Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

What’s a Classical Liberal to Do?

I really thought Ron Paul was the guy for me. I like his principled opposition to the current administration’s foreign policy. In fact I agree with nearly everything he stands for, so I was able to overlook the fact that he seems to attract a lot of conspiracy-mongers and crackpots to his banner. Heck, I’ve been a libertarian fellow-traveler for years, so I have a higher tolerance for cranks than most people. So I supported him. I sent his campaign some money (not much, but some), wore a Ron Paul t-shirt, put a sticker on my office door. I even joined Academics for Ron Paul.

Then came this article in The New Republic, revealing the sort of racist trash that appeared for years in newsletters bearing Paul’s name. I was glad to hear that he denied responsibility for writing them, and I believe those denials, but there’s no getting around the fact that he allowed them to appear under his name. I don’t want someone in the White House who has exercised such poor judgment, no matter what I might think about his views on drug legalization. Respectable libertarian organizations like the Reason Foundation and the Cato Institute had already begun to distance themselves from Paul; this editorial by David Boaz puts it as well as any I’ve seen.

So who is a classical liberal supposed to vote for this time around? None of the other Republican candidates are talking about limited government; of course, given their records in office they’d sound like hypocrites if they did. This is shaping up to be the least libertarian-friendly election at least since 1992, when we were faced with the choice of Clinton or Mr. "Read My Lips." I suppose I still have 328 days to be convinced by someone, but right now the thought of staying home on Election Day sounds quite appealing.

Discussions - 20 Comments

I've heard Red's defense of Ron Paul before, mostly from angry anonymous posters on blogs, or abusive e-mails to my friends who work at Cato. You might be right that the comments in the article were taken out of context. But that defense stands sharply at odds with Paul's own, which may be found here. If these statements were as innocuous as Red seems to suggest, then Paul should stand by them. He does not. What he says is that they "do not represent what I believe or have ever believed. I have never uttered such words and denounce such small-minded thoughts." Hence my original point--he allowed comments that he admits now are "small-minded" to appear in newsletters that bore his name. Whatever one might think of the fairness or accuracy of the Kirchick article, it ought to call Paul's judgment into question.

I'm the one who said the quotes that I saw looked innocuous. And I'm not a Paul fan, though I do like some of his policy positions, as you do yourself.

Dr. Moser:

Vote for Ron Paul, and not whatever RINO wins the primary?

Shame shame, don't you know that in essence, you're voting for Clintobama? Well, I mean, that's what many denizens here would convict you of.

Staying home, apparently, is tantamount to aiding and abetting the enemy, as well.

Now run along, and be a good little line-toting Republican...


"Inherent natural rights theory"

Ugh! Can we never get away from all the natural rights babble? The Constitution was actually a very practical document and generally avoided such theoretical speculation. That is why a lot of "natural rights" folks like the Declaration better. But that is neither here nor there.

It is correct that the Constitution does not spell out a foreign policy per se. It clearly defines roles. The President is the CaC and the Executive is in charge of diplomacy. The Congress declares war and (here is where it gets tricky) makes policy. You could arguably criticize the Constitution as not specific enough on these matters. But one, a declaration of war is nonnegotiable. There is nothing in the plain language of the Constitution or in the discernable intent of the Founders that suggests that it is optional. Second, the executive supremacy doctrine that is a favorite of many foreign policy hawks is nowhere to be found in the Constitution. It is a novel theory from the Cold War era.

The Founders clearly did not intend for us to police the world because a significant minority, including Madison, did not even want us to have a standing army.

"Like it or not (and I do not) the US post-Wilson has become a country that could not and should not return to that policy. It would be utterly disastrous and ruinous to do so know for so many reasons that it isn't worth beginning to list them."

That is a perfect illustration of what is wrong with the thinking of the internationalist interventionist crowd. Interventionism is the default assumption. It is presupposed. It can not be shaken. It is in your blood. You can't think outside that box. You can't imagine a world where US interventionism isn't a given. So any other paradigm is dismissed out of hand. How would it be "disastrous and ruinous" if America practiced principled non-intervention? One result is that we would all have a lot more money to spend.

