Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Ron Paul: More Robertson than Goldwater

We inaugurated The Rockford Individualist Collective (TRIC) on Saturday, October 27, 2007. Our discussion was on Congressman Ron Paul and whether Objectivist or “Objectivish” folks should support his president candidacy. The informal consensus appeared to be a ‘no.’

I thought I’d share some of my reasons for not supporting Congressman Paul. My read is that Ron Paul is more Pat Robertson than Barry Goldwater.

His campaign website presents 11 issues. I’ll comment on each of the issues below.

Debt and Taxes

I don’t have any serious objections to Paul’s view here. Essentially, he seems to want to limit and control federal spending by sticking to the Constitution and powers expressed granted by that document. He does some overly worried about foreign banks owning Federal debt. This fact, in it of itself, doesn’t bother me. On the contrary, it seems to show a fundamental long-term soundness to the American economy because foreign banks are willing to buy US treasury bonds and the like.

My worry here with Paul is that he appears to be striking an anti-foreigner note. “It’s those pesky foreigners!”

American Independence and Sovereignty

This section raises some red flags. Paul believes that various free trade agreements with Canada and Mexico are threats to our freedoms, in part, because there is “a plan to erase the borders between the U.S. and Mexico” and “create a single nation out of Canada, the U.S., and Mexico, with a new unelected bureaucracy and money system.”

Besides the worrisome and loony conspiracy-theorist elements, this highlights one of Paul’s great weaknesses. He’s against opening up of trade. He worries that foreign companies will take U.S. jobs and that free trade undermines sovereignty. This protectionism alone undermines the claim that Paul is a libertarian.

War and Foreign Policy

Though this is where much of Paul’s growing popularity is coming from, this is where I have the biggest problem with Paul. His isolationism is dangerous and unrealistic. He appears to accept the view, unfortunately peddled by the otherwise great Cato Institute, that if only we would leave the Islamists alone they would not attack us.

No. This is not a case of ignore the bully and hope he leaves us alone. Nor is this a case where the Islamists have legitimate or reasonable gripes against American foreign policy--certainly nothing that remotely justifies taking up arms against Americans. These Islamists are in this fight to destroy us because we are free and secular; because we are not strict Muslims. (See David Kelley's "The Assault on Civilization" They will not quit this fight because we leave Iraq or even stop our important support of Israel.

Whatever one thinks of the wisdom of invading Iraq when we did, it would be foolish and dangerous to leave now. It would quickly become a dangerous Islamist state. Also, we need to be there to attack Iran before it goes nuclear, but that’s another story.

I’ve always differed from the mainstream isolationist view of many libertarians. I believe we need a principled foreign policy that encourages and supports free societies through out the world. This sometimes requires providing military or other support to such societies: like Israel, South Korea, Taiwan, etc. This is justified on the basis of our self-interest in having more strong free societies through out the world. This also means that sometimes we have to destroy regimes that pose significant threats to ourselves and our allies.

Paul’s foreign policy is essentially: buy our goods but then go away and please don’t bomb us.

Life and Liberty

Another major strike against Paul is his anti-abortion stance. He has sponsored bills that would block Federal courts from protecting the reproductive rights of individuals where state laws prevent abortions.

Besides the problem of being anti-abortion, this points to a more general concern with Paul. He apparently thinks that State’s should be left free to violate individual rights. The Federal government on his view should not interfere with state laws that prohibit abortion, homosexuality, or religious freedom.

Related to this issue, Paul apparently doesn’t support the separation of church and state. He also advocates using federal power to prevent homosexual unions and marriage (and where’s the expressed authority for that in the Constitution, Mr. Paul?)

Second Amendment

No problems here.

Social Security

My biggest gripe here is that for a man that claims that he “never votes for legislation unless the proposed measure is expressly authorized by the Constitution,” he does not speak out against Social Security. He merely wants to reform it and make it solvent and he’s introduced legislation to that effect.

Border Security and Immigration Reform

His anti-immigration stance is as unacceptable, and as un-libertarian, as his protectionist stance on trade.

Privacy and Personal Liberty

“The biggest threat to your privacy is the government” Hear! Hear! It is comments like this that attract the attention of libertarians and other pro-freedom advocates. Paul is also a strong critic of the Patriot Act. As a whole the Patriot Act is a dangerous threat to our freedoms, and Paul’s voice is important here.

Property Rights and Eminent Domain

Paul is pretty good here. Though he doesn’t mention any legislation he has sponsored on this front.

Health Freedom

My criticism here is similar to my concerns under Social Security. He appears to accept the current system and doesn’t speak out against the FDA. Most disconcerting, he doesn’t mention at all the plans by most of the other presidential candidates that would nationalize health care. He’s at the forefront of making sure we don’t lose our right to take what ever vitamins or supplements we want to take, but he has nothing to say about HillaryCare or Medicare? That seems out of whack to me.

Home Schooling

I don’t have a problem with his view’s on home schooling. The worry here is that while he wants to prevent the Department of Education from regulating home schooling, what about other types of schooling?

