Posted by Jack @ 11:47 pm on February 23rd 2010

Three Questions About The Ron Paul Resurgence

As has been noted in several recent TCP posts and numerous comments, Ron Paul appears to be enjoying a significant popular resurgence within both traditionally conservative organizations and the latest version of a grass roots small government movement. At this year’s CPAC he dominated the straw poll and his supporters are credited with a pro “gay tolerance” message and push back against a social conservative provocateur. They are probably responsible for the results of an issues poll which found size and scope of government to be a far more important matter for attendees than social agendas or security and defense. Likewise, at Tea Party venues Ron Paul remains quite popular, and the movement shows signs of abandoning some of the most fringe elements while also pushing back at the neo-con or GOP co-option attempt, and generally maturing into a small government movement distinct from corporatist dominated GOP politics. And yet, I have significant doubts, nagging worries, and general skepticism. So here are my questions:

1. Is the success of Ron Paul and his messaging at CPAC indicative of actual growth in influence within conservative and GOP circles, or is it merely a youth dominated anomaly and an organizational coup that grossly exaggerates actual influence within these circles? The youth percentage at this CPAC, though consistent with last year’s attendance, is still a far cry from actual GOP voter demographics. The unrivaled capability of Ron Paul supporters to organize and thus descend on a CPAC-like event calls into question the actual nature and depth of his support among the general GOP electorate, as opposed to the small minority represented by activists. Given what I read in conservative media, his actual ideas in foreign policy are almost universally rejected, and his economic theories are granted a say only to the point of advocating a severe limit on certain government spending, notably excluding defense and medicare, and of course this loose embrace of Paulian economics occurs conveniently during a Democratic President’s term.

I would think a reasonable test of this question would be the stated foreign policy positions of the GOP contenders in the 2010 House and Senate races. How many of them endorse Ron Paul’s foreign policy non-interventionism, or even a far less controversial acknowledgment of blowback and the GWOT’s role in feeding the terrorism machine? How many of them will have true small government bonafides that exist outside of the convenient politics of obstruction during a period of Democratic Party ascendency? Looking farther down the road, in the 2012 GOP debates, will there be more than one in nine candidates that openly endorse a serious reconsideration of neo-con foreign policy, War on Terror policies, and the corrosive effect of both?

2. Is the Ron Paul influence within the Tea Party movement exaggerated, perhaps significantly so, due to the anecdotal evidence of recent events? Though it is fair to say the Ron Paul Revolution during the 2008 GOP primary was “the original” Tea Party movement, for purposes of discussion it is necessary to draw a distinct line of demarcation between the 2008 Paul candidacy and the growth of the 2009 Tea Party movement. Any examination of the early TP effort will reveal rather striking differences between the two, with the overwhelming majority of the early TP participants rejecting Paul’s foreign policy and national security positions, and seemingly motivated more by an across the board anti-Obama sentiment than anything else. One does not need to devolve into “they are all racist” nonsense to recognize the fundamental differences between the RP Revolution and the early TP movement.

What I grant the Tea Party defenders is that the movement has evolved, and that the mere presence of fringe elements does not at all suggest domination by them. I am reminded that in 1987 a few friends and I decided to visit D.C. on a beautiful Saturday, taking the short car ride and metro trip in from Annapolis. As we neared the mall, one of us happened to notice that the back of our Metro ticket was advertising a big gay pride rally on the mall. For that exact day. With some trepidation, and really with not much choice, we continued into the heart of Sodom. It was an enlightening day. Thousands upon thousands of demonstrators, crowded the mall. Marchers from every state. Continual speeches from ever corner. Gay bikers, twinks, veterans, cross dressers, young people, old guys, really every stripe of American you could think of. But what I really noticed were the hangers on, the leeches that latched on to this gay rights event: Every fringe element organization you could name had a booth or people handing out literature. I returned to the Academy that evening with a stack of wonderfully absurd pamphlets and hand outs, including several from communist workers parties. The point is that these organizations had NOTHING to do with gay rights, but everything to do with vaguely directed anger and dissatisfaction. Every movement will attract them. The key is to what extent they influence the actual movement.

In the case of the Tea Partiers, my sense is that fringe far right elements had significant influence in the early days, competing only with traditional neo-con voices. And today? I am informed it is better. And yet, Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck remain the two most popular figures among Tea Partiers. Not a good sign, certainly not a sign that suggests Paulites and their policies are fully respected there.

3. Are Ron Paul supporters well out in front of Ron Paul’s actual positions, in effect projecting onto him a much more individual rights friendly set of beliefs in the social and culture war arenas than he actually possesses? Critics of Ron Paul, particularly self identified libertarians, will frequently point out his numerous and aggressive anti-libertarian positions. Usually these are either described as staunchly federalist “States Rights” positions, or just poorly disguised traditional social conservatism. His position on gay rights, abortion, and drug laws has come under particular scrutiny. The criticism usually follows the line that Paul seems to provide support for individual States to decide anything and everything, including the right to enact sodomy laws, abortion laws, and drug laws. Additionally, these critics are able to sight Ron Paul’s statements, literature, and proposed legislation that deeply contradicts the image of an individual liberty minded politician, and rather supports the image of a social conservative that supports 50 different flavors of government infringement on civil liberties. And even here, he will grant the Federal government supreme power if it fits his social conservative beliefs, as in his authoring of the Sanctity of Life Act, a federal provision that would define life as beginning at conception, effectively banning, at the federal level, all abortions.

