by Alex Forbes
“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”
— The Walrus and The Carpenter, Lewis Carroll
How long will our existing two-party system last? What do the parties really stand for? When will elected officials stop governing on the one-way, top-down model? Everybody wants to know, and no one has the answers. All we can do here is look at the one party that continues to change and surprise, even if those come as unpleasant surprises to so many of us. What’s going on?
Republicans are scrambling to find someone articulate enough to stand up to Barack Obama in debate, yet look good wearing the party’s ultraconservative new clothes. Gingrich has a tarnished past and is viewed as somewhat volatile and unpredictable, but he can certainly handle debate. Ron Paul by all accounts would have been viewed as a crackpot only a few short years ago, and the more you look at his platform and ask the question “so how would this work?” the more dubious it looks.
But Ron Paul has an unaccountably strong following. Why? Ron Paul is articulate; he can explain things all of the other candidates fumble, even though they are generally all sipping from the same slipper. Why is only Ron Paul giving answers that seem to make sense to the Republican base, even if they only make sense when we don’t ask what would happen next?
Ron Paul has been called the “godfather of libertarianism.” How did we get from a fringe backwater political philosophy to a serious national candidacy?
This isn’t the forum to discuss libertarianism, a generalized political philosophy with 18th century roots which anchors the individual (not governments) as the unit of all social transactions, advocates minimization of government, prohibits the use of force in settling disputes, and usually has a strong platform on individual rights. A “free market” is viewed not just as an adjunct to those principles, but as indispensably rooted in them. In the U.S., libertarianism is more apt to affiliate with “right wing” policy, where in Europe one may still see variants such as “libertarian socialism.”
The old-time U.S. Libertarian Party never expected to win popular acceptance, so they didn’t have any identifiable next-step plan in the event that should ever happen. What seems odd is that, under the present success of the Paul candidacy, which may properly be regarded as a huge and unexpected popularity boost for the libertarian philosophy, they still don’t.
Over the years I’ve come to see how nations succeed by creating a culture and environment that brings all their citizenry into the participatory fold. Nations that leave their children under-educated, create exclusionary castes, shelter their elite classes, and cut loose their middle classes are, historically, nations on their way out. As corporations use to spout, “people are our most important asset.” What conservatives have forgotten in the past 50 years is that squandering people is not like squandering money. You cannot simply go out and get more. The just society is also the most efficient when everybody is a player. And efficiency is exactly what capitalism was supposed to be all about, was it not?
2012 is the first election year in memory when we the electorate could actually really use a primer to better understand some of the libertarian political tenets. First, we’ll survey some snippets of libertarian ideology. Afterwards, we’ll sample some of what Paul would like to do to implement them.
1. The Theoreticians
In 2012 we’ll face another contest between the two main US political parties. The Democratic Party seems to be the last safe haven for the moderate, leaving the old-school liberal in a kerfuffle. The Republican Party is the new, mean, aggressive soldier force for corporate America and the wealthy. Many people who are neither corporate not wealthy still believe this is a good cause that will trickle down for the rest of us.
Ron Paul breaks the mold.
This means, uh-oh doodie, talking about the last vestiges of capitalism’s theoretical underpinnings, as preserved through the dark ages of participatory democracy by the high priests of old Ayn Rand style libertarianism. That would be Ron Paul if it were anyone. Paul is the one candidate who most closely explains most platform positions of all the others, because he appears to be the only one who understands the theory, and he’s the only one advocating it.
Ron Paul is one of only two currently favored GOP contestants for the 2012 presidential elections who have any idea what they’re talking about. Is Paul another GOP flash in the pan, or does he have staying power? Is Paul any different than the rest of them? Just look at the initial lineup: Paul, Gingrich, Romney, Perry, Santorum, Bachman, Huntsman, Cain, Palin. What do they have in common?
Cain dropped off off the radar, Palin again avoided the commitment. Huntsman always seemed too decent and too moderate to last. Santorum and Bachman wear their hate agendas on their sleeve. Perry probably had his one senior moment too many on national TV. Romney is the chameleon who wants to be all things to all people, people know this, and he seems safe because we can’t count on him to carry out threats to do anything specific. Gingrich may be damaged goods but he’s very smart, he can take any position on an issue that suits him, and he’s a talented and persuasive speaker.
