Ron Paul Wins at CPAC

At the CPAC convention last week, Congressman Ron Paul won the straw poll in a presidential preference contest. Paul was a candidate for president last time round but he failed tow in a single primary, although the popularity of his views with some young people created a veneer of enthusiasm that earned him his 15 minutes of fame.

Congressman Paul actually got seventeen minutes of fame, and it is those extra two that may haunt him. In the movie "Bruno," Paul was one of the people Sasha Baron Cohen set up, arranging for the congressman to come to his hotel room for an interview, then making a pass at him. It is one of the funniest things ever filmed but it is hardly flattering to the congressman who appears bewildered. In the context of the movie, of course, that bewilderment makes perfect sense. In the context of a YouTube segment or a television clip, the picture of Paul sitting in Cohen’s bedroom while Cohen takes of his pants may be a little bit harder to live down.


But, there is a more serious difficulty for Congressman Paul. He is a libertarian. To be clear, there is a logic to libertarianism. Most people, when they read people like Ayn Rand or Friedrich von Hayek, find their ideas provocative and some find them compelling. What high school junior doesn’t read Rand’s celebration of selfishness and find personal validation for their teenage behavior? And, in America, part of our national psyche is a hostility to restraint. The wild West, the rugged individualism of the pioneers, the Marlboro man, all in their way enflesh the cultural iconography that libertarians seek to make into a political platform.

There are two problems with libertarianism in American politics. The first is that it tends to be a lie, or a congeries of conspiracy theories, or both. For example, Libertarians in the West like to denounce government intrusion, even while federal water projects made cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas possible. And, their concerns about the constitutionality of the Federal Reserve are a hop, skip and a jump away from Oliver Stone’s concerns about the JFK assassination. I once had to endure, through an entire dinner at which two serious constitutional scholars were also present and more worth listening to, a libertarian arguing that the constitutional power "to coin" did not include the power to make paper currency and how this explained all that was wrong with the world.

The second is more telling of the divisions within the ranks of those opposed to President Obama. There are varieties of conservatism within America. Libertarians like Congressman Paul have a few policy preferences in common with Christian conservatives like Pat Robertson, but their worldviews could scarcely be more different. The Religious Right has no use for the prioritization of choice above all other values as the libertarians do. They want the society to conform to the Bible. Libertarians make an idol of choice, but that idol covers conduct in the bedroom as well as the boardroom. At the end of the day, libertarians are not interested in building Winthrop’s shining City on a Hill at all, and Christian conservatives see many circumstances in which "choice" is not their primary objective.

In the Reagan years, when the Religious Right first came to prominence as a force within the GOP, Reagan’s advisors knew that pursuing the Religious Right’s agenda would cost them dear with swing voters in the suburbs. The administration gave lip service to the Religious Right’s agenda, but the only thing all sides of the GOP could agree on was lower taxes. Even the traditional concern of GOP conservatives for a balanced budget bit the dust. The Democrats were mired in their own libertarian nightmare, brought on by the need to justify their support for abortion rights. The party that had embraced the civil rights movement was now arguing that "you can’t legislate morality," to justify their stance on abortion, overlooking the rather large legislation of morality represented by the Civil Rights Act.

I am all for liberty, but the human heart wants more than choice and America’s national psyche is more than rugged individualism. "I am my brother’s keeper" sits in that psyche side-by-side with the impulse to liberty. There is a divide within conservatism that can’t be papered over for long, nor as effectively as Reagan did. The Tea Party movement, the anti-immigration crowd, the Religious Right, and now the youngsters who support Ron Paul are all fighting for the soul of their party. Maybe the Democrats should not be worried so much about November after all.



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James Lindsay
8 years 11 months ago
Actually, Ron Paul and many of his supporters are strongly pro-life - and by pro-life I mean that they believe that the state should be used to stop abortion.

Ron Paul raised a lot of money last time around, the same way Obama did, from direct Internet donations. If he kept the donor list (I'm sure he did), he could quickly ramp up to win the Iowa caucuses (ruining Pawlenty's day). He might not win New Hampshire, but if he does, Romney is out. If he wins South Carolina, Huckabee and Palin are done too.

