Give me freedom, but keep the libertarians


Once upon a time when Knoxville was still a two-newspaper town, the Knoxville Journal sent me to Nashville to cover state government. I was expected to produce a few stories a day, but didn’t get much guidance on how to do this. I arrived at the Legislative Square lost in the tall grass.

Then I met Carl Koella, whom I had met during the previous summer election campaign. I didn’t like his politics, but I found him smart, engaging, and an endless source of interesting threads. We had a cup of coffee and the next day I reported that he was about to introduce a bill to buy a desert island and turn it into a maximum security prison for professional offenders. It was, of course, nonsense, but I was pretty excited to get the scoop until I learned that every rookie reporter who had come to Nashville in the last decade had written about that Koella bill. , which was more Fantasy Island than Devil’s Island. .

Never mind. I still liked Carl, who was considered the most right-wing member of the legislature. He was a Republican, but preferred to call himself a Libertarian, a label I had previously associated mostly with some Ayn Rand followers I had known in college — mostly third base-born frat boys who considered his books on objectivism and self-interested enlightened assertions of their own innate superiority. They bored me to death, which I never said about the Blount County senator.

My most enduring memory of Carl is of an event I witnessed in his office late on a Thursday after legislative business had ended. He hosted a weekly poker game at his sanctuary at the time, and I had stopped to ask him a question before driving to Knoxville. The air was heavy with cigar smoke and the fumes of whiskey. He came out into the reception hall to talk to me, but our conversation was interrupted by a delegation of preachers from Blount County bent on haranguing him about abortion. Their timing was as bad as their manners, and Carl wasted no time in informing them that abortion was a matter between a woman and her maker – not women and their legislators – before showing them the door.

It’s a story that I didn’t write, even if I wanted to, and I remember walking down the long hall and thinking maybe libertarians weren’t just concerned with the laissez-faire economy – maybe they wanted the government to crush everyone. personal lives too.

It was 30 years before I met my next libertarian, a TV wrestling star running for county mayor. I was one of the few who had never heard of his alter ego, Kane, but Glenn Jacobs made a favorable impression on me. He was soft-spoken and was much smarter than I expected from a guy who wore a rubber mask and smashed people over the head with folding chairs. I was even more impressed that he visited local schools and talked to kids about being kind.

What’s not to like?

Well, I had some trepidation when he boasted that he had been personally endorsed by US Senator Rand Paul, the most senior libertarian in public office, then as now.

Rand Paul and Glenn Jacobs

It was years before we anticipated a pandemic, that’s when I got to know Paul as a sawn-off tyrant who had gone swimming in the Senate pool after testing positive for Covid . His lack of concern for the health of his colleagues was a whole new take on the virtue of selfishness. The PR photo of big old Jacobs and little Paul is kind of a hoot, though I doubt it’s intentionally funny.

The appropriation of the word freedom is another not funny thing. Libertarians like Paul and Jacobs approve of it when it works to their advantage. They love the Second and 10th Amendments, but they have no qualms about the First Amendment when it comes to censorship or theocracy. Mask mandates during a pandemic are affronts to their pursuit of happiness; vaccinations a massive attack on their personal freedom. Teachers and front-line health workers have no rights.

I’m clearly in the minority here: Jacobs looks set to enter a second term as county mayor en route to a run for governor’s office. More immediately, he’ll don a mask, wig, and tights and head down the Mississippi to throw some choke punches, oblivious to the idea that we’re all entitled to enjoy the blessings of freedom no matter what. either our gender or our political orientation.

For the sake of accuracy, they might consider changing the name of their movement to something that evokes the philosophy of their leader. Jacobites? No. Too Catholic. Jacobeans? Too anarchist and, well, French. It’s hard to think of a label they would wear. Maybe we should just call them the authoritarians.

betty bean writes a Thursday opinion column for


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