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L. Neil Smith's
Number 446, December 2, 2007

"Socialists of a different color"

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The Problem With Ron Paul
by Thomas L. Knapp

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

The problem with Ron Paul is not the fact that he's the Houston area's most assiduous pork-barreler in the US House of Representatives. It's not his longstanding associations with racists, of both subtle and not-so-subtle varieties. It's not even his anti-libertarian positions on issues like immigration and same-sex marriage.

Those things are problems, of course, but they're not the problem.

The problem with Ron Paul is the uncritical cultism which so quickly took root in the rich soil of a maverick campaign and has since overgrown that campaign like a cross between kudzu and poison ivy.

That cultism has proceeded from dismissive shrugs, ascending quickly to shrill denials and cries of "smear!" in reaction to any mention of the aforementioned smaller problems, all the way to excommunicative declarations on the part of some cultists: "Anyone who claims they are against Ron Paul and are also 'libertarian' are not libertarians."

I'm saddened to see this same cult mentality taking root The Libertarian Enterprise.

L. Neil Smith's recommendation that partisan Libertarians consider nominating "None of the Above" and cross-endorsing (hopeful) GOP nominee Ron Paul at their upcoming national convention is an interesting proposal, and not entirely without merit. As a matter of fact, the Libertarian candidate whom I support has made the same recommendation. He's stated that if Paul is the presumptive GOP nominee as of the LP's national convention, he'll withdraw from the race and urge the LP to either nominate NOTA and support Paul, or just plain nominate Paul.

However, last week's missive from Alan Weiss, declaring the national LP "bankrupt" for its failure to endorse Paul NOW NOW NOW, bears the hallmarks of the very mentality I'm addressing.

Weiss complains that "No where on the national Libertarian Party's website is there any endorsement of Dr. Ron Paul." Well, imagine that! Nowhere on the St. Louis Rams' web site do I find a "Go Patriots" button, either. That's because the Rams and the Patriots are football teams in competition with each other—just as the Libertarian Party and the Republican Party are political parties in competition with each other.

I suspect that if the Libertarian Party's bylaws, and the plain ethical standards germane to any competitive organization, allowed for it we would see an endorsement of Paul on the LP's web site.

According to one poll, 70% of LP members are Paul supporters. At least three members of the Libertarian National Committee are direct or indirect financial supporters of Paul's campaign, perfectly legitimate conflict of interest concerns be damned. Several state LP chairs are Paul supporters, and from what I hear some of them have effectively turned their state organizations into Paul campaign clubs in plain violation of the LP's bylaws relating to affiliate parties. There's no dearth of support for Paul either in the ranks of the LP or in its leadership echelons.

If anything, the LP has gone way too far, way too fast, in supporting Paul—if, indeed, it should do so at all. I'm not saying it's impossible for it to happen, but if it does happen it has to happen in a certain way:

  • The Libertarian National Committee has no legitimate authority to endorse Paul at this time. That committee's members have an obligation of trust and a fiduciary duty to the LP itself. They're no more ethically free to endorse Paul than Coca-Cola board members are to issue a joint declaration that they prefer Pepsi. Ditto for state and local officials, and even more so: The national bylaws explicitly prohibit state affiliates from endorsing candidates of other parties. Period.

  • The national LP's staff, likewise, is not legitimately empowered to use party resources to promote a candidate seeking the nomination of an opposing party. Their job is to promote the LP, not the GOP.

LP members, of course, are free to support whomever they want. The LP is not entitled to their support. It has to earn that support. And maybe it hasn't. But LP officials have voluntarily undertaken obligations, and they need to either act in accord with those obligations or divest themselves of those obligations.

The earliest time at which the LP could legitimately endorse Paul would be at its national convention next May, exactly as Smith recommends. If they so choose, the convention delegates can amend the party's bylaws to allow the nomination or endorsement of "the candidate of another party," suspend the rules to make the effect of that amendment immediately, and apply the change to Paul. That's not the course I personally support—and I'll explain why in a moment—but that course would have legitimacy. Any endorsement prior to the convention by party leaders or staff would be, quite simply, acoup d'etat, a completely illegitimate use of party resources for illicit purposes.

What we're seeing in this supercharged cult atmosphere is otherwise sensible libertarians insisting that the rules no longer apply because they want what they want, and they want it NOW NOW NOW. But there's more to this thing than NOW NOW NOW. . . and that happens to be the reason I do not support Ron Paul for the GOP, or the LP, presidential nomination.

When Paul's supporters claim that he's achieving more publicity for libertarian ideas than anyone in a long, long time, they're right (some say "ever," but that's just the fan fever talking—ever heard of Barry Goldwater?).

Paul is achieving more publicity for libertarian ideas than anyone in a long, long time—and he's yoking those very good ideas to some very bad ideas, and to a very bad institution. To the extent that Paul succeeds, he identifies libertarianism with xenophobia, with homophobia, with the racist agendas of some of his less savory supporters whom he declines to disavaow, and with the Republican Party. Those associations will linger in the public mind long after America has elected its next president.

Am I a Libertarian partisan? You're damn right I am, especially after my own personal experiences with trying to "go back" to one of the major parties. I am convinced that even if the road to liberty leads through the minefield of electoral politics, neither the Republican Party nor the Democratic Party is a vehicle which can be driven across that minefield. To the extent that Ron Paul's campaign identifies libertarianism with the Republican Party, it serves to misdirect libertarian energy.

I'm not going to try to sell you on the Libertarian Party—I'm the first one to admit that it has problems. BIG problems. It may not be the vehicle that can make it across the minefield either, but at least it's the TYPE of vehicle which MIGHT. Maybe something better can be built, but if the choice is between trying to get the LP into shape to cross the minefield, or to futz around with a party that will never start its engine for the attempt, I've already made my decision.

But let's assume that, in the wake of the Paul campaign, it is the LP rather than the GOP which putatively benefits: Paul supporters flock from the GOP to the LP. That's a good thing.

Or is it?

How many of those Paul supporters will have learned, at Paul's feet, that "libertarianism" is really just "Taft Republicanism" and that libertarians are "true conservatives?" How many of them will bring their anti-libertarian ideas—the ones they share with Paul, and the ones they hold themselves even though Paul doesn't—with them?

There's a very good chance that the LP will be swamped with non-libertarian members. Yes, we have ourselves partially to blame due to our own failures. If the LP was already a million members strong, it might be big enough to absorb the conservative tide and remain libertarian. But the LP is not a million members strong. More like 15 THOUSAND, if memory serves. Even a relatively small influx of, say, 10,000 "conservatarians" would radically change the party's character. . . for the worse. We've been stuck in the whole "Libertarians are just a bunch of disgruntled Republicans" rut for decades already. This would not make for a deeper rut, it would make for a chasm into which the LP would likely effectively disappear entirely, leaving America with no uniquely libertarian political party.

Now, I'll ask you to note something:

At no time have I said that it's impossible for a libertarian to support Ron Paul. I acknowledge that many libertarians can, and do, support Paul. I think they're making a mistake in doing so, but hey, we all make mistakes. Time will tell who's right and who's wrong, and I'm familiar enough with my own record to understand that I may be the one who's wrong. What I'm not going to do—and what I'm going to ask my fellow libertarians to eschew as well—is make the issue of support or non-support for Ron Paul a litmus test for whether or not one is a libertarian. The cult mentality harms everyone involved in it and on all sides of it. It's not good for the Libertarian Party, it's not good for the Ron Paul campaign, and it's not good for liberty. It's not good, period.


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