KNAPP COLUMN: Election 2024: Where Moral Panic Goes, Poor Outcomes Follow

Published 9:00 am Friday, June 14, 2024

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On May 26, and into the early hours of May 27, in a foreshadowing of things to come, Libertarian National Convention delegates took seven rounds of voting to nominate Chase Oliver (who beat “None of the Above” after eliminating all other opponents) for president and two ballots to nominate Mike ter Maat for vice-president.

Three days later, Libertarian National Committee secretary Caryn Ann Harlos informed the committee of “a policy issue that is causing great upset.”

That issue: “Oliver has said he believes that giving puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones to … minors is healthcare and simply up to parents and doctors. Others argue, and I agree, that it is child abuse…”

To her credit, Ms. Harlos makes clear that she doesn’t favor rescinding Mr. Chase’s nomination (which the committee can do with a 3/4 vote) over the matter.

That “policy issue” has, however, become a talking point for the Libertarian Party’s sore losers. At least one state party — Montana —  has already announced that it doesn’t intend to fulfill its obligation to place Mr. Oliver and Mr. ter Maat on its state ballot line.

I apologize for re-hashing inside third party baseball, and perhaps burying the lede. The matter is bigger than the Libertarian Party, but it’s just too good an example of the phenomenon I want to explore to pass up.

That phenomenon is not “puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones to minors,” but rather the use of moral panic to move opinion.

You might be surprised to learn that of the 70 million minors living in the US, fewer than 20,000 received prescriptions for puberty blockers or hormone therapy in the five-year period covering 2017-2021.

That’s about three one-hundredths of one percent.

It’s not quite as rare as getting struck by lightning or death by drowning, but it’s in the same ballpark.

Absent demagoguery for the express purpose of creating moral panic, that’s not much of a “policy issue.”

But look where demagoguery for the express purpose of creating moral panic has brought us:

Even among self-described libertarians, Libertarian Party members, and LP officials, we find factions up in arms over the “issue” of parents/guardians (with the assistance of doctors), rather than politicians, making healthcare decisions for minor children.

It’s not just L/libertarians, of course. The entire modern political discourse seems pretty much driven by moral panic.

Drugs. Guns. Immigration. Gambling. Sex work.  Heck, even a non-existent “war on Christmas.” The list of handles politicians use to grab Americans and pull them from the common sense column to the “SOMEONE might be doing SOMETHING I don’t LIKE — there should be a law!” column never ends.

When you’re handed a moral panic disguised as a “policy issue,” try thinking it through instead of hiding under your bed.