Okay,time to man up: I'm sorry, Ron Paul.
I'm not sorry for our criticisms of your questionable record on racial issues, or for our criticisms of inconsistencies in your approach to Constitutional rights, or for pointing out that you're more of a federalist libertarian than a civil libertarian. But I am sorry that we make fun of you pretty much every time we mention you. I'm sorry for that, because you're just about the only guy on the big stage saying things that ought to be said.
That became clear in last week's debate among unlikely Republican Presidential contenders in South Carolina.
As Jon Stewart points out, Ron Paul could have moved to the hard right or to the center to make himself seem like a more "credible" (meaning mainstream) candidate. He didn't. Rather than bathing in the mainstream, he brought core (but widely derided) libertarian ideas to a mainstream forum.
He articulated those principles in the context of the War on Terror:
WALLACE: Thank you. Congressman Paul, you say that we should cut off all
foreign aid to the Middle East and, quote, "let them take care of
themselves." You say the prison at Guantanamo should be closed, but the
detainees there have not been given due process.
Governor Pawlenty said a couple of months ago, that bullies respect
strength, not weakness. Is Governor Pawlenty wrong?
PAUL: Well I think strength is good, but you have to have strength in doing
the right things. I think secret military prisons, keeping people there for
years and years without due process, is not characteristic of a republic
that believes in freedom.
It is just not the process. It's, it's more typical of an authoritarian
government to have secret prisons. So; therefore, I don't think it serves
our purpose. We have tried nearly 300 suspects in civilian courts and
hundreds of them have been convicted and put away.
So why are we afraid of openness? Why do we have to move in the direction
of giving up the right of habeas corpus, which someday if we're not
careful, will affect American citizens? We should treat people the way we
think we might be treated under dire circumstances. And our dire
circumstances are moving right along because we may have real trouble in
this country and we may be subject to the same type of treatment. So we do
not need secret prisons, nor do we need the torture that goes on in these
secret military prisons.
He articulated it in the context of guns versus butter:
No, you have a government that provides national defense, but you
don't have militarism and you police the world. Maybe we could take care of
some people back here at home if we weren't spending $1.5 trillion a year
on our militarism.
He did it (sort of, in a federalist libertarian way) on marriage:
Congressman Paul, in 2007, in an interview you were asked, should gays be
allowed to marry? You said, quote, "Sure, they can do whatever they want
and call it whatever they want." Are you advocating legalizing gay marriage
in this country?
PAUL: Well, as a matter of fact, I spent a whole chapter in a new book I've
written on marriage. And I think it's very important, seeing that I've been
married for 53, 54 years now.
But I think the government should just be out of it. I think it should be
done by the church or private contract and we shouldn't have this argument,
who's married and who isn't married.
I have my standards, but I shouldn't have to impose my standards on others.
Others have standards, and they have no right to impose their marriage
standards on me. And I just don't like it.
But if we want to have something to say about marriage, it should be at the
state level and not at the federal government. Just get the government out
of it. It's one area where it's totally unnecessary and they've caused more
trouble than necessary.
He articulated it, in a rather startling way, in a broad-based attack on laws governing private behavior and a full-throated defense of the concept of personal liberty. What candidate has ever said something like this on the big stage? What candidate has ever ridiculed, in public, the concept that people need the government to tell them not to use drugs?
BAIER: Congressman Paul, you say that the federal government should stay
out of people's personal habits. You say marijuana, cocaine, even heroin
should be legal if states want to permit it.
You feel the same about prostitution and gay marriage.
Question, sir: why should social conservatives in South Carolina vote for
you for president?
PAUL: … they will if they understand my defense of liberty is the defense
of their right to practice their religion and say their prayers where they
want, and practice their life.
But if you do not protect liberty across the board — it's the First
Amendment type issue.
We don't have a First Amendment to — so that we can talk about the
weather. We have the First Amendment so we can say very controversial
So for people to say that, yes, we have our religious beliefs protected,
but people who want to follow something else or a controversial religion,
you can't do this.
If you have the inconsistency, then you're really not defending liberty.
But there are strict rules on freedom of choice of this sort, because you
can't hurt other people, you can't defame other people. But, yes, you have
a right to do things that are very controversial.
If not, you're going to end up with government that's going to tell us what
we can eat and drink and whatever.
You know, it's amazing that we want freedom to pick the future, you know,
our future in a spiritual way, but not when it comes to our personal
BAIER: But, Senator, are you suggesting that heroin and prostitution are an
exercise of liberty?
PAUL: Well, you know, I probably never used those words. You put those
words someplace. But, yes, in essence, if I leave it to the states, it's
going to be up to the states. Up until this past century, you know, for
over 100 years they were legal. What you're inferring (sic) is, you know
what? If we legalize heroin tomorrow, everybody's going to use heroin.
