and conservative) that focuses on a specific opinion without evidencing a belief that drives it.  So much of what we see in an opinion is just the surface profile of the personal iceberg.  If the surface is scattered in a million directions, what of the underlying moral compass?

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