The impression is that Ron Paul supporters, in particular the young enthusiasts, perceive Paul as far more libertarian, socially moderate, and supportive of individual rights at the expense of the power of the state (at any level) than his record actually suggests. This is bit of a double edged sword. On the good side: so what? This just means that a major influencing movement within the conservative arena is pushing an agenda that is roughly libertarian and socially liberal even if the figure head is not fully on board. The down side is that perhaps these supporters, projecting their beliefs onto a politician, are empowering not a libertarian civil liberties defender, but a man at times hostile to such notions, and positioning him to directly influence legislation and party politics along lines he, rather than they, support.

Even granted an accurate answer to all three of these question, I am at a loss as to what that would mean. I am left with the same intense inner conflict I have had with the Ron Paul movement since I posted my first comment to The Crossed Pond. I resolved that conflict along the following lines: While Ron Paul has any number of crucial positions that I find superior to the vast majority of politicians in general and Republicans in specific, he also has some significant negatives, including fringe beliefs and several thinly disguised anti-liberty tendencies. But ALL of the GOP candidates have some beliefs that I find now (and in other times I would hope that many more Americans would as well) to be deeply fringe and certainly anti-liberty, and these Republicans are frequently joined, with varying enthusiasm, by their Democratic Party colleagues. Furthermore, these mainstream GOP candidates are capable of, even likely to, implement these insane policies, whereas Paul’s unpalatable ideas are largely beyond feasible legislation. In other words: Ron Paul’s crazy is neutralized by the system, whereas the rest of the GOP’s insanity is reinforced by it. Given this, I am greatly pleased that he might have a growing influence on conservative and GOP affairs, but skeptical of the extent of this effect.

Incidentally: If it was not clear from my links, other than our own Brad and Rojas (for the defense), there are two bloggers that influenced me deeply on this issue, and you should read them if you want the highly critical libertarian analysis of the Ron Paul effect:

Kip Esquire. While he is mostly a twitter fiend now, his blogging days were pure libertarian delight. Man you need to blog at least occasionally, Kip. His Ron Paul collection.

Timothy Sandefur. Formerly one of the contributors to Positive Liberty, but as I understand it, his foreign policy views, particularly regarding Iraq and the War on Terror, lead to his decision to strike out on his own. He is one of those libertarians actually doing something other than blogging for the cause: he is an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, carving out a niche as the nation’s premier property rights legal coalition, and author of Property Rights in 21st Century America. His Ron Paul collection: One Two Three Four Five

It should probably come as no surprise that two of my favorite libertarian bloggers are also members of a socially unacceptable minority. No, not that one, far less acceptable than that.

8 Comments »

  1. We must be careful not to simply apply the label “libertarian” to Ron Paul and expect him to conform to the general, or subjective, interpretations of that label. He’s his own man, and while he says he is libertarian, he is really libertarian-esque and more interested in Constitutionalism (hence his recent alignment with the Constitution Party–only pseudo libertarian) than the Libertarian ideal.

    I often get into this discussion with people who assume that because I’m more “libertarian” than “neocon” that suddenly my priorities are legalizing marijuana, and oh, I must be pro-choice?

    But, I like your analysis.

    The key to honest libertarianism to me is that it is within a greater vision. Interestingly enough, Ann Coulter hit it spot on at CPAC, talking about how sure, the ideal would be legalized drugs, but we have to take down the Depts. of Education, Commerce, Energy, EPA, etc., first, and get rid of the welfare state.

    In this age in which we live, it *is* about priorities.

    Comment by sanzoneja — 2/24/2010 @ 1:01 am

  2. 1. Is the success of Ron Paul and his messaging at CPAC indicative of actual growth in influence within conservative and GOP circles, or is it merely a youth dominated anomaly and an organizational coup that grossly exaggerates actual influence within these circles?

    Primarily, but not exclusively, the latter. Look, I don’t think any sane person is going to argue that Ron Paul is on point of taking over mainstream conservatism. What he HAS done is meaningfully influence a large number of young people–and not just any young people, but precisely the sort of smart, highly motivated young people that emerge from their pupae as party leaders later on. These are people who, in the absence of Paul, would have become followers of…whom? Mitt Romney? Sarah Palin?

    Paul might be analogized to Ayn Rand in that his influence will never be extensive, but his followers will be punching well out of their weight class numbers-wise.

    I would think a reasonable test of this question would be the stated foreign policy positions of the GOP contenders in the 2010 House and Senate races. How many of them endorse Ron Paul’s foreign policy non-interventionism, or even a far less controversial acknowledgment of blowback and the GWOT’s role in feeding the terrorism machine? How many of them will have true small government bonafides that exist outside of the convenient politics of obstruction during a period of Democratic Party ascendency?

