While Paul supporters see him as a threat to the status quo, I’ve seen his campaign as more of a threat to libertarian ideas. Confusing Paul’s social conservativism with libertarianism reinforces the view that libertarians are just Republicans who have tried marijuana. Unfortunately, while I would hope that libertarians might have some influence on the authoritarian trends in the Republican Party, the reverse has occurred. The association between libertarians and the Repubican Party has influenced libertarian thought to the point that libertarianism to be closer to traditional conservative views. The one difference is that in the past conservatives like Barry Goldwater opposed the religious right while Paul embraces many of their views in his rejection of secularism and separation of church and state.
Paul’s campaign presents additional problems to the reputation of libertarians by the association with far right extremist groups. While Paul’s supporters naively cry that this is “guilt by association” this association is far too often fueled by Paul’s own actions. Simply returning the contribution from Don Black would have gone a long way towards restoring Paul’s credibility. Any serious candidate would have done so, and Paul’s failure to return the donation at very least shows that his campaign is not ready for prime time. At worst it suggests some affinity for the views expressed by such groups.
Sometimes when diverse groups support a candidate it is a sign of broad appeal, however when both libertarians and neo-Nazis claim Paul as their preferred candidate at least one of these groups must be badly mistaken. The tactics used by many Paul supporters who habitually spam blogs which say anything negative about him further compounds the problem. The comments by Paul’s supporters far too often are characterized by total lack of respect for opposing viewpoints, racism, and belief in conspiracy theories. Any disagreement with Paul, and anything short of one hundred percent approval of his actions, is treated as a sign of either idiocy or evil motives by his supporters.
I’ve recently half-jokingly suggested that it might be in the best interests of libertarians if a publication such as Reason were to distance themselves from Paul. I’m finding an increasing number of libertarians who have expressed similar views, or least frustrations with aspects of Paul’s campaign. Liberty Papers has frequently noted such concerns and and summarizes them in a post today. Freedom Democrats expresses concern with Paul’s “association with the cultural right.” Other blogs are also discussing this subject.
Publius Endures writes:
The fact is, if Paul and his core supporters continue to refuse to distance themselves from the Stormfront, neo-Nazi, and conspiracy theorists, the Paul campaign will have a net negative effect on the libertarian movement in this country. If, however, he and his core supporters DO make a bona fide effort to distance themselves from this crowd, the Paul campaign has tremendous potential to advance the libertarian movement more than any other event since Atlas Shrugged. But in order for this to happen, Paul and his core supporters must acknowledge that the prominence of the nutcases poses a legitimate problem that must be dealt with.
Ron Bernstein writes:
Ron Paul is a tempting protest vote, and I did support him in 1988 when he ran as a Libertarian, but he strikes me as running less of a “libertarian” campaign than a pacifist, populist campaign that does have some appeal to young and idealistic libertarians, but has too much appeal to the old, paranoid, and racist pseudo-conservatives. There seems to be a right-wing version of the Popular Front mentality among many Paul supporters: just like it was okay for Social Democrats to ally with Stalinists for “Progressive” ends in the old days, it’s okay to ally with 9/11 and various other conspiracy theorists, southern secessionists, Nazis and fascists, anti-Semites and racists, against the common enemy of the modern “welfare-warfare” state. Count me out!
It is encouraging to see that more people are recognizing this problem.