Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sunday Question for Conservatives

Will Ron Paul's libertarian campaigns have any long-term effect on the Republican Party? If so, on what policy positions?


  1. Not a conservative, but.....

    I see three effects. Two have already happened; one will happen in the future.

    First, I see A LOT of Paul in the Tea Party. I think a majority of Tea Partiers now are just actviated conservatives who have found a label for their strident conservativism. BUT, a lot of the original Tea Partiers, before Fox got involved, were really kinda libertarian. I think I read a poll last year that something like 1/3 (totally off of memory here) of TPers were, on the issues, Paulites.

    Second, and related, look at the number of true-blue kill the Fed/kill off government entirely Republicans there are. More than there were 4 years ago, that's for sure. Now, some are just playing at it, but I think a small portion of the House GOP caucus isn't just SAYING low taxes/low spending (then voting for low taxes/high spending), but is committed to the position. Not many (see how many vote against military approps, for example, which would truly be Paul-ish), but some. I don't think this will go any further, but I think it has happened.

    Third, not an issue position per se, but I would be willing to guess that the party organizations are going to start gaming the system to keep the Paulistas out. We saw a little of this in MO the other day, where the local party was pretty explicit in saying "why do you think we had an off-duty cop as our security?" in reaction to Paul forces' presence 4 years ago. I think local and state parties are going to try to become less permeable, and possibly adopt rules like a delegate has to have been a registered Repub for 4 years or something like that. Maybe even say they have to get nominated by an elected party official. Libertarians are not welcome in today's GOP. They'll take their votes on election day, but the reactionaries want nothing to do with them.

  2. Yes; most particularly on the policy positions I don't like -- eliminating environmental education, eliminating federal government, including the Federal Reserve, EPA, Education, and dismantling safety net programs.

    The position I do like -- shrinking defense spending and ending wars, including war on drugs? I don't think so.

  3. As a Conservative and a Libertarian, I am often at odds with the GOP just as much as I am with the Democrats. That said, I don't think that Paul's ideas, or Libertarianism in general, will find any permanent home in the GOP. Those ideals make for great campaign rhetoric, but the lure of power and control is too strong for career politicians to resist.

  4. I think Ron Paul's campaigns are more of a symptom than a cause of the rise of libertarianism within the party. If anything, I think Paul's campaigns are having a negative effect, because if not for him then there would be a better and more electable libertarian figurehead.

    I think the issue on which Paul and the libertarians have had the most effect recently is bailouts. There was broad support for TARP in the mainstream of both parties. Libertarians have successfully convinced most Republicans that that was a mistake.

  5. Its difficult to disentangle Ron Paul from the Tea Party. Though Ron Paul's first campaign led the original Tea Party protest in late 2007, its been co-opted and expanded enough so that its difficult to allocate him a precise amount of credit.

    So putting the general rightward shift aside, what specific GOP shifts can be attributed to him? I'd say a skepticism toward the Federal Reserve system. If one considers the "three-legged-stool" view of the GOP (social, economic, and defense conservatives), what of Ron Paul's policy positions endears him to his coterie that doesn't directly conflict with the views of the wider GOP base? I think the Federal Reserve skepticism and Austrian economics pablum is the easiest to export.

    And it seems this is what's happening. I recall both Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich flirting with related positions, and I think Romney too might have feinted this direction. It seems any Republican candidate can add a skepticism of the federal reserve system to their portfolio without risk of losing votes, and a certainty of gaining some.

    Less concretely, he might get some credit for the framing of issues around Liberty.

  6. As a Romney supporter, I think it depends a lot on how a (possible) Romney administration deals with the Paulistas. If he gives them prominence in his Cabinet, or even puts Rand Paul on his ticket, then I can see them morphing into a "wing" of the Republican party. On the other hand, there are many incumbent groups within the GOP that are suspicious of them, including the social conservatives and neocons. Their most likely allies are probably the business wing of the party, which is why we have seen Romney and Paul get along so well during the campaign.

  7. Paul's ideas have been hanging out at the political fringe for an extremely long time. At least a half century in some cases and more than a century in others. Periodically some spokesman for those ideas gains national attention -- but, without the unusual economic distress of the last few years, Paul would have remained, like others before him(including Jack Metcalf who served from Washington state during the 1990s and shared a lot in common with Paul), just an oddball congress critter from a district no one's ever heard of. When and if economic conditions improve, Paul and his ideas will end up being of little significance.