John, I never said all the comments were innocuous. I said that many of them lost their "gotcha" effect when read in context. But more importantly, each comment should be criticized or defended on its merits. There should not just be some generic denunciation of every thought that strays from PC right think. That is just PC grandstanding. The Reason/Cato reaction reeks of that. "I'm shocked! I'm just shocked!" Yeah whatever.

I don't believe for a minute that Paul is a racist. His underlying libertarian philosophy isn’t compatible with it. He, like all libertarians, is an atomistic individualist reductionist. Naively so and to a fault from my paleo perspective. Paul's denunciations of the comments now strike me as political CYA, but I believe he is genuine in stating they are not his thoughts.

If anything, the newsletters strike me as politically tone death. People weren't as sensitive and ultra PC in the 80's, but someone who had Paul's best interests in mind should have realized they could be used against him in the future and protected him from that stuff.

At this point in history, political correctness and militant anti-racism is a MUCH bigger problem than is real racism (meaning hate or overt ill will, not every stray unegalitarian thought). That is why we should be very careful not to play into their hands. We should be critical where criticism is due, but we should not generically jump on some PC thought policing bandwagon.

From what I understand, the comments were written while Paul was out of office and practicing medicine. I'm not saying that excuses his negligence, but it should soften any response. If you were going in for surgery, would you like your doctor to be more concerned with checking up his newsletter writers, or taking care of you? I have always liked Paul and I think any knee jerk reaction to a story dredged up form a decade ago. I also note that this story didn't surface (or resurface) until after Paul won second place in Nevada! Coincidence?

Actually, the original Kirchick story came out on the day of the New Hampshire primary. That was absolutely no coincidence. Nor was the pre-programmed "outrage" from the PCtarians at Reason and Cato.

Your post has got me thinking about the much discussed divorce of the coalitions that the GOP has brought together since at least Reagan. Despite all the friction between libertarians and traditional conservatives recently, it strikes me that it will be these two groups who stay home with a Mitt/Rudy/John ticket. So who are these folks that will be voting for these guys? Seems to me, only the various liberal interests (particularly the AARP crowd) and the business interests. What does that give them, 40, 41 points in the general?

Perhaps there will be a payoff of sorts to the GOP for the Prescription Drug Giveaway in that it is leading to votes for McCain. I can't see how the GOP can regain it's vision and strength going along like this....

John, that Kirchick piece was an SPLC style smear job. A bunch of short out of context quotes and strategic use of ellipses. When you look at the articles from which they were extracted, many lose much of their "gotcha" effect. (I haven't done this for all of them.) And Kirchick makes a lot of assumptions that presuppose the PC take on things. For example, he finger wags about secession and ties to "neo-confederates." While many people obviously disagree on the matter, it is just downright sleazy (and simple-minded) for him to suggest that either is evidence of something sinister.

Kirchick has obviously found his niche as the newest smear artist of the PC thought police. He has also recently written an article smearing Daniel Larison due to his connection to the League of the South. Do we really want to reward these types of slimy tactics?

I am not prepared to defend everything I have read that was in the newsletters, but I would be very careful to criticize precisely what I find objectionable and why. The PCtarians at Reason and Cato and the rest of the Beltway cosmotarian crew just eagerly jumped on their PC high horse of condemnation of any and all wrong think. They assumed a more PC than thou attitude.

That is not helpful. It empowers the thought police and silences any real dissent.

Despite all the friction between libertarians and traditional conservatives recently, it strikes me that it will be these two groups who stay home with a Mitt/Rudy/John ticket.

From what I have seen, both with my own eyes and in the polls, Romney does pretty well with the traditional conservatives.

There was a little libertarian wave going for Rudy a while back, but it's dead I think. I'm pretty libertarian and I found it odd.

I'm not a big Paul fan, though there is a lot in his ideas I like. But I thought he a got a bit of a raw deal in this "racism" story. A lot of the quotes looked innocuous. Blacks commit more crime than whites? Yeah, so?

