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TODAY

Monday, December 9

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Airbags

On a flight from D.C., I was seated between a Los Angelino and two clean-cut guys from Virginia. They were older, real straight arrows. We discussed Chicago, I told them I had never really been to the South. The talk turned to life in Chicago, and when I told them it was illegal to possess a handgun in city limits, they were pretty surprised. Had I ever owned a gun? No. Had I ever even fired a gun? No. They couldn't believe it. It seemed pretty un-American to them.

"Tell me this," I asked them, "in your home town, you ever walk out of a club at 3 in the morning and walk across the street to keep drinking until 5?"

"No," they answered, a little uncomfortable. These were upright family men.

"Well, there you go." They stared at me. "I got no problem with you guys owning guns, hunting, whatever. I tell you what: Chicago won't tell you guys how many guns you can own, and Virginia doesn't tell us when we can drink."

They laughed. They liked the idea. It made sense: keep your nose out of the other guy's business.

On the West Side of Chicago, in the run-up to the 2004 elections, a young minister — or a kid claiming to be a minister — asked me how I could support gay marriage, homosexuality being, in his eyes, an abomination against the Lord. I thought about it for a second, and in a flash realized I don't support gay marriage. Like my Virginian friends with the guns, I didn't care about gay marriage. I don't support gays getting married. I don't support straight people getting married. I really don't care if two consenting adults get married or do anything, really.

Then there is the mother of all issues, the one that mobilizes armies and channels tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars every election cycle. "Abortion rights."

Progressives often complain about the term "pro-life," arguing that they, too, are pro-life. I don't think that is the problem. I think the problem is the term "pro-choice." And not just in a public relations, "framing" sense. I mean literally. The idea of defending somebody's "choice" in reproductive rights is kind of trivializing the issue.

It conjures up images, to many people, of some young lady, an E.P.T. test on her nightstand, flipping through a catalogue trying to decide on a course of action. "Ooh, this one looks nice. 'Termination.'"

If that seems insensitive, then you understand why the other side has such a hard time listening to rational arguments.

When a person leaves their house and walks out into public, they are bound by certain rules. When they get in their car, or get on the train, they are bound by rules, society. And the rules are of everybody. But when a person walks into their doctor's office, they must disappear from our view. When two people close the door to their bedroom, they must disappear from our view. Privacy.

It's not that I'm pro-choice, or pro-gay marriage, or whatever. I'm pro-privacy.

I mean, why do you think people went West? Because they cherished the idea of murderous winters, unforgiving landscape, angry native people and murderous lawlessness? No. They went West to be left alone. To get the government out of their house and to dump the bosses off their back.

If you'll let me draw an analogy: currently, huge corporations have programs called "refund anticipation loans," or RALs. These RALs are basically advances on tax refunds with dizzyingly high interest and cruel penalties that prey on low-income workers. So concerned is our government with staying out of business' way that legislators are unable to pass laws capping the rate of interest on these predatory loans. That would be interfering with trade. Never mind that these loans often end up not only wiping out the refund, but also tying up income and wrecking the credit of the borrowers.

So capping private interest rates is anti-American. But they can make health decisions for individuals?

Reproductive rights cannot continue to be argued in a vacuum. Those on the side of privacy will always lose, because slippery slope arguments will end up chipping away at basic rights. The basic tenet progressives need to embrace is that of privacy rights. Flag burning, weird art, abortion, gay marriage, whatever. I don't have any real affection for any of these issues, and not out of malice or nihilism, but simply because I see interference in them as symptomatic of one problem: privacy rights. Why fight along 15 fronts when you can simply mass your troops along one?

But I must stress again: the rules, they're of everybody. If you revolt at the idea of a nanny government, then be intellectually honest about it. In our personal lives there must be a freedom to conduct ourselves, as we will, so long as it doesn't reasonably interfere with anybody else.

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About the Author(s)

Ramsin Canon covers and works in politics in Chicago. If you have a tip, a borderline illegal leak, or a story that needs to be told, contact him at .

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