  8. This was Ron Paul’s time. The Republicans’ libertarian and small government rhetoric had finally been shown to be a lie by their actual policies -- Paul was the only candidate to point this out. He also demonstrated that there is a very enthusiastic base for his libertarian principles. Paul has had solid and consistent fundraising and when he loses, he gets treated like a conquering hero. In the minds of his supporters, every vote for Ron Paul is a vote for liberty and therefore a moral victory. I’ve never seen any group so enthusiastic about joining a losing campaign.

    But so far, this enthusiasm hasn’t brought many libertarians into Congress and that’s necessary for a credible movement. They have used Paul-mentum to take over the state party Chair in Iowa and it sounds like they may do the same in Nevada and Maine. In many states they are not dominating, but are quietly making strategic alliances within the state party. They’re doing the important footwork necessary for future campaigns and they’ll have a shot at winning some if they can hold together their local activists.

    Paul’s bigger prospects are probably more long term -- in states he’s contested, Paul wins roughly half of voters under 30. In Minnesota, opposing campaigns sent out directives to vote against any delegate under 40 as a probable Paulite. Still, demographics and enthusiasm aside, Paul supporters will need to get more party actors in positions of influence. And for the long run, a bigger media presence is the most important thing to nurture the movement. They’re almost building a third party within the GOP and while conservatives have a strong presence in the partisan press, libertarians have nothing more influential than Reason Magazine.

    How much Paul will influence the GOP outside of his own movement is an open question. Any general move in his direction will be framed as a win for the tea party and a return to GOP roots. In a sense, Paul has already won the national conversation -- he speaks to the mood of the times and the conscience of activists in both parties -- if the GOP is going to thrive, it would do well to listen.

  9. I believe the Paulista (Pauline?) era of American libertarianism will end badly, as I believe that father and son more or less embody the lure of power that the Constitutional Insurgent cited above. Whether it was dad's embarrassing playing of footsie with the racists that unfortunately find their way into the libertarian tent, or the son's even more embarrassing "balanced" budget proposal, those guys reek of cynical power-mongering, as is the unfortunate case for so many politicians.

    Even more unfortunately, the libertarians seem to forget their 'no-gurus' ideology by engaging in hero-worship with the Pauls; this was especially apparent with Rand Paul's atrocious budget last year. You might have thought the libertarians would have raked him over the coals considering what he delivered for his promise of a balanced budget proposal, when said delivery had the sophistication of a 4th-grader with a calculator watch and a couple blank sheets of paper. Paul's budget was transparently worthless as a governing document, a fact that was hidden from no one, and yet he seemed to skate past any pushback from libertarian circles.

    All that said, while the Paul era may eventually implode in its own crapulence, I also think that folks like our Couves are quite sincere and passionate and intelligent and really do want to see our country move more toward libertarian aims. The Paul era may end badly, but the sincere passion of those like Couves mean it will probably be replaced by something better, which is pretty much how politics works, no?

  10. CSH: "...cynical power-mongering..." --you're kidding, right? Do you really think that advocating the legalization of heroin and denouncing the killing of Bin Laden were positions that Ron Paul cynically calculated to gain power within the GOP?

  11. CSH: Also, thanks for the compliment... I'll agree that Ron Paul bears some moral burden for his past associations, but your Paul-hate is a bit over the top.

  12. Couves, I agree that my hostility to the Pauls is over the top. My problem isn't with the immorality of Paul's associations (well, they're immoral, sure, but that's not the main problem). My issue is the transparent, calculating cynicism of said associations.

    It doesn't take much imagination to see why racists flock to the libertarian tent. 90% of life is showing up, and apartheid regimes are oriented toward keeping the "wrong" people from showing up. Government (should) prevent that sort of thing; no government can facilitate it, thus the racists among the libertarians.

    So if libertarians are really and truly going to govern, they need to come to terms with the racists among them. Regardless of how one feels about racism; that's just a blatant fact of multicultural 21st century America. Ron Paul has rather startingly punted on the issue, so beyond his moral culpability is the troubling implication that he doesn't really want to govern anything, but rather parade as the Crown Prince of Libertarianism. To your point about the money involved, sure that's not as lucrative as the Karl Rove wing of the party, but its also not bad business if you can get it.

    Calling for legalization of hard drugs is right from the libertarian canon (i.e. good for libertarian business, irrelevant to how the polity is governed). Calling out the extrajudicial killing of Bin Laden is probably quietly agreed by most Americans, though in the particular case of Bin Laden I think most of us are probably willing to make an exception to a principle. In any event, the kid's worse (more...)

