Wednesday, January 16, 2008

And Ron Paul makes the libertarians say ...

Reason's Julian Sanchez and David Weigel take on the question of who wrote the Ron Paul newsletters. As most libertarians are aware, the issue of Ron Paul and his newsletters has incited a shit storm within the movement- just take a look at the comments on the Sanchez-Weigel piece. Any semblance of intellectual debate has disintegrated into playground style name-calling between the "paleo-libertarians" (representing middle America?) and the"cosmopolitan-libertarians" (representing urban centers and the Beltway?).

I suppose this is why libertarianism never gets anywhere- even when we can agree on 90 something percent of the issues, we still can't get along. From the start of his presidential run, my feelings about Ron Paul have ranged from ambivalent observer to concerned citizen. I always thought my feelings stemmed from an uncomfortableness with his foreign policy, but now I'm not sure that's the whole story. Most of the other members of the Reason staff share Paul's views on Iraq, but I'd have no bones about voting for any of them. No, there's something else about Paul that always troubled me and the newsletter fiasco and this whole debate seems to have brought the real problems to light.

Some of Paul's supporters are just plain downright fanatical. Witness the hostility when anyone at Reason has the gall to question their candidate- Never mind the fact that Reason has always been a voice of political discourse, not a mouthpiece for politically aspiring libertarians. I've been a regular to the Reason website since college precisely because they are a reasoned voice of libertarian philosophy and policy. My problem with Ron Paul is not that he's crazy, but he plays to the crazy card. And judging from these old newsletters, it seems as though Paul has never had a problem playing to the angry and the conspiracy-minded.

One of the commenters on Reason attempted to make the point that libertarianism is in contradiction with itself when it simultaneously exalts the individual and shuns the racists and conspiracy nuts. But such a comment really misses the boat. Libertarians certainly believe that individuals have the rights to have stupid beliefs, but there's nothing that says that we should get in line behind everyone else who claims the libertarian label.

I do believe in the idea of big tent libertarianism. I think a substantial portion of the public can be convinced to think in a libertarian way- say, something simple like "less government is better,"- but I think such a movement needs open, flexible, and politically feasible leadership. And that means no racists, no conspiracy nut jobs, and no crazies of any variety. Real-world political movements that actually seek to be influential can't survive crazy. Ron Paul is living proof- he's raised a hell of a lot of money, but no one in their right mind expects him to poll better than 10 or 15%.

In the end, I just don't want there to be a long term association between Ron Paul and libertarians. I don't want libertarians to be seen as closet racists and I don't want libertarians to be seen as wacko conspiracy nut jobs. I don't want the label personally and the label does nothing to advance the cause of liberty. Yeah, racists and nut jobs can get some things right when it comes to government and politics. But that doesn't mean we want to invite them to our party.


Post a Comment

<< Home