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Conservatives' Problem: Big Government vs. Little Porn

Does the Republicans' theme of 'Get government out of our lives' actually mean anything?

Conservatives' Problem: Big Government vs. Little Porn

JESUSLAND—We can't help but wonder if Steve Chapman's latest column for Townhall Daily, the collection of links to conservative columnists that shows up in our inbox every day, is his last?

Its title is "Posturing Against Pornography," and makes the point that conservatives (especially religious ones) have gone way out of their way to try to avoid: "The government could squander both money and personal freedom by trying to stamp out pornography. Or it could try the policy attributed to Oscar Wilde: 'I have no objection to anyone's sex life as long as they don't practice it in the street and frighten the horses.'"

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Indeed, Chapman may have committed the unpardonable sin of suggesting that so-called "small-government" conservatives have no business worrying about what kind of entertainment adults can enjoy in the privacy of their own homes, nor whether they can purchase such material in local stores or online.

"Based on the evidence, it would be easier to make the case that adult entertainment is beneficial than that it's harmful," Chapman wrote. "Harvard economist Benjamin Edelman even found that in places where porn subscriptions are most popular, you find more people 'donating blood, engaging in volunteer activities or participating in community projects.'"

As AVN readers know, one of those places is Utah, where a study published in 2009 found that during the three previous years of the study, Utah had the highest per capita number of broadband subscribers to adult sites of anywhere in the nation. (The next two most highly ranked: Alaska and Mississippi—that is, Sarah Palin and Haley Barbour country, respectively.)

Indeed, Chapman takes that statistic and runs with it.

"We all know that pornography is offensive and destructive," his article begins, "so we can guess that wherever X-rated fare gains popularity, social decay will follow. It may come as a surprise, then, to learn which state has the highest rate of online subscriptions to adult websites. Not New York or California, but Utah. Yes, Utah."

Chapman also acknowledges the recent push by Morality in Media and some affiliated groups to push Attorney General Eric Holder for more obscenity prosecutions, and even quotes a bit from the MIM-authored letter that 42 senators (mostly Republicans) sent to Holder expressing their concerns—but he points out one uncomfortable fact that the anti-porn campaign has ignored.

"Their argument is that pornography causes sexual violence, molestation of children, sex trafficking and other maladies," Chapman stated. "'This material harms individuals, families and communities and the problems are only getting worse,' wrote the group, led by Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of—you guessed it—Utah. You will wait in vain to hear of other senators joining together to say this is all nonsense, though that happens to be the case."

(Indeed; the adult industry, which contributes millions of dollars in taxes to the state of California and provides thousands of jobs, continues to wait for Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), one of the letter's signers, to repudiate her position.)

"More than one out of every three Americans with Internet access regularly visits porn sites," Chapman wrote, without citing a source. "By the logic of the puritans, we should be coping with an avalanche of collateral damage. But we're not."

Chapman also cites unsourced statistics which indicate that "Rape has dropped 86 percent in the United States since 1991"—in fact, that percentage decline has been going on since 1980, when VCRs and porn videocassettes were beginning to become widely available—and that, "Divorce rates are down 25 percent during the same period." He also notes that statistics for sex trafficking have been wildly inflated.

"Numerous studies have failed to prove that viewing prurient pictures has any deleterious consequences to individuals," Chapman stated. "Just because the occasional rapist or child molester blames his crimes on skin flicks doesn't make it true."

He employs a similar logic to counter claims that "sex addiction," which he correctly states is "not a recognized psychiatric disorder," is also not a reason to ban porn. 

"Alcoholism is a form of addiction, but we don't ban wine," Chapman noted.

"The absence of any visible damage caused by adult sites won't deter the crusading senators, whose true objection to sexual fare is not that it's harmful but that it's sexual," Chapman correctly assessed. "Moral disapproval, however, is no more grounds for prosecuting obscenity than it is for banning Charlie Sheen from TV."

Damn, it feels good to have a conservative admit that! But Chapman is also eminently practical.

"Besides, it's not like we have a choice," he concluded. "The nature of the Internet makes it next to impossible to keep out porn, short of draconian government controls. U.S.-based suppliers may be prosecuted, but there are plenty of other countries where smut peddlers can set up shop and stream live shower cams all night long."

And as we all know, conservatives are staunchly against excessive governmental regulation. Except when they aren't.

So here's a toast to Steve Chapman, who apparently already has a day job as a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune. That's good, because we suspect that the paychecks from the Heritage Foundation, which publishes Townhall magazine and Townhall.com, may not be there too much longer.






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Mark Kernes

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