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Caldara: Coronavirus may be final chapter for liberalism

Over recent years I find myself asking, what happened to the good liberals?

I mean that question sincerely, not flippantly.

Growing up I was bombarded via the news, education and Hollywood with the notion that principles mattered more than expediency. “The ends don’t justify the means,” and “innocent until proven guilty,” were themes echoed in school, news media, cop dramas and every episode of “All in the Family.”

Organizations like People for the American Way fought for civil rights. At great cost, the ACLU took the principled stance and represented neo-Nazis in Skokie, Illinois who were denied their First Amendment rights to assemble and express their repulsive views.

That was then. This is now. Today’s progressive movement has overcome liberalism.

Back then the left fought to protect the right of expression for fascists who wanted to kill Jews. Today they prosecute the expression of a cake baker. They pass a red-flag law where citizens are stripped of their right of due process.

Back then academics, artists, poets, filmmakers and even comedians like George Carlin joked about seven dirty words and fought for free speech. Today’s college campuses implement speech codes.

Have today’s intolerant progressives beaten principled liberals into complete submission? Or have good liberals just all grown old and died? Either way liberalism is gone. COVID-19 might be its death knell.

This last week, before Polis did it, cities and counties around the Denver metro area put citizens under house arrest. In many cases the lockdown orders didn’t even come from elected officials, who at least have some direct accountability to their constituents, but from appointed bureaucrats. The unelected Tri-County Health Department ordered their soft version of martial law on 1.5 million people in Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties.

Now, our governor has completed the job statewide and put us under house arrest, without challenge or outrage from liberals, progressives or their friends in the media.

Do not misunderstand me. Working from home, social distancing, handwashing, facial masks, gloves, extra precautions for vulnerable communities are crucial tools to meet the challenge of this pandemic. Please choose to stay home!

But this pandemic also serves as a challenge to our Constitution, our civil liberties and the very experiment on which our republic is based — individual freedom. The scare of disease justifying the shutdown of assembly is nothing new. In World War II temple services were banned inside Jewish ghettos to “prevent epidemics.”

If fear of loss of life is the guiding principle for a governmental crackdown, then emergency orders to lower the speed limit to 5 miles per hour make more sense and WILL ABSOLUTELY save tens of thousands of lives per year, with far less economic devastation than closing businesses and mass house detentions.

I expect politicians and bureaucrats to gravitate toward limiting freedoms and growing their control. Jefferson warned, “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground.”

What I didn’t expect was the formerly liberal (now progressive) news media facilitating it.

The news media are not a selfless observer of the COVID panic. They are the drivers of it, leading to the acceptance of this governmental overreach.

I’ve been in and around the media for well over three decades. I have never witnessed reporters so full of purpose and exercised as they are now, with a haughty sense of self, frothing over the dangers of COVID and aiding in the government crackdown.

Nor have I ever seen the news media so rewarded with attention and eyeballs. Ratings for talk and news radio is double to quadruple the norm. Network nightly news programs which have been tanking for decades are experiencing their highest ratings ever. Fear sells.

Yet, I see almost none of them following the footsteps of their brave newsmen forebears, defending civil liberties and challenging government power. For COVID, the ends justify the command-and-control means.

And reporters, not known for their command of economics, don’t seem to realize the more they drive their ratings and readership up by pimping fear, the fewer businesses will be left to advertise on their shows and pages.

I miss the news media that used to be the epitome of true liberalism, championing principle over expediency, a check on power and defenders of the First Amendment above all else.

Yeah. And “All in the Family” and George Carlin aren’t coming back either.

Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.

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