Sunday, September 23, 2007

Regarding Ron Paul

Is it me, or is anyone else getting tired of all the Ron Paul articles on Lew Rockwell.com?

It seems as if everyday, when I pop over to LRC, every other article is about Ron Paul – his candidacy, his presidency, why he can win, why he should win, what a wonderful world it would be if he did win, and so forth. Don’t get me wrong, I’m interested in Ron Paul’s candidacy as much as the next guy, and I know that he’s had a long-standing relationship with Lew Rockwell, contributing his own writings (which I always enjoy) to that site from time to time. But c’mon! I’m beginning to wonder if LRC should rename itself Ron Paul.com.

Which brings me to a larger issue. Many people ask me if I like Ron Paul as a candidate, if I’d vote for him, if I’ll be working to promote him or volunteer for his campaign. Many people ask me – since apparently I am “the libertarian” that they know – how many libertarians feel about his candidacy for President. I’ve thought about it for quite some time, and here’s my take.

First, I think Ron Paul seeking the Republican nomination for President spells complete irrelevancy for the Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate – and perhaps the LP in general – for the 2008 election cycle. To look at this strictly from a political point of view, Ron Paul is a Republican. Sure, he is very libertarian oriented in his views, he’s spoken at LP conventions, and he was the LP’s candidate for President back in 1988. Suffice it to say, no one can argue his credentials as an advocate for Constitutionally limited government, free-markets, individual liberty, and personal responsibility.

But the fact is, whoever ends up with the LP’s nomination for 2008 isn’t going to have one-tenth the credibility of Ron Paul. In 2008, the best libertarian candidate for president won’t even be a member of the Libertarian Party. Paul is a Republican – a libertarian Republican, sure, but a Republican, nonetheless. His candidacy and impact on the political dialogue will reinforce a couple of anti-LP, anti-third party arguments that many libertarian party activists have fought hard to refute.

The first is that, since we have a de facto two-party system, libertarians should give up the hope of creating a third-party that can compete with the Big Two, and instead join one of the big two and work to change the party from within. The fact is, Ron Paul, as a Republican, already has had more attention, and caused more of a stir, than any libertarian has ever accomplished, with the only possible exception of Harry Browne. In 2008, when the LP endorses and starts to market some “also-ran”, no-name candidate, to try to convince people to vote for liberty, it’s only going to reinforce the image that the LP is something to consider only after the “real” options have been exhausted.

Which brings me to the second point, which has been debated internally in LP circles for some time, is whether the LP should run a Presidential candidate at all. I happen to agree with the late, great, Harry Browne who made the point that a presidential race affords an opportunity for a libertarian to gain a platform that is unavailable to anyone else in the liberty movement. The presidential candidate can create attention for libertarian ideas, and attract people to the party to help grow it, and advance the political agenda of the movement as a whole. Ron Paul, running as a Republican, while certainly calling attention to the ideas of liberty, and helping to advance that cause, is not helping the LP. In fact, he is doing the opposite, as I see many libertarians scrambling to get registered as Republican voters in order to vote for him.

I have always said that if the LP wants to be thought of as a real party, it needs to start acting like one. That means sticking with and focusing on building up the team. When do Democrats abandon their party to go headlong into supporting a Republican? They don’t. Granted, I don’t begrudge anyone – libertarians included – for supporting Ron Paul. My point here is that those “Big-L” libertarians who are waving their Ron Paul flags are leaving the reservation here. As long as we are clear on that point, and what it means for the LP as an organization, then I have no complaint, objection nor criticism to offer. We Libertarians, after all, desire liberty-directed change, and how that exactly comes about is irrelevant.

But make no mistake, about it: Party-Libertarians have a huge challenge to face, namely, how to use Ron Paul’s non-LP candidacy to convince his Republican supporters to join with the LP, and not re-dedicate themselves to “reforming” the Republican party. Many small government advocates have long held that the Republican party, despite its flaws, was the best way to get what they want from politics. They believe this despite the mountain of evidence to the contrary. An even semi-successful Ron Paul campaign may reinforce their naïve idea that liberty lovers can “take back” the Republican party, (“See! Someone like Ron Paul can harness and invigorate a coalition of people dedicated to limited-government, the Constitution, and liberty! We need to get behind him and his party!”) Party-Libertarians run the risk of sacrificing their own Party’s marketability, while helping to sustain the illusion that the Republican Party is still the party of smaller government.

