For many libertarian-minded voters, Ron Paul represents a great opportunity. Here is a candidate, it is proclaimed, that finally gets what liberty and the free society are all about.
hope has started to evaporate as more information about Paul’s controversial
newsletters keeps surfacing.
Nonetheless, many libertarians still support Paul despite his questionable past because they think he’s right on the issues that are most fundamental to the cause of liberty.
His campaign web site provides a nicely organized summary of his views on many of these issues. What I find when looking at these, however, is that Ron Paul is more Pat Robertson than Barry Goldwater.
Debt and Taxes
I see no serious problems with Paul’s views on government debt and taxes. Essentially, he wants to limit and control federal spending by sticking to the Constitution and the powers expressly granted by that document.
He does seem overly worried about foreign banks owning the federal government’s debt. This fact, in itself, isn’t a problem. On the contrary, it seems to indicate a fundamental long-term soundness in the American economy because foreign banks are willing to buy US treasury bonds and the like.
American Independence and Sovereignty
Paul believes that various free trade agreements with Canada and Mexico are threats to our freedoms because, in part, there is “a plan to erase the borders between the U.S. and Mexico” and “create a single nation out of Canada, the U.S., and Mexico, with a new unelected bureaucracy and money system.”
Besides the worrisome and loony conspiracy-theorist elements, this highlights one of Paul’s great weaknesses: He comes across as being against free trade. He worries that foreign companies will take U.S. jobs and that free trade agreements undermine our national sovereignty.
Many Paul supporters point out that what Paul is attacking here are free-trade agreements like NAFTA, and not free trade as such. This may be the case, but in his main campaign vehicle — his web site — he comes across as a protectionist.
Why does he not say here that free trade is good, that we should lower tariffs and trade restrictions, and that people should be free to trade without government interference?
Either he is hiding his free-trade views or they are not a priority for him. Neither of these coheres well with the idea that Paul is candidate who cares about protecting and extending liberty.
War and Foreign Policy
Though foreign policy is where much of his growing popularity is coming from, Paul’s isolationism, or non-interventionism, is dangerous and unrealistic. He appears to accept the view, unfortunately peddled by many prominent libertarians, that if only we would leave the Islamists alone they would not attack us.
This “ignore the bully and hope he leaves us alone” approach rarely ever works, and terrorism is no time to try it. Nor is this a case where the Islamists have legitimate or reasonable gripes against American foreign policy — certainly nothing that remotely justifies taking up arms against Americans.
Islamic radicals are in this fight to destroy us because we are free and secular, and because we are not strict Muslims. They will not quit this fight if we leave Iraq, or even if we stop our (important) support of Israel and other allies. Such action would only embolden our enemies, not pacify them.
Whatever one thinks of the wisdom of invading Iraq when we did, it would be foolish and dangerous to leave now. It would quickly become a dangerous Islamist state.
The first principle of the foreign policy of a free country is the protection of the individual rights of its citizens. This view necessitates neither isolationism nor a policy of involvement.
Different historical and circumstantial contingencies will require a consideration of how best to implement the principle of protecting individual rights. At times, this might call for neutrality or non-involvement; at other times, however, it might require entering into alliances or providing material and financial support to allies. Indeed, it might require attacking and destroying regimes that pose significant threats to ourselves and our allies.
Paul’s foreign policy is essentially: “Buy our goods but then go away and please do not bomb us.” Unfortunately, this approach just does not work against Islamic terrorists.
Life and Liberty
Another major strike against Paul is his anti-abortion stance. He has sponsored bills that would block federal courts from protecting the reproductive rights of individuals where state laws prevent abortions.
Paul apparently does not support the separation of church and state, saying in a press release that there is no basis for the separation. He has also indicated that faith, namely Christian faith, should play a strong role in the president’s decision-making. And he advocates using federal power to prevent homosexual unions and marriage. Just where is the authority for this expressed in the Constitution?
This points to a more general concern. The federal government, in Paul’s view, should not interfere with state laws that prohibit abortion, homosexuality, or religious freedom.
This misunderstanding of federalism allows that states should be left free to violate individual rights. This is not a principled defense of liberty.
For a man who claims he “never votes for legislation unless the proposed measure is expressly authorized by the Constitution,” Paul strangely does not speak out against the current Social Security system.
It looks like he merely wants to reform it and make it solvent. To his credit, his does appear to advocate allowing individuals to control their own retirement funds.