The GOP contest may yet devolve down to two the ideologues, Paul and Gingrich. Democratic and Republican voters alike need to understand the ideology behind the ideologues. Ron Paul knows what he’s talking about, and he practices what he preaches. Unfortunately he would actually try to do it, and that platform essentially consists of dismantling federal government and then doing nothing. Gingrich is too facile to be held to any plan of action, but he has plenty of practice ramrodding whatever legislation seems trendy at the moment.
Gingrich could tell you what he’d do in any given situation. But you could put Paul in an isolation booth, blindfold him, and tell him what Gingrich had said. Paul wouldn’t be able to tell you what situation Gingrich was trying to deal with, but he could unfailingly tell you what principle was being invoked.
Indeed, with the emergence of the “tail wags the dog” Tea Party movement in the GOP, it’s more important than ever to understand where the players are really coming from.
Libertarianism is another “big tent,” just like the GOP used to try to be. There’s general agreement on general principles, but you don’t get exiled to a North Korean POW camp and have your right to habeus corpus suspended just because you disagree on Iraq or gay rights or printing money to finance undeclared wars.
Libertarians have been running for everything from President to dog-catcher for decades. Only recently have their ideas taken hold in some circles. Some Libertarians managed to put up a decent showing for their principles, like US Congressman Ron Paul of Texas, by teaming up with the (formerly) mainstream Republican Party.
But what would Ron Paul do if he actually got elected President? Ignore the fact that he says he doesn’t want the highest job in the land in order to “run the world.”
To understand why he says that, consider his response to a question about whether he favored seat belt laws. “When asked if he was in favor of seat belt laws, Paul quickly shot back ‘I’m in favor of seat belts, not seat belt laws.'” — ABC News
In short, what if the right thing to do about unemployment, corruption and the whole current economic mess is to condemn it, deplore it, and then just sit back and wait for private enterprise to figure out all the messy practical stuff? Libertarians have a theory that rational behavior is the most just and efficient behavior, but when transgressors take advantage of the system, or violate the rights of others, Libertarians draw a fundamental distinction between burglars and banks. If the contents of your home are robbed by a burglar, that’s a police matter. But if your home itself is taken by the bank, “our hands are tied.” That’s a matter for SuperCoolCapitalistMan. You can always cash in your 401K and sue the bank. Get in line.
“That may work in practice, but it won’t hold up in theory!” — unknown author
Ron Paul is by far the most ideologically consistent 2012 candidate of either major party. He was the 1988 candidate for the Libertarian Party. He was a 2008 candidate for the Republican Party. He has by far the best record of supporting a principle even when personally somewhat opposed to its implementation. Unfortunately, like most free market advocates in general, and the Libertarian Party in particular, he can pronounce on any number of principles we might sympathize with in theory, yet fall inexplicably mute on the question of how to get us from here to there.
The free market or Libertarian solution, you see, is “that’s none of our concern.” It’s not for the federal government to remediate systematic injustices, it’s thought, even when caused or abetted by government itself. It’s not for the federal government to address societal wrongs, persons displaced by economic chaos, the homeless, persecuted minorities, discrimination, poverty, hunger, our our third-world education system. Who else then, indeed?
Let them eat cake
In the Libertarian view, then, it should be up to the states to legislate in areas forbidden to the federal level. No one ever explained what the Founding Fathers expected to happen when you let the states dole out legislation already deemed inappropriate at the federal level, or why we would want to do this. But they clearly didn’t expect the Civil War.
To take just one example, Paul remains opposed to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, arguing that such powers should have been relegated to the states instead. This of course included Jim Crow states like Alabama and Mississippi (among others) that the 1964 Act was designed to rein in. This “reserved to the states” clause is exactly the same line Alabama and Mississippi were arguing in 1964, yet Paul does not seem to be a racist nor in any way sympathetic to racism. It’s just that his hands are ideologically tied. If you are denied your right to vote, you can still appeal to the offending state that enacted the obstacles.
So then: does Paul have what Robert M. Pirzig called “the tendency to do what is ‘reasonable’ even when it isn’t any good?“
In the Libertarian view, we see how it should be up to the “marketplace” (the entire private enterprise system) to find appropriate solutions to economic disruptions and downturns. More often than not, this will involve turning a social need into a cash cow. Paul, like almost all Libertarians, believes the free market is eminently capable of doing just that. We know of few examples where the free market has actually ever done it.
We live in a “mixed economy.” Should America ever actually adopt a consistent free enterprise model, private enterprise today is neither inclined nor prepared to begin regulating itself effectively.
