Monday, December 19, 2011

thoughts on Ron Paul

I have never been a fan of Ron Paul (well, since high school/early college, but that hardly counts, right?), but his increasing viability changes the dynamic somewhat. A new PPP poll puts him in the lead in Iowa. I easily prefer Gary Johnson, who is like Ron Paul, but with actual accomplishments and more enlightened views on immigration and reproductive rights. But, sadly, he never managed to get any traction. Paul has.

Erik Kain has written a few posts endorsing Ron Paul and then defending that endorsement. These are all choice posts, but here are a few highlights, all of which I second.

I have lost faith in Obama. Yes, I think that some things in the healthcare reform legislation and financial legislation do some real good for some people. But I see a very poor trade in electing folks who give you corporate healthcare legislation in exchange for dubious, never-ending war powers.
What it comes down to for me is not spending or taxes or anything like that at all. I want peace. I want to elect whichever candidate is most likely to lead us in a peaceful direction – toward peaceful commerce and a vastly downsized military abroad. I want a candidate who will honestly and frankly assess the abuses of liberty here at home, because without our basic rights intact, how can we trust anything our government does?
For me it is hardly about left vs. right anymore or the various second-tier policy differences Democrats and Republicans may have. Yes, I care about jobs, about taxes, about healthcare and public education. Yes, on many of these issues I’m far to the left of Ron Paul. But I care more about peace.
from the first link.
In a startling break with tradition, Ron Paul took a few quick jabs at his Republican rivals on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno Friday. Asked his opinion of Michele Bachmann, who Paul had clashed with earlier in the week over the question of a nuclear Iran, Paul said Bachmann “hates Muslims” and “wants to go get them.”

Leno asked Paul his opinion of Rick Santorum, asking whether he talked about anything other than gay people. “Gay people and Muslims,” Paul quipped.

I appreciate his belief in live-and-let-live. His clarifications on his belief in state’s rights (which he noted do not actually have rights) was welcome, as were his arguments about the environment (which he said should be governed by property rights which would prevent pollution better than current regulation.)
His notions on marriage and morality are likewise non-interventionist. It is more Christian, I think, than the shrieky attempts by his rivals to push their beliefs on everyone else through the long arm of the law. Morality is built by communities and families and harbored in the human heart. The state cannot enforce it, only nudge us in the right direction by first doing no harm.
from the second link. I absolutely love that Ron Paul just comes out and says Michelle Bachmann hates Muslims. In Kain's third link, he musters some mighty moral clarity and defends his endorsement over the protestations and condemnations of those concerned about the "racist newsletter":
Has Paul espoused any of those views himself? Not that I can tell. Do his preferred policies lead as much killing as the preferred policies of Obama or Romney or any of the other candidates currently swarming about? No, they don’t. Do you think the children we blow to shreds with our aerial drones care if Ron Paul’s associates published a racist newsletter in the 90′s or do you think they care more about being blown to shreds?

Paul obviously should not have allowed things like that to be published under his name and I completely and utterly condemn that newsletter and those behind it. It’s just not as big a deal to me as the aforementioned wars and assassinations under this president.
What’s more important to your idealism – words or bombs? What is more liberal? What is more progressive?
I see it as a matter of life and death. I know you see it as a matter of Your Team vs. The Others. But that’s just not enough for me.
Now, as our President might say, Let me be clear. There really appears to be some nasty stuff in those newsletters. Here is the Weekly Standard:

Though particular articles rarely carried a byline, the vast majority were written in the first person, while the title of the newsletter, in its various iterations, always featured Paul’s name: Ron Paul’s Freedom Report, the Ron Paul Political Report, the Ron Paul Survival Report, and the Ron Paul Investment Letter. What I found was unpleasant.
“Order was only restored in L.A. when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks,” read a typical article from the June 1992 “Special Issue on Racial Terrorism,” a supplement to the Ron Paul Political Report. Racial apocalypse was the most persistent theme of the newsletters; a 1990 issue warned of “The Coming Race War,” and an article the following year about disturbances in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, D.C., was entitled “Animals Take Over the D.C. Zoo.” Paul alleged that Martin Luther King Jr., “the world-class philanderer who beat up his paramours,” had also “seduced underage girls and boys.” The man who would later proclaim King a “hero” attacked Ronald Reagan for signing legislation creating the federal holiday in his name, complaining, “We can thank him for our annual Hate Whitey Day.” 
No conspiracy theory was too outlandish for Paul’s endorsement. One newsletter reported on the heretofore unknown phenomenon of “Needlin’,” in which “gangs of black girls between the ages of 12 and 14” roamed the streets of New York and injected white women with possibly HIV-infected syringes. Another newsletter warned that “the AIDS patient” should not be allowed to eat in restaurants because “AIDS can be transmitted by saliva,” a strange claim for a physician to make.
Does Ron Paul have racist, far-right inclinations? I have no idea. He certainly hasn't employed racist or particularly far-right rhetoric in either of the last two of his presidential campaigns, that I have seen. I find it exceedingly hard to believe that as president he would even try to dismantle civil rights laws, let alone succeed. That really doesn't appear to be where his passions lie. No, what gets him really riled up are military aggression, fiat currency, and the authoritarian power grabs by the Bush and Obama administrations.

