Blogs > Liberty and Power > When Platform Shoes Pinch

Dec 24, 2007 1:21 am

When Platform Shoes Pinch

[cross-posted at Austro-Athenian Empire]

I didn’t catch Tim Russert’s interview with Ron Paul, but check out the transcript. (Caveat: I don’t know how accurate the transcript is as a whole, but I’m willing to bet that Paul didn’t actually say “Randolph Bourne says war is a helpless state.” And what is “the Robert/Taft wing of the party”? Who’d they get to do the transcript, Dana Perino?)

I think Paul did a pretty good job on the whole, but the transcript does illustrate the perils of a libertarian electoral strategy. If you run as a consistent libertarian, you’ll scare off voters as they now are; if, instead, you water down or soft-pedal some aspects of your philosophy, you’ll get called on the inconsistency – as happens here, where Paul ends up sounding like he’s defending the FBI, the CIA, public schools, and the legitimacy of invading North Korea as long as Congress declares war first.

I don’t think this dilemma is a decisive argument against going the electoral route, but it certainly counts in the minus column.

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Allan Walstad - 12/28/2007

Does the question of Constitutional authority cut any ice here? I don't know about pardoning prisoners in state custody, but the president surely does not have authority over local schools.

The Constitution was intended to constrain the federal government. It does not serve freedom to treat such constraints as optional--that's the collectivists' game. Rather, get as much mileage as possible within the Constitution at the federal level, then also work for beneficial change as the state level. No?

Charles Johnson - 12/28/2007


Suppose that Prez Ron Paul decided -- as Harry Browne, for example, promised to do when he ran on the LP ticket -- to issue blanket presidential pardons to all nonviolent drug offenders in the United States, including both those in federal and those in state custody. In one sense, this action wouldn't increase the net extraction of taxes against anybody (it would dramatically reduce spending by both state and federal government). But then, neither would the action of declaring all local government schools abolished. In some other sense, both actions would make use of some non-zero amount of tax money -- to pay for the paper and the pens and the administrative costs of notifying the prison and so on -- but that money would have been extracted whether it was used to pay for one thing or for the other thing, and neither nullifying drug laws through blanket pardons nor declaring local government schools abolished would directly increase the amount of taxes extracted in the future, either. (In fact, both actions would stand some small chance of indirectly decreasing the level of taxation.)

That said, would you make a similar argument to the effect that if even one taxpayer objected to releasing nonviolent drug offenders from state prisons, the nullification-through-blanket pardon would (1) have an identifiable victim, and (2) victimize that victim in such a way as to be fairly characterized as "an astonishing act of centralized tyranny"? If so, why? If not, what's the difference between the one case and the other?

Allan Walstad - 12/27/2007

Thanks for the reply. Yeah it just seems to me that with Paul, the last train to liberty may be leaving the station, even if it's not an express. I'm surprised at some of the sniping he's getting. (Not from the foaming left or the neocons, of course.) I suggest we ride this train as far as it will go, and then we can talk about making additional connections from there.

Mark Brady - 12/27/2007

I certainly think Ron Paul is a significant net plus for the cause of liberty in the U.S. right now. He is successfully raising questions about U.S. intervention abroad, the federal income tax, and the Federal Reserve among a much wider audience than Libertarian Party candidates have ever reached. He is competing in the Republican presidential primaries, and not as the LP candidate for president, so his libertarian beliefs and credentials are in some sense irrelevant. You don't have to agree with him on everything, or feel obliged to defend him on everything, in order to wish him well.

Anthony Gregory - 12/27/2007

If the act of abolishing local government schools required even one tax dollar to administer, and if there were any taxpayers who objected to their money being used to abolish local government schools, there would be a victim.

Less Antman - 12/27/2007

Well, after 3 days I think we can conclude the prevailing opinion here is that figuring out who is and isn't a libertarian is an unproductive, maybe even downright harmful, activity. Better to discuss facts and strategies.

Which might even have been the point you intended in asking the question: I'm not sure. I will say, however, although I'm a supporter of the Paul campaign, that I respect those with a different view, and do believe that many not supporting his campaign are refraining on strategic grounds rather than a belief that Paul is not a "real" libertarian.

Charles Johnson - 12/26/2007

Stephen W. Carson: Would he abolish public schools? I hope I don't need to remind anyone that that would be an astonishing act of centralized tyranny for a president to do.

An act of centralized tyranny against whom?

For something to count as an act of tyranny, it must have an identifiable victim. Whose individual rights would be violated by the President abolishing local government schools?

Bill Woolsey - 12/26/2007

The interview was bad.

Most was all about digging up dirt, mostly "kooky" positions that Paul
has advocated in the past.

It did start with abolishing the income tax, which is something that Paul is actually running on. (I heard a radio ad on the issue a week ago.) Anyway, if Paul has a budget without the income tax in mind, he showed no evidence of it.

He has said that if we want to abolish the income tax, we must change what we expect government to do. He has said that balancing the budget is a priority. He has said that military spending aimed at foreign intervention (and foriegn aid) should be cut first. Social security benefits and aid to the needy would be cut last.

