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"All I think is that it's stupid." (Dave Barry's view of big government) (Interview)

Dave Barry on laughing at Very Big Government

A New York Times profile once said that Miami Herald humor columnist Dave Barry "makes his living by taking prosaic ideas to incongruous extremes." He is the only Pulitzer Prize winner to have a sitcom--CBS's Dave's World--based, very loosely, on his life. (They turned his one son and two dogs into just the opposite, but he enjoys cashing the checks.)

The Pulitzer Prize judges gave Barry the award for commentary in 1988 "for his consistently effective use of humor as a device for presenting fresh insights into serious concerns." His concerns include beer, Barbie, a "worldwide epidemic of snakes in toilets," exploding Pop-Tarts, and, perhaps most famously, "the worst songs ever recorded."

To be fair to the Pulitzer committee, the real Dave does devote more column inches than the average pundit to making Very Big Government look silly and obnoxious. This is a fresh insight in New York and Washington, and wildly popular with readers, who have bought more than a million copies of his books.

Taking prosaic ideas to incongruous extremes, he writes things like: "With the federal deficit running at several hundred billion dollars per year, Congress passed a transportation bill that, according to news reports, includes $30 million for a 'high-tech' moving sidewalk in Altoona, which happens to be in the district of Rep. 'Bud' Shuster, the ranking Republican on the surface transportation subcommittee.

"I don't know about you, but as a taxpayer, I am outraged to discover that, in this day and age, Altoona residents are still being forced to walk around on regular low-tech stationary sidewalks. I'm thinking of maybe organizing a group of us to go there and carry Altoonans on our backs until they get their new sidewalk. I'm also thinking that maybe we should donate an additional $10 million or so to build them a high-tech computerized Spit Launcher that will fire laser-guided gobs onto the moving sidewalk, so the Altoonans won't have to do this manually. 'What have I done today to help keep 'Bud' Shuster in Congress?' is a question we all need to ask ourselves more often."

Contributing Editor Glenn Garvin interviewed Barry at his Miami Herald office.

Reason: You were in Washington recently to do a story. What was it like there?

Barry: It's like going to Mars. When you come back out no one is talking about any of the things the people in Washington are talking about.

If we're spending $853 trillion on some program now, and next year we spend any less, that's "budget-cutting" to them. For them, the question is always, "What kind of government intervention should we impose on the world?" They never think that maybe we shouldn't.

It gives me a real advantage as a humorist because I get credit for having insight and understanding--and I don't. I don't have any insight or understanding on anything about the government. All I think is that it's stupid--which is the one perspective that's almost completely lacking in Washington.

Reason: Did people there find your perspective peculiar?

Barry: They know this is what I do. Reporters aren't stupid. We were standing around talking about which of the 900 health-care proposals that nobody's going to accept is that day's hot news. They know how silly that is. But that's what they do. And if they don't do it, they'll get fired and someone else will do it. There's tremendous pressure, if you're in that system, to be involved and be interested and to care about it. There's no room to say, "This is stupid."

(One of the two tape recorders goes down. The reporter fiddles with it.)

Reason: I see why they wanted me to bring two. I'm totally humiliated. Virginia will be able to say, "Good thing I told you to bring two."

Barry: You know, if we had strict government standards about tape recorders, this kind of thing wouldn't happen. The consumer would be protected.

Reason: Was there anything surprising or unexpected about Washington?

Barry: I've been to Washington many times over the years for stories, and it always seems remarkably the same. More the same than the rest of the country. It's almost like they dress the same as they did 20 years ago. The same old guys are sitting outside the same dirty, dingy secret offices in the Capitol that you're not allowed to go in. But there's always this endless crowd of young, enthusiastic people who are in their Junior Achievement club or whatever, and someday they're going to be assistant to an aide to somebody. But they're making important contacts now that will serve them well the rest of their lives.

Reason: You're not sounding like a guy who has the fire in his belly for the '96 presidential race.

