by James A. Bacon

It is with great trepidation that I venture into the shark-infested waters of Virginia’s culture wars, which I regard as a distraction from the pressing fiscal, economic and environmental issues facing the state. I belong in the muddled middle of the electorate that sees elements of truth in both sides of culture-war arguments and, like many Virginians, wish the liberal and conservative zealots who feed on one another’s extreme views would just go away. But the world is as it is, not how I would like it, and the culture warriors will not oblige me.

Moreover, as Peter Galuszka has observed in recent posts — as much as I take issue with the tenor of his rhetoric, I do agree about this — Virginia’s culture wars affect realms of activity that I care deeply about, like building prosperous, livable and sustainable communities. For instance: Insofar as culturally liberal northerners with skills and/or capital regard Virginia as a culturally retrograde state, they are less likely to locate here, or even do business here. That is not sufficient reason for cultural conservatives to sacrifice their core principles, but it is reason for the rest of us to regret all the hoo-ha that gets played out in the national media.

Yesterday, I spent three-quarters of an hour talking to a bright young man who graduated from the University of Richmond then went on to get a Harvard MBA, among other credentials, and is thinking about relocating to Virginia, where he and his fiancee envision launching one or more enterprises. I spent much of my time arguing that Virginians as a whole are far more moderate in their social views than one might deduce from legislation emanating from the General Assembly this year, much less the selected excerpts highlighted in the national media.

Political pundit Larry Sabato once said that Virginians are no so much liberals or conservatives as they are libertarians. I would refine that statement. Virginians are what Lee Harris, author of “The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite,” calls “natural libertarians.” They are libertarians by inclination, not ideology. Writes Harris:

The natural libertarian, whenever he feels that his self-image as a free and independent individual is under assault, will turn to a defense mechanism that is not listed in the classic Freudian inventory: he will become ornery. … Orneriness is often a highly effective defense mechanism against bossy people and bullies. …

One of the most striking characteristics of ornery people is that they don’t want to boss other people around any more than they want to be bossed around themselves. … The ornery man’s idea of liberty is the liberty to be left in peace, to tend to his own affairs, to pursue his business, make his home, raise his kids, without being told what to do or how to do it by other people.

In a nutshell, most Virginians subscribe to the philosophy, “Live and let live.” Which brings us back to Virginia’s culture wars. While I regard the left as the greatest overall threat to our personal liberties nationally, in this instance, the assault came from the right. Legislation would have required women seeking an abortion to undergo an invasive, transvaginal ultrasound procedure to determine the gestational age of the fetus. Not only has this provision subjected Virginia to national ridicule, it raised the hackles of us natural libertarians.

In one of the most deft political moves during his tenure in office, Governor Bob McDonnell framed his opposition to the measure in terms that we natural libertarians can relate to:

Mandating an invasive procedure in order to give informed consent is not a proper role for the state. No person should be directed to undergo an invasive procedure by the state, without their consent, as a precondition to another medical procedure.

For this reason … I am requesting that the General Assembly amend this bill to explicitly state that no woman in Virginia will have to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound involuntarily. I am asking the General Assembly to state in this legislation that only a transabdominal, or external, ultrasound will be required to satisfy the requirements to determine gestational age. Should a doctor determine that another form of ultrasound may be necessary to provide the necessary images and information that will be an issue for the doctor and the patient. The government will have no role in that medical decision.

It is gratifying to see that many, if not most, Republicans have fallen in line. Yesterday was a victory for natural libertarians everywhere.

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17 responses to “Bob McDonnell: Natural Libertarian”

  1. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Had to really stretch that that little ray of sunshine, didn’t you? Well what about non transvaginal ultrasound? Doesn’t that somehow violate individual liberty. Let me see if I understand: transvaginal not libertarian; abominal method libertarian.
    And how much did McDonnell pay you to run that picture?

  2. One can make a reasonable case that an abdominal ultrasound is useful in determining the gestational stage of the fetus. Pregnant women have these all the time. They are not invasive. As a natural libertarian, I’m not offended by them…. although I am open to hearing the other side.

