[I]t's all classic Ron Paul: Get rid of the income tax and replace it with nothing; find the money to support those dependent on Social Security and Medicare by shutting down the worldwide empire, while giving the young a path out of the programs; don't pass a draft; have a foreign policy of friendship and trade, not wars and subsidies. He attacks the drug war, condemning the idea of arresting people who have never harmed anyone else's person or property. He stresses [note well] the disproportionate and unfair treatment minorities get from drug law enforcement. One of his biggest applause lines, to my astonishment, involves getting rid of the Federal Reserve....
He wraps up the speech with three things he doesn't want to do that sum up the Ron Paul message First, "I don't want to run your life. We all have different values. I wouldn't know how to do it, I don't have the authority under the Constitution, and I don't have the moral right." Second: "I don't want to run the economy. People run the economy in a free society." And third: " I don't want to run the world.... We don't need to be imposing ourselves around the world."
Doherty goes on to note, "Paul does not mention abortion or immigration...."
(I am glad he stresses that the drug war is an atrocity, with members of minorities bearing the brunt. But even here there is ambiguity. Does he oppose only the federal drug war? Or would he oppose prohibition by the states too. He is not always clear. Often he says it's a state matter.)
I quote this at length because most of us have never heard Ron Paul's stump speech. It is clear to me that if you only see Ron Paul on cable news or in televised debates, you do not get the full picture of his campaign.
Having said this, there are obviously areas where Ron Paul does not take anything close to the libertarian position. Immigration is one example. (I'll leave aside the especially contentious abortion issue, except to say I disagree with Ron Paul.) My views on immigration are readily available on the web, so I won't rehash them here. It seems to me Ron Paul takes the position he does because of his attachment to national sovereignty, about which more below. Let me point out just one difficulty that his position creates for the rest of his pro-freedom philosophy. Ron Paul has promised to pardon everyone who has been convicted of nonviolent drug offenses. In other words, he doesn't think one should be punished for breaking the drug laws. I assume he believes that legislation which violates the natural law of liberty is illegitimate. That's a proper libertarian position. Logically, he should also promise to pardon anyone who has violated the immigration laws because, like the drug laws, they are state restrictions on behavior that violates no one's person or property. Moreover, he has praised the civil disobedience of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. Ron Paul needs to reconcile this contradiction. To his credit, he opposes a national ID and a wall on the border. I presume he would oppose eminent domain to force property owners on the Texas-Mexican border to let a wall be built.
Ron Paul has taken other positions, or at least implied other positions, that conflict with his overall message. If you look at the issues list at his campaign website you will find no section on international trade. Trade is mentioned only in the section on "American Independence and Sovereignty." In that section you find the words "I like free trade," both in print and in a video, but that is all he says in favor of free trade. They are overshadowed by his Lou Dobbs-style remarks condemning the the multinational organizations that threaten "our independence as a nation." On the site and in the debates he never explicitly distinguishes free trade and its undeniable benefits from those organizations. He never praises imports and open markets or points out that exports are the price we pay for goods from abroad. He never embraces the international division of labor. The overall message is one of suspicion of engagement with foreigners. Nowhere do you get a sense that NAFTA and WTO are bad because they may stand in the way of total free trade. You certainly don't hear calls for a unilateral and unconditional repeal of all U.S. trade restrictions.
Ron Paul's position on trade is not helped by his alarm on the alleged NAFTA highway, which he describes as part of a government plan to dissolve the borders within North America. Suffice it say that there is no such plot. (See this.) It's great to oppose eminent domain, but it's damaging to hitch that cause to imagined blueprints for a super North American government. In other respects, however, dissolving the political borders would be a good thing because that would permit free trade and free movement.
Ron Paul is also doing a poor job of presenting the free-market position on medicine. His website has some generally good, if vague, statements, but how many people read them? When he's been asked about medical care on television, he sounds anything but libertarian. Mostly I've heard him say that if we weren't spending billions of dollars on the empire "we could take care of our people at home." That Dennis Kucinich's line. Maybe he means the money could be left in the taxpayers' pockets, but he never says that.