  13. The theme here is that the Pauls aren't interested in actually governing via libertarian principles but rather accrue whatever power flows to the libertarian wing of the party. This is not to say that libertarians can't govern (by all accounts Gary Johnson gave a pretty decent effort in NM), but rather that governing is dirty business. And the Pauls are ridiculous purists, taken to a hilarious extreme by that risible Rand Paul budget.

    How can anyone take that guy seriously as a politician? He paraded his balanced budget proposal, only to reveal that the budget gets balanaced by a process of: okay, so the NIH is $50 B, let's multiply that, and make it $22.5 B! Lather, rinse, repeat. Eventually, ta da, a balanced budget! And a process so stupefyingly disconnected from what it actually takes to run the country, that when one considers how much Rand Paul trumped his proposal (before revealing it), its hard to take him seriously as a politician.

    As you know, Rand Paul's big claim to fame before he found his way to the senate was a dispute with the regulatory agency for his profession. Not that they existed, per libertarianism; he didn't like their rules, so he created his own alternative agency. And stubbornly stuck with it! Which leads to a problem, you know?

    Either reject Rand Paul's power-mongering efforts, which result in the bureaucratic bloat of multiple regulatory entities, or go along with the little Napoleon and dump established process in the name of efficiency...or something...

    Yeah, not attracted by the lure of power. Indeed!

  14. (one other thing, Couves, this might be overkill: my frustration with the Pauls is not thinly-veiled code for hostility toward libertarians, though sometimes such rants sound that way in the impersonal blogosphere.

    Actually, I think the good folks fighting the libertarian fight deserve better).

  15. CSH: I'm not a diehard Paul fan - I would much prefer Gary Johnson as President. But it's absurd for you to accuse Ron Paul of being cynically power-hungry when he's stood by highly controversial positions that almost guarantee he will never win the GOP nomination. And not to be obtuse, but I really don't understand how you connect Rand Paul's budget to his being "attracted by the lure of power." As for his pre-Senate days, I'd have to read up as I've never heard of the event you describe.

  16. Couves, there's certainly a difference in being power-hungry to occupy the Oval Office and power-hungry to occupy the spot of President of Team Libertarianism. The latter is an inferior office, yes, but it is definitely better than nothing.

    If the shoe fits, that is, if the Pauls are merely motivated to be the leaders of a movement, then there's nothing wrong with Rand Paul's budget. You know, you throw it out there, meets your high-level objectives of a "balanced budget"; catnip for the true believers.

    OTOH, if you're actually looking to make an impact in the way the country is governed, Paul's budget is not worth the paper its printed on.

    So to the extent that a certain power comes with being the leader of the Loyal Libertarian Opposition, the budget is pretty obviously designed to enhance Rand Paul's standing as such. Because - obviously - no one believes that his hand-waving, blunt instrument approach to reducing the size of the Fed Govt is going to have any effect at all (beyond whatever standing it confers on Paul with the Paulistas).

  17. One final thought: for me, Ron Paul's reaction to the newsletter kerfuffle was awfully disappointing for a would-be President. Not the clarification that he wasn't a racist; for me that wasn't necessary.

    Rather, he failed to clarify why his particular brand of libertarianism wasn't going to blow the lid off the at-times tense multicultural milieu in the US. The obvious presumption from the newsletters is that it very well might. As a would-be President, he owed the nation some sort of vision why it wouldn't.

    The fact that he ran from the issue as fast as he could may say a lot about how seriously he really really wants to be President.

  18. CSH: Well, if you're saying the Pauls’ are only pretending to be libertarians, I think you're clearly wrong. They both have a long history of believing in these ideas, predating their entry into politics. I don't think there's anyone in American politics with more intellectual integrity than Ron Paul -- a sentiment you'll hear expressed by liberals and conservatives alike.

    On the newsletters, obviously Paul wouldn't subscribe to your theory that libertarianism would cause racial problems... no one would assume such a thing about his or her own beliefs.

  19. Couves, I certainly accept that they are true believers. I'm just not at all convinced that they are committed to finding a way to make their ideology influential within the parameters of the crazy quilt in DC, so much as being talismen for a movement.

    To use another concrete example: I am entirely convinced that Rand Paul, libertarian ideologue, absolutely meant it when he repeatedly called for a $2,000 deductible for Medicare recipients several years ago.

    I am also entirely convinced that Rand Paul, political opportunist, absolutely meant it when he furiously disavowed that idea in the heat of battle with Jack Conway in 2010.