Barry: Oh, I never stop running. I'm not one of the weenies who drop out just because the electoral college votes. I'm still in the race. I'm an extremely corrupt candidate and I stress that in case anybody in our reading audience is interested in sending me money. You can have a naval base, is what I'm saying.

Reason: I would think that Washington would strain one's sense of humor. Sitting there listening to some imbecile like Paul Simon--the imbecile senator, not the folk singer--did you want to leap over his desk and cut his throat?

Barry: I'm a humorist. A guy like Paul Simon just makes my life so much simpler. When I was there, he had a hearing against hate. Steven Spielberg came and testified against hate. Paul Simon said hate was bad. Orrin Hatch was there, and he was against hate too. Everyone was opposed to hate. Is this really a wonderful way to spend our tax dollars, to have these men drone away about how against hate they are?

Reason: Did they make a token attempt to represent the pro-hate position?

Barry: No. But if the pro-hate lobby were to set up a PAC, I'm sure they'd be heard. It's not like they're not fair up there.

Reason: You've written in your columns about the strategic helium reserve the government keeps in case we have a sudden need for a fleet of dirigibles.

Barry: What bugs me when I write that is that I suspect 90 percent of my readers think I made it up.

Reason: What' s something about the government that really pisses you off?

Barry: Well, that helium thing does. That's real money. All the tax money that I've ever, ever paid--and I've paid a lot of taxes--will not even begin to pay for one year of the strategic helium reserve. So when I sit and write a check out to the government, I can take it quite personally.

Reason: You don't sound like one of the people who fills out the IRS forms and then sends in voluntary contributions to alleviate the national debt.

Barry: No. Every year I write a tax advice column and I used to always make fun of that. One year, one of my favorite IRS commissioners, I think his name was Roscoe somebody, wrote that one of the most often-asked questions by taxpayers was, "How can I contribute more?" Well, I tell ya, ol' Roscoe's really been doing situps under parked cars again. I've heard a lot of people ask a lot of questions about taxes, but I never heard anybody say, "How can I, the ordinary person, send more money for no reason?"

Reason: Whatever happened to your $8.95 tax plan?

Barry: Oh, the $8.95 tax plan. Well, it was really popular with the average reader. It definitely reduced his taxes significantly. This was years ago, I think during the early Reagan years. I came up with a plan that everybody just pay $8.95 in taxes. Cheating would be allowed. But the incentive to cheat wouldn't be nearly as great if you only had to pay the $8.95. There were a few people who would have to pay hundreds of millions of dollars under this plan. I think it was Mark Goodson and Bill Todman, the guys who do the quiz shows. But almost everybody else would be off really cheap.

Reason: Do you ever get complaints that you're making people cynical?

Barry: Every now and then, when I write my annual tax column, some ex-IRS agent will complain, "There you go IRS bashing again." They're always saying that they're just doing their job. Someone I know once said, "You could get another job."

Reason: In your column I detect a certain skepticism at the notion that congressional spending creates jobs.

Barry: Of all the wonderful things government says, that's always been just about my favorite. As opposed to if you get to keep the money. Because what you'll do is go out and bury it in your yard, anything to prevent that money from creating jobs. They never stop saying it. They say it with a straight face and we in the press will write that down. We will say, "This is expected to create x number of jobs." On the other hand, we never say that the money we removed from another part of the economy will kill some jobs.

Reason: Have you ever had a government job?

Barry: No. I'm trying to think of what government job I would want. Maybe a disgruntled postal worker.

Reason: What's the most ridiculous government program you've ever written about or heard of?

Barry: I would really have a hard time just picking one. Anything at all in West Virginia is a good place to start. My favorite ones are when our own Defense Department says, "No, we really don't want you to build these weapons systems." Where do we stand now with the B-1 Bomber? We're going to build them but not put wings on them? We call it defense spending, but I wonder why we don't just hand the money to Lockheed and let them go out and spend it and not build a plane that might crash and kill somebody.

I don't think the press has done a very good job dealing with government spending. The Defense Department with the $9,500 toilet seat, that's not the problem anymore. Medicare and Medic-aid and Social Security are the problem. That's us. That's our generation. There the press never says a word.