Having said all that, am I anti-Ron Paul? No, I am not. I certainly can cheer the guy on and wish him well. More than anything, what I want is to live in a free society. To that end, it really doesn’t matter if that happens by way of a successful libertarian party winning elections and dismantling the State, or by some other means. The Libertarian Party, we must remember, is simply a means to an end – not an end in and of itself. To say we shouldn’t cheer on a Republican like Paul, or a Democrat like, say, a hypothetical Joe Schmoe, who are clear opponents of the Imperial Warmongering State, would just be foolish and non-productive.

But I can’t help but think that, in light of the last Presidential campaign, which was severely under-organized, and much less-funded than the previous two, combined with some murky ideological stances that have been pushed through the LP in recent years, that the LP is in a state of decline, and that the Ron Paul candidacy will simply show that liberty’s political agenda can, and will, advance, regardless of whether there is a Libertarian Party


8 Comments:

Anonymous Paige said...

Jason,

how would you feel if Ron was to take his campaign the LP route if he doesn't win the Republican nomination?

10:39 PM  
Anonymous Marc Scott Emery said...

Worry about what happens to the Libertarian Party when and if Ron Paul fails to get the Republican nomination. If Ron Paul wins the republican nomination as I see happening, we won't care about the LP's viability at the Presidential level. Libertarians in the future will market themselves as Ron Paul Conservatives/libertarians/constitutionalists anyway, as his name is way bigger than Harry Browne ever was, and Ron Paul has probably brought more people of liberty minded ideas back into politics than anyone previous.

Yes, Lew has gone all Ron Paul. What do you expect? Its now or never, I figure.

10:54 PM  
Anonymous BikerBill said...

Well, I'd respectfully offer that LRC spends the time (partially) because precious few in the media will (hell, some "unbiased" outlets clearly work against him, if you haven't noticed). And if no one does, then I doubt you really have anything to worry about from the good doctor.

Whoever gets the LP nod is highly unlikely to have substantively less influence than if RP weren't running; i.e., any more than they ever do. Sad, but true. And the LP's candidate won't, for example, be in a single major debate any time soon, if ever, precisely due to the self-serving Demoblican "de facto two-party system" you mention. Again, regardless of RP's status. This virtual inevitability isn't his fault.

But as you say, he's got all the right principles and positions, and if you're suggesting that, from the "bully pulpit" of the GOP primary campaign, he can't move the debate forward more than any politician in recent history (you already concede he's getting more attention, and that the LP isn't perceived as a "'real' option," with or without him, anyway), and that the libertarian -- or the Libertarian -- longterm cause would be better served if he just went away, then I must strongly disagree.

Personally, I don't believe the national GOP can be reformed: there are simply too many satisfied with its current direction (still!). But Ron Paul is getting disaffected voters, both within and without the GOP, thinking about the ideas of Constitutional liberty like no time in recent history (what a stark contrast with the rest of the GOP field -- and he's standing at a big honkin' microphone!). In the long run, he can do nothing but help the cause. I see his GOP candidacy as a "perfect storm," of sorts, and if he can't spark the movement, win or lose, it likely can't be sparked, unfortunately.

IMHO, Ron Paul is principled libertarian government's -- and the LP's, in the long run (think of this election -- and this, I suppose, is my fundamental point -- as a "rebuilding year") -- last best hope. What's wrong with voting for Ron Paul to "vote for liberty?" Or even for the revitalized health of the LP?

10:04 AM  
Anonymous Libertarian Jason said...

>> how would you feel if Ron was to take his campaign the LP route if he doesn't win the Republican nomination?

