Friday, January 11, 2008

R.I.P. "The Ron Paul Revolution"

I wanted to post a big "told you so!" as the story broke the other night, but I just didn't have the time. For all the non-libertarians out there (or for the libertarians who may have been living in a hole in the ground), it was this story by The New Republic's James Kirchick that blew the lid off the story of the Ron Paul newsletters. Dating back to the 80's and 90's, these newsletters, published in Paul's name crossed the line of acceptable discourse into the realm of race-baiting and race-fear mongering. Now, the libertarian movement is abuzz, and many libertarians, particularly younger ones who have contributed to the Paul campaign, feel more than a bit betrayed. It's important to note that Paul himself did not write the offending material- but it was published in a newsletter bearing his name. There's tons of coverage on all the libertarian blogs, but Reason has a decent round-up of the early reactions. More investigative work from Reason's Matt Welch here and Ron Paul's reaction on CNN here.

Here's the "told you so!" from my blog back in November.

Ron Paul may invoke excitement from some libertarians, but I suspect much of his popularity and support stems from the anti-authoritarian, anti-political, libertarian generalists - not to mention anti-war folks, the protect our borders crowd, and other assorted conspiracy theorists and anti-internationalists. Listening to Dr. Paul in the debates and during his speeches, I just don't feel the libertarian message about the positive aspects of individuality coming across- I don't hear a Regan-esque message of morning in America. Something about the Paul campaign seems darker and that's what scares me. I'm the sort of libertarian- and I believe there are any number out there like me- who thinks that despite my many concerns, this country and our lives are getting better and better. I fear the soft hand of a nanny state, not the clenched grasp of a police one. It just seems to me as though Dr. Paul and his supporters fear a shadowy federal government and that fear has manifested itself in the same way some Republicans have manipulated the fear of terrorism.

My qualms are not just that Ron Paul isn't the right candidate for me - I don't thing he's the right candidate to be carrying the libertarian banner. Even forgetting about the foreign policy question, I just don't think Ron Paul- or his supporters- are the way we want libertarians to be identified. We should want libertarians to be identified with the positive- the positive power of markets and the positive power and abilities of the individual. Ron Paul's message and this pseudo-libertarian spin is merely reactionary and I can't find much hope in it. I think sometimes libertarians get ahead of themselves when it comes to politics and tend to support candidates that do little to help the cause. I hope I'm wrong about Ron Paul and the public perception of libertarianism, but I fear I may be right.

This controversy wasn't exactly what I had in mind, but it stems from the same philosophical groundings. I mean, for God's sake, Paul went on CNN earlier this year and said the Civil War was unnecessary. And there's probably some validity to that point, but only as a historical exercise. A politician in this day and age dredging up the Civil War as a controversial topic can't help but attract closet racists. As I wrote back in November, I can't help but feel that the Paul campaign was reaching for the past- and some of that past fits right into paleo-conservative notions of states rights and other philosophical concepts that were utilized by racists.

I don't think Ron Paul is a racist, any more than anyone else of his generation is. And unlike some libertarians, I don't feel personally betrayed or have any desire to find out the names of who actually wrote the offending material. I don't really even care what it says about Paul's leadership credentials (Would we really want a President who has no idea about all the nonsense that goes on in his name?). My concern is, and always has been, what effect the Ron Paul revolution will have on the perception of libertarian ideas. And I was worried before this scandal came to the limelight. I don't like to be grouped with racists or even semi-racists. I don't like to be grouped with conspiracy nuts. There's nothing wrong with the fact that the Ron Paul campaign attracted some weird people- the problem is, Paul's ideas themselves allowed some of the real wacko elements to feel at home in his campaign.

Updated 1/11/2007 @ 3:05 PM: I like the Volokh Conspiracy's Ilya Somin's take on Ron Paul :

Paul's position on evolution is of a piece with other indicators that he's less a libertarian than a far-right populist. It is consistent with his penchant for right-wing conspiracy theories, such as the supposed plan to form a "North American Union," his opposition to free trade agreements on the ground that they undermine "sovereignty," and his nativist (and highly unlibertarian) position on immigration. Unfortunately, it's also consistent with his having published far-right racist, anti-Semitic, and conspiracy-mongering articles in his political newsletters in the late 1980s and early 90s. Even if Paul didn't endorse their content, he clearly was willing to associate with the sorts of people who believe these things and didn't mind letting them take control of the content of his publications.


Blogger George Dance said...

Regarding Ilya Somors' comment: Just how does a person's desibelief in evolution make him any "less of a libertarian"?

Regarding your major point: Yes, Paul's campaign does not appeal, and is not designed to appeal to, those who think that "this country and our lives are getting better and better". Many people disagree with that statement, and the campaign is appealing to them. Why not? Those who think the U.S. improved under Clinton will vote for Hillary, and those who think it improved under Bush, probably for Romney. Why would either vote for Paul?

3:37 PM  

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