We certainly never require politicians to ever address those issues except really briefly sometimes during the New Hampshire primary, and then everybody falls asleep.

Reason: Have you noticed that baby boomers are showing alarming tendencies toward becoming safety Nazis?

Barry: I hate to speak for the whole society, but I will. I'm a journalist, it's my job. The real repressive, smug part of it seems to have passed. There's been something of a reaction against political correctness. Needless to say, the government hasn't caught up yet.

But when the boomers started to have kids reach adolescence, there was suddenly this feeling that they needed to protect their kids from all the same things they did when they were kids. Which I guess is a natural tendency, but it makes for a less fun society.

Reason: It strikes me as bizarre that a prospective Supreme Court justice has to get up there, in his 40s, and say, "No, I never smoked pot."

Barry: The whole thing about whether you smoke marijuana or not is so ridiculous. That and whether you protested the Vietnam War. Give me a break. Especially the marijuana thing. I'm inclined to think that anybody who never tried it should not be allowed in public office. But to make them get up there and lie, or at least be incredibly disingenuous, is just embarrassing.

After a while, the way this country deals with drugs is just not funny. What a waste of everyone's time and effort. What a waste of a lot of people's lives. The way we deal with drugs and sex. I saw one of these real-life cop drama shows, and they mounted a camera in this undercover agent's pick-up truck, right under the gear shift, and they sent him out to pick up prostitutes.

So the whole show consisted of this guy, who's quite a good actor, driving to this one street, and young prostitutes come up to him and solicit him. He says OK. They get in. They're trying real hard to be nice. He's going to pay $23, that's all he's got and they said that's OK. Meanwhile, behind him the other cops, these fat men with walkie-talkies, are laughing and chuckling because here they are about to enforce the law and protect society. They take her to some street and then of course they come up and arrest her. This poor woman--I don't know whether she's feeding her drug habit or feeding her kids or whatever. And the cops are so proud of themselves, these big strapping guys.

It just made me sick to see this. To treat these people who are trying to make a living, one way or another, this way, and to be proud of it. It's on television and we're all supposed to watch this and feel good about it. It's just disgusting.

It's like when cops sell drugs to people and then arrest them. And then we reach the point where I think it was Sheriff Nick Navarro in Broward County [Florida] had his lab making crack so they could sell it. They couldn't get enough in south Florida, so they had to actually produce it themselves.

What politician would say', "This is really a waste of money to be doing what we're doing? It's ridiculous sending cops out to arrest prostitutes when we're supposed to be concerned about crime in this country." What politician would ever say that? What newspaper person would ever say that without getting stomped all over by all the other hypocrites?

Reason: (Reporter fiddles with broken tape recorder, trying to fix it. It still doesn't work.) I feel guilty sitting here knowing I don't have two tape recorders running like Virginia wanted. No one has ever crossed Virginia Postrel and lived to tell about it.

Barry: I can't help but notice that the Japanese product is the one working.

Reason: Didn't you once get a letter from someone on the Supreme Court?

Barry: I got a letter from [Justice] John Paul Stevens. I won't call it a serious letter. It was on his official John Paul Stevens stationery, though. He brought to my attention a product that I already knew about called Beano, which is an antiflatulance product. I was very pleased to get a Supreme Court justice suggesting a column, so I went and did a column about Beano. I went with my wife and another guy to a Mexican restaurant, which we thought would be the ultimate test for an antiflatulance product. There's a reason most of Mexico is located out of doors. And it worked. Several newspapers refused to run that column. But they did run advertisements for Beano.

Reason: You write about Miami as a place filled with people from many different lands, cultures, backgrounds, walks of life--all of whom want to kill each other. When they were going to bring a pro basketball team, you suggested we call it the "Giant Blood-Sucking Insects." So why do you live here?

Barry: Well, for one thing the Herald is here. If the Herald was in Minneapolis, I'd probably be in Minneapolis.

