What To Make Of The Ron Paul Revolution
Much has been written about the rise in popularity of libertarian Republican Ron Paul’s presidential campaign—both good and bad. Lew Rockwell’s paleo-libertarian blog—notorious for his opposition toward both Democrats and Republicans and the State in general—has been perhaps the most ardent supporter of the Republican Congressman’s presidential campaign while pro-war “libertarian” Ilya Somin of The Volokh Conspiracy has become one of the latest critics to join to growing chorus of critics of the Ron Paul campaign.
But while much of the media and blogosphere’s attention has been spent on the messenger—his “quirkiness”, his naivete about believing he can win his party’s nomination, his avid internet supporters, his one-day fund-raising totals, and his supposed “support” for the 9/11 Truth Movement—much less time has been spent focusing upon the message itself and what it means to the future of American politics. Ron Paul, himself has admitted, “I may not be the best messenger, but the message is powerful.”
And just what is that message?
Ron Paul says it’s a message of liberty. And indeed, in terms of elevating the freedom of the individual over the power of the government, Ron Paul is the most libertarian presidential candidate offered by one of the two major parties in many decades.
Yet, as many of his critics have pointed out, Ron Paul is not completely consistent in his libertarianism. His strong support for securing our nation’s borders and cracking down on illegal immigration is not consistent with the libertarian philosophy of allowing people and trade to travel freely across borders. His defense of his vote in favor of our military’s Don’t ask, don’t tell policy—while convincing in its rejection of group rights—was a missed opportunity to criticize yet another government policy that the vast majority of libertarians believe is unjust and unnecessary. And at times, Mr. Paul’s devotion to federalism seems to overshadow his support for libertarian principles, as when he argues that certain issues (e.g., abortion, gay marriage) should be decided by state and local governments rather than by the federal government instead of raising the fundamental question of whether government at any level should be involved in these issues in the first place.
Still, Ron Paul’s notion of liberty and his willingness to speak out against policies that expand the power of the federal government and infringe upon our freedoms (both personal and economic) has set him apart from the current crop of presidential candidates (both Democrats and Republicans) and seems to be transforming American politics towards a new realignment—one that defies the traditional Democrat-versus-Republican, liberal-versus-conservative paradigm.
Libertarians Nick Gillespie (Editor-in-Chief of Reason Magazine) and Matt Welch (Assistant Editorial Page Editor of the Los Angeles Times) wrote a recent opinion piece in the Washington Times in which they attempt to explain the improbable rise of this maverick Republican Congressman from Lake Jackson, Texas:
That force is less about Paul than about the movement that has erupted around him — and the much larger subset of Americans who are increasingly disillusioned with the two major political parties’ soft consensus on making government ever more intrusive at all levels, whether it’s listening to phone calls without a warrant, imposing fines of half a million dollars for broadcast “obscenities” or jailing grandmothers for buying prescribed marijuana from legal dispensaries.
While some may question whether Ron Paul might be bad for libertarianism, his growing popularity and name recognition suggests that there is a growing movement in this country—made up of libertarians, Old Right conservatives, and anti-war liberals—who have grown tired of the politicians in control of this country as well as the Democratic and Republican parties.
Ron Paul remains a long-shot to win the Republican nomination and an even longer shot of winning the presidential election. And his criticism is coming from a number of ideological fronts—both from neo-conservatives who have never met an American War that they didn’t like as well as from dyed-in-the-wool progressives who have never met a domestic welfare program that they didn’t like.
Yet much of the criticism is also of a partisan nature—the type that comes from partisan Democrats and Republicans who realize that Ron Paul and libertarianism represent a direct challenge to the Democratic and Republican parties and the oversimplified liberal-versus-conservative spectrum that they reply upon to draw voters into their opposing camps. Like Ronald Reagan before him, Ron Paul seeks to define politics not by left-versus-right but by up-versus-down, where up represents libertarianism and down represents statism. Only, unlike Ronald Reagan (who went up to grow the size of government, balloon the national debt, and support anti-liberty government policies such as the War on Drugs), Ron Paul actually means what he says.
Ron Paul’s critics have argued that Ron Paul is dangerous. And they are right. Ron Paul is dangerous—though not in the ways that they believe he is. Ron Paul represents a third force in American politics that challenges our two-party system.
All too often, partisans have made crucial issues into a Democratic-versus-Republican or liberal-versus-conservative debate. People who speak out against the war are a bunch of “Bush-haters” and members of the “far left” while people who speak out against costly federal spending programs are “corporatists” and members of the “far right.” That there are pro-liberty/anti-authority voters out there that do not cleave to the traditional left-versus-right spectrum is an irritant to Democratic and Republican apologists who make their living by selling us the false lie that there are only two choices in American politics—us versus them.
UPDATE: Bill Westmiller of the Republican Liberty Caucus has informed me that Ron Paul did not vote for the military’s Don’t ask, don’t tell policy. Given that this law was passed in 1993, and Ron Paul wasn’t even in Congress in 1993, I would have to agree with Mr. Westmiller and concede that I was factually wrong in making this statement. I regret this mistake.
NOTE: This post was cross-posted at The Coming Realignment.