Border Security and Immigration Reform
Paul’s anti-immigration stance is as unacceptable, and as un-libertarian, as his protectionist stance on trade.
Human capital needs to be as free as financial capital. It is important for liberty and economic prosperity that any peaceful individual can enter and work in this country.
Privacy and Personal Liberty
biggest threat to your privacy is the government,” Paul writes.
Hear! Hear! It is comments like this that attract the attention of libertarians and other pro-freedom advocates. Paul is also a strong critic of the Patriot Act.
As a whole, the Patriot Act is a dangerous threat to our freedoms, and Paul’s voice is important here.
Property Rights and Eminent Domain
Paul is good about speaking out for the importance of property rights and against eminent domain abuse. Still, there is a loony reference to a something called the “NAFTA Superhighway.”
More worrisome, however, is that Paul’s takes an inappropriate “state’s rights” view here. He says the “next president must get federal agencies out of these schemes to deny property owners their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property.” Notice, he does not say anything about getting the states out of abusing eminent domain.
The real problem with eminent domain is at the state and local level, and apparently a President Paul would do little, if anything, to prevent such abuse.
As with Social Security, Paul here again appears to accept the current system and does not speak out against the FDA and other government health regulations. Most disconcerting, he does not mention at all, on his web site, the plans by most of the other presidential candidates that would nationalize health care.
He is at the forefront of making sure we do not lose our right to take whatever vitamins or supplements we want to take — but he has nothing to say about HillaryCare or Medicare?
His priorities seems out of whack to me. A defender of liberty should first and foremost care about the federal takeover of health care, but Paul’s web site is silent on this.
Education and Home Schooling
Paul’s advocacy of getting rid of the Department of Education and federal subsidies for education is terrific. He also introduced legislation to protect the freedom to home school and for tax credits for those who opt out of public education.Environment
Paul appears quite strong on this issue: “The key to sound environmental policy is respect for private property rights. The strict enforcement of property rights corrects environmental wrongs while increasing the cost of polluting.”Racism
Paul makes some excellent points on his web site about racism. He claims that it is a form of collectivism (sound familiar?) encouraged by group identification instead of individualism. Liberty is the only appropriate social response: “Liberty means free-market capitalism, which rewards individual achievement and competence — not skin color, gender, or ethnicity.”
If one goes only by what is written here, then one should applaud Paul. However, there have been a recent number of revelations about Paul involving connections with neo-Nazis and white supremacist groups.
example, he recently refused to return a donation made by a prominent neo-Nazi,
though he distanced himself from the donation.
In addition, white supremacist groups claim that Paul and his aides have met regularly with these racist and anti-semitic groups.
recently, detailed allegations in The New Republic of racist, anti-semitic, and conspiratorial newsletters
written under Paul’s name have given more traction to these concerns.
Paul denies writing these, and claims that he regrets giving his name to these publications.
Even if his regret is sincere, he stills demonstrates a colossal failure of responsibility and leadership. These newsletters where published over more than a decade, and Paul had a responsibility to know what was being published under his name.
Paul is either a racist — which by most personal accounts he is not — or he’s willing to countenance racists close by. Either way, these allegations are deeply troubling and point to serious flaws in judgment.Summary
While Paul talks the talk at times for libertarianism and pro-liberty, I don’t think he walks the walk. He is on the side of liberty on many issues and should be praised for that.
However, when it comes to many of the most important issues, including many issues most influenced by a president — such as immigration and trade — he is usually on the side of anti-liberty forces.
On social and culture issues, such as religious freedom, homosexuality, and reproductive rights, he is a traditional religious conservative and sounds nothing like a libertarian.
Most worrisome, Paul advocates dangerous and irresponsible foreign policy views.
When he claims he only supports legislation expressly authorized by the Constitution, Paul is at worse a hypocrite and at best inconsistent and superficial. Legislation that he has sponsored and touted on his own web site belies this view.
He does not speak out, on his web site, against clearly un-constitutional proposals, such as nationalizing health care. Nor does he speak out against already established, yet not constitutionally authorized, programs and agencies such as the FDA, Medicare, and Social Security.
I do not see a principled defense or advocacy of liberty here. I see a man using the ideas of liberty to protect his view of America as a white, Christian country. That is not good for liberty, libertarianism, or America.
Shawn E. Klein is a philosophy professor at the Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship at Rockford College in Illinois. He is a contributor and co-editor of Harry Potter and Philosophy: If Aristotle Ran Hogwarts (Open Court, 2004). He blogs at www.PhilosophyBlog.com.