  3. As I’ve said, I am not much into social issues, believing that people should generally be left alone, but also should not insist that society grant them approval or recognition of their choices. I think many conservatives are too hung up on other people’s sexual and medical choices, but how do liberals justify trying to regulate smoking, guns or provide national health care standards? And I don’t want to hear that there is a cost to society, because there are also costs to society incurred through other choices. In sum, people on the left and the right are too da*& concerned about what the neighbor is doing. If Sally wants an abortion or George wants to smoke, should we really be concerned?

  4. TMT is another “natural libertarian.”

  5. TMT – regulating cigarettes is NOT the same as FORCING YOU to not use them OR to be FORCED to get a Chest X-Ray.

    Jim – Libertarian means NOT FORCING people to do something they do not want to do.

    Equating Libertarianism with govt forcing women to get a procedure is laughable.

    In a true Libertarian world there would be NO REGULATION of abortion at all – as each person would determine the degree of “personhood” that a fetus was or was not – not a govt.

    It’s comical when the right wing fancies it’s govt-imposed social edicts as “libertarian”.

    1. I believe in a woman’s right to choose… but I also believe that a fetus at some point achieves “personhood” (way beyond the point of conception). When a “person” is just a bunch of insensate cells, I do not believe it should enjoy personhood rights, and the woman’s right to choose prevails. Once the fetus becomes viable ouside the womb (as in a prenatal care unit), it becomes a person, and its right to life supersedes the mother’s right to choose. The difficulty for me is that there is a gray area where one can legitimately ask at what point (3 months, 4 months, 5 months?) does a woman’s right to choose give way to the fetus’ right to life.

      This is a very different issue than libertarians (or natural libertarians) normally confront. Once upon a time, society defined black slaves as non-persons, not entitled to a white person’s God-given rights. We subsequently expanded our definition of humanhood, our sphere of empathy, to include slaves. Since then, most people have expanded the sphere of empathy to animals. I think it inevitable that we expand the sphere of empathy, of humanhood, to mature fetuses as well.

  6. I am not opposed to putting warnings on cigarettes or restricting their sale to adults, or even creating no smoking restrictions in public places. But some crusaders are trying to restrict smoking outdoors in public places and even within personal living space. Similarly, I am not opposed to the imposition of reasonable and equally applicable heath and safety regulations on abortion. But I don’t think I should substitute my judgment for the affected woman in deciding whether to get one.

  7. remember – slavery was govt created and endorsed. “Natural Law” says each person is free.

    but what right does govt or someone who is elected to govt to decide when a fetus is a human?

    and why do Republicans talk about deficits and jobs and when they get into office they do this kind of stuff?

    TMT – “some crusaders” are not accomplishing near as much with cigarettes and guns as “other crusaders” are accomplishing with trans vaginal ultrasound.

    Can you not see this?

    you worry about things like outlawing outside cigarette smoking… while the GOP is outlawing a women’s right to NOT HAVE a probe stuck in her body.

    is there some level of proportionality here?

    why does the GOP do this? This is not governing. this is 10 times worse than ObamaCare…. just imagine what else these guys would/will do if they get enough time and enough control.

    again.. it is downright comical to cast this as a “libertarian” approach.

    Libertarians say each person is free and not subject to govt control of their body.

    equating banning outdoor smoking to putting probes in women bodies blows away and sense of proportionality.

  8. Larry, I would not vote for the ultrasound bill and would work with other legislators to kill it if I were in the GA. But I also see some Democratic legislators fighting the bill to repeal the one gun purchase per month law. What’s the difference? A right is a right is a right. And my liberal friends are always ready to argue that they should decide how to spend my money. The right to bear arms is in the Constitution. The right to privacy is not. As I recall, Justices Douglas and Brennan found it in penumbras and eminations.
    As I recall Roe v Wade, it said the state’s interest in preserving life outweighed the woman’s right to terminate her pregenancy only when the fetus was viable — the last trimester. While the decision is poorly decided, it’s the law of the land and good enough for me.

