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Port: Many Republicans have stopped paying even lip service to the concept of individual liberty

"Republicans, increasingly, are aiming their legislative efforts at people who just want to live in a manner consistent with their conscience and who they are as individuals."

PHOTO: NDGOP Headquarters
The sign for the North Dakota Republican Party headquarters sits along East Boulevard Avenue near the state Capitol in Bismarck.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service file photo
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MINOT, N.D. — I came to believe in conservatism because of its emphasis on individualism. I am in love with the idea that Americans should be able to pursue life, liberty, and happiness in the ways that suit them best.

My path led through famed economist Milt Friedman's work. In particular, his book "Free to Choose," co-authored with his wife Rose, and bolstered by a 10-part series on public television, informed my ideology. I believe that societies work best when individuals have as much freedom as possible to chart their course through matters both economic and cultural.

To the extent that Republicans have, at least in my lifetime, established themselves as the most consistent advocates of these ideas — Friedman himself was an adviser to former President Ronald Reagan — I have generally supported Republicans for elected office.

But, increasingly, Republicans, in the name of culture war, have come to define themselves not so much by the philosophies of thinkers like Friedman but by merely being in opposition to whatever liberal Democrats are for. Which has led them to some positions that are incongruous with individual liberty.

Book bans, for example. Our Legislature in Bismarck has at least two Republican-backed proposals — one introduced by the House Majority Leader, no less — which seek draconian new content restrictions on books and art displayed in public areas.

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An individualist should stand up for an individual's right to curate the content for themselves and their families. These Republicans want the government to do it for us.

Republicans also want the government to regulate language. Senate Bill 2199 , introduced by Sen. David Clemens, a Republican from West Fargo, would impose a fine of $1,500 on anyone who failed to use the pronoun associated with a person's birth gender at any institution which receives state funding.

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As I write this, the bill has received a unanimous "do not pass" recommendation and seems headed for defeat on the Senate floor, but there will be Republican votes in favor of the bill.

And Clemens' bill is just one of a raft of Republican-backed legislation aiming restrictions at individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender fluidity. There are bills about pronouns. Drag shows. Bills that seek to revive crackpot concepts like sexual orientation conversion therapy and sports participation.

I understand that individual liberty can't be unlimited. We live in a society. Our lives intersect. At those intersections, we need public policy, established with the consent of the governed, to ease frictions and promote comity.

But Republicans, increasingly, are aiming their legislative efforts at people who just want to live in a manner consistent with their conscience and who they are as individuals.

That sort of individualism used to matter to Republicans. They used to (imperfectly, I'll admit, and inconsistently) that we could allow people room to be themselves, even if we didn't necessarily approve of their lifestyles.

The Republicans flogging this legislative agenda, in a fit of populist outrage, aren't even paying lip service to the concept of individualism anymore.

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What a shame.

What a loss for our state, and our nation.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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