  20. CSH, so is Rand Paul too rigid or too flexible... which is it?

    Personally, I think there's a legitimate role in Congress for people who represent ideologically pure positions outside the mainstream.

    You mentioned Rand Paul's proposed budget. Have you looked at his father's budget? It's the most detailed plan from any of the candidates to announce in 2012.

  21. Personally, I think there's a legitimate role in Congress for people who represent ideologically pure positions outside the mainstream.

    Me too! I further think there's an obligation for them to work within the confines of the institution to make as big an impact as possible for their ideological views. That ain't easy, and its harder for a random congresscritter than a governor, but that's what I would hope they'd do. I may be too judgmental of the Pauls, since that bar is pretty high, but in any event, imho they don't exactly clear it.

    I confess I haven't seen Ron Paul's budget. To Rand Paul and Medicare: I believe Rand Paul (the Libertarian) really believes in the $2,000 deductible, as that is an entirely sensible thing for a libertarian to advocate. I also believe that Rand Paul (the guy who wants to win elections) hates the idea.

    Probably too judgmental, but it seems to me it would be nice if Rand Paul the congressmen (that is to say, what he affects in Congress, not so much the speeches he makes) more closely represented Rand Paul the ideologue.

  22. "I further think there's an obligation for them to work within the confines of the institution to make as big an impact as possible for their ideological views."

    The Pauls' are constantly working on the most important issues of the day. Little of what they do ever makes policy because they're so far outside the mainstream. If I understand your critique, you seem to think they're showboating, but that's just a cynical way of saying they're trying to bring public opinion to their side by moral suasion... issues like the NDAA, which Rand fought in a way his proper Senate colleagues considered unseemly. Sorry, but I'll take the upstart ideologue over the typical spineless lawmaker who doesn't care about the NDAA and really just wishes the issue of Constitutional rights would never come up.

    What you've characterized as Rand Paul's flip-flop on Medicare seems less than earth-shattering to me. While I'm a fiscal conservative, I don't see such issues as being so clearly black-and-white as Constitutional issues such as the NDAA.

  23. Couves, interesting discussion. I'm sure you're right that the standard I've applied to the Pauls is unfairly high.

    It is an interesting empirical question. I fear that the windmills the Pauls tilt against are far more formidable than we realize. As an unrelated example, who recalls that WWII-hero George McGovern, running for President at the tail end of the disastrous Vietnam War, called for a libertarianish 37% decrease in defense spending? In the endless post-mortems of his spectacular 1972 failure, how often does his defense stance come up?

    Not that the Pauls are on the hook for McGovern's problems. Indeed, in defense of the Pauls, McGovern's apparent defense-related problems suggest how hard it is to do what they want. But the natural other side of that point is, how hard are the Pauls really working to achieve admittedly difficult tasks?

    Which brings us back to Rand and the Medicare deductible. You're certainly right that there's no rule about Medicare cost-sharing in the libertarian canon; though the timing of Paul's flipflop is pretty obviously vote-mongering driven, isn't it?

  24. CSH: I haven't researched Rand Paul's position on Medicare, but I accept your representation of events... This only makes Rand sound just like any other politician. It's rare that an elected official is completely above pandering to his or her constituency. Ron Paul is probably as close as it gets -- one of his most winning qualities is that he refuses to pander to the partisan right wing base in any way... which is one reason why I find it so puzzling that you criticize him for pandering to the libertarian base. To a large extent, the libertarian base wouldn't even exist without Ron Paul -- I've been a libertarian activist for some time, and I can tell you that the number of libertarians has exploded in recent years, due solely to Ron Paul. Paul has also proven that a hardcore libertarian can win broad popular appeal, something that was assumed by many -- including even by libertarians -- to be impossible. By his own terms, of spreading the message and laying the foundation for future victory, Ron Paul has been successful beyond his wildest dreams. THIS is why he's just plain giddy when giving concession speeches!

    So no, Rand Paul is not as extraordinary as his father -- he's more like a typical politician. But for this very reason, it's possible to imagine him succeeding where his father failed and to actually win the GOP primary. If he does this by sometimes changing his position, I'm ok with that because he's ultimately still a libertarian. What I'm not ok with are candidates who only pretend to be libertarians, which includes just about every Republican out there, including Santorum (See the giant "FREEDOM" banner behind him in his Illinois election-night speech?), a man who has long seen those individualistic libertarians as no better than his liberal enemy.

    I don't follow your point on McGovern -- If someone knows anything about him, it's that he was strongly against war and the excesses of the military-industrial complex.


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