    About a dozen on foreign policy, which is about a dozen more than there would have been in his absence. The position is now in play for Republicans, thanks to Paul, and it will grow in viability as the deficit becomes a pressing issue. I know a couple of very smart power-behind-the-throne types in conservative circles who are already coming around to this.

    Substantially more on genuine fiscal conservatism, and that’s true absent Paul’s influence as well; Pence and Flake are not Paulites.

    2. Is the Ron Paul influence within the Tea Party movement exaggerated, perhaps significantly so, due to the anecdotal evidence of recent events?

    Depends who’s doing the accounting. Ron Paul picked up about a third of the vote at CPAC in a thirteen candidate field. Had the field been two candidates, Paul would have gotten…again, about a third of the vote. My own anecdotal experience suggests that that’s fairly indicitive of his support among tea party types as well–the favorite of a significant plurality but not of a real majority. That’s a nice gain from 8% in the 2008 primaries; and again, his support is disproportionately smart, motivated, and young. His movement is viable among the masses, but it’s VERY viable among the future leaders.

    3. Are Ron Paul supporters well out in front of Ron Paul’s actual positions, in effect projecting onto him a much more individual rights friendly set of beliefs in the social and culture war arenas than he actually possesses?

    Yes. No question. Remember, I myself have gone on record to the effect that Ron Paul himself wouldn’t make an ideal President; he is, rather, a vehicle for a movement and a general ideological orientation that WOULD produce an excellent President. Paul himself is most admirable for his personal integrity, long-term focus, and political courage, not for his policy particulars. A short list of policies on which I fundamentally disagree with the man would include earmarks, gay marriage, the monetary system, legal abortion, free trade, force projection, foreign aid, and immigration, just for starters. He’s right on the big-piture issues but wrong on a lot of practical applications. I can live with that. I spent enough time in the LP to know the perils of purity.

    There’s a perfectly rational case to be made for disliking Ron Paul and preferring other candidates for the Presidency. And in fact Brad and I have both, at times, been harshly and directly critical of the Paul campaign in our posts here. I would hope, though, that most friends of economic and social liberty, though, would recognize that his elevated public role is a good thing in terms of the people it brings together and the issues it pushes to the fore.

    While he is mostly a twitter fiend now, his blogging days were pure libertarian delight. Man you need to blog at least occasionally, Kip.

    Violently seconded.

    Comment by Rojas — 2/24/2010 @ 1:03 am

  3. 1. Is the success of Ron Paul and his messaging at CPAC indicative of actual growth in influence within conservative and GOP circles, or is it merely a youth dominated anomaly and an organizational coup that grossly exaggerates actual influence within these circles?

    Both, but mostly the latter.

    On the latter, Rojas gives the right answer. I don’t think anybody would ever argue that Ron Paul or his followers make up anything more than a dedicated and enthusiastic minority among the GOP. I certainly haven’t meant to imply more than that. But, I don’t quite get the use of “just young people and a good organization?” qualifier as a disqualifier. Because to seed an ideological strain and implant it in a party system, you need two things—young people and a good organization.

    Look at what Howard Dean did within the Democratic system on the strength of just those two things as well. Howard Dean, in point of fact, has never done well when facing national Democratic primary actual voters—that broadest swath. Does that mean his influence was “grossly exaggerated?” Depends on how you take the question I guess. It means that he is influential wildly disproportionate to his capacity to win votes. Half a dozen of one, six of the other.

    I think the point of the Paul movement was always to influence, not to win elections. It took as its explicit example the Goldwater campaign, and that right there tells you something.

    But I will say that I do think CPAC was indicative of growth and influence within a CERTAIN KIND of conservative and GOP circle, that being the low-level party insiders and activist which tend to make up the bulk of CPAC’s attendees. I think that’s hard to get a direct bead on, but my own sense of it, backed up by the straw poll win, is that in 2007 the Paul movement were entirely neophytes and total party outsiders—it would be a big deal if a county GOP chair walked into the room in the early days. Now, through a combination of doggedness and being ahead of the curve in terms of the movement of the conservative movement, they’re accepted as a significant and enthusiastic strain of activists, they are sought after as organizers, and most within the GOP have made their peace with them being around. Meanwhile, they continue to plug away pushing a libertarian manifesto, only now they’ve been invited in.

    The youth percentage at this CPAC, though consistent with last year’s attendance, is still a far cry from actual GOP voter demographics. The unrivaled capability of Ron Paul supporters to organize and thus descend on a CPAC-like event calls into question the actual nature and depth of his support among the general GOP electorate, as opposed to the small minority represented by activists.

    Absolutely. Paul is NOT mainstream within the GOP electorate at large, and probably never will be. CPAC doesn’t even try to be representative of that population. Instead, it’s a self-selected sample of, literally, the MOST ENGAGED members of that population.

    I also like Rojas’ Ayn Rand analogy here.

    Given what I read in conservative media, his actual ideas in foreign policy are almost universally rejected, and his economic theories are granted a say only to the point of advocating a severe limit on certain government spending, notably excluding defense and medicare, and of course this loose embrace of Paulian economics occurs conveniently during a Democratic President’s term.