Look at the opportunity he's missing. He's a doctor! He should be pointing out that pervasive government regulation of medicine and insurance has virtually destroyed the medical marketplace. I've heard him say nothing to debunk the calls for a government-paid system, mandatory insurance, or the other unlibertarian positions the other candidates take.
He's missing another opportunity with energy. In response to the fascist central planning of energy proposed by the other GOP candidates, Ron Paul said ... nothing. There are great free-market lessons to be drawn. Why isn't he drawing them?
This reminds me a general point. Ron Paul's position on empire and the Fed are great. I'm glad he pounds away at them because they outrageously burden regular people. Moreover, he is right to point out that these issues affect many others. But he can go too far in doing that. The erosion of the dollar certainly is part of the explanation for why medical care and energy are more costly. But there are specific reasons as well, such as regulation. If all Ron Paul does is tie every issue back to empire and the Fed, people will think he knows nothing of other issues. They may even doubt his single-cause explanation for all the ills in the world.
I don't think I am nitpicking. Medical care, trade, and energy are issues people talk about. In the debate the other night, Mitt Romney promised to "protect every job in America." Where was Ron Paul? There is no reason not to clearly endorse free markets here. He should be channeling Henry Hazlitt. No one should mistake Ron Paul for Lou Dobbs or Pat Buchanan.
Ron Paul did not do well in what is regarded as the most libertarian state in the U.S., New Hampshire. That may signal the end of the campaign, although surprises could lie ahead, in Nevada possibly. If the campaign goes on, there is time to make adjustments so that the program is even more clearly pro-freedom. I don't fault him for his emphasis on constitutionalism. One cannot treat a presidential campaign as a seminar in the fundamentals of libertarianism. Ron Paul is using the Constitution as short hand for limiting government power. I have strong reservations about that approach, but I can understand it in an election appeal. It's for the rest of us to fill out the story for those newly interested in the libertarian philosophy.
I've left the newsletter scandal for last, and here things get difficult. I doubt that Ron Paul ever held the odious views expressed in those newsletters. No one has come forward to claim that Ron Paul has ever spoken that way. Those views are certainly not reflected in his platform. My hunch is that over the years he has put his confidence in the wrong people. He may have had a sense of what was going on, but did not want to know the details. This doesn't absolve him of responsibility, but it does mean that he is not to be put in the same category as the author(s) and anyone else who had a hand in putting out such garbage in his name.
That said, I wish Ron Paul would more fully explain what went on. When did he first learn of the offensive material and what did he do about it? Most important, are the people responsible still advising him? He wouldn't even have to name names to answer these questions.
I continue to think that Ron Paul's campaign can make a contribution to the cause of freedom. As I've written before, it helps if libertarians speak the language of the people around them. "Ron Paul" still means: End the war now and expand freedom by shrinking the government. Yet I remain concerned over the newsletter issue. This is not a matter of getting to the bottom of the episode or rendering judgment on Ron Paul. It's bigger than that. It's about protecting the libertarian philosophy and movement from association with bigotry. That is no small matter. Ron Paul has made himself a portal to libertarianism. His campaign has become a first contact with the movement for many people. It would be a disaster if just as people were discovering it they were given reason to associate it with racism and other bigotry. People make nonrational associations all the time. Most people don't have the time to systematically study the libertarian philosophy and its noble heritage. They will form impressions based on things that drift into their range of vision, not taking the time to go below the surface. Hopefully, the newcomers who hear about the newsletters and then hear Ron Paul's repudiation of the views expressed will believe him and not associate racism and anti-gay sentiment with libertarians. But we can't count on that. So the rest of us will have to find ways to explain that those views represent the opposite of libertarianism.
Ron Paul could help by giving a more complete explanation.
Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.