Ron Paul As Conservative, Not Defender of Freedom

Seeing Ron Paul debate his fellow Republicans on Iraq, and even criticize their lack of respect for civil liberties, brought Paul justifiably favorable attention. This has included the support of some liberals who have not looked carefully at Paul’s views beyond these issues. Paul has lost a considerable amount of respect the last few days after an article in The New Republic reported on the racist writings in his newsletter, but there were reasons for both liberals and libertarians to question Paul even before these revelations.

To bring those up to speed who might not have followed the events of past week, The New Republic‘s exposure of racist writings in Ron Paul’s newsletter was the final straw after which many libertarians who had previously ignored Paul’s past realized they must disassociate themselves from Paul if they wished to retain any credibility. I have quoted the responses of several libertarians here and here. Paul’s defense was that the articles were ghost written by others and that he had not read the articles. He also claimed that he disagreed with the views expressed.

Back in November I discussed how libertarians were beginning to dissociate themselves from Ron Paul, and even half jokingly suggested that Reason would eventually do so on its cover to differentiate themselves from Paul’s markedly non-libertarian views. This week Reason clearly did realize the danger to their reputation in being linked to Paul. This led to Reason doing investigative work to debunk Paul’s defense.

Reason has reviewed public statements from Paul over the years which are quite incriminating. At times Paul defended the writings, and the context of the news reports suggests Paul was aware of them even if a ghost writer assisted him. For example, the May 22, 1996 Dallas Morning News contains this (emphasis mine): “Dr. Paul denied suggestions that he was a racist and said he was not evoking stereotypes when he wrote the columns. He said they should be read and quoted in their entirety to avoid misrepresentation.”

This hardly sounds like someone who is either denying that he wrote the articles or denying that he agrees with what is published. My post on this topic yesterday includes another quote from a libertarian, Megan McArdle, which further debunks the arguments of many of Paul’s supporters, as well as dismissing the question of whether it matters if Paul is personally a racist or enabling racism.

I’ve been following Ron Paul at Liberal Values for quite a while. Initially, despite some disagreements, I found aspects of his campaign to be of interest. Besides his views on Iraq and civil liberties, I saw Paul’s campaign as a sign of the general anti-government sentiment in the country, which liberals would be wise not to ignore. As I continued to follow Paul, and reviewed his writings well before The New Republic did, I found many disturbing aspects beyond the questions of racism.

One policy I generally followed in my criticism of Paul’s views was to hold him to a standard of supporting freedom, but generally ignored disagreements based upon basic libertarian views. We might disagree with Paul over issues such as eliminating certain government programs, but in discussing libertarians that goes with the territory. Such disagreements with liberals are to be expected. Objections are much more interesting when they pertain to areas in which the so-called libertarian’s views are contrary to principles of individual liberty.

Paul’s views are far better characterized as social conservatism with extreme support for states’ rights as opposed to libertarianism. Despite his reputation as a libertarian, Paul is actually hostile towards First Amendment rights where they conflict with his religious views. Besides the Iraq war, and related abuses in the “war on terror,” the greatest threat we now face to civil liberties comes from the religious right.

As I’ve previously noted, Paul has incorrectly claimed that, “The notion of a rigid separation between church and state has no basis in either the text of the Constitution or the writings of our Founding Fathers.” He has also supported keeping “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, has co-sponsored the school prayer amendment, and supported keeping the Ten Commandments on a courthouse lawn. Paul has both criticized secularism and claimed that the founding fathers envisioned a Christian America. Paul has supported the Sanctity of Life Act, the Defense of Marriage Act, and the Marriage Protection Act.

Paul’s views on abortion show both his lack of respect for the rights of the individual as well as how he is willing to ignore his principles on federalism to promote his personal views. Besides supporting the federal ban on so-called partial birth abortions, Paul has supported federal legislation to over ride state law which differentiates between a zygote and a fully developed human. I would expect someone with training in Obstetrics to be concerned about such scientific nonsense, but this is less surprising after hearing his views on creationism versus evolution.

