Saturday, June 24, 2006

Libertarian Hearts Creationism

One of my persistent gripes about libertarians is that their views on social policy (which I generally favor) almost always take a back seat to their rather extreme views on economic policy (which I do not favor).

Case in point is a man by the name of Howard Rich, a wealthy New York libertarian who has taken to bankrolling a lot of South Carolina candidates. Barbecue and Politics has the scoop on this guy in what is now a five-part series (one, two, three, four, five). It's worth reading the whole bit. I will for the time being ignore the unethical and possibly illegal nature of using deceptive front groups to circumvent campaign financing laws, because I am more interested in just who this money happens to be going to and for what reason.

Rich's main cause appears to be what is euphemistically referred to as "school choice", which means giving vouchers for those parents who choose to send their children to private schools. Financed with public funds, it's easy to see how such programs could result in a net drain of money away from public schools. Within the Cato Institute crowd (which Rich is an active member of) there is nothing wrong with this, because they have an avowed goal of eliminating public education altogether. However, I will gladly grant that this agenda isn't universal among voucher proponents. There is a reasonable case to be made that some public schools are in bad shape and that giving parents a choice to opt-out and go to a private school might improve their lot significantly, especially among the poor. It's not a case I find highly persuasive, but it's a legitimate argument.

But then there are parents who want vouchers because they are 1) wealthy and already send their kids to private schools, and would like a taxpayer subsidy for doing so; or 2) religious nuts who don't want their children learning about science and being exposed to comprehensive sex education (you know, the kind that actually works).

Now let's see, do we know any prominent examples of such people? Well, yes. The first category would describe Gov. Mark Sanford, and the second would describe Superintendent of Education candidate Karen Floyd.

Both Sanford and Floyd have been recipients of money from Howard Rich, as detailed by Gervais and this article in The State:

Many of the candidates they support are receiving thousands of dollars in contributions from a group of corporations and individuals around the country who support school choice.

Through corporations set up in New York, Maryland, Texas and Georgia, a New York real estate developer named Howard Rich has contributed nearly $40,000 to Floyd and seven House challengers.
So Floyd is the benefactor of the largess from this wealthy, Cato Institute libertarian. What else is his money buying? It's buying us a Superintendent who is a creationist and sides with the Discovery Institute in their jihad to weaken science education in public schools. This is something that libertarians are supposed to be against. While they like the idea of privitizing public education, at which point any nonsense one wishes to teach is fair game, they are generally (or supposed to be) strong advocates of church-state separation. And as long as public education remains public, church-state separation applies. Karen Floyd isn't just arguing for teaching creationism (or its derivatives) as a matter of choice in the private schools that she wants funded by taxpayers, she advocates that public schools should have it taught as well. And as for Sanford, he's stated similar beliefs although he's so far out there that I'm willing to just chalk it up to unfamiliarity with the issue and general stupidity. Floyd, on the other hand, knows exactly what she's doing.

So here we have a libertarian who is, wittingly or unwittingly, funding a creationist candidate with a creationist agenda. He is doing so presumably because of her views on "school choice", which apparently take precedence over her views on science. Perhaps Howard Rich is just oblivious, but there's really no excuse for that. As I said at the outset, libertarians often give social issues short shrift in favor of their economic agenda. This is perhaps no surprise when libertarian organizations receive funding from wealthy individuals and corporations who are attracted primarily to the anti-tax, anti-regulatory facet of the libertarian philosophy.