I will say that the level of support Paul has gotten has been surprising, and a little encouraging. It makes you wonder if there is not room for a bit more of his small government mindset in public policy.

John, I am shocked and dismayed that any smart and clear thinking American would have anything to do with Ron Paul. He is a certifiable whack job with a paranoid suspicion of conspiracies (9-11 was an inside job...WTF?). He has been known to associate with racists and he is a pull in the horns foreign policy guy. His principles are talking points meant to mask his weirdness. I know we all miss Reagan but seriously....snap out of it man.


"certifiable whack job?" I get so tired of the childish name calling. If you disagree with his policies then say so and why? Calling someone a name does not strengthen your case. It makes you look like you don't really have one.

Ron Paul has said many times that he does not believe 9/11 was an inside job, and I highly suspect you know that.

His foreign policy is the foreign policy of the Constitution and the Founders. It is the only foreign policy consitent with small government conservatism.

If you have a problem with Paul, you have a problem with the Constitution.

Red- I don't know enough about Paul's foreign policy to say how well it is in accord with the Founder's, but it might be useful to consider a few things. 1. The Constitution itself does not have a foreign policy, it's a document of means bolstered by inherent natural rights theory that may suggest by way of implication a policy, but it does not contain one. 2. The foreign policy of the Founding, which I suppose you take to be Washington's non-intervention/pro trade policy, was significantly dead after the election of 1800. 3. A foreign policy does not immediately become good because it was adopted by the Founders. That is to say, it may have merits, but it significantly relied upon the conditions and contexts of the time. Like it or not (and I do not) the US post-Wilson has become a country that could not and should not return to that policy. It would be utterly disastrous and ruinous to do so know for so many reasons that it isn't worth beginning to list them. Could we scale back? Sure. Could be we slowly change our policy? Yes. It won't, however, happen. Let us just hope that American foreign policy does not become Athens' Sicily.

John's (Moser) bigger point is more important to discuss. That is, the lack of any serious candidate who is in support of limited government. Foreign policy is only symbolic of the broader belief in American society, academics, and political circles about the purpose and scope of government. Neither party is, on the most fundamental level, in disagreement with the progressive understanding of politics. Perhaps it goes without saying, but that is the most serious problem facing America.

Wow. John Moser, you've really surprised me here. No, not that Paul lost your support for condoning the racist newsletters (or, at the very least, being so negligent and/or inept as to let such tripe be published under his name) - that's to be expected from any reasonably humane person - but that you had given your support to him in the first place, regardless of his possibly racist skeletons. After all, aren't you the same John Moser who wrote the pro-(Iraq) War endorsement "A War For Oil? So What?" for Ashbrook in December '02? Surely you're aware that Ron Paul has, for some time (see item #27), repeatedly pointed to oil as the reason for going to war with Iraq, and consistently opposed it for that reason, on moral (Para. 17 - "Of course, it isn't our oil. The oil in fact belongs to the Arabs and other Muslim nations of the Persian Gulf." 9/25/01 (!)), strategic and even environmentalist (govt. subsidies for the oil industry contribute to global warming) grounds. (Haven't you been listening to Steve Hayward?)

Further, Ron Paul calls for a rather strict non-interventionist policy. In your "So What?" editorial you implied that U.S. intervention would put Iraq on a "road to Heaven" for which Iraqis would not expect an apology but, presumably, would be grateful to us for (a la Cheney). Would you say you've done pretty much a 180 since writing that editorial?

Would you say you've done pretty much a 180 since writing that editorial?

Indeed, I have. I believed the administration when it said that there were WMDs in Iraq. I haven't spoken much of it recently, because, frankly, I've been embarrassed by it. I have no doubt that Iraqis are better off now than they were under the tyrant Saddam, but our foreign policy should be geared to the security of this country, and I don't see that the Iraq war has served that one bit.

John, I must say, that while I'm sure we still disagree on a wide variety of things*, I have to give you some real credit for making that admission. I respect that.