    Here’s the difference—whereas before his expression of his foreign policy got him barred from a debate on Fox, got state GOP chairs demanding his expulsion from the party, Rudy Giuliani to call him a traitor on national television, and generally provoking a huge amount of hostility—Ron has more or less succeeded in normalizing the expression of his foreign policy views, such that even people like Ann Coulter and The Corner feel the need to point out that he’s welcome. His views in other words have gone from verboten heresy to merely disagreeable in the span of a single election cycle. In the binary—Republicans Agree/Disagree With This—you’re right, Republicans at large still disagree with him. But on the spectrum of the place of his views in the conversation, he’s moved the bar really startlingly far in a very short time.

    As to his economic theories—worth noting that he’s introduced an Audit the Fed bill every year of his congressional career, and it never got out of committee and Fed criticism was generally considered eye-rolling. This year, it has 313 co-sponsors. This wasn’t all just external events—Ron blazed the path that made signing on to something like that look not necessarily like the Mark of the Beast in terms of political acceptability.

    I would think a reasonable test of this question would be the stated foreign policy positions of the GOP contenders in the 2010 House and Senate races.

    I would agree, but here is my yardstick: it is not going to be “do most of the candidates agree with Ron Paul?” but rather “is his view consistently represented as a part of the Republican party?” Because it was not before him. I think a metric of success is not whether the rest of the candidates become Paulian, but rather whether there is a Paulian candidate there. My own hunch is we will have a Ron Paul candidate every cycle now (Gary Johnson perhaps next to, Rand Paul out there at some point, Peter Schiff? Who knows). What was so startling about Ron Paul is it was assumed that there was quite literally NO constituency for his foreign policy views. And yet, he managed to find one, fan one, and now pretty much everyone agrees…well okay, there is a SMALL and every enthusiastic constituency for his foreign policy views. And maybe we can agree to disagree.

    To me, that’s pretty huge. You don’t need to take over the field to win a place at the table, but winning a place at the table can itself be a pretty huge accomplishment. I don’t think he created that constituency (although he doubled or maybe tripled it)—even at the height of neocon nonsense there was a % of Republicans who were anti-Iraq War, etc. But the line among the GOP candidates was that Paul was a lone crank and that constituency didn’t exist or weren’t Republicans, and the line among liberals was ALSO that that constituency didn’t exist and that the neocons had taken over the GOP whole hog. Looks a lot less true today than it did then, don’t it? You have Paul to thank for that.

    So yeah, next year we can already see we’re going to have people like Romney and Palin and other players we already know who are already on record as being generally Bushian in their fp views. But, two things:

    1. That will be a less important aspect of their campaign, and less heavily emphasized, than before Ron Paul, and candidates will be less likely to directly (or hostilely) engage the Paulian viewpoint (i.e. it won’t look as politically a no-brainer to pull a Rudy Giulliani than it did last time), and…

    2. FUTURE candidates will be that much more likely to represent or at least be sympathetic to anti-interventionism and conservatism in fp.

    But, as with all things, it’s impossible to give all or even most credit for that to Ron Paul—a large part of it is he just happened to be ahead of the curve and events that would have likely produced at least SOME of the effect even in his absence. It’ll be impossible to quantify to what extent Paul influenced this or that. But I think it’s clear he’s in the mix, and he provided a proto-example such that, when the time came that events switched in his favor, he had already been standing there and he and his supporters had already done a lot of the heavy lifting in clearing a path.

    2. Is the Ron Paul influence within the Tea Party movement exaggerated, perhaps significantly so, due to the anecdotal evidence of recent events?

    Yes. But again I think you’re using the wrong yardstick. Paul’s people (or Paulish people) are not the majority of the Tea Partiers, but that doesn’t mean they’re not very relevant.

    Though it is fair to say the Ron Paul Revolution during the 2008 GOP primary was “the original” Tea Party movement, for purposes of discussion it is necessary to draw a distinct line of demarcation between the 2008 Paul candidacy and the growth of the 2009 Tea Party movement. Any examination of the early TP effort will reveal rather striking differences between the two, with the overwhelming majority of the early TP participants rejecting Paul’s foreign policy and national security positions, and seemingly motivated more by an across the board anti-Obama sentiment than anything else. One does not need to devolve into “they are all racist” nonsense to recognize the fundamental differences between the RP Revolution and the early TP movement.

    I would very much like to hear what those “examinations” of the early TP effort entails. My guess is that’s just as anecdotal as anything the Paul people are pushing.

    But yes. not all Tea Partiers are Paulites, but all Paulites are Tea Partiers (very roughly anyway, although among some of the most skeptical of the Tea Party movement, especially in the beginning, were Paulites). And the reason the anybody is talking about the Tea Party at all is because they have figured out how to be disproportionately influential, which they learned from the Paul movement almost entirely. The Tea Paty is “something else” from the Paul movement, for sure. But it’s a mistake too to see it as at all homogenous. Ironically, the organizing principle is as much mechanistic as ideological, and while they don’t necessarily share a Paulian ideology, they DO share, and have appropriated almost in its entirety, the Paul playbook. To what ends they use that is a legitimate concern, but that’s why I’m thankful that so many of the young, enthusiastic, and well-organized are the Paulites.

