Wednesday, 28 November 2007

What's wrong with Ron Paul?

    Who's the scarier presidential candidate: Ron Paul, or the Rev Mike Huckabee?
    Both Jonah Goldberg and Gus Van Horn consider the question, but with opposite results. Despite Ron Paul's "disastrous" foreign policy and his sometimes scary coven of supporters, Goldberg plumps for Huckabee as the scariest – Huckabee, says Goldberg, s a "compassionate conservatism on steroids," and "an all-around do-gooder who believes that the biblical obligation to do "good works" extends to using government -- and your tax dollars -- to bring us closer to the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth."
    That’s frightening enough, so Ron Paul would have to be plenty scary to bet that.  And he is,as Gus Van Horn explains:
    “The Reverend Mike Huckabee is dangerous for wanting to mix religion and politics, but at least he is honest about wanting to do so. Paul pretends to be a secular candidate, and does the same thing. In that sense, he is more dangerous to our secular republic than the Reverend, because he will fool some who would otherwise oppose the agenda of the religious right.
    “And I haven't even touched on the fact that as a libertarian, Paul is a poor proponent of individual rights generally and, in particular the philosophical arguments for them espoused by Ayn Rand, who is often mistaken for (or smeared as) a libertarian.”
     Phew, more than a few points there to wrestle with. On the first point, Paul's opposition to abortion shows he deserves the charge of smuggling in religion, and place him firmly at odds with any claim to being an advocate for freedom. "Abortion on demand," says Ron Paul, "is the ultimate State tyranny." On June 4, 2003, speaking in the House of Representatives, Paul described "the rights of unborn people” as “the greatest moral issue of our time."
    The ultimate State tyranny? The greatest moral issue of our time? The man's either unhinged or blind, but however good his pronouncements on economics might be (and they’re normally very good), it's clear that he's far from the secular freedom lover many would like him to be. At the very least, continues Van Horn,
    “This means in sum that Paul, as an allegedly secular candidate who is, as such, dismissed as a threat to personal freedom in America, functions as a Trojan horse for the religious right even as he pretends that personal freedom is as obviously good and uncontroversial as breathing on a regular basis. (Personal freedom is good, but this is neither obvious nor uncontroversial.)”
And here we get straight to the second point. What about his claims to being a lover of freedom? What exactly is Paul's vision of "a free society"?  On that subject, this Open Letter to Ron Paul is an eye-opener, written by one Duncan Bayne in response to this article by Paul criticising the BATF & FBI assault on the Branch Davidians in Waco. Says Bayne:
    “While I agreed with many of your criticisms of BATF and FBI tactics & strategy, it became apparent to me that your article was not primarily concerned with those criticisms: the main thrust of the article was to whitewash the monstrous evil committed by David Koresh and his followers. You wrote:
‘The community of faith that once lived at Mount Carmel in Waco, Texas, believed the promise of a free society.’
“This is the "community of faith" that sacrificed twelve-year old girls to Koresh so they could serve as his 'wives' - some of whom bore his children. If that level of barbarism - a religious community complicit in the slavery and rape of young girls - represents anything approaching your idea of what is a ‘free society,’ then I don't want you having any say in how society operates.”
    Too true, and here we get to the root of the Objectivist argument against irrational libertarianism.  Without a rational philosophical foundation, argue Objectivists, without a decent "philosophical infrastructure," politics is a dangerous pursuit of empty words, floating abstractions, and range-of-the-moment compromises. How can you call libertarians allies in freedom, ask hardcore Objectivists, when libertarians such as Ron Paul can't even agree on what the word "freedom" stands for?  And how can you call someone an advocate of freedom at all when their vision of a "free society" apparently includes the the freedom to rape twelve-year-old girls?
    It's clear, just as Van Horn charges, that freedom is neither obvious nor uncontroversial. In fact, personal freedom can and does (and must) be predicated on the base of reason, not of subjective whim.  As Michael Berliner points out in this article on Ayn Rand,