While Paul talks the talk at times for libertarianism and pro-liberty, I don’t think he walks the walk. He is on the side of anti-liberty forces on immigration, trade, reproductive rights, and religion. He advocates dangerous and irresponsible foreign policy views. He is, at worse, a hypocrite and, at best, inconsistent and superficial when he claims he only supports legislation expressly authorized by the Constitution. Legislation that he sponsored and cites on his own website belies this view. He doesn’t speak out against clearly un-constitutional proposals, such as nationalizing health care. Nor does he speak out against already established, yet not constitutionally authorized, programs and agencies, such as the FDA, Medicare, Social Security, and the Department of Education.

I do not see a principled defense or advocacy of liberty here. I see a man using the ideas of liberty to protect his view of America as a white, Christian country. That is not good for liberty, libertarianism, or America.

Update: I also recommend reading Timothy Sandefur's post Ron Paul: a threat to serious libertarians

Update 2(12/28/O7): Since I originally wrote this post, Paul has updated his website and added more issues. I hope to have an expanded analysis soon.


John Chrysostom said...

You kind of miss the point of Paul's opposition to free trade agreements. It has nothing to do with "protecting American jobs" or any such nonsense. He is so pro-trade that he thinks the current free trade deals are unconstitutionally restrictive on free trade.

Shawn Klein said...

Paul: He couches his comments in terms of job protection and other protectionist terms. He does not say that free trade is great but the trade deals aren't about free trade. Since I have to go with what Ron Paul says on his website and not what you say, I'll stick with my criticism of Paul as a protectionist.

John Chrysostom said...

Shawn, you say "he does not say that free trade is great but the trade deals aren't about free trade." Interesting. How do you read this? http://www.lewrockwell.com/paul/paul254.html

Your reading of Paul's statements strikes me as not very careful or nuanced. On his website, he refers to these agreements as "so called free trade agreements" -- he criticizes them for restricting the way we trade with people, and he specifically cites the example of how the WTO could require that no Americans buy vitamins without a prescription. Right or wrong, he is not coming at this from a "trade is bad" angle, but from a "this is not free trade" angle. His comment about jobs is there, true -- but if you pay attention to tone, he is saying something along the lines of 'given all these restrictions, the fact that we will lose jobs is bad.' As a matter of principle, he is probably right because if trade is not actually free, then the transfer of jobs is not motivated by a more rational balance of opportunity cost but rather by force. This is not to say that the trade agreements are not net-good (i am agnostic on this question), but I mean, come on... Paul's rhetoric is not protectionist. The same can be said for his rhetoric on immigration. He has said, for example, in interviews that he would not be opposed to immigration if entitlement programs were eliminated. None of his rhetoric on immigration focuses on jobs.

You may be of the opinion that the consequence of his policy proposals is more protectionism, but that is not his rhetorical stance. Or at least I come to that conclusion because "I have to go with what Ron Paul says" and not how you read his website.

Unknown said...

I think you've restricted yourself by only responding to issues Ron Paul himself discusses. One of the most revolting aspects of Paul is his decades long ties to white supremacists, segregationists and secessionists. He has written that the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act should be repealed and appears to be hostile to the Fourteenth Amendment as well. Officially rendering women and minorities second-class citizens again would be utterly reprehensible. The goal in 2007 should not be returning to 1807.

You are right in picking up on how Paul sees the world. He thinks of himself and those like him as an ideal, and is hostile to the 'other,' including foreigners and the U.S.' own out-groups. The man is strangely free of an iota of insight about our multiracial and multicultural society. His hostility to the 'other' is also a motivation for his views on foreign trade, immigration, the United Nations, etc.

Anonymous said...


I think people should take pause and look at some of the aspects of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and try to challenge themselves on the constitutionality of those sections: Title II and Title VII.

While I think the text, history and meaning of the 14th Amendment clearly show the erroneous nature of a ruling like Plessy v Ferguson and can support civil rights legislation that protects individuals against government discrimination, the fact is that, through a rather insidious and vague concept of "public accommodations law", Title II and Title VII interfere with private relationships (or lack thereof) among individuals.

I don't like white supremacists or other bigots any more than most people I know, but it is not the federal government's business to impose standards on them as to who they serve in restaurants or who they rent rooms to, etc. etc. It is very unlibertarian to suggest that the government should have the power to interfere in private relationships of any sort (perhaps it's somewhat of a contradiction on the part of liberals who look to keep gov't out of the bedroom yet look to regulate who associates with who).


I appreciated your analysis, although I disagree with your characterization of the Cato's views on foreign policy. While their views do originate from a principle of non-intervention, and we can certainly debate the merits of non-interventionism in dealing with a terrorist threat, there is nothing in the literature I've read that suggests that if we leave them alone, they'd go away. Perhaps that's the position of some on the left and perhaps some of the more radical libertarians. I do not think that is a fair characterization of The Cato Institute's position.

Patrick Stephens said...

