Mistrust of Government Is a Beautiful Thing

Question: Why is it important to mistrust the government?
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Penn Jillette: I believe that our country, uniquely for \r\nthe time, was founded on mistrust for the government, which is such a \r\nheady and beautiful idea. The idea that we have all the rights in the \r\nworld. We have complete and utter freedom and we give up very specific \r\nfreedoms in order to have a government that will protect the other \r\nfreedoms.

Such a profound idea and so deep, and so wonderful. And\r\n I think that it was so weird to see all the people who said that \r\ndissent was part of their job during the Bush Administration turn around\r\n and say that we were all supposed to rally behind Obama. I mean, I \r\ndisagreed with Bush and Obama tremendously... and on the exact same \r\nissues. And the only issue that really matters to me is wars and killing\r\n people overseas. I'm against them... and I was against them when Bush \r\nwas doing it and now that Obama is doing it more I'm against it too. And\r\n I think that it's part of the joy and the wonder and the brilliance of \r\nthe ideas of the United States of America that whoever is in power is \r\nquestioned and beat up.

I was asked... and I'm going on the Joy \r\nBehar Show later today and you get questions ahead of time, unlike here.\r\n They lay stuff on you ahead of time. And it was Obama said he wants to \r\nfigure out whose ass to kick and that before he was busted for being not\r\n emotional enough—too cold. And now he's being busted for being too \r\nstraight. How can he win? And my answer is: he's not supposed to win. \r\nHe's the President. They're supposed to be millions of people \r\ndisagreeing with him on everything and busting him on everything.
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\r\nThat's the way the country is supposed to work, and that's not something\r\n to bemoan the fact that the government can't rally everybody to work \r\ntogether. That's to be celebrated. The government being is hamstring and\r\n as closed off and as clumsy as possible is exactly what we want. The \r\nlast thing we want is a government that can get things done. A \r\ngovernment that can get things done all they will get done is taking \r\naway freedoms. Its been shown over and over again. We want a clunky, \r\nsloppy, slow-moving, small, insignificant, weak government there all the\r\n time. And that's a government we can love and protect.

\r\nQuestion:
What is the biggest misconception people have about \r\nlibertarians?
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Penn Jillette:  Well it's the same misconception that \r\neverybody seems to have about everyone else and it's the same \r\nmisconception libertarians have about liberals or conservatives have and\r\n that is we sometimes tend to forget that everybody is trying for the \r\nbest. Everyone's goals are the same with very small differences. I mean,\r\n the goal of a socialist and the goal of a libertarian are exactly the \r\nsame. The goals are happiness and security and freedom and you balance \r\nthose.

But I think the biggest misconception that I find about \r\nlibertarians is that there's a lack of compassion and I think that there\r\n is as much compassion on libertarians as there is among liberals. It's \r\nnot what the problems are, it's how to solve them. Everybody wants \r\nclean, safe, energy. Some people think nuclear is the way to go. Some \r\npeople think coal is the way to go. Some people think wind is the way to\r\n go. And there's always balances on that. Libertarians tend to put \r\nfreedom as a goal in itself and also a way to attain other goals. \r\nLiberals tend to put security as a goal in itself and a way to obtain \r\nother goals.

I think the biggest misconception is that \r\nlibertarians... I guess the cliche would be don't care about the crack \r\nbabies. I just think you can deal with people in trouble using \r\ncompassion. One of the things that bothers me about statism is that they\r\n take away my compassion. When you take money from me by force, run it \r\nthrough the government to help other people... I think there's less \r\ncompassion than me being able to do something. What I say about \r\nlibertarians verses liberals is I will gladly help you build a library; I\r\n will not use a gun to get someone else to join us in helping to build \r\nthat library.

I want credit. I want credit for helping. I want \r\nto feel like I'm helping and giving money to the government does not \r\nseem like the best way to help and forcing other people to give money \r\nthe government seems immoral to me. I think that if I want to cure \r\ncancer I should work on curing cancer. You can't force other people to \r\ngive money to cure cancer then you're not really helping or you're \r\nhelping in a way that I don't think is right. So the question on health \r\ncare was not if you saw someone laying in the street who needed help \r\nwould you run over and bandage them. The question is really if you saw \r\nsomeone suffering in the street would you run, get a policeman, have \r\nthat policeman find a doctor, have that doctor forced by everybody \r\naround to take a vote and then come in and help.

But I think \r\nthat it's forgotten that what everybody is trying to do is help the \r\npeople that need it. Everybody is trying that and I will say that about \r\nevery political group and I think that I would love to see people using \r\nthe word "wrong" more and using the word "evil" less. Obama is a really \r\ngood guy, a really smart guy, and every moment, every second of every \r\nday is spent trying to do what's best. I disagree with him. But there's \r\nno sense that he's evil and this is something I'll say that a lot of \r\npeople will freak out at. I think the same was true for George W. Bush. I\r\n think every second he was trying as hard as he could to do what was \r\nbest. I disagree with him very, very, very intently—but that's back to \r\nthe fundamentalist atheist thing.

To be able to say "you're \r\nwrong, and here are the reasons," is respect. To say "you're evil" is \r\nantihuman because the people that I've met in my life who were truly bad\r\n and are truly evil is such a small number. I mean, if you take the six \r\nbillion people on the planet and round off the numbers about six billion\r\n are good.

Recorded on June 8, 2010
Interviewed by Paul Hoffman

The magician explains his libertarian beliefs and why President Obama should be "questioned and beat up."