That isn't the main reason. I actually like south Florida. I never lived in a more interesting place than this. I've never met a wider range of people. I guess when I came here I thought there were Cubans and then there were people from New York and that was Miami. Now I know that it's Cubans, people from New York, and some people from New Jersey.

Actually, there are people from all over--not just Latin America, certainly not just Cuba, but all over Europe, all over the United States. A lot of them just got here and have interesting stories to tell about where they are from. I like that. I like knowing a lot of different types of people. And I can afford to live in a relatively safe part of Miami.

Reason: Do you go along with the conventional Miami opinion that we should invade Haiti since they've sent all these dangerous rafts to our shores?

Barry: I guess like every other American I feel very threatened by the situation in Haiti. I know our own lifestyle here is hanging by a thread because of what's going on down there.

Reason: What about Cuba? What's the solution to this Cuban business?

Barry: Let them in! Look what they did for Miami. This was a pathetic little town and now it's a big city. It's just so silly. Let people come in and work, but come in and work. If we let them come in for the purpose of signing them up for government programs, I'm not too enthused about that.

Reason: One of the planks in your presidential campaign is the Department of Two Guys Named Victor.

Barry: This is one of those times I wasn't kidding. At the time, we were mad at Moammar Gadhafi, which resulted in us bombing all over Libya and killing a bunch of people, but not him. Then Ronald Reagan gets up and says we're not trying to kill him, we're just dropping bombs. You can kill all the Libyans you want, but legally you can't try to kill the leader.

The other one was Manuel Noriega. Here we have a problem with just one person, and we send all these troops down to deal with it. All these people get killed and hurt, but not Noriega.

So instead of messing around with armies, get a couple of guys named Victor. The president meets with them and has breakfast, or he goes to dinner with them at the restaurant of their choice, and suggests that he's having a problem. Then the next thing you know, you read in the paper that Saddam Hussein has suffered an unfortunate shaving accident resulting in the loss of his head. We don't involve a lot of 22-year-old kids in this dispute between George Bush and Saddam Hussein.

Reason: Let's talk about Vietnam. Did you think the war was evil, that we were fighting the wrong guys, or was it like, to paraphrase Muhammad Ali, "You didn't have any quarrel with no Vietcong"?

Barry: First of all I thought that was the best argument anybody ever gave against going to Vietnam. The most articulate, clear-cut, understandable, accurate, rational argument ever. To me, it showed a lot more wisdom than a lot stuff I heard from anti-war people. There was a lot of talk about why we should be opposed to the war that was pro-totalitarian.

I felt ashamed at the time to say I didn't want to go. I didn't have any stake in that war. I didn't want to get killed; I didn't know anybody over there that I wanted to go over and kill on behalf of. I think the real gut-level reason was what Ali said. But at the time I felt that you had to have a moral justification. It didn't occur to me then that the moral justification is that other people can't tell you who to kill.

If they come for my kid, I'd say, "Go, if you want to go fight a war. If you don't, you don't. Nobody's got the right to tell you." I see that more clearly now than I did then. But in the climate of the times I believed the government did have the right to tell us all what to do, but that in this case they were just making a terrible mistake. I admire more the people who just said, "I'm not going because I don't want to."

But I had conscientious objector status. I got it because my dad was a C.O. in World War II. My dad was a Presbyterian minister. And I went to a Quaker college. Neither of those things had anything to do with me. But to my draft board--a bunch of plumbers in Peekskill, New York, making decisions about who should go and who shouldn't--that looked good.

I was really against that war, but to be a C.O., you had to believe that there was no circumstance under which you would ever kill anybody. And I can't say I honestly felt that. I would definitely kill people. I would have liked to have killed my draft board at the time.

This was in 1969 and it was getting harder to find jobs that were acceptable because they were all getting filled up with C.O.s. I ended up working for the Episcopal Church national headquarters in New York City as a bookkeeper. That's what I did for two years. But I was happy, because I knew guys who were getting shot. Sometimes I can't believe this actually happened in this country.

Reason: Let's play a little game.