Remember this: Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand does NOT meddle in private affairs, even though this does not preclude discriminatory legislation. If you are hurt by economic disruption or corruption, you are free to figure out what the hell to do next when the boom is lowered on your industry or region. If you were hurt by Enron, or by Bank of America, Lehman or Citibank, those who can afford to do so can always file civil suit for damages.
Gay Marriage is everyone’s perfect hot-button litmus test across all political parties! No matter where you stand on gay equality, once you determine a candidate’s stand on our least popular minorities, you have a far better idea how consistently you’ll expect your own rights to remain secure.
Here we find another great illustration of the Libertarian “not our problem” approach. The Libertarian Party Platform would “repeal existing laws and policies intended to condemn, affirm, encourage or deny sexual lifestyles.” From this may we infer the LP would not oppose gay marriage, even if individuals were opposed to it? Not so fast. There is nothing at all in this view to say that just because we may be opposed to a certain form of discrimination, we have any moral, personal or collective responsibility to correct the wrong by “allowing” people the same rights we ourselves enjoy. The “right thing” has nothing to do with it. If it remained illegal for gay couples to get married in a state, well then, according to this theory, those states can’t stop them from emigrating to the UK, so gay Americans already have a remedy.
That’s how we can have these bizarre interview scenarios on international TV where one GOP candidate for the highest office in this land, the most powerful nation the a world in turmoil has ever known, is accusing another of being soft on gay marriage. The issue at that moment wasn’t exactly whether or not you’re soft on gay marriage, because it’s presumed you’re unalterably opposed to it. It’s whether or not you can fight against a law to give equal rights to the gay community on the one hand, yet still say you’re “tolerant,” on the other. On network TV, and as documented by towlerroad.com:
SANTORUM: “[He] ordered people to issue gay marriage licenses. And went beyond that. He personally, as governor, issued gay marriage licenses. I don’t think that is an accurate representation of his position saying tolerance versus substantively changing the laws.”
ROMNEY: “I fought leading an effort to put in place a constitutional amendment in Massachusetts to overturn the court’s decision to make marriage between a man and a woman.”
Dirty little secret:The libertarian political philosophy severely limits federal authority to the most basic functions of government. As this principle was revised by the GOP, legislation that controls or restricts what corporations and the wealthy can do remains an unspeakable sacrilege to our founding principles. However, legislation that gores somebody else’s ox is OK when we don’t like them, and if we can’t pass that bill, we can always try to amend the US Constitution to get our way.
You see, Libertarians didn’t invent bigotry, prejudice or discriminatory behavior, but they provided a theoretical justification for practicing it. Not original, but disowning personal accountability is a neat trick if you can get away with it. This is just “Market Forces,” applied to individual rights. If you ever found yourself scratching your head, wondering how we can vote or legislate away constitutionally protected rights (gay equality or gun rights, makes no difference), there’s your theoretical justification.
‘Entitlements’ and War
Paul is so famously known for his opposition to welfare, medicare and social security I provided no external references in part 2. As an intelligent and well-educated intellectual he is smart enough to know elimination of those long-standing programs would require a huge transition period for the United States, its budget, and its citizens. The Federal government could not just say “so sorry, we’ve changed our minds.” People already on the programs would have to be grandfathered beyond some point in their working careers, or transitioned to new programs, the nation would have to be educated on how these programs would work and get behind them, and our dysfunctional Congress would have to devise and approve those changes.
But what would these new programs be, and how would we transition to them? Blank-out. Leave that to – sniff – practical people.
“Life first, Miss Lemon, filing second.” — Hercule Poirot
Ron Paul was an opponent of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. I was too. Paul has always been unequivocally opposed to any US military overseas presence anywhere at all except in periods of declared war. This sounds very straightforward. He was morally opposed to Obama’s taking down Bin Laden at a cost of zero American lives. Just how then shall we prepare for the coming nuclear crisis in Iran? What if North Korea goes ballistic (literally)? There’s no proposal to increase the effectiveness of diplomatic solutions, nor to strengthen our ties with the United Nations, an organization already hated by many conservatives. We’re left to assume that if Paul were elected, somebody else would have to figure out how to deal with those problems.
This is the same thing we did to Iraq: we liberated them, destroyed their infrastructures, and left them – with no roadmap for the day after tomorrow.