I think his "budget" is vague because if he were elected, he would not propose cutting everything he would like to cut immediately. And so, the result would be at best income tax rate cuts. Depending on what Congress accepts, he goes at it again, and again. He is refusing to specify a "less bad" tax ideal, like a flat tax or a replacement sales tax. Just keep at shrinking the Federal govenrment until there is no personal income tax left.

On the other hand, some of his supporters certainly believe that the personal income tax will be abolished the day after Paul is put in office.

Keeping in mind that Paul started this campaign to build the movement, and is happy with the tremendous progress made, I think the vague budget makes sense. (Though not the best way to do it, in my opinion.)

The interview did delve into Paul's noninterventionism. Paul isn't just running on withdrawal from Iraq and no war with Iran. He is running on withdrawal from everywhere. So, what would we do if Iran attacked Israel or North Korea attacked South Korea are relevant.

I do think he is saying that he would only fight a war against Iran or North Korea if it were declared. And I also think he is saying that if such a war were declared, he would, as commander in chief, prosecute it was best he could.

Paul isn't running on reforming Federal civil rights legislation. It is not to Paul's advantage to have time taken up on this issue. I don't think he did a good job deflecting the issue. Of course, Paul is in the habit of answering questions rather than trying to fit in the best soundbite.

I support the individual rights of Americans of every race, color, and creed. During the early sixties government throughout the South enforced racial segregation, that was wrong, and contrary to the American principles of individual rights. However, the civil rights act led to government-mandated affirmative action, which I oppose. All true, I suspect, but it avoids more controversial libertarian positions.

Paul isn't running on refighting the civil war. It is not to his advantage for time to be used on this issue. Oddly enough, I think he came off OK. Still, I think saying, "I am not interested in refighting the civil war," would be appropriate. And, "of course, slavery was a horrible crime." But most countries mangaged to end slavery without a bloody civil war that killed 600,000 people.

Allan Walstad - 12/24/2007

Do I have to be an anarcho-capitalist or strict minimal statist to be considered a libertarian? I mean, is it like "gold," where 24 carat is pure but 14 carat is still gold, or is it like "virgin?"

What's the prevailing opinion here?

Stephen W Carson - 12/24/2007

We libertarians are used to answering policy questions from a "god's eye" point of view... If we could abolish gov't schools then we would, etc.

Ron Paul, though, does not answer questions in this way on the campaign trail. He isn't running for god. He is running for president and he answers questions in the context of what he would do if elected. Would he abolish public schools? I hope I don't need to remind anyone that that would be an astonishing act of centralized tyranny for a president to do. The gov't schools are, at least nominally, under local control in the U.S.

Of course, not only is Ron Paul only running for president, he has a much more limited view of the legal authority of the executive than the mainstream. There is no doubt in my mind that President Ron Paul can accomplish much good, but he isn't going to accomplish all our libertarian dreams in one stroke. That would require dictatorial acts that would rather destroy the point of the whole exercise.

Less Antman - 12/24/2007

In my view:

(1) Paul was clearly unprepared for the explosion in popularity of his campaign and is not doing as good a job as he could in soundbite venues. He wrote the foreword to Harry Browne's terrific LIBERTY A-Z: 872 LIBERTARIAN SOUNDBITES YOU CAN USE RIGHT NOW! He should read it.

(2) Consistency is critical. Paul is being correctly called for changing his views in a campaign that is selling his consistency. Revelations that a gay-bashing senator is gay are always the most damaging. Had he run this year on the 1988 LP platform, he would have done much better today (although there is little question his campaign wouldn't have nearly as many anti-immigrant supporters as it does, and would have more liberal supporters, which certainly wouldn't help him win the Republican primaries, but would make a third-party continuation of his campaign far stronger).

Alternatively, since he doesn't accept the whole package, he should run as a strict constitutionalist, and be open when a question comes up where he differs with libertarianism (currently, he tries too hard in answers to reconcile his position with it). Of course, he ISN'T a strict constitutionalist on immigration, unless you accept his ludicrous redefinition of the word invasion. Nonetheless, as long as he isn't going to be a strict libertarian on policy, he can maintain his reputation and help the cause of libertarianism better by acknowledging his disagreements on those issues where it exists.

I don't believe that consistent libertarianism has to scare voters. Harry Browne's consistency never scared anyone (okay, his press release on 9/12/2001 did, but people were gripped by temporary insanity that day). I'm sure a grandfatherly doctor can say that the free market does a better job of handling every societal problem than government and give it plausibility (not necessary changing minds, of course). It's just that Paul isn't willing to do that.

But just as I believe Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand helped the cause of pure libertarianism, I believe Paul's campaign is clearly advancing the cause while obviously not being a purely libertarian campaign. And I do think being engaged with the campaign is a useful way to change the minds of some of his current supporters on the issues where they differ, if not immediately, after it becomes clear Paul isn't going to be the next president (which is 95% probable based on current odds). Paul supporters who are not libertarians view themselves, by and large, as allies with libertarians, and I don't want this opportunity to convert them to be wasted by non-engagement. Some will, some won't, but we have more potential converts, especially among the young, than we would have had absent the Paul campaign.

I don't this benefit is a decisive argument for going the electoral route, but it certainly counts in the plus column.