I was touring a local business one evening when I happened to notice them hanging on the wall: state licenses. I couldn’t believe what I was reading.
Now, you’re probably thinking that everything gets licensed these days by the state, so what’s the big deal? Was I in a doctor’s office? A restaurant?
No, actually, I was in a tattoo parlor. It was run by a man who designs the tattoos and a woman who does piercings, and just like every business these days, this tattoo shop is required to follow strict health care guidelines set by the state. That means the Florida Department of Health oversees the piercing aspects of this business, requiring the woman to undergo continuing education each year and to obtain a body piercing and biomedical waste license before she could work in the field.
A body piercing Florida license. Now I’ve heard it all.
As I stood there looking at those licenses so prominently framed on the wall, I couldn’t help but think about one thing: the sad death of conservatism.
Conservatism, which I don’t think exists much these days, is supposed to be on the rise — even the dominant cultural strain in our society. The Republicans just won a sweeping victory in last November’s election, including here in Florida.
Conservative talk radio easily crushes its liberal competitors. Conservative Fox News dominates the ratings over liberal alternatives like MSNBC. Polls suggest far more people, up to 40 percent of the general public, consider themselves conservative, compared to those who view themselves as liberals (20 percent or less, depending on the polls).
Furthermore, the GOP victories were supposed to have been fueled by the rise of the Tea Party movement, which calls for a return to a very strict interpretation of the Constitution: remove powers from the government, and hand them back to the people. Above all else, value and charish one thing: the free market, the very entity that the Obama administration and the former Democratic majority in Congress were supposed to be savaging with the health care law and other big government initiatives.
And yet … stop for a moment and listen to the speeches made by members of the Tea Party movement. Listen to what those Fox News and conservative talk radio commenators rail about. None of them sounds like a dominant movement that controls the government or the social trends in this country. On the contrary, they almost sound like a tiny minority railing against a society that believes in the exact opposite of what they do — and they sound angry, frustrated, and fed up.
So if conservatism is truly dominant in our society, why do so many of these Tea Party or talk radio conservatives sound like they’re in the minority?
The truth is, there’s so little genuine conservatism in our society today. We abandoned that long ago, and I think the Tea Party folks know it. Yes, we may rail against high taxes, and we may hate “big spending,” and we may think government does a lousy job at improving a bad economy or fixing the collapsed housing market, and we vote accordingly. But the majority in this country shows little impatience with government itself. In fact, we tend to look to it to solve every problem we have. The free market, it seems, is too scary to contemplate.
Take that little tattoo parlor.
Why does a woman who sticks a needle in your ear or lip or tongue need a state license and continuing education? Well, the “rational” argument goes, that license is there to protect you. If that woman isn’t licensed, she could run a dirty, unsanitary tattoo shop and unsuspecting customers would go in there, get pierced with a dirty needle, and get sick.
You can see a conservative politician, who just railed against the stimulus bill and health care reform, looking on nervously as his 18-year-old daughter says, “Dad, I’m ready to get pierced.” He wants Suzie to be safe when she visits that piercing shop, so what better way to protect her than to have Florida government regulate it. And doesn’t a state license and health and safety regulations protect us from anything bad happening?
Uh … well, no. I actually think the free market — the very thing conservatives used to believe in — does a better job here.
Let’s say you have two rival tattoo parlors next door to one another. One is fully licensed and regulated, the other one isn’t. Common sense dictates that the fully licensed one will be clean and sanitary, while the one operating illegally won’t be.
But what if the “illegal” one takes great precautions, but the woman running the licensed one gets sloppy? Or maybe she’s going through a rough time financially or personally, and stops caring about standards. If you think everyone who is licensed by the state will behave in a proper manner, just ask the lawyers who have stolen money from clients — after going to law school and passing the state bar. Just ask the doctors who have committed malpractice — after completing medical school and getting licensed by the state. Just ask any airline pilot at Orlando International Airport who stopped at the bar and had a few drinks before takeoff. Good or bad behavior comes from responsible or irresponsible individuals — not state regulations.
And yet … how embarrassingly tempting these regulations are, even in a state that’s been dominated by “conservative” Republicans since 1998. Funny how government always becomes so much more attractive when it serves to protect us, just like mom used to do when she warned us not to touch hot stoves or climb trees that we might fall out of. How comforting to know that even after we turned 18 and left home, mommy will always be by our side — courtesy of that caring Florida government.
When did we all become such big government-loving woosies?
And why did we abandon the free market so hastily?
What happened in the days before tattoo shops were licensed? Were they all dirty and disgusting? My guess is that responsible owners that wanted to stay in business made sure they operated in safe manner, knowing the first sick customer could ruin them. Furthermore, in the Internet age we can always go online and do our own research to see which shops have a good — or bad — reputation, just as we can before hiring a contractor to fix our roof. Too bad we tend to prefer the government doing it all for us instead.
It’s hard to believe conservatism is truly on the rise when we keep looking to the government to set a seemingly endless array of rules and regulations for how we behave — all in the false hope that if the government can’t protect us, nobody can.
I’m supposed to be grateful for all this, for the idea that if I do decide to get my ear pierced, the bureaucrats running Florida government are there to protect me.
But I don’t.
Instead, I think those angry Tea Party members who sounded like a lonely voice in the wilderness have a good point: they are a minority if they truly want the government to do less, not more. Because right now, we’ve got a “conservative” Republican government in Florida that regulates like nobody’s business.
Contact Mike Freeman at FreelineOrlando@gmail.com.