Paul is the most theoretically consistent of the conservative candidates. The others pay lip service to Libertarian principles when it’s politically expedient. What they all have in common is belief in the myth that the American free enterprise system is anywhere near ready to step up to the plate with workable solutions to hold this nation together.
Bizarrely, Paul is also a science denier, at least when it comes to Darwin. He does not accept the theory of evolution, saying it’s just a theory. Paul earned his medical degree at Duke, and served as a USAF flight surgeon from 1963 to 1968.
I have to conclude that the only reason Paul is doing so well is that many Americans (who may not actually vote for him) admire Paul’s general consistency on most issues. I personally believe we need much more than a leader who can only scold miscreants and wait for the states and “the suits” to come up with equitable answers across all 50 states. Nevertheless we are all starved for straight answers. We need answers that represent puzzle pieces that actually fit together – for a change.
I read on the previously-cited ABC article that Paul was on The Jay Leno Show recently:
Paul walked out to a standing ovation by the mainly youthful audience. The fact wasn’t lost on Leno who noted that he drew lots of support from young people.
“Young people are principled,” said Paul adding that “after a while you get mixed up.”
There remain a few unseemly little glitches in Libertarian theory, such as the reality of people, with all our distastefully messy little practical human problems. Let’s see if the younger generation has the education and patience to think and plan ahead of the curve. Let’s hope they can come up with something that’s both reasonable and any good.
2. The Practice
- On Israel: “Israel can take care of itself.” — CBS
- On Gay Marriage: “Personally opposed to same-sex ‘marriage,’ but….” Paul has earlier said the law could allow gays to marry, on a state-by-state-basis, and he doesn’t care what it’s called. Paul is the only candidate who has NOT signed the National Organization for Marriage pledge to amend the US Constitution to prohibit gay marriage. — lifesite news
- On OWS: “If they were demonstrating peacefully … and making a point, and arguing our case, and drawing attention to the Fed–I would say, good!” — Reason
- On Abortion: personally opposed, but “Ron Paul believes that the ninth and tenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution do not grant the federal government any authority to legalize or ban abortion. Instead, it is up to the individual states to prohibit abortion.” — RonPaul.com
- On Illegal Immigration: “Paul believes illegal aliens take a toll on welfare and Social Security and would end such benefits, concerned that uncontrolled immigration makes the U.S. a magnet for illegal aliens, increases welfare payments, and exacerbates the strain on an already highly unbalanced federal budget.” — Wikipedia
Note: Paul would do away with both welfare and social security anyway, if he were empowered to do so.
- On Evolution: “Congressman Ron Paul, who is campaigning for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, says that the theory of human evolution is just a theory – and one that he does not accept.” — CBS News with YouTube link
- On Government in the classroom: “If you care about your children, you’ll get the federal government out of the business of educating our kids. In 1980, when the Republican Party ran, part of the platform was to get rid of the Department of Education. By the year 2000, it was eliminated, and we fed on to it. Then Republicans added No Child Left Behind. The goal should be set to get the government out completely, but don’t enforce this law of No Child Left Behind. It’s not going to do any good, and nobody likes it. And there’s no value to it. The teachers don’t like it, and the students don’t like it. But there are other things that the federal government can do, and that is give tax credits for the people who will opt out. We ought to have a right to opt out of the public system if you want.” — Issues2000.com
- On Social Security: “Now, what I would like to do is to allow all the young people to get out of Social Security and go on their own. Now, the big question is, is how would the funding occur?” – Issues2000.com
A rare questioning of how the nation could deal with the consequences of implementing a libertarian policy. But where are the all-important answers?
- On Iraq: “Paul was the only 2008 Republican presidential candidate who voted against the Iraq War Resolution, and he continues to oppose U.S. presence in Iraq, charging the government with using the War on Terror to curtail civil liberties. He believes a just declaration of war after the September 11, 2001, attacks should have been directed against the actual terrorists, Al-Qaeda, rather than against Iraq, which has not been linked to the attacks. In 2003, Paul said that when America seeks war, it must be sought only to protect citizens, it must be declared by the U.S. Congress, and it must be concluded when the victory is complete …” — Wikipedia
- On Corporate Greed vs. Political Greed: Paul backs himself into the position of being an apologist for corporate corruption and fraud. His default answer would deflect blame back on the government for the actions of Bernie Madoff, Bank of America, Citibank, Lehman, Goldman Sachs, and Enron: “Why don’t we ever mention the real American killer: political greed?” — RonPaul.com
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