27 December 2011

Trouble in Paul-ville

I find that the furor kicked up over Paul is probably not worth the effort. It is unlikely that a neo-isolationist, anti-drug war, pro civil liberties Congressman can win either party's primary in the first place. But I would guess that one reason this has become a major issue is that he's running for the Republican nomination. Where a debate over any one of those topics would constitute a minor earthquake in the rhetorical and actual positions of the party as a whole. Foreign policy in particular would constitute a huge revolt, given that neo-cons have been a hard plank in the party for a couple decades now and Paul comes from the paleo-con wing that has always had a strong undertow, but no policy influence since the Reagan era consensus. So more or less why this comes up is to justify a hasty campaign by conservatives to discredit paleoconservatives and a dogpile move by liberals to discredit libertarians.

Personally, I would have preferred if Paul didn't have the baggage he does from the paleo-con days hanging out with Rothbard and Rockwell, or if Huntsman actually had some realist IR spine to him, or if Gary Johnson had been more popular. As is, Johnson will probably run Libertarian. So I get to vote. That's always fun. Maybe it would be more amusing, or rather frightening, if things like this were on the ballot. (I would vote no, by the way. That should be up to studios and performers and "certifications" should concern things like the spread of disease in a largely isolated community, the use or non-use of condoms is hardly the only means available to do so and carries its own set of risks and dangers within that community). 

What particularly annoys me is the liberal attempt to discredit libertarians. Yes, the Rothbard wing is/was nuts for associating with the dredges of middle class society (racists and white supremacists and anti-Semites, and so on). And so yes, there's a certain level of popular support for a Paul-like candidacy that is radical to the point of being unsavory. This does not mean that all libertarians are in thrall with such opinions and behaviors, that they overlook them, or that they genuinely don't care at all about social issues like race relations and racism. As it is, it was libertarian publications which first reported on Paul's newsletters and associations, and numerous libertarian publications, libertarian leaning writers and bloggers have opposed or been squeamish about Paul for precisely this reason. Myself included (though I have other policy disagreements with Paul that I generally don't have with Gary). And it is libertarians (including people like Ron Paul) who have a long history of pointing out racial disparities with things like immigration and drug enforcement laws, along with many other civil liberties issues (stop and frisks for example). So I find myself annoyed at the public reception we get when we do get national attention. I can't say I'm surprised. But when the official character of the Libertarian party platform and various libertarian publications (like Cato or Reason) is classical liberalism, one would think that the liberalism part would get a fairer hearing from professed liberals. Apparently not.

It is easy to blame the Rothbard wing for flirting with paranoid and radical assertions about race and religion for that. (Note also, this isn't the Rand wing, nor the Hayek one). I suspect however that some blame belongs with libertarian/Libertarian thinkers for not pushing forward their more progressive dispositions more publicly and, more importantly, with libertarian type voters for adhering to some of these illiberal ideas, for ignoring them, and for continuing to vote, somewhat impressively, for people like McCain even after a near decade of disastrous behavior by his compatriots in office. The critique and assertion of racism is disgusting. The critique of being modestly illiberal or unconcerned about the advance of a liberal political philosophy centered on the individual (and not the state) is not because there appears to be a wide swath of the libertarian landscape that is in fact these things.
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