Barry: You're not gonna ask me what kind of tree I would be?

Reason: That's the last question. Let's do a little word association. I'll give you the name of a political figure and you say the first thing that comes to mind.

Barry: Oh, I hate this.

Reason: Oliver Stone.

Barry: Am I only allowed to say one word? Shithead. Oliver Stone--did you mean Oliver North or Oliver Stone?

Reason: Oliver Stone.

Barry: Oh, Oliver Stone. Shithead.

Reason: Janet Reno.

Barry: Out of her depth. I actually kind of like Janet Reno. She seems like a nice enough lady. But when you're basically going through the entire phone book trying to find women lawyers who don't have maids to pick the attorney general of the United States, how well can you do?

Reno taking responsibility for the Waco thing made me crazy. Just enraged. Seemingly nobody wants to know what actually happened. There were some gun violations and we end up in a situation where we are surrounding them. I kept saying, "Why don't they just walk away? Just walk away. Nobody has to die. Walk away. Later on, arrest them when they come out. But walk away."

But no, we can't do it. So we order these tanks to attack this building full of crazy people with kids, and lo and behold, bad things happen. Ha! Knock me down with a feather. What got me is when Janet said, "I'll take responsibility." No. You can't say that. And if you mean it, then you have to resign your job right away.

Maybe what she meant was "I'll take political responsibility for it," which turns out to be a big plus. But if you're going to take real moral responsibility for those deaths, then take it. But don't take it and say you're still going to be the chief law enforcement officer of the United States.

That's not what you wanted. You wanted a one-word answer.

Reason: That's OK. Bill Clinton.

Barry: He's such a putz. He's basically my age; I knew a lot of people like him in college. It starts to really come home to you how inadequately prepared anybody is to be in charge of your life from a distance and to be given a lot of power when that person is basically your age and background. He strikes me as a pathetic figure. Because you can be the smartest person in the world--which he is, and if he's not, his wife is--and care more than anybody else in the world--which he does, I don't doubt that for a minute. And you can care so much that you're willing to be dishonest--you can tell people one thing but do another because you really know it's for their own good. And you'll still screw it all up. Because the whole premise of what you're doing is wrong!

Reason: I was talking to one of your editors as I did my lengthy--lengthy, Virginia!--preparation for this interview...

Barry: And it cost a lot, too!

Reason: One of your editors said, "Well, Dave's a libertarian, that's true. But he's not an irresponsible libertarian." Doesn't that kind of take the fun out of it?

Barry: I'm not sure what they mean by that. If you tell most people what libertarians think, they immediately assume that you cannot mean it all the way, that you're really just taking a position for argument's sake. When you say you don't think we should have public schools, they can't believe you mean that. You must mean that they should be smaller. But you can't really mean no public schools. Therefore, if I don't argue too much, they probably think I'm responsible. I don't think I'm particularly responsible. I resent that!

Reason: Last fall you wrote a piece in the Tropic and explicitly acknowledged being a libertarian...

Barry: John Dorschner, one of our staff writers here at Tropic magazine at The Miami Herald, who is a good friend of mine and an excellent journalist, but a raving liberal, wrote a story about a group that periodically pops up saying that they're going to start their own country or start their own planet or go back to their original planet, or whatever. They were going to "create a libertarian society" on a floating platform in the Caribbean somewhere. You know and I know there's never going to be a country on a floating anything, but if they want to talk about it, that's great.

John wrote about it and he got into the usual thing where he immediately got to the question of whether or not you can have sex with dogs. The argument was that if it wasn't illegal to have sex with dogs, naturally people would have sex with dogs. That argument always sets my teeth right on edge.

And I always want to retort with, "You want a horrible system, because you think the people should be able to vote for laws they want, and if more than half of them voted for some law, everyone would have to do what they said. Then they could pass a law so that you had to have sex with dogs."

I was ranting and raving about this here in the office. So my editor, Tom Shroder, said "Why don't you write a counterpoint to it?"