So have you become a pretty strict non-interventionist at this point (as Paul appears to be)?

*When speaking of the Iraqis who are better off now than during Saddam's reign, keep in mind that there are, conservatively speaking, at least 40,000 or so Iraqi civilians who have died in invasion and post-invasion violence who are not able to confirm your supposition. And there might have been several other ways to have "removed" Hussein from power, (although, sans WMDs, would it have been necessary?) with at least a couple of those methods resulting in a more flattering portrayal of The American Way than the botched execution he got.

Well, Craig, since you seem determined to bring this beautiful moment of harmony to an end, I suggest that any argument of whether or not the Iraqis are better off must take into account those who we can reasonably expect would have been put to death had Saddam remained in power, as well as those who would have died due to a continuation of the sanctions (which of course Saddam was exploiting for his own benefit).

I should also add that, whatever Ron Paul might say, I remain unpersuaded that oil was an important reason for the Iraq War. This is a problem I've had with the Paul campaign from the beginning--his tendency to resort to simplistic conspiracy-mongering, which of course he shares with much of the American Left. The neoconservatives who have the president's ear on foreign policy aren't terribly interested in economics; their motivations are to some extent pre-modern (manliness a la Harvey Mansfield, and "national greatness" a la Bill Kristol), and to a greater extent a genuine belief that the forcible spread of democracy is both possible and necessary to U.S. national security. This is what gives substance to the paleoconservative charge that, at least in this respect, the "neocons" are revolutionary, rather than truly conservative. The ones who are most concerned about oil have been, from the start, the so-called "realists" who have always desired stability in the region.

Actually, given how the price of oil has soared in the years since the original invasion of Iraq, the notion that the whole thing was about ensuring American access to petroleum seems laughable. Surely the economy would have benefited more from some sort of rapprochement with Saddam than it has from removing him (aside from all the negative economic effects of spending on the war, which Ron Paul is right to note).

So have you become a pretty strict non-interventionist at this point (as Paul appears to be)?

I'm surely not as strict as Ron Paul. I don't think that United States can back away from its international commitments without disastrous results. Having toppled Saddam, I think we have a duty to protect the Kurds, who really have made a good faith effort to create a democratic Iraq, in spite of our betrayal of them in 1991. I also think we should continue to guarantee Israel from foreign invasion, while encouraging a just settlement of the Palestinian problem. On the whole, though, Americans on the Left and the Right have a tendency to exaggerate the power of the United States to change the world, either for good or for ill. A bit more humility (as the president put it during his 2000 campaign, a "lower international profile") would serve the country well.

On the day that the Iraq War began, some of my fellow department members and I addressed a gathering of students on the likely consequences of the war. I said that while I supported the effort, it would be a mistake to expect democracy to emerge quickly. We shouldn't try to complete a 100-year task (indeed, a task that ultimately should lay in Iraqi hands, not ours) in a few months' time. Americans' biggest error in foreign policy is to demand massive change in a brief period; it is what keeeps us involved in "perpetual war for perpetual peace." At least in this respect I feel vindicated.

"Well, Craig, since you seem determined to bring this beautiful moment of harmony to an end..."

??? - I said I respected your earlier admission; I didn't say that I didn't want you to respond (even ungraciously).

"...any argument of whether or not the Iraqis are better off must take into account those who we can reasonably expect would have been put to death had Saddam remained in power."

But here you're comparing known deaths with speculation of future deaths in a now-impossible scenario that would include Hussein. Certainly in the run-up to the war Iraqis were not dying at the rate during and after our invasion (not to mention the refugee situation, which the US appears to be doing very little to assuage (I don't consider Fox to be a credible news site, but it's an AP story, so I'll make an exception here))

Perhaps Iraq would have reached a tipping point on its own, without our "help" (I don't think that anyone really cared about democracy in Iraq, even if oil was NOT part of the equation), and democracy or something much closer to it would have erupted spontaneously, and not via our humanitarian guns and missiles.

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