Now, his views don't really square well with Caritas in Veritate. Indeed, Obama is a lot closer in many respects - however, don't tell the Paulists who read this blog that.
Stephen Braunlich
8 years 11 months ago
Although Ron Paul is pro-life, as I listened to his CPAC speech I didn't hear him mention the life issue once. Central to his view of American government was not the defense of innocent human life, but federalism and liberty. While this can be used to support the teaching of the Church on life, putting liberty/federalism and not life as central suggests that the latter is merely incidental to the former, not preceeding it in importance.
Martin Gallagher
8 years 11 months ago
It is unfortunate that MSW dismisses Libertarians as adolescents and conspiracy theorists.  I imagine that Thomas Jefferson would disagree. 
Although, I am not a Libertarian, I think their movement is a vital counterbalance to the Democrats' (and to some extent the Republicans') knee-jerk response to expand the federal government as a solution to every problem.  I wish more politicians would adopt the Catholic principle of subsidiarity and attempt to address problems at the lowest level of government possible.
In the current health care debate, no one has adequately explained to me why handling reform at the state level is inferior to adopting a new federal mandate.  Health care reformers frequently point to the system already in place in Massachusetts.  If the MA system is so successful, couldn't other states adopt such a program if they so-chose?  I would like to see Dr. & Rep. Ron Paul addresss that issue.
Pearce Shea
8 years 11 months ago
Jefferson was many good things, but of all our prominent founding fathers he by far tended to throw himself into conspiracy theories. Like the theory of how all good Americans were descended of different stock than those wretched brits.
Also, I don't think we ought to overtly wring our hands about RP's specific motivations for being pro-life as long as they are largely acceptable. It's good that he's pro-life. It would be better that he were pro-life for a Catholic reason, but it seems remarkably odd to vote or not vote for someone given their degree of Catholicity.
I also think that libertarianism is, to some degree, the home of a large number of nuts. It makes sense, too: if you are a member of a party that will never really attain much power, then you never really have to compromise. Sort of like what re-districting did to a lot of the House. All that said, I think there are a lot of interesting things to be said for and against the philosophy of libertarianism (or whatever you want to call it), but MSW is flat out wrong when he says it makes an idol of choice. This is the opposite of its aim. If you want to understand libertarian philosophy look not at what it is for (which is remarkably little and often vague) but at what it is against. There are a thousand libertarian versions of what a good government ought to be, but there's much more unity when it comes to what it ought not to be. I think this is the sort of reason so many of my friends don't understand the appeal of Ron Paul or Palin (neither of whom I at all like)- they are much too busy pointing out what's wrong with them than trying to figure out what makes them tick.
8 years 11 months ago
Could someone tell me how a Jesuit organization allows someone like Mr. Winters to comment here?  He routinely disparages people with terms like evil, immoral, sinister or pig etc.  When I was being taught by Jesuits, that was considered a form of sinful behavior.  Now, Ron Paul who is not a favorite of mine, is the source of Mr. Winter's ire.  
Some people like Ron Paul for his libertarian views and Mr. Winters twists libertarianism into a new hate symbol.  700 people out of 10,000 at a convention vote for him in an informal poll and he now represents the new bogey man who might oppose the Democrats.  Why doesn't Mr. Winters focus on the destructive policies of the Democrat party which he embraces.  Then so many millions of moral people would not have had to abandon it.  I left it years ago when I could not stomach its policies.
The description of the Sacha Cohen incident reaches a new low for this site.  What purpose could the description of it have?  What is the difference between what Mr. Winters does than what people like Sid and Max Blumenthal do?  I can understand the Democrats hiring such an individual but why a Jesuit organization?
8 years 11 months ago
"It is one of the funniest things ever filmed but it is hardly flattering to the congressman who appears bewildered."

Well, that says a lot, no everything, about you.
Jack Crawford
8 years 11 months ago
Please don't associate Libertarians with Ayn Rand. She didn't. For the most part, they just read her books without much comprehension.
Tom Smith
8 years 10 months ago
Libertarianism is the only rational political philosophy, and it's not surprising that Ron Paul is helping more people see the light.  Look at all the things Republicans and Democrats have been promising for the last 50 years: good public schools, less traffic, energy independence, a drug-free America, an end to poverty, permanent prosperity, balanced budgets, lower taxes, low-cost health care, secure retirements for all. The federal government keeps taking more of our money and more of our freedom promising these things, and Establishment types like you believe they can succeed...eventually. Who is being the fool here? With the federal government going bankrupt and America facing the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression, why are you so condescending toward those who consider radical challenges to the status quo?
Conspiracies do happen. You don't have to be a kook to believe this; you only need a knowledge of history and public choice theory. Throughout history, powerful people have not always been honest about their agendas or intentions. (ever heard of the Pentagon Papers?) Most human beings work in their own self-interest most of the time-that includes so-called "public servants" in government. And because government operates by diffuse costs and concentrated benefits, they have a strong incentive to serve special interests at the expense of the general public. Most regulatory bodies, including the Federal Reserve, were not leftist responses to the excesses of the free market.  They were conceived and brought about by big business as a way of perpetuating their own economic power.  Even many leftist historians have accepted this "revisionist" view of government regulation.
I also suggest you read JFK and the Unspeakable, written by a great Catholic writer, James W. Douglass. The evidence is overwhelming that the CIA was involved in his assassination, which happened because Kennedy was going to end the Cold War. As a Catholic and peace activist, you might like it.


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