    “She understood that to defend the individual she must penetrate to the root: his need to use reason to survive. ‘I am not primarily an advocate of capitalism,’ she wrote in 1971, ‘but of egoism; and I am not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason. If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest follows.’ This radical view put her at odds with conservatives, whom she vilified for their attempts to base capitalism on faith and altruism. Advocating a government to protect the individual's right to his property, she was not a liberal (or an anarchist). Advocating the indispensability of philosophy, she was not a libertarian.”
The point could hardly be clearer. Van Horn concludes:
    “The fight for freedom is, as I have pointed out, a war on two fronts: the political and the intellectual. Of the two, the intellectual is the more fundamental, and cannot be lost. The longer enemies to freedom like Ron Paul can masquerade as friends, the longer it will take for people to become aware of the actual requirements for a society that respects individual rights.”
And that, in 'short,' is the argument.  When he takes off the tinfoil hat and talks Austrian he’s damn good. But when he’s just got the tinfoil headwear, he’s rotten.
UPDATE:  Robert Bidinotto's New Individualist magazine goes even further in repudiating Paul's candidacy. The cover (pictured right) gives you an idea of the opprobrium in which Paul is deservedly held; the cover story by Vodka Pundit Steven Green
    “focuses solely on Congressman Paul's growing public prominence as a self-proclaimed spokesman for the ideas of liberty -- and on the impact that his representations of those ideas are having on a national audience. This article expresses concern for the fate of those ideas, and not for his fate as a candidate for public office.”
As this post on Bidinotto's blog makes clear, even apart from as the views and authorship of those Ron Paul newsletters, his credentials as a spokesman for liberty are such that his further advocacy can only damage the cause -- as more and more are realising as his campaign swiflty unravels.
    “[The] revelations about Cong. Paul's more outrageous views and his intimate association with a disreputable fringe cult within the libertarian movement have touched off an explosion of media scorn and expressions of outrage in recent days -- much coming from the more responsible libertarian circles. For example, the editors of Reason magazine -- who, in sharp contrast to The New Intellectual, published a glowing cover feature about "the Ron Paul phenomenon" in their latest issue -- are now expressing their disgust and distancing themselves from his candidacy. (Here are comments from the magazine's editors, Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch. Reason contributor Jesse Walker weighs in here, and former contributor Tim Cavanaugh here, while past editor Virginia Postrel comments here and here.) Likewise, Cato's David Boaz offers his own repudiation here. (I could cite many, many more denunciations from various prominent libertarians.)
    “In the meantime, many commentators are also taking Cong. Paul to task for views that thoroughly refute his claim to being a consistent champion of individual rights, liberty, and the Constitution.
    “Steve Green's article in The New Intellectual cited Paul's highly restrictive position on immigration (to the right of Tom Tancredo), his hypocritical support of pork-barrel earmarks for his own congressional district, his opposition to various free-trade agreements (like NAFTA) on wacko-conspiratorial grounds that they surrender U.S. sovereignty to Evil International Institutions, and his appalling, blame-America-first version of "non-interventionism" in foreign policy.
    “To that, Wendy McElroy points to Congressman Paul's pro-federal-interventionist anti-abortion bill (read her whole commentary), which would deny women the right to end a pregnancy and even deny the courts the power of judicial review in the matter -- a clear violation of separation of powers, which is a curious position for this self-proclaimed champion of the Constitution.
    “But what can you expect from a religious conservative who, on Lew Rockwell's website, rejected the Jeffersonian principle of a "wall of separation" between religion and government? As the congressman put it, ’The notion of a rigid separation between church and state has no basis in either the text of the Constitution or the writings of our Founding Fathers.’”
    “Read Bidinotto's full post here (complete with links), and a link to Steve Green's article here.”


