HETRICK: After storm, plowing through a pseudo-libertarian snow job

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Bruce Hetrick

At the height of last week’s winter storm—just as snow was piled to its peak, drifts were climbing high and temperatures had plunged to double-digit, below-zero wind chills—public officials declared states of emergency across Indiana. Some of those declarations banned all but emergency vehicles from town, city, county and state roadways.

One of my Facebook friends didn’t like that.

“I don’t know about you,” he posted, “but being told to not leave your home doesn’t settle well with me. I am capable of deciding for myself what and where and when I can come and go. Governance to the lowest level of intelligence and capacity. I’m going out.”

Apparently, many people agreed. He quickly scored 81 “likes” on this post.

My libertarian friend is no doubt as confident of his driving ability as his politics. I hope he had a safe journey. I hope he got by without assistance from anyone in government, including snowplow operators.

But my wife, Cheri’s, experience in the same storm explains why public emergency declarations are not only intelligent, but also commonsensical—and how they serve the public interest, not just one person’s self-interest.

On Sunday morning of the polar-vortex storm, Cheri was scheduled to depart on a business trip from Indianapolis International Airport. While snow had started falling, it wasn’t yet heavy and her flight was listed as on time. So she drove the 50 miles from our Pendleton home to the airport. She made it in reasonable time.

The plane arrived as scheduled, but by then, the snowfall had grown heavy. The departing flight was delayed. At the gate, the pilot told Cheri that even if they got out, there was no way she’d make her connecting flight in Atlanta. So she turned around and drove home.

A trip that normally takes one hour took four. Despite being a lifelong Indiana resident and seasoned driver on ice and snow, Cheri got stuck three times, twice on interstate ramps, backing up traffic behind her. Good Samaritans, including state police officers, helped push her out. On the Interstate 69 ramp closest to our home, she and the state police were obstructing snowplows that were trying to clear the way for others.

The first emergency declarations were issued about the time she got home. Based on what Cheri witnessed and experienced, that seemed wiser than telling every driver: “Hey, this is America. Y’all do whatever the hell you feel like doin’— public consequences be damned.”

As a card-carrying member of the ACLU, I cherish the individual freedoms granted by the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.

But I also recognize that those liberties are and always have been limited when they infringe on the liberties of others.

I enjoy the right to free speech, but I may not shout “fire” in a crowded theater.

I enjoy the right to practice (or not) my religion, but I may not impose my beliefs on others—or ask government to do so for me.

I enjoy the right to bear arms, but I may not randomly open fire on my fellow citizens.

I also respect the phrase in the Declaration of Independence that says, “governments are instituted among men” to protect our rights.

So while it would make me happy to drive 120 miles per hour, I respect government’s role in protecting the lives of those around me via speed limits.

While I have friends who like to smoke cigarettes or cigars, I respect government’s role in protecting the lives and health of the workers who serve them and clean up after them.

While I’d like to walk down the middle of the street whenever I feel like it, I respect government’s role in painting crosswalks and regulating traffic.

Last month, during a speech in Australia, David Simon, an author, former police reporter and creator of HBO’s “The Wire,” lamented the abuse of libertarianism.

“Libertarianism in my country is actually being taken seriously as an intelligent mode of political thought,” Simon said. “It’s astonishing to me. But it is. People are saying, ‘I don’t need anything but my own ability to earn a profit. I’m not connected to society. I don’t care how the road got built. I don’t care where the firefighter comes from. I don’t care who educates the kids (other than my kids).’ I am me. It’s the triumph of the self. I am me, hear me roar.”

“I’m astonished at how comfortable we are in absolving ourselves of what is basically a moral choice,” Simon said. “Are we all in this together or are we all not?”

I vote for the former. And if the county commissioners tell me to stay off the snow-packed roads, I’m honored to serve my fellow citizens and speed the cleanup by staying in.•


Hetrick is a writer, public relations consultant and visiting professor of public relations for the IU School of Journalism at IUPUI. His column appears twice a month. He can be reached at bhetrick@ibj.com.


  • Bye, Bye
    to all you cowboys riding off into the sunset... adios, and good riddance
  • Talk about poor logic
    Your entire argument is based on the fact that your wife had trouble in the snow? I hope this isn't the type of logic you display in your classroom. There are plenty of reasons to disagree with the libertarian philosophy, but your argument was one of the worst I have ever seen. Please, think before you write an article. This reflects very poorly on a very good publication.
  • heh. Yeah...
    ..my dad was (i think) pseudo-angry over his deprivation of winter freedom by the mayor's office. I reminded him that the first time some government-paid first responder is hurt or killed whilst attempting to pull his freedom-loving hind-end out of a freeway ditch – well, it makes a rather strong point about libertarian irresponsibility, don't you think?
  • Theoretically correct, practically flawed
    The problem with libertarianism - the one that caused me to drop my pure libertarian beliefs of my college days and adopt my tempered views now - is that it assumes (and indeed requires) that each person be fully informed and act in his or her own rational self-interests. I see very little in modern America to give me comfort that each person is informed about anything other than Duck Dynasty and Miley Cyrus, and nothing makes me believe that all people actually act in their own rational self-interest. Libertarianism works in theory, but not in practice. Personal responsibility is vital, but I have to believe that you will be responsible too, and that I frankly cannot do.
  • Liberty_Rising
    Libertarianism is surging thanks to the failure and overreach of big government. Its astonishing to you that not everyone thinks your ideas are best? Its not that the things the "collective" desire are so bad, Its that we cant justify the use force to achieve them. Voluntary cooperation and personal responsibility are concepts that people are embracing.
  • Society...
    Conflating society and government is the fatal flaw of collectivist authoritarians. “Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.” – Frederic Bastiat – The Law par. L. 102.

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