How many people here would use heroin if it was legal? I bet nobody would
put their hand, oh, yeah, I need the government to take care of me. I don't
want to use heroin, so I made these laws.
And he did it by articulating the core question: what do we want our government to do?
PAUL: The big issue today is the budget and the deficit. We approach it in
Washington by looking at it as an accounting problem, and it isn't. It's a
Until we decide what kind of government we want, what the role of
government ought to be, we can't solve it.
The role of government ought to be there to protect our liberties and to
take care of our personal — and provide a free market economy and to
provide for the national defense, which means that we bring our troops home
and we restore sound money to this country.
Now, I'm not becoming a Ronulan. I still have major issues with Ron Paul. I still think he's made questionable decisions, I still think his approach to the Constitution is inconsistent, and I still think he's too much a federalist libertarian for my taste: that is, someone who thinks that repressive laws are fine so long as states, rather than the federal government, impose them.
But give the man his props: he's not watering down what he believes in order to make himself more palatable to the vanilla-seeking electorate. Compare his performance to the cringing, servile Tim Pawlenty, who is willing to throw 2008 Tim Pawlenty under his campaign bus to hew to the Republican orthodoxy of the moment:
And I've opposed that cap-and-trade approach since. But I think everybody
— nobody's perfect.
Or compare him to the odious Rick Santorum, who announced that being a true American necessarily means being in favor of the government regulating morality — not only in the context of abortion, but in the context of what people do in the privacy of their home:
Senator Santorum, you're often characterized as the most socially
conservative in the GOP field. A man who may join you at some point in the
GOP primary, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, says Republican candidates
should, quote, "declare a truce" on social issues in the next election. Is
he right? Are you willing to tone down your positions on abortion and
homosexuality in an effort to reach more voters and to help the GOP
coalesce behind a more fiscally focused platform?
SANTORUM: I think anybody that would suggest that we call a truce on the
moral issues doesn't understand what America is all about. America…
America is a country that is based on this concept, on the Declaration of
Independence, that we are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable
rights. Rights come from God, and the first of which is life, the second of
which is liberty. Those two concepts really transformed the world, because
it said that government was going to be limited, allow people to be free
and to pursue their own dreams, to serve their God, and to serve their
family and community.
That is only possible if we have strong families. And strong marriage is at
the root of strong families. And if we have a respect for human life —
because, of course, we're all created equal. And so those founding
concepts, what transformed the world in this — in this United States was a
belief in family, a belief in life, and the belief of dignity of every
person. If we abandon that, we have given up on America.
Compare him to skillful sound-bite farmers like Herman Cain, who will punt on tough issues rather than be pinned down:
You're running for president. After almost 10 years in Afghanistan, you,
you don't have your own plan yet about what you would do in Afghanistan?
HERMAN CAIN: No, because it's not clear what the mission is. That's the
bigger problem. It's not clear what the mission is. It's not real clear to
the American people, what our interests are and then thirdly, it's not
clear what the roadmap to victory is.
And what does that mean? This is why I would revisit the issue in defining
those three crucial questions, answering those questions before I, as
president, made a decision. Because before I make a decision to send men
and women in uniform into battle, I want to make sure we know what the
objective is, clearly.
That we clearly know how it serves our interest, either at home or abroad,
and thirdly, what is our roadmap to victory?
BAIER: But, sir, how would you define winning in Afghanistan right now as
you're looking at it as a candidate?
CAIN: My point is, the experts and their advice and their input, would be
the basis for me making that decision. I'm not privy to a lot of
confidential information since I'm not in government and I'm not in the
One of the things that I've always prided myself on, is making an informed
decision based upon knowing all of the facts. And at this point, I don't
know all of the facts, but that's the process that I would use. Make sure
that we're working on the right problem. Make sure that we set the right
priorities relative to Afghanistan and every other country.
Thirdly, make sure we get the advice from the right people and then put
those plans into place.
Here's the thing: I don't think I should stop making fun of things like the Ron Paul Blimp, because the Ron Paul Blimp is funny, and because I plan to keep making fun of funny elements of other politicians. I also don't think I should stop criticizing bad choices or inconsistent policy from politicians just because I like their other choices or policies. But I recognize that in my country there is problem, and that problem is marginalization of important ideas that we ought to consider seriously, and that by relentlessly mocking people like Ron Paul, I am part of that problem, and that as a result I get the bland, blow-dried oafs that I deserve. I not only don't get palatable libertarian candidates, I don't even get serious mainstream discussion of libertarian ideas.
So I'm going to make an effort to be a little more fair.
I have a feeling he's not going to make it easy on me.
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