  1. Question.. Why are Ron Paul and Winston Peters alike?

    Ans. Because they can be anything you damn well like.

    All you need is a grudge, a conspiracy, a pet hate, an obsession or a "theory" and these jokers are likely to say something that appeals to you. So Winston has his oldies and grumpies and Paul has an unknown number of libs, plus 911 Truthers, Holocaust deniers, neo Nazis, the conspiracy minded, the Jew Haters etc.

    With Winston we know he holds certain views to appeal to a certain type, but with Paul I have a suspicion he actually believes in all his contradictory views.. and will thus be doubly dangerous in the years ahead.


  2. Yes, Ron Paul supports overturning Roe vs Wade and leaving abortion to be decided by the States. That's exactly the same policy as Giuliani, whose personal views on abortion are the opposite of Paul's. So what? And since when was it contradictory for a libertarian to believe abortion is morally wrong?

    My definition of a nutcase is actually anyone who believes, as Van Horn seems to, that America is descending into a theocracy. His problem seems to be not that Ron Paul isn't sufficiently libertarian enough, but that he isn't sufficiently atheist enough. Again, since when was this a criterion?

    I am still waiting for anything approaching a credible argument that Ron Paul is, as you put it, an "enemy of freedom". That's bullshit Peter, and I expect better from you than a bit of hysterical name-calling. I see nothing in Paul's article on the Branch Davidians that I would disagree with, and think Duncan's (and your) response reads way too much into it. By all means disagree with Paul's morality, but he is not running for Pope, he is running for President. Focus on the politics.

    And for sure, I have severe misgivings about Ron Paul's foreign policy, but it is no less nuts than, say, George Bush's dopey invasion of Iraq. It seems like a lot of people are keen to attribute views to Paul that he does not hold - on both sides of the fence.

  3. richard mcgrath29 Nov 2007, 08:43:00

    I think it is unfortunate that Ron Paul's philosophical base is religious faith. It saddens me that such a high profile "champion of the Constitution" is more conservative than libertarian, though he himself acknowledges that.

    I agree he does need to distance himself from, and condemn, David Koresh. His silence on the possible paedophilic proclivities of Koresh is disturbing, notwithstanding the atrocious way Janet Reno handled the situation at Waco in 1993.

    Ron Paul's opposition to the war in Iraq may gain him some votes, but as commander in chief of the US armed forces, a president has to be prepared to go to war to defend his countrymen. I do worry about how much the war is costing, and at the effects of the Patriot Act on the American people. And I wish Bush would just come out and declare war against Islamic fundamentalism. A war on "terrorism" is a licence for unchecked repression.

    Otherwise I believe it is hard to fault Ron Paul's campaign for smaller government. I still believe he is the most libertarian candidate for president since Barry Goldwater. There is so much good in the man, and for a long time he has been a personal hero, though I don't agree fully with his stance on abortion.

    Reagan was a masterful communicator and I loved him, but the actions didn't always match the rhetoric. Perhaps Ron Paul would also struggle as president against a Congress and Senate who appear to have completely forgotten the small government intentions of the Founding Fathers.

  4. Interesting, Richard. You and I at least agree on which side of the ledger Paul's policies sit, yet your evaluation of those policies on the dark side is far less harsh than mine.

    And Blair doesn't even want to know. How 'bout that.

  5. Ultimately though, when compared to all the other candidates hes still the best of a bad bunch.

  6. Is he? Internet quizzes are hardly the ideal way to choose a candidate, but after running through that online US presidential quiz I ended up with them ranked, for me, in this order:

    Giuliani 50%
    McCain 23
    Hunter 17
    Tancredo 15
    Cox 11
    Thompson 9
    Romney 5
    Gravel 1

    The scary Huckabee came in for me at -8, Paul at -13.

    Sure, the quiz doesn't pay any attention to the area in which Paul is most accurate and most interested (that is, in getting the Fed out of the money supply), but then neither do the vast majority of his supporters pay that any attention. They prefer to support him for his flaky Rothbardian foreign policy.

  7. Don't think I agree with your last paragraph, PC. Paul's policy on the Fed and those opposing (increased) govt spending are the reasons he caught my attention in the first place.

    I suspect the Hollywood Johnny-come-latelies like Jon Stewart are those who might support his non-interventionist foreign policy, rather than his core of committed supporters.

    (Not that JS et al are doing much at the moment with the writers' strike!)

  8. PC

    What is wrong with non-interventionist policies of Ron Paul? Is it the same thing that was wrong with the non-interventionist policies of George Washington?

    Y.O. Mutha

  9. Huckabee is a socially conservative Democrat, just like Bush -- only Huckabee is more of a populist, hating the rich. He's almost everything I am against.

  10. Ron Paul would go to war in a heartbeat - if we got attacked.
    And don't give me that 9/11 wasn't an inside job shit...

  11. 9/11 WAS NOT an inside job. Our government did not send those people and those plans into thos buildings. Through their actions, they did however cause those responsible to become angry enough to do those things and failed to analyze the data that was available that could have put a stop to them.

    This is what Ron Paul is saying and I agree.


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