    In the case of the Tea Partiers, my sense is that fringe far right elements had significant influence in the early days, competing only with traditional neo-con voices. And today? I am informed it is better. And yet, Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck remain the two most popular figures among Tea Partiers. Not a good sign, certainly not a sign that suggests Paulites and their policies are fully respected there.

    Sure. And in a way, that was true of the Paul movement too. Alex Jones had a significant following, and there were a lot of different ideological axes that people were grinding, some of which were on message and some of which off. In that sense, the Tea Party is just a much larger scale version of the Paul movement, with all the problems you would imagine from that.

    3. Are Ron Paul supporters well out in front of Ron Paul’s actual positions, in effect projecting onto him a much more individual rights friendly set of beliefs in the social and culture war arenas than he actually possesses? Critics of Ron Paul, particularly self identified libertarians, will frequently point out his numerous and aggressive anti-libertarian positions. Usually these are either described as staunchly federalist “States Rights” positions, or just poorly disguised traditional social conservatism.

    Yes, I would agree with Rojas here, and also think that has always been to some extent the case. Although I do think the criticism of “poorly disguised traditional social conservatism” charge is mostly bunk, or at least rather meaningless (in that even if he IS socially conservative, the fact that he never really advocates any attempt to codify that into law makes it sort of toothless) . Even the “he’s a racist” charge strikes me funny. Because A. I don’t believe it to be true, but B. even if it was, what precisely would come out from a Paul administration that would threaten liberty along racial lines? Nobody was ever really able to answer that for me.

    But I tend to be pretty tolerant of social conservatism. I don’t think you have to be personally socially liberal to advocate a worldview that would increase social freedoms. Nor do I think a state’s rights fallback position is necessarily a cover, unless you believe that populations where the majority are socially conservative don’t have a right to express that democratically (I would say in some cases they do, in some cases they don’t, but in general I’d prefer it be expressed on a statewide level than a national level). Anyway, we’ve gone round and round on this before. But I think the Paul movement, by and large, is pretty socially liberal—certainly by Republican standards—but brokering of social conservatism, which as I said is okay with me. The Sanctity of Life Act is the odd man out here, but I’ve long since taken the position that there can be good faith disagreement about whether abortion falls under social liberty or not. That’s one big symbolic support, where he has consistently rejected all the nickel-and-dime measures Republicans have actually used and passed to throw up barriers to abortion.

    The impression is that Ron Paul supporters, in particular the young enthusiasts, perceive Paul as far more libertarian, socially moderate, and supportive of individual rights at the expense of the power of the state (at any level) than his record actually suggests. This is bit of a double edged sword. On the good side: so what? This just means that a major influencing movement within the conservative arena is pushing an agenda that is roughly libertarian and socially liberal even if the figure head is not fully on board. The down side is that perhaps these supporters, projecting their beliefs onto a politician, are empowering not a libertarian civil liberties defender, but a man at times hostile to such notions, and positioning him to directly influence legislation and party politics along lines he, rather than they, support.

    But his social conservative views, such as they are (and again, he is far less socially conservative than even your garden variety Republican) is clearly pretty far down on his priority list. I rarely heard him even mention it, whereas economics, foreign policy, and civil liberties were clearly his animating message (in that order). He was socially conservative, but he didn’t run on it.

    There is a good acid test on this one, regarding “empowering him” and thus inadvertently empowering a social conservative message. I think we would all agree that the 2007 primaries “empowered” Ron Paul and gave him a platform and credibility to contribute to the political conversation. So, what has Ron Paul been up to since his empowerment? What has he devoted his energy, resources, and platform to, now that he has all three to devote? There’s your answer, and it’s pretty clear.

    We kept hearing about how Paul was going to suddenly throw off the cloak and “Ah ha! No abortions for all and black people should be thrown in prison!” When, precisely, is that going to happen? It’s certainly not for lack of opportunity that it hasn’t happened yet. He’s been in the enviable position of basically being able to take any direction he wants, and he’s almost exclusively taken the direction his supporters—not detractors—emphasized all along. That’s pretty powerful empirical evidence, I would think. What say you Kip et al? If he’s a stealth social conservatism fascist, he’s an awfully shitty one.

    Comment by Brad — 2/24/2010 @ 11:37 am

  4. sanzoneja,
    Thanks for your comments. I think you will find that the posters and commenters here understand the limits of Ron Paul’s libertarian streak and apply the label judiciously. In other words, we are largely in agreement with you on that subject. And so too with the many different varieties of libertarian ideology and the radically different priorities that can create. Based on your comment here alone, I suspect I am your libertarian mirror opposite. I find Coulter’s comment nearly incomprehensible (at least as you have restated it): I can’t tell if she meant that disbanding of those agencies was some sort of necessary prerequisite for succesful marijuana legalization, or simply that it was far more important for us to worry about disbanding those agencies, and thus we can’t afford to spend time discussing ganja or the larger issue of the drug war. Either way, I am in strong disagreement.

