What Is Liberty?

The week before California’s recall election I had the privilege of meeting the world’s greatest athlete from 1976.  That title was traditionally bestowed on the winner of the decathlon, and at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal Bruce Jenner won the gold medal for the United States while setting a new world record.  In 2015 Bruce Jenner shocked the world in an interview with Diane Sawyer in which he told Sawyer that he was now a she.  (Disclaimer:  So as not to be a science denier I am using the scientifically correct gender pronouns in this article.  That is not the focus of the article.)  Jenner, who now goes by the name Caitlyn, ran in the California recall election as a Republican to replace the inept Governor Gavin Newsom.  The Friday before election day Caitlyn Jenner was the guest speaker at a discussion group that I have been attending for the last couple of months.

Caitlyn’s talk was impressive.  He was personable, friendly, and funny.  Jenner said that after the Sawyer interview there was more criticism for coming out as a Republican than there was for coming out as transgender.  Jenner also told a funny story about being in the weight room at the Olympics when a female East German athlete came in and started lifting heavier weights than him, ironically causing him to leave because he felt emasculated.  Jenner genuinely cares about California and wants it returned to the greatness it once had.  I did not expect much talk about actual policy positions, but Jenner has a pretty solid grasp of many of the problems Gavin Newsom and years of Democrat control have caused, including sky-high tax rates and backbreaking regulations.  A lot of ideas that Jenner had to fix some of these problems were good, including a sunset provision which would require regulations to be reevaluated by the legislature every ten years or else they would fall off the books. 

There was, however, one major point that Jenner made that stood out to me because it was based on a flawed premise.  Jenner said that he decided to run because of his belief that California needs a moderate Republican to fix the state.  Specifically, he said that people should vote for him because he is conservative on economic issues and more liberal on social issues.  Jenner also said that the candidate that I endorsed, Larry Elder, is “far-right.”  The premise of that argument ignores the fact that conservatism comes with a built-in solution to people disagreeing on social issues:  liberty.

Jenner’s reasoning assumes that the choice you have is between voting for a left-wing government controlling your life or a right-wing government controlling your life.  In actuality, the choice is between a left-wing government controlling your life or you controlling your life. 

For example, as a conservative Republican, I believe that the country would be much better off if every single American attended church weekly.  I would agree with Jenner if a governor who is “far-right” was going to mandate church attendance.  As much as I think we would all be better off if everyone went to church, I only believe that to be true if it was done voluntarily instead of under coercion.  If the Right operated like Democrats this might be something to worry about.  Imagine, the government forcing all businesses with over 100 employees to require proof of church attendance to be employed there.  Jenner’s argument only works if the Right did that kind of thing.  Instead, the Right wants people to be free to choose, even if we disagree.  That is what liberty is. 

Conservatives, especially Christian conservatives, are often accused of telling people what to do on moral issues.  The truth is, we do care about your moral decisions and we want you to choose what God wants for you.  Notice, however, that I said: “choose.”  Except on the issue of abortion, where the choice directly harms another person, we do not want to take the decision away from you.  The difference is huge.  Conservatives may try to persuade you to do certain things, but that is not the same as using tyrannical power to force those things.  This is what Caitlyn Jenner was missing.  The further to the left a politician gets, the more parts of your life they want to control.  Being a moderate Republican still means they want to have more control over you than a “far right” candidate does.  That is not a good selling point. 

Jenner was asked if he would run for office again if he lost this election and answered that he wasn’t sure about running again, but he would definitely work with the Republican Party to become more of a big tent party that is more inclusive.  I hope that he does, but it needs to be done by explaining clearly that the way to do it is to push for a return to limited government and personal liberty.  We can agree to disagree.  You are welcome in the Republican Party even if you want to use your God-given liberty to do things we may not agree with.  I certainly do not agree with many of Caitlyn Jenner’s lifestyle choices, but I also do not want the government to force him to do what I would prefer.  The Right has no interest in taking away your liberty.

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