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“You’re not a liberal, are you, Hal,” he said. His remark was disarming, refreshingly non-judgmental, as if he were noticing the peculiarities of an oddly hued gecko. He is a charming local gentleman whom I have known for at least 20 years. We ran into each other while aimlessly wandering the aisles of Home Depot with our respective families, he with partner and chuffing, multi-talented bull dog, me with spouse and two teenaged sons.

He was commenting on this column. It made me smile. I told him that HILLARY would certainly not consider me a liberal nor would Ted Kennedy, but that James Madison probably would have.

Today’s liberals commandeered the term “liberal” around the end of the 19th century. Until then it had been associated with advocates of individual liberty and a minimum of government meddling in our lives. Government for those classical liberals existed to safeguard our rights and protect us from force and fraud.

Today, of course, liberals are garden variety world-improvers who are keen to uplift the voting “poor” by using money taxed away from the working “rich.” Government for modern liberals exists to make life “fair” and to make sure everyone is equally “successful,” or at least equally miserable.

American history has included, to varying extents, distinctions between the classical and the modern liberal in our two political parties. Today, however, while Democrats offer to buy votes outright, Republicans promise smaller government and lower taxes to cage votes from the gullible. Only lately have Republicans adopted the more direct method of buying votes, promising free drugs to the chronic voting geezers. Once in power, regardless of how they get elected, both parties expand government as quickly as ever they can.

The difference between the two modern American political parties has only to do with who gets looted and who gets the loot. Republicans pass along booty to big business, the military and the traditionally religious. Democrats prefer to line the pockets of teachers, artists, professional victims, and lawyers. Both use proceeds from either soaking the “rich” or reckless borrowing to fuel their political bonfires.

Likewise, in the modern American empire of IOU’s, distinctions of political Left and Right have nearly lost all meaning. The Left has always been associated with Marxism, its logical extreme represented by the failed socialist utopias of Eastern Europe and Asia. The failed fascist utopias of Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan and Mussolini’s Italy are the models for extremes of the Right. Because Communists and Fascists fought each other, it has been assumed Fascism and Communism differ in some substantial way.

In reality, Fascists and Socialists, like Democrats and Republicans, have no real differences in philosophy. For both, the state controls everything. The difference is merely whose name appears on the deed. Both ultimately require total control of their citizens. Both use force and the threat of force to maintain power.

Socialists and Fascists fought for the same reasons Democrats and Republicans fight today, for the same reasons drug gangs fight, not to settle any real philosophical differences, but to decide who’s boss.

Happily, there remain some key questions that allow us to transcend the old and increasingly meaningless distinctions of Left and Right. Your answers to them will place you along a different, more meaningful continuum, that between freedom and slavery rather than between Left and Right.

The following is a quiz devised by and organization called “The Advocates for Self-Government.” It gives a much more accurate picture of the real diversity in the American political spectrum than traditional distinctions of Left and Right. Take a moment to take the World’s Smallest Political Quiz.

Give yourself 20 points if you agree with a statement. If you are undecided, score 10. If you disagree score 0. There are two sections, Personal and Economic. Just 5 statements in each. Try it.

Personal Issues
• Government should not censor speech, press, media or Internet
• Military service should be voluntary. There should be no draft.
• There should be no laws regarding sex between consenting adults.
• Repeal laws prohibiting adult possession and use of drugs. 
• There should be no National ID Card.

Economic Issues
• End “corporate welfare.” No government handouts to business.
• End government barriers to international free trade.
• Let people control their own retirement: privatize Social Security.
• Replace government welfare with private charity.
• Cut taxes and government spending by 50% of more.

Add up your score. If your total score was 70 or under you might want to consider a move to Washington, D.C., North Korea, Cuba, or some other communist hell hole. You are a statist who believes Big Brother is better qualified to run your life than you are.

If you score between 70 and 140 you are a Centerist. Depending on how different your scores were in the two sections, you lean left or right. A higher score on the Personal section points Left and vice versa. Depending on how far above 70 your score is, you are probably comfortable living right where you are. Lower scores might prefer Massachusetts, higher scores Florida, Wyoming or New Hampshire.

If you scored 140 or higher, you one of those rare birds like Ben Franklin, James Madison or the firebrand John Adams, who value freedom above security. Someone from the earnest, sometimes geeky, but always lively Libertarian Party wants to talk to you. If there were such a place, you would probably move to Ayn Rand’s fictional Galt’s Gulch tomorrow.

This writer confirmed once again that he is a classical liberal, neither left, right nor center, scoring 200, and looking for the Gulch.