    Finally, let my flip one of your comments:
    We must be careful not to simply apply the label “constitutionalist” to Ron Paul (or anyone else) and expect him to conform to the general, or subjective, interpretations of that label. Consitutionalist is, in current American politics, a term with an even greater divergence in ideology than “libertarian.” Paul’s endorsement of Chuck Baldwin, a person whose ideological sructure I find to be a rather horrific distortion of history, modern reality, liberty, and most importantly, the Consitition, was a particuarly low point for me.

    Rojas,
    Good answers, I have nothing really to add. Though we are rehasing some of the same discussions we had during the primary season, I think it is worthwhile to check back in on these issues to see how they have evolved, particularly in light of the Recent RonSlaughtian Resurgence.

    Comment by Jack — 2/24/2010 @ 11:39 am

  5. Interesting that as I was writing this, serious analysts are now examining the Republican field from a Paulite perspective. Mark Ambinder:

    Romney could not be positioned more poorly to harness the Tea Partiers, the Paulites, and the social conservatives right now: protestant evangelicals still think he’s a Mormon of the suspect kind (unlike, say, John Huntsman Jr., who comes off as a real guy); he is a national security hawk at a time when there is a growing “get us out of there” movement within the base of the GOP; he is unlikely to embrace libertarianism (gambling, marijuana, civil unions) that would transform his political image and attract some of the Paulites; his immigration positioning is solid enough, but his association with the GOP establishment — he’s seen as the establishment candidate — will make anything he says suspect. A deft candidate, which Romney can be, can find a way to articulate a muscular vision for national security (pro “enhanced interrogation,” anti-Gitmo closing) but simultaneously argue that American strength ought not be projected, lest it be diluted.

    10. Tim Pawlenty is a credentialed candidate during a period where credentials matter not. It remains to be seen whether the Republican establishment has enough control over its primaries as Democrats had over theirs in 2004, able to soften up the insurgent (Howard Dean), who self-destructed (sort of), and allowed the media to pronounce the establishment frontrunner (John Kerry) as the winner. Note, though, how Dean’s blueprint influenced Kerry’s candidacy.

    If you’re a potential candidate, watching things play out, which way might you be considering pivoting?

    Anyway, Ambinder’s whole musing on this very question is worth reading, and I agree with it.

    Comment by Brad — 2/24/2010 @ 11:39 am

  6. Brad,
    I have printed out your comment and set it next to my copy of War and Peace for later reading. Heh. I agree with, though in some cases grudgingly, the great majority of what you have written. But agreement is boring, so the few things I take issue with:

    It took as its explicit example the Goldwater campaign, and that right there tells you something.

    Your wiki link is broken, TCP header got included somehow. I disagree with broken links.

    I would agree, but here is my yardstick: it is not going to be “do most of the candidates agree with Ron Paul?” but rather “is his view consistently represented as a part of the Republican party?” Because it was not before him. I think a metric of success is not whether the rest of the candidates become Paulian, but rather whether there is a Paulian candidate there.

    Absolutely not. First, I am in no way suggesting that the test is “do most candidates agree with Ron Paul”, but rather, do a significant number of the many many House and Senate GOP candidates have some similar or compatible FP views? Your yard stick, “is there a candidate,” seems to be only looking at the Presidential race. So if we go from one candidate endorseing RP’s FP policies in 2008 (the man himself) to one candidate endorsing them in 2012, then that is progress? Or have I completely misread you: do you mean that in any given major race, including some of the 2010 congressional campaigns, are there candidates, perhaps from a wide field, that have his views? I can’t see how this is even a yardstick. More like a slide rule allowing you to put the success marker anywhere you want depending on the scale that give you a preferred outcome. Maybe I just don’t understnad what you mean.

    I would very much like to hear what those “examinations” of the early TP effort entails. My guess is that’s just as anecdotal as anything the Paul people are pushing.

    Oh come on, it was a blog post written over a glass of scotch. Of course “examinations” is overblown. The best I can offer you is that I was fascinated with the Tea Party movement from the beginning (as I am defining the beginning) and read everything I could find, watched all I could, and collected a large amount of admittedly anecdotal observations. ALL of which leads me to say that the early movement was freaking nuts. Not just the extensive presense of fringe element nutjobs, but the primary motivation was some sort of vaguely directed, and often hypocritcal, boiling anger and hatred. It was less small government than anti-Obama. Birtherism was one of the more prominant unifying concepts. Rojas, and now you, can pretend the movement has always been dominated by rational small government activists with but small sampling of fringe types if you like, but I don’t believe you.

    in that even if he IS socially conservative, the fact that he never really advocates any attempt to codify that into law makes it sort of toothless

    As you later admit, the Sanctity of Life Act.

    Nor do I think a state’s rights fallback position is necessarily a cover, unless you believe that populations where the majority are socially conservative don’t have a right to express that democratically (I would say in some cases they do, in some cases they don’t, but in general I’d prefer it be expressed on a statewide level than a national level).