  9. Larry, one more responsive comment. Liberals always try to rank rights. I have a problem with that. What is important to you, may be of little consequence to me. And vice versa. But how do we decide whose right is most important? I don’t think you can. The right to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy may be extremely important to some women. But not others. I have a sister-in-law who thinks abortion is a grave evil. Some other rights are more important to her. I don’t think you can rank rights. The right to pack a gun may be just as important as abortion rights to some. We need to protect them all.

  10. This is the type of stuff that just kills the republicans every time they get into power. First they say they are for smaller government, then they fall all over themselves to introduce thou shalt not laws with abuser fees and a whole new system to regulate things. This is one reason I’ve been on their @ss for the past ten years. They just never learn.

  11. DJRippert Avatar

    McDonnell looks like King Midas on this.

    He is blocking a stupid proposed bill that would require an unnecessary procedure. That is his right as the Commonwealth’s governor. Meanwhile, he is enforcing an existing law that was enacted long before he was elected. That is his obligation as governor.

    I expect the liberals are secretly saying two things:

    1. Well played Bob.
    2. Thank God you can’t run for another term.

  12. Darrell nailed it.

    re: what liberals do…. is usually and most often NOT try to punish some segment of society for various social “crimes”.

    you can whack the liberals for being tax & spenders and inveterate do-gooders… and a passel of similar behaviors to include regulations galore….but USUALLY to PROTECT someone rather than punish them.

    only the right does that and for years and years they were kept at bay by the more moderate Republicans but now they have gotten lose and just like Darrell says… they run a the fiscal grownups in politics but when they actually get elected they do this kind of crap.

    I’ve said it before. The Republicans do not really want to GOVERN – they want to dictate their social beliefs and principles…to everyone.

    The Republicans would gladly give us the Christian version of Sharia Law if they could.

  13. DJRippert Avatar

    Bacon writes …

    In a nutshell, most Virginians subscribe to the philosophy, “Live and let live.”

    Uh oh! He’s been dipping his ladle into the Virginia Kool Aid bowl again.

    If Virginians really believed in “live and let live” they would not have one of the most stringent implementations of Dillon’s Rule in America.

    They would want a government that let Arlington be Arlington and let Wise County be Wise County.

    But they don’t.

    Virginians are among the world’s worst busy bodies.

    They want to enact one of the most permissive gun possession cultures in the country despite the fact that the vast majority of people in Arlington oppose such a policy.

    They want to dictate how the people of Fairfax County raise money for public works and what they spend that money on.

    They want to ban gay marriage when a large percentage of the population supports gay marriage.

    They refuse to allow referenda so that the “nanny state” can tell the people what to do with no back-talk.

    They prohibit hunting on Sundays.

    They insist that you buy your liquor from state run stores open only during “bankers hours”.

    They will put you in jail for possessing a particular plant.

    Bacon – you must be kidding me. Tell your friend with the Harvard MBA to run away from the Commonwealth of Virginia as fast as his legs will take him. Tell him to find a state where localities have the freedom to create their own environments rather than being enslaved to the 18th century mentality of state’s anal retentive “political class”.


    1. Austin, TX
    2. Raleigh, NC
    3. Baltimore, MD
    4. San Francisco, CA
    5. Boulder, CO
    6. Salt Lake City, UT
    7. Ann Arbor, MI
    8. Cambridge, MA
    9. Chicago, IL
    10. Seattle, WA
    11. Charleston, SC

    You see, Jim – these are places that have the independence to have their own culture, their own personality. It’s where the creative class wants to live.

    Rigid states run by overly powerful state governments don’t have places like that.

    There is no personal liberty in a Dillon’s Rule state. Only a gray conformity to what is prescribed by a precious few dipsticks at the center.

    1. By “live and let live,” I was referring to personal sentiments — the cultural attitudes — of most Virginians. My statement did not imply that Virginians have a system of government that reflects those sentiments.

  14. actually the INTENT of Dillon is to protect citizens for out-of-control local govts NOT go after individuals who have committed some dastardly social crime.

  15. We need a Dillon Rule for the General Assembly on social issues.

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