Burning down the house - Macleans.ca

Burning down the house

The move toward libertarianism is having extreme consequences, as one Tennessee homeowner discovered

Burning down the house

The emerging trend in the Tea Party era seems to be defending the seemingly indefensible; J. Scott Applewhite/AP

It was a situation that seemed unambiguously wrong at first glance: earlier this month, the fire department from South Fulton, Tenn., let a house burn to the ground because the owner hadn’t paid a $75 fee for fire service in rural areas. But according to many U.S. conservatives, the fire department did the right thing. “Letting the house burn,” wrote Jonah Goldberg, author of the bestselling Liberal Fascism, “will probably save more houses over the long haul. I know that if I opted out of the program before, I would be more likely to opt in now.”

There was more. On his radio show, Glenn Beck said that if the fire had been put out, owner Gene Cranick would have been an example of “sponging off your neighbour’s resources.” Bryan Fischer, writing for the Christian conservative group the American Family Association, said that “the fire department did the right and Christian thing”—“we cannot make foolish choices and then get angry at others who will not bail us out.” Fischer added that Christians who believe the house should have been saved have “fallen prey to a weakened, feminized version of Christianity.” It’s a trend in the Tea Party era: defending the seemingly indefensible.

Tea Party conservatives can even stand up for the mistreatment of puppies. In Missouri, there’s a proposed bill to outlaw “puppy mills,” where dogs are bred in bulk and often in inadequate living conditions. Conservative groups have opposed the bill as a plot to “raise the cost of breeding dogs,” recruiting one of the Tea Party’s founding fathers, Samuel “Joe the Plumber” Wurzelbacher, to the cause. And in the debate over whether the government should force Internet service providers not to restrict access, other Tea Party groups have come out against any official intervention; even if it means ISPs could slow down their own access to websites.

There’s even an entire city where people chose libertarianism over their own comfort: in Colorado Springs, residents voted down a tax increase for city services, which left buses and streetlights not running after dark. Yet according to the Wall Street Journal, many residents responded by doubling down on anti-government sentiment, and trying to get the private sector “to provide services the city can no longer afford.”

Not that conservatives are in favour of burning houses and extinguished street lights. But the U.S. right tends to see these heart-tugging stories as a form of emotional blackmail, a way to bully people into accepting more federal government control over their lives. So Joe the Plumber wrote on thealliancefortruth.com that the anti-puppy-mill legislation wasn’t really about puppy mills at all, but an attempt “to get rid of all dog breeding in Missouri.” Similarly, Tea Party spokesman Jamie Radtke told The Hill that Internet regulation was just a stalking horse for a larger “assault on individual liberties.”

That could be why the fire incident, far from discouraging free-market libertarians, has emboldened them to argue that still more libertarianism is necessary. Iain Murray of the Competitive Enterprise Institute wrote in the Washington Examiner that the disaster was proof that fire departments should be “employed by a private insurance company,” since no privatized department would let a home burn down. Perhaps encouraged by all the support, the same Tennessee county announced plans to expand the fee-for-fire-service program to other areas. It looks like conservatives will continue to stick to their principles even in these hard cases—because they believe that if they don’t, the government will take over everything.


Burning down the house

  1. Wow, talk about throwing the baby out with the bath water. We don't want government intervention – so we won't protect the rights of defenseless puppies? And we don't want a welfare state – so we'll let our neighbor's house burn to the ground on account of a missed $75 payment?

    • it wasn't just a missed payment. The guy had no intentions of paying for it before his house burned down.

  2. "left […] streetlights not running after dark"
    Do the streetlights run at other times?

    • That's funny.

  3. Where in the world did you get the idea that the fire department's refusal to extinguish this fire is the result of libertarianism? A genuinely libertarian approach to the fire would have been to put out the fire and charge the home owner the full cost of the service . . . which I would guess is substantially more than the $75 yearly fee the homeowner refused to pay.