    I think today’s choice is usually not between “Federal restriction of civil liberties” and “50 different versions of state restricitons on civil liberties.” The choice, in the vast majority of these culture war/social conservative issues, is between “No or quite limited government interference with civil liberties because of a Supreme Court ruling” and “50 different versions of civil liberties limitations, many of which will be significantly more restrictive than what exists today, and almost none of them will be less restrictive.” So yes, Paul’s version of strong federalism and deferrence to “States’ Rights,” a concept we have indeed been round on before (mantra: there are no State Rights, there are only Individual Rights, States have Powers) is in and of itself anti-liberty. I understand the caveats and limitations, I really do, but I think you underplay it.

    There is a good acid test on this one, regarding “empowering him” and thus inadvertently empowering a social conservative message. I think we would all agree that the 2007 primaries “empowered” Ron Paul and gave him a platform and credibility to contribute to the political conversation. So, what has Ron Paul been up to since his empowerment? What has he devoted his energy, resources, and platform to, now that he has all three to devote? There’s your answer, and it’s pretty clear.

    Another pretty good acid test would be, after empowering him, and with the end of his Presidential run, who was the very first candidate he endorsed? That answer is not pretty, and I think it is a good representation of the types of actions his “wolf in sheeps clothing” detractors fear. Further, the more power he wields as a result of popular support translates into power within Congress to manuever legislation, kill it, fast track it, etc. Much of that manuevering will happen outside of the public eye, and I think a lot of people, having seen his true beliefs on issues other than FP and economics, worry about the types of decisions he will make in that arena.

    Comment by Jack — 2/24/2010 @ 12:48 pm

  7. I have printed out your comment and set it next to my copy of War and Peace for later reading.

    You should talk. At least I used paragraphs.

    Your wiki link is broken, TCP header got included somehow. I disagree with broken links.

    Here.

    Absolutely not. First, I am in no way suggesting that the test is “do most candidates agree with Ron Paul”, but rather, do a significant number of the many many House and Senate GOP candidates have some similar or compatible FP views? Your yard stick, “is there a candidate,” seems to be only looking at the Presidential race.

    Fair enough. I thought you were talking about the Presidential contest. I don’t know the answer to your question, although it’s worth noting that Rand Paul is skating to a Senate seat, and there are a fair few Paul-inspired candidates out there for all kinds of races (site via Campaign for Liberty), which lists “foreign policy” as its second qualifier (after “economy”), which it defines as:

    Taken as a whole, America’s current foreign policy is a grossly unconstitutional one that we cannot afford. It has put us in a situation where children born today are burdened with an impossible debt. It is premised on a twisted version of American exceptionalism which assumes we have the right to police the world without respect for the sovereignty of fellow nations. If we hope to be respected in the global community, we would be wise to heed the advice of Thomas Jefferson and seek, “peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations – entangling alliances with none.”

    Those candidates kind of run the gambit on all else, including electability, although the highlights would probably be Rand Paul, Peter Schiff, RJ Harris, Adam Kokesh, and others. I would even add that Paulite (or Paulish, on fp) pundits have also gained increasing prominence—I’m thinking of Judge Andrew Napolitano, John Stossel, et al, who are suddenly finding themselves with talkshows whereas two years ago they were more or less blacklisted.

    But I don’t think either of us are going to win this argument, because it’s not clear to me what the metric should be or what yardstick you would accept. Paul went from being a lone crank in the House to being a non-viable candidate for President to being a relative figurehead, gifting a Senate seat to his son, and spurring future successors representing his views on the national level (Gary Johnson, Andrew Napolitano, whoever). He has certainly not “taken over” the party, but he has proven there is a constituency out there within the GOP for his view of foreign policy, and he and his supporters are nurturing it, to the point where even the non-Paulite CPACers (who, again, two years ago were seen as stand-ins for “the base”) are willing to share a stage with it and agree to disagree, rather than run them out of the party.

    In short, Paul’s views on foreign policy are NOT mainstream in the Republican party, and might not ever be. But hey went from supposedly being nonexistent to being a pretty identifiable and real constituency even within the GOP. That is progress.

    The best I can offer you is that I was fascinated with the Tea Party movement from the beginning (as I am defining the beginning) and read everything I could find, watched all I could, and collected a large amount of admittedly anecdotal observations.

    All of which—all you read, watched, and “collected”—is selected specifically for crazy. It’s not like the coverage (Fox News excepted) of the early Tea Party protests went out there looking for the reasonable, optimistic individuals. If you went looking at the anti-Iraq War protesters in the early days, based on media coverage and what got highlighted and reported on, you’d come away with the same impression. But you didn’t, because that’s not what you were looking for there, but it is here. It’s as much a function of your own bias, and how that clicks into place in this case with the media bias (which is not anti-conservative but pro-sensationalism), then it is the Tea Party movement.

    Which is again not to say that the Tea Party movement doesn’t have a lot of crazies, because it surely does. I’d guess about a third of it is composed of people I wouldn’t want to have anything to do with, united by, as Ambinders puts it, “a geo-racial-ethnic anxiety about the emerging majority-minority nation and its attendent economic effects.” I don’t disagree with that. But I do find it good to know that there is another third there that I would roundly describe as being closer to my political worldview than any other constituency in American politics today. So, again, I could sit back and wait for for those thirds to split (which will be hard, seeing as how there is no structure to the movement, no leadership, no gatekeepers, etc), or cheer on my third, blast the bad third, and hope that the middle third will side with me rather then them.