Robertson just endorsed Guiliani, so I suppose there are other candidates that are even more Robertson than Paul.

I share your opinion of Paul (for many of the same reasons) but I wonder, which candidate do you prefer?

Personally, I find them all pretty disappointing.

Since I'll turn 35 this year, I've decided to cast my vote for myself.
(That wouldn't mean I'm hostile to the 'other' would it?)

Shawn Klein said...

J.: 1) I do not have the time to thorough research Paul, his history or detailed views on each subject. I went with what is on his official campaign website on evaluated those issues.

2) In fairness to Paul, there are aspects of those laws that are not liberty-friendly. This is not to call for going back to segregation or subjection of women. One can be against those laws as a whole and not be racist or sexist.

That said, the tone of what I read in Paul smacks of, as you say, hostility towards the 'other'.

Shawn Klein said...

Paul: Thanks for the link. Paul comes off a lot better in this piece in terms of trade. He is more clear that free trade is good.

As I said in the original post, I am going by what is on his campaign website. I don't have time to read everything Paul has written, so I am focusing on his campaign statements on this issues on his website. And there, he does not say free trade is good, lower tariffs and taxes and let people trade without government interference. His focus is solely on the agreements. Read alone, he looks like a protectionist.

Thanks for providing more information on his view on this front.

Shawn Klein said...

East Coast Libertarian:

The idea that if we leave the Islamic world alone, then they won't attack us may not be the official, explicit viewpoint of CATO writers like Carpenter and Logan, but I think it is there.

I listen to CATO podcasts of events and panels, and occasionally read commentaries on their websites. In these I see this view lurking. For example, in some of the discussions on Iran, they have argued, in part, that we can live with a nuclear Iran if we don't have a "grandiose and radical foreign policy." One might disagree on what counts as a grandiose and radical policy, but underlying this view is that we only have to fear Iran if we are bothering them. This looks to me like, leave them alone and we don't have to fear them.

John Chrysostom said...

I can't speak for all libertarians, but most people expressing this view don't want to leave the Islamic world alone -- they just want our interactions with the Islamic world to be in the form of trade and commerce rather than in the form of the military and force. Certainly it would be unwise to not engage in one way or another a segment of the world lead by people who see worldwide theocracy as a good thing.

Shawn Klein said...

Hey Pat:
I do not prefer any candidate. I'd vote for you!

Timothy B. Lee said...

Hey Shawn,

Interesting post. I agree with you on the immigration and abortion issues.

However, I've followed Paul's views pretty closely and I think that, as some other commenters have noted, you're being unfair to him on the trade angle. Paul is a free trader who simply doesn't consider the WTO, CAFTA, et al to advance the cause of free trade, preferring unilateral reduction of trade barriers. I think he's wrong about that, although to be fair to him, recent "free trade" deals have been cluttered up with a variety of requirements that have little to do with trade such as changes to patent and copyright laws. I think it's perfectly consistent to support free trade but oppose these sorts of agreements.

I think you're also being a little bit unfair to him on gay marriage. Here's more detail on his views:


He appears to want to allow each state to decide how to deal with marriage, and to prevent the federal courts from forcing one state to recognize another state's gay marriage. I'm in favor of gay marriage so this is hardly my ideal position, but it's better than the Federal Marriage Amendment, and you're not likely to find a more gay-friendly position in a GOP primary.

I have the feeling that foreign policy is the real deal-breaker for you, and since I come from the Cato non-interventionist camp I'm probably not going to change your mind about that. I don't really understand how attacking Iraq was an effective strategy for fighting Islamists, given that Iraq was run by a secular dictator with no significant ties to the 9/11 attacks or Al Qaeda. But I'm sure that's an argument you've had before, so I won't belabor it.

Timothy B. Lee said...

And since Blogger doesn't appear to give me any way to set a signature, this is Tim Lee; we met at the Liberty Fund seminar this summer.

Shawn Klein said...

Hey Tim...good to hear from you.

Regarding Free Trade: it does appear that his view on free trade is one of liberty. Whether the agreements are protectors or destroyers is another matter, one I do not know enough about.

I still think it is odd that Paul isn't more forward about this on his official campaign website.

Gay Marriage. I'm not sure that article helps me like Paul on this front. Being against the Federal Marriage Amendment is good start; however, I don't think his position on state's rights is correct.

1) I don't think marriage should even be a state issue.

2) Federalism doesn't mean state's can violate individual rights with impunity from the federal government.

3) His position is that gay marriage should not be allowed.

4) He introduced a bill to block court challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act. This undermines a key part of checks and balances. Some one with the professed love of the constitution shouldn't do that.

Anonymous said...


My position re: Cato was in reference more to Al Qaeda. I haven't brushed up on their current positions on Iran, but I have, I think, seen them take more of a position of deterrence.

I'd have to brush up on that specific aspect though. You make a fair point. If it is a matter of interpretation and reasonable people can disagree, I have no trouble leaving it at that (then again, I could end up agreeing with you since I have some brushing up to do).