So I wrote about why I didn't think libertarians are really doing this kind of thing so that they can have sex with dogs. I discussed some of the reasons that a person might want to live out of the control of our federal, state, local, and every other form of government. Actually, I don't think I even called myself a libertarian in the article. I think Tom Shroder identified me as one.

Reason: Did that give you pause, coming out of the closet on this?

Barry: I guess libertarianism is always considered so weird and fringe that people assume that you're in the closet if you don't go around talking about it. Usually in interviews we're talking about humor writing and they don't bring it up. Because I don't write an overly political column, people just assume I'm not. I guess nobody assumes anybody is a libertarian. It's a more complex political discussion than most people are used to, to explain why you think the way you do about public education or drug laws, and why it's not as simple as being for or against something.

Reason: Did you get any mail about being a libertarian after that article?

Barry: I got a few letters, mostly pretty nice. One or two letters saying, "Here's why it wouldn't work to be a libertarian, because people will have sex with dogs." Arguments like, "Nobody would educate the kids."

People say, "Of course you have to have public education because otherwise nobody would send their kids to school." And you'd have to say, "Would you not send your kids to school? Would you not educate them?" "Well, no. I would. But all those other people would be having sex with dogs."

Reason: How did you become a libertarian?

Barry: I can tell you the person responsible. His name is Sheldon Richman and he is still something of a wheel in libertarian circles. He's at the Cato Institute now. Sheldon and I were working for competing newspapers when we met in suburban Philadelphia in the early '70s. We were at municipal meetings, which were hell for Sheldon. He was a libertarian way, way back. I don't know what I was. I came out of college with lots of trappings of '60s radicalism which had been tempered somewhat by the fact that almost all the real radicals I knew were assholes. You know, the guys who were "for the people," but really just seemed to hate people. And guys who wanted to be in Weatherman mainly so they could get into fights.

Sheldon and I would argue. I mean, really argue. Well, what if a baby is born with no arms and no legs and his parents both die? Huh? Doesn't society have a obligation? Sheldon was wonderfully patient and had a excellent sense of humor and never lost his temper, which is not true of me. I'd yell at Sheldon and get furious at Sheldon, but we were still friends.

I left journalism for a while and I was working for a consulting company where I taught effective writing seminars and by my recommendation we hired Sheldon. We argued more. I was a middle-of-the-road Democrat more than anything else. I know I voted for Carter. Watergate taught me how bad the Republicans were. Then in the late '70s, I begin to see. I think the gas crisis had something to do with it. I began to realize, this is all happening because of the government. And I began to think about all the government people I knew, all the times I'd sat in meetings with Sheldon, watching people who were theoretically for the common good. Then I realized not one of them was and none of them ever have been. All these things Sheldon had said to me: There is no such thing as the common good, there is no such thing as society. He was right.

So I wrote him a letter. "Sheldon, I just wanted to let you know that in all the arguments you were right."

Reason: Here you are a libertarian and you work for The Miami Herald, conceivably the most anti-libertarian newspaper in North America.

Barry: You mean our editorial board. The eight or 10 people who nobody knows here who speak for this paper.

I don't like anything unsigned in a newspaper that purports to be the opinion of some group if we don't know who the group is. It's laughable to say that The Miami Herald's editorials or any newspaper's editorials represent any views other than those of the people writing them, so why don't we tell everybody who they are?

It bothers me greatly that we have this system of opinion pages that dates back to when you knew who the owner of the paper was and his editorial told you what he thought. We should call editorials what they are: columns written by committees. If you want to agree with the committee, that's great. But they don't speak for me and they don't speak for a lot of people who work at the paper. I want to gag sometimes when I see who "we" are recommending that people vote for, and not just as a libertarian.

Reason: Is this a reference to the First Lady's brother?

Barry: Yeah. We are recommending that people vote for Hugh Rodham for the Senate of the United States!

Reason: You write a lot about rock 'n' roll. From a philosophical standpoint, what's the worst rock 'n' roll song of all time?