    Am I even making sense at this point? Moving on…

    As you later admit, the Sanctity of Life Act.

    Which, again, I’m frankly not worried about. Abortion, as a federal issue, has been in political stalemate for 30 years and I don’t expect that to change. It worries me more at the margins—throwing up roadblocks—and at local levels, neither of which Paul seems really interested in. I am willing to agree to disagree with abortion writ large, and don’t view it as a disqualifier for libertarianism, even specifically social libertarianism.

    I think today’s choice is usually not between “Federal restriction of civil liberties” and “50 different versions of state restricitons on civil liberties.” The choice, in the vast majority of these culture war/social conservative issues, is between “No or quite limited government interference with civil liberties because of a Supreme Court ruling” and “50 different versions of civil liberties limitations, many of which will be significantly more restrictive than what exists today, and almost none of them will be less restrictive.” So yes, Paul’s version of strong federalism and deferrence to “States’ Rights,” a concept we have indeed been round on before (mantra: there are no State Rights, there are only Individual Rights, States have Powers) is in and of itself anti-liberty. I understand the caveats and limitations, I really do, but I think you underplay it.

    And I really do think you’re drilling way, way down in the Ron Paul legacy to find something problematic that you disagree with.

    We could get in a long debate about the social conservative state’s rights thing, but frankly, why ought we to bother? I’ve seen Dr. Paul speak dozens of times, I’ve been to his rallies, I’ve seen him on T.V. and read his books, and the only references I’ve ever seen to what you’re talking about are in some interviews where he sounds frankly a bit defense and a bit unsure of how to square personal social conservatism with a socially liberal political philosophy. It is pretty clear what animates Paul, what animates his supporters, and what their shared agenda is. And frankly, pushing a social conservatism federalism doesn’t make the cut. I think it’s worth a footnote, sure, and I think you’re welcome to disagree with it, but it seems weird to try to define the movement from it, since the movement itself (and the man himself) chooses to totally ignore it.

    Another pretty good acid test would be, after empowering him, and with the end of his Presidential run, who was the very first candidate he endorsed? That answer is not pretty, and I think it is a good representation of the types of actions his “wolf in sheeps clothing” detractors fear.

    That’s fair, although keep in mind his first endorsement was not to Baldwin, but to “all third party candidates challenging conventional assumptions”, a total cop-out but broad enough answer that it seemed fairly clear he didn’t know what his agenda was there. He only went to Baldwin when the Barr people flipped out, and even then, there was much backroom shit-losing that I’m not sure Dr. Paul had much to do with. Anyway, it’s not like it had any impact, and what was kind of cool about it is as far as I could tell most of his supporters even chose to ignore it (most went to Barr, some went to Obama, some eschewed the Prez race entirely and moved on to Congress: I’d say Baldwin came in third or fourth in terms of where Ron Paul supporters ended up).

    What will be interested to see is where Paul and his supporters wind up in 2012, be it Paul himself, Gary Johnson (please run!), or whoever. If Paul endorses Sarah Palin (which I could see being in the realm of possibility), you are free to lose your shit. But by far the bulk of his legacy and actions was in pushing a manifesto, and the record on that is not unclear. It’s been all economics, foreign policy, and civil liberties, and all of the good kind.

    Further, the more power he wields as a result of popular support translates into power within Congress to manuever legislation, kill it, fast track it, etc. Much of that manuevering will happen outside of the public eye, and I think a lot of people, having seen his true beliefs on issues other than FP and economics, worry about the types of decisions he will make in that arena.

    And what power has he exerted in Congress?

    Audit the Fed is all I can think of. But I might be missing a “let Oklahoma execute unwed mothers” bill that snuck into jobs bill.

    Comment by Brad — 2/24/2010 @ 2:02 pm

  8. OK, I hear you on everything. Minor quibbles:

    All of which…is selected specifically for crazy… But you didn’t, because that’s not what you were looking for there…It’s as much a function of your own bias.

    Which is again not to say that the Tea Party movement doesn’t have a lot of crazies…I’d guess about a third..

    You are vacillating between out right dismissal of my concerns as merely the product of my own biases combined with a hostile media and directly admitting that my perception is one hundred percent accurate in that a third of the TPers are deeply troubling.

    (most went to Barr, some went to Obama, some eschewed the Prez race entirely and moved on to Congress: I’d say Baldwin came in third or fourth in terms of where Ron Paul supporters ended up).

    But don’t you wonder what might have been had he really thrown his weight behind Barr, frequently described by any number of libertarians as one of the best candidates the LPUSA has fielded in terms of non-crazy messaging, appeal, and potential to garner a respectable showing, rather than back the nutjob? Maybe no difference at all, but man that really irked.

    Audit the Fed is all I can think of. But I might be missing a “let Oklahoma execute unwed mothers” bill that snuck into jobs bill.

    ICWUDT. But “let Oklahoma execute abortion doctors” would be good to go.

    Comment by Jack — 2/24/2010 @ 2:43 pm

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