Ron Paul supports a Constitution which is quite different from that envisioned by the framers. Besides failing to understand the intent to form a secular state, Paul’s views on federalism stem from a lack of understanding of the plan to have over-lapping sources of authority with blurred jurisdiction between federal and state power. Paul ignores the reasons why the framers supported a stronger federal government following the failings of the original Articles of Confederation.

Paul treats the Constitution almost as quasi-religious revelations as opposed to a political compromise made among men which would be expected to evolve over time. His view of the Constitution isn’t even shared by many libertarians, some of whom lean closer to the views of the nineteenth century individualist anarchist and abolitionist Lysander Spooner who rejects the authority of the Constitution upon individuals. Spooner’s works such as No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority remain worthy of reading by those interested in political philosophy regardless of whether you reject his conclusions.

The fight for liberty is an on going process, with the American Revolution and later establishment of our democracy being steps along the way. Few would return to the conditions of our early days when slavery was allowed and women were denied the right to vote. While some of the founding fathers wished to have the Bill of Rights extended to the states, this was a battle which had to be left for a later date. The Fourteenth Amendment ultimately extended such rights, but this view is rejected by Paul and many of his supporters.

The consequences of these views are of tremendous consequence. While traditional views of liberalism and libertarianism deal with rights as being inherent in the individual, Paul’s view of states’ rights leads in practice to a situation where state governments trump the rights of the individual. I discussed this a couple of weeks ago from the context of Paul’s view that state governments have the right to ban flag burning. Similarly, Paul’s views would have prevented the federal government from taking action against Jim Crow laws. With the Bill of Rights not being seen as applying to the states, any violation of our Constitutional liberties might be justified if coming from a source other than the federal government.

This also explains why extremist groups such as the white supremacist Stormfront have endorsed Ron Paul. They understand that, even if their views might differ from Paul’s personal views, Ron Paul’s philosophy of government would allow them the chance to impose their views upon others. It is far easier for extremist groups to receive a majority vote in a local area, or even an entire state, than nationally. A campaign which started with well-deserved opposition to the Iraq war has turned into one where the main freedom they are defending is the freedom to discriminate and oppress. Paul’s refusal to return a contribution from Stormfront founder Don Black was the point when many first recognized that there is something seriously wrong with Paul and his supporters who defend this. In addition, to see that he shares the xenophobia exhibited by his fellow Republicans, check out this ad which he ran on illegal aliens and those people from “terrorist nations.”

I’ve been criticizing Paul on these issues for several months. Thanks to all the talk around the blogosphere among libertarians following the story in The New Republic I find that some libertarian sites (such as here and here) have raised very similar objections. One question is where Ron Paul goes from here in light of having lost so much support among libertarians, along with the rare liberals who supported him based upon his opposition to the Iraq war. I’ve heard rumors even before this week that Paul is considering a third party run as the candidate of the Constitution Party which wants to “restore our government to its Constitutional limits and our law to its Biblical foundations.” I do not intend to report this as fact but as something to watch for.

Should Paul wind up the candidate of the Constitution Party it would provide further confirmation of my view that Paul is more a social conservative than a libertarian despite differing from social conservatives on issues such as legalization of drugs. Paul’s desire to appeal to such groups is certainly seen in this defense of him at LewRockwell.com. (Rockwell is a long time friend and former chief of staff to Paul. His web site is to Ron Paul what Fox News is to George Bush and Rudy Giuliani.) Regardless of what Paul does next, a full review of his views demonstrates that he has little to offer to either libertarians or anti-war liberals.

(Cross posted at The Carpetbagger Report)

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    tim pipe says:

    Well said.  I have yet to find any writings by the men of the Enlightenment espousing the virtues of using personal liberty to deny personal liberty (taking into account that Jefferson was a slave owner who wanted emancipation).  People come to this country for personal freedom and freedom from opression;  I do not ever recall someone saying they came to America because they could not keep minorities out of their store in the old country.  Liberty should be inclusive, not exclusive.

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