Barry: My nomination right off the top my head is a song that was a hit in the '70s--"Signs, signs, everywhere signs, blocking up the scenery, breaking my mind, do this, don't do that, can't you read the signs?" Basically a diatribe against property rights.

Reason: That was by The Five Man Electrical Band.

Barry: It's a real smug self-righteous punk kid saying nobody has the right to tell him what to do and how dare you put a sign up saying that I can't go on your property? Hey, kid! Stick this sign up your ass.

Reason: You wrote a serious column about your son's bicycle accident, in which you concluded that he should wear a helmet even though he looks like a dork. Now a lot of states are considering mandatory bicycle helmet laws. What do you think about that?

Barry: I got a lot of mail about that column, which is the only serious column I've ever written that went out as a regular column. It was the only time I ever had anything to say, which is, "Make a kid wear a helmet."

I got a lot of mail from organizations concerned with bike safety. Then I got a couple from people who wanted my support for mandatory helmet laws. I can't support that. If you pass a law like that you'll do more harm than good, because you'll make people think they've done something about the problem when they haven't.

There's only one way kids will wear helmets, and that's if their parents are nagging them to. They will never wear helmets because some state passes a law requiring it.

I genuinely think in this case--just 'cause I know my son and I know his friends--that that kind of legislation would focus responsibility in the wrong place. It's not up to the cops, for God's sake. So I know that all over America there's probably politicians sending out pictures of themselves signing that mandatory helmet bill, but it's bullshit. I say that as a parent.

Reason: As your son grew up and began getting into activities where he had the potential to break things and kill himself, did that cause you to rethink your views?

Barry: No. He does hurl that back in my face sometimes. I said, "Rob, as soon as you are paying your own way in life, I'll stop telling you what to do. But you're not. You're taking money from me, living in my house." I try really hard to make him a responsible person.

Reason: What if the 7-Eleven down the street put in a vending machine where you could get heroin for a quarter?

Barry: And then have sex with a dog? Meaning what? My son wouldn't go get heroin. If he did or didn't, it wouldn't have anything to do with whether it was legal or illegal. I did all this stuff that was illegal when I was a kid. I drank beer when I was 15. I smoked cigarettes when I was 13. I drove to New York City when I was 14--don't tell my son. Those things were against the law, but I did them anyway. I didn't become a heroin addict, although I probably could have gotten heroin somehow. I don't think my son would buy heroin at any price. He knows what it is, and he knows how stupid it is. Any parent that relies on any law to help him parent is an idiot.

Reason: Why did you leave Coral Gables, the Miami suburb that's the libertarian paradise?

Barry: God, you talk about a libertarian nightmare! We got a ticket for painting our own living room white. And they came to the door, a guy in a uniform.

Reason: This is inside the house?

Barry: The interior living room. It turned out you had to have a permit if the job cost more than $50. I don't know what you can possibly do for less than $50 to have somebody come in your house. I had to pay the painter to go down to the city hall. This is after I called up city hall and ended up actually screaming. The painter spent a day getting a permit to do a job that took about half a day to actually do.

Then I wrote a column about that and discovered that there were people in Coral Gables who would wait until 2 o'clock in the morning to replace a sink because to do it during the daytime you'd see the trucks outside. Two trucks. That's a carpenter and a plumber. So that's two different permits. People were not fixing their houses because they didn't know how to get the permits. It was crazy.

Reason: If you have a cat out of the house, it's supposed to be on a leash there.

Barry: Yeah, and you're not allowed to park a truck in your driveway. You're not allowed to work on your house on Sunday. The people who enforce these laws are nuts. After I wrote a column on this, I got I don't know how many letters from Coral Gables homeowners, story after story after story, wonderfully horrible stories. And the venom they felt for their own government! You cannot paint the exterior of your house. You have to take the paint chip down to show the paint-chip Nazis. It goes on all the time and it's hilarious. People are afraid to own their own homes. People are afraid their own government will catch them fixing their houses.
COPYRIGHT 1994 Reason Foundation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Garvin, Glenn
Publication:Reason
Article Type:Interview
Date:Dec 1, 1994
Words:6263
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