While I have a hard time thinking Ron Paul as president would disenfranchise minorities or reinstitute segregation, I am under no delusion that a Paul administration would be at all enlightened. He is a Creationist and is opposed to abortion. With his deeply held belief that all of our economic woes can be laid at the feet of central banking and can be (easily!) explained by Austrian economics (an obscure, heterodox school of economics), he has all the markings of a true believer. While I am happy we could trust him not to bomb Iran under just about any circumstances, I am wary how adamantly convinced he is that Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapon (I think the evidence is at least mixed). The world is a complex place and I think it is quite dangerous for the world's most powerful person to be a fundamentalist of any kind, and I think this is a fair characterization of Paul's intellectual curiosity and flexibility.

Maybe through some second-order effects (e.g., sparking a violent populist movement because of economic blunders) Paul could cause more damage than a status quo president like Obama or Romney. I doubt it. But luckily for all of us we don't have to worry about that yet. The primary benefit of  nominating Paul as the Republican candidate is the issues that he would bring to the nation's attention. We have already seen this in the Republican primary race. Minus Paul, who on the national stage would be defending civil liberties? Who would be arguing for the reestablishment of the 4th Amendment guarantees of freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures? Who would be arguing for the rights of terrorism suspects to fair and speedy trials by jury? Who would be arguing that perhaps the president of of the US should not have the power to order the assassinations of American citizens (or anyone else, for that matter)? Who would be suggesting that killing foreigners with flying death robots is not the right thing to do?

All civil libertarians already have Ron Paul to thank for bringing these concerns into American dinner conversations. A Paul nomination would only amplify these issues and we would still have a few months to change our minds. The opportunity to bring civil liberties back into the national spotlight should be enough for all sorts of liberals to change their party identification to Republican and vote in their primaries for Paul, even if their ultimate priorities are economic or otherwise. Hold your noses if you must.


  1. I am of the same thought on Ron Paul. He could be dangerous, though that chance is very small. I think what is more dangerous is that we continue on the path of destruction we have been on. It is time we stop playing world police. If nothing else, Paul has brought civil liberty to the minds of the US citizens. He has also helped expose some of the weaknesses in our current economic policies. It would be nice to hear that separation of church and state is a top priority from the Paul camp. Libertarians bring Jefferson into the debate often enough. He treads a thin line.

    The Obama years have changed me from a liberal democrat to a complete independent, who views the two-party system as antiquated and divisive. The writing was on the wall years before, but I didn't want to see it. We need to take the power away from the military-industrial complex, Eisenhower warned of, and give it back to the people. Everything else is moot until we do that.

    - Rick

  2. I had forgotten about Paul being anti-abortion and hadn't heard about the newsletter and his creationist views. Standing behind someone like that is hard for me, but I think Paul has a track record of sticking to his ideas. As such I don't think his personal beliefs would really matter (as he alludes to in the creationism video). However I'm a bit wary about what these beliefs may say about him if extrapolated. His characterization of evolution as "just a theory" is troubling to me, because it brings into question his grasp of science. I still somewhat doubt that would come into to play much. Most bills that I'm aware of that might require some science knowledge are probably regarding funding, which I would think he wouldn't sign out of principle.

    In general though I agree with the base argument. I used to feel like I needed to agree with someone 100% to feel comfortable about voting for them (I never voted). However I recently came to the realization that I needed to prioritize the issues I cared about and vote that way. Simple enough, but somehow that that eluded me for most of my life.

    Side note: Minnesota does caucuses. I'm a bit excited to see that in action, if I ever get my updated voter registration in the mail.

  3. Rick, I don't take Ron Paul too seriously on economics (I'm an economic libertarian, but RP would think I'm a hopeless statist). The two party system is definitely antiquated, but it's pretty entrenched. I'd love to see more people every year changing their party affiliation to 'sabotage' their disfavored party. That seems to be the most effective bottom-up, grassroots way to corrode the American political duopoly that I can think of.

  4. Arlo, it took me a while to figure out the importance of prioritization too. You'll have to tell me about the caucus process. I hope there will be back rooms filled with cigar smoke involved. And whiskey. Maybe you could do a Republican candidate whiskey pairing.

  5. Can't we just go back to the bartering system? All jokes aside, I am also an economic libertarian. I do not think all our economic woes spring from centralized banks, but there needs to be some serious reform. I believe RP is the only one I've heard that has even mentioned economic reform, aside for Cowboy Perry. With that said, I am a bit of a conspiracy theorist.

    People say we need a third party, but I am for no parties whatsoever. I know that will never happen, but we can hope. People like to have a team to root for, especially when they see their team win. I might sound a bit naive and ignorant, to which I apologize. I am a bit of an ideologue I must admit.


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