    Actually, the cause of the refusal to intervene was a bureaucratic government rule which specified that if you don't pay, you don't receive service. That is pretty much the direct opposite of libertarianism.

    Also, let's not forget that this man had a fire one year earlier which the fire department put out despite the fact that the owner hadn't paid then, either. This is precisely the problem with government rules: they are often enforced inconsistently, capriciously, or when just downright not applicable.

    • From what I gather the article's point isn't that what is reported is caused by libertarianism but rather that the libertarians are defending them simply because they fit into their narrative.

      I think the point is that intellectual inflexibility is a bad thing.

  4. Wow… I guess the world of Bioshock isn't so far-fetched after all…

  5. The tea party with its xenophobia, born again fundamentalism and its blind support for big business has many parallels with the rise of the Nazi party. We should learn from history or as they say we are doomed to repeat it. Fasicm is knocking at the door and we should be mindful of the consequences if we let them in.

    • That's ridiculous.

    • Gary you dont understand the tea party, nor do you understand nazism. Also, you violated Godwin's law.

      Nazism was a collectivist, nationalist and socialist ideology, diametrically opposed on all fronts to everything the tea party stands for (lower taxes, limited government, personal freedoms, personal responsibilities).

      You should take your own advice and learn from history, but before you do that, you should learn history, as its pretty hard to learn from something unless you've actually grasped that something.

      • No
        It's just a movement funded by the "Americans for Prosperity" which are involved in core industries such as the manufacturing, refining and distribution of petroleum, chemicals, energy, fiber, intermediates and polymers, minerals, fertilizers, pulp and paper, chemical technology equipment, ranching, finance, commodities trading, as well as other ventures and investments.

        Look it up

        • forgot to mention Koch industries is the company

      • The Nazis weren’t collectivist or socialist. Having Socialist in the name of the party no more makes it true than naming your country The Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea makes it a democracy.

        The Nazis were pro big business, anti union, and anti communist, which explains why big industrialists funded and supported their rise. They government didn’t control the economy till the very end, whereas the allies were all de-facto command economies.

        When the Nazis wanted someone to build a crematorium, they contracted a private company to do so. If they were socialists, they’d build it themselves.

        • Im well aware that having socialist in their name doesnt make it so. But they were definitely collectivist and socialist in their outlooks and policies. They did detest communists, which is why they were billed 'far-right', but that's a misnomer, as there is no continuum of policies going from a moderate right-winger to nazi ideology.

          Notably, the nazis are not despised because they were socialists and collectivists. So the fact that the nazis were collectivist is not a knock on collectivist ideology. But it does mean a couple of things:

          -nazis are not 'far right', the only 'far right' which can be considered an extrapolation of moderate right wing ideology is anarchism, which is not really a potent ideological force today

          -collectivists can and have behaved extremely badly

          • Interesting points. I don't know much about Nazi / fascist economic policies, but can you give some examples of the collectivism? As far as I know, they didn't collectivize agriculture as did the Soviets and did deal with private companies as Bor points out.

            It's a bit tricky to place all of this on a spectrum, not that placing ideologies on a simple left/right line really works anyway. If you have a spectrum with collectivism on one end and libertarianism on the other, I'd be inclined to agree with you and put Nazis / fascists toward the collectivist end, if for no other reason that they're dictatorships. But within the context of the 1920s, 30s and 40s, would it not be fair to say that they were on the (far?) right and the communists on the (far?) left?

  6. I don't really think this type of thing is that uncommon. Where I live (in Canada) there are rural areas who don't pay for fire service. If they call the fire department they're ignored and their house burns down anyways. It doesn't make international headlines and for sure nobody tries to apply it to some kind of national political ideology.

    • weinman is trying to make a narrative here, lee. tea partiers = evil, democrats = good is the message i think. you're messing it all up.

