Rush Limbaugh has provided us with yet another reason why government should stay out of making decisions for individuals. In a recent flap over contraception, Limbaugh referred to Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke as a "slut" because of her desire to speak to a congressional committee on the merits of contraception (she was not allowed to). Limbaugh crossed a line—thankfully, after demurring, he apologized.
But the problem is not so much what he said—although shameful is the only way to describe it—but the firestorm and divisiveness that resulted. Limbaugh gave Fluke a national platform. Obama, in his usual arrogant way, thought that somehow his presence in the fiasco was warranted and jumped into the middle of a public fight between two private citizens. (The story of the "beer summit" between Henry Louis Gates and the Boston police officer, James Crowley, comes to mind, but Obama's swagger is another topic.) GOP presidential candidates had to distance themselves from his remarks. Organizations and legislatures changed their policies. The right marshaled or had to play defense. Suddenly, society is divided, screaming at each other over personal decisions.
And what is the cause of all this? Well the government of course. Its desire to meddle in the private decisions of individuals creates huge incentives for individuals to battle each other over how these top-down regulations are determined. It is divisive. While there are many problems with government meddling in the private sector, the one most evident in this fiasco is that government control prompts individuals and interest groups to struggle over the content of government decisions. By creating and controlling a monopoly power over a decision that will affect everyone—in this case, every American will have to pay or not pay for contraception—the government establishes an immediate battleground for unlike-minded individuals to struggle in favor of their perspective.
Suddenly, private decisions become very public ones, where advocates are either talking about their propensity to need birth control or how heinous and cruel contraception is. But the truth is, that in the public sector, this debate should not matter. One need not care or be bothered by his neighbor's decision to use or abstain from contraception.
One need not agree with the Catholic Church's stance on birth control to be in accord with the argument that the government should not interfere in individual's decisions on whether to pay for it or not. Americans should be as opposed to the government forcing individuals or private institutions into paying for contraception, as they should be opposed to the government prohibiting the sale of such devices. The point is: individuals should have the right to make these decisions on their own, without having to justify their reasons, logic, or beliefs.
By interfering in these private decisions, the government only creates new sources of tension in society. It tries to force a disparate and diverse nation to hold one set of values or one set of beliefs. That is not only not achievable but pulls at the very fabric of social cohesion. We need not agree with our neighbors, but we also need not try to force them to conform to our beliefs. The less the government tries to push Americans into a one-size-fits-all mold, the fewer issues we will have to fight each other for control over. Congressmen should not be hearing testimony about a law student's beliefs on contraception. Pundits should not be calling people uncouth names. Presidents should not be meddling in private scuffles. And the government should not be deciding what is "right" or "wrong" for the individual.