Paige,

That would be very interesting indeed. It would save the LP from losing what precious credibility it has struggled to gain thus far.

6:09 PM  
Blogger Libertarian Jason said...

Bill -

>>Well, I'd respectfully offer that LRC spends the time (partially) because precious few in the media will

Agreed. My point was that, while I understand the Ron Paul story is the most relevant thing going on these days, I enjoy LRC for articles and essays that talk about the larger picture for liberty. Plus, its ironic that Lew himself, as well as many other writers on that site, completely eschew political means to achieve liberty, that the site would devote so much time to promoting a candidate.

>>IMHO, Ron Paul is principled libertarian government's -- and the LP's, in the long run (think of this election -- and this, I suppose, is my fundamental point -- as a "rebuilding year") -- last best hope. What's wrong with voting for Ron Paul to "vote for liberty?" Or even for the revitalized health of the LP?

I agree with this, for the most part. There is nothing I would love more than to see a vibrant, flourishing Libertarian Party with charismatic, outspoken, and energetic candidates getting out in public and speaking the truth to power. Sure, its happening in various parts of Ohio and the country. But the Presidential race is usually the year where the party really rallies, as the electorate wakes up from its slumber and pays attention to politics for a few minutes. It is these times that libertarians have the opportunity to get the message out, and attract people to the cause. But without a top-of-ticket race, its hard to convince people that the LP is a serious party, and not just some local cranks out trying to grind some axes. The LP will not have a strong candidate in 2008, of that I am confidently pessimistic. While Ron Paul is going to make some waves, the point of my article was that there is a real challenge for the LP this time. While the cause of liberty may (cross your fingers) advance, the LP may be a loser, and may suffer 4 more years of decline and stagnation.

I hope you are correct, and this is just a "rebuilding year".

6:31 PM  
Blogger Libertarian Jason said...

Marc -

>> If Ron Paul wins the republican nomination as I see happening

Here's where I think we disagree. I don't think Paul can capture the most largest constituencies of the Republican party - unprincipled warmongers only intersted in "who can win". I've talked to a handful of Republican loyalists, and to a person, they have all said that whoever they are supporting, they are supporting - not because they have the best ideas - but because they can win. Paul is regarded, at best, as "interesting", but not worth consideration.

Besides... do you really see Republican Propagandists like Sean "Conservatives Believe in a Welfare State" Hannity, and Rush "Jail Other Drugs Users, Not Me" Limbaugh ever coming around and supporting Paul's candidacy? Of course not, they will go full bore against Paul if he even comes with in smelling distance of the polling lead.

6:37 PM  
Anonymous KBCraig said...

I am certainly not an LP flag-waver, because "party first!" is what has resulted in this horrible two-party system. I voted for Reagan in 1984, and have voted for the LP candidate in every election since then. I'm politically libertarian and personally conservative, so I consider myself uneasily aligned with the GOP in most races, but I always vote LP when I have a chance.

That said... I am waving the Ron Paul banner, and doing everything I can to see that he wins the nomination and the Presidency. I don't know any RP supporter who believes they're going to reform the GOP by supporting Paul. I just want this one chance at a President who will hold in abeyance all the horrible laws passed by Congress.

It might be a temporary respite at best. And then again, it might just awake the American people as to how much has been stolen from them.

1:16 AM  
Blogger Libertarian Jason said...

kbcraig -

>>I'm politically libertarian and personally conservative, so I consider myself uneasily aligned with the GOP in most races, but I always vote LP when I have a chance.

Why do you think political libertarianism implies sacrificing "personal" conservativism? I think you are confused about what libertarianism truly is, and may hold that misguided stereotype that libertarian = libertine. Maybe I'm reading you wrong, though. If I am, please set me straight.

Its good that you cast your vote for LP candidates. If you believe in smaller government, free-markets, and individual liberty/personal responsibility, then the libertarian candidates are your only real choice. Voting GOP doesn't seem to help promote those values, what with all the corruption, scandals, and explosion in the size, scope, power, and deadliness of the State under Republican rule.

-LJ

8:45 PM  

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