  7. I don't fault the fire department for their actions. That's the model for their area and they could have been disciplined or sued if they fought the fire. That said, I don't agree with this service model – automatic coverage under a property tax model is preferable. The houses in my neighbourhood are close enough together that they would have to put out my neighbour's fire anyway to avoid damaging my house.

    Lee_JD is right – there are some rural areas in Canada with no municipal government or no fire department. But there, the community / government has made a decision to not form a fire department or contract out. I've never heard of a contract setup in Canada, but I could be wrong.

    And what if there was someone trapped in the building? Sure, fie on the homeowner for trying to save $75, but you'd have to be pretty callous to say 'too bad' if someone lost their life. And emergency personnel might not be so willing to stand by in that situation.

  8. Typical leftist headline, another 'Godwin' moment. But liberals are too narrow-minded to even realize their deeply ingrained biases, 'journalism' school confuses them so well.

  9. should read "most of the city's residents" …

  10. The rise of the self-described Tea Party, a rag-tag army of the great unwashed, anti-intellectuals, racists, anti-tax proponents (many of whom are small businessmen who've spent a lifetime maintaining two sets of books to cheat the IRS), pro-lifers whose love for fetuses comes to a screeching halt after those fetuses are born, gay-haters, militaristic chickenhawks (who love to see others' serve, while they meticulously avoided the draft (Cheney, Limbaugh) or managed to have their rich daddies pull strings to avoid fighting in Vietnam (Bush Lite), anti-immigrant jerks and the usual dregs of American society, signals yet another hallmark in the free-fall dissolution of the uniquely American ideals of our founding fathers. Far from being a second coming of the Boston Tea Party revolutionaries, determined to shake off the heavy yoke of British rule, these Tea Party persons are determined to reinstall a plutocratic dictatorship where the nation is controlled and operated by the multi-nationals and the insurance industry, whose vision of the future is a bifurcated America: a small wealthy ruling class and a second class army of worker drones whose lives are spent in toiling to sustain that upper ruling class. Of course, the only funny thing about this is that the Tea Party morons will find themselves firmly and permanently ensconced in that lower class, victims of their own hatred.

  11. This has been happening for decades in Canada, so what's the argument? That the U.S. is converting to a Canadian model which I grew up with in rural Saskatchewan?

    Why didn't the cheapskate pay his fees? He didn't want the fire department able to afford trucks? Or wages? They told him when they sent out billing the consequences of not paying. How many people here would forgo home owners insurance like this guy?

    Growing up I volunteered for the local fire department. I spent hundreds of hours fundraising to help pay for the trucks, radios, pumps etc. If nobody paid dues we still would have folded, then NO ONE would have access, including our farm.

    It's rough to watch something burn, I did help put out a fire for a nonmember. The bill ran into the thousands, $50/hour/person, $200/hour/truck etc. All the money going into improving service, no one took a paycheque (not even the volunteer fire chief). Fire halls are expensive,its also very dangerous. My father volunteered for putting out a local forest fire and coughed up blood daily for the next 15 years from smoke inhalation, would this homeowner help with our medical bills (mostly lots of pills)?

  12. Hopefully the consequence of the brilliant, responsibly social/fiscal conservative Tea Party movement will be that the mid terms results will prohibit Barack Muhammad Obama's progression towards assembling the Socialist Republic of America.

  13. Americans have taken leave of their senses. You don't stop to warm your hands while your neighbour's house is on fire. But that's what the fire department did when the man's house caught fire. And who needs street lights? Detroit has gone without them for years. Soon, American cities will be without running water, but don't worry: the Libertarians will simply tell you to catch rainwater in a barrell if you want to take a bath. And if the courts are unable to function and the police are unable to make arrests for lack of tax dollars, people can always hang real and imagined criminals from the highest tree. That's what they did in the Wild West, which is the true ideal of the Tea Party movement. This is what you might call "government by hysteria." But with unlimited freedom comes chaos and tyranny.