Politics

Blame Ron Paul for Views of His Supporters?

| by Reason Foundation

By Jacob Sullum

In a front-page story about Ron Paul's popularity among disreputable right-wingers, The New York Times draws a Venn diagram of the libertarian movement:

The libertarian movement in American politics has long had two overlapping but distinct strains. One, backed to some degree by wealthy interests, is focused largely on economic freedom and dedicated to reducing taxes and regulation through smaller government. The other is more focused on personal liberty and constraints on government built into the Constitution, which at its extreme has helped fuel militant antigovernment sentiment.

Why does the Times think it is relevant to note that libertarians who focus on economic freedom are "backed to some degree by wealthy interests"? Isn't that true of pretty much every political movement and organization, including Marxism and the Democratic Party? The implication seems to be that defenders of economic freedom are carrying water for special interests, who are in it only for the money.

Weirdly, the Times locates the scary militants in the part of the libertarian movement that focuses on "personal liberty," which includes not only the rights explicitly protected by the Constitution (such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, due process, and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures) but also such unspecified rights as freedom to engage in consensual sexual relationships, to marry people of either sex, to bet on games of chance, and to ingest psychoactive substances (or evenraw milk). So according to the Times, the right-wing extremists attracted to Paul are a tolerant, cosmopolitan group that nevertheless harbors odious views about blacks, Jews, and gay people. Also note that the Times, perhaps unintentionally, says the Constitution "at its extreme has helped fuel militant antigovernment sentiment." All the more reason to be wary of defending this radical document.

In short, the libertarian movement consists of two parts: 1) self-interested tycoons seeking low taxes and minimal regulation in the name of economic freedom and 2) crazy right-wingers who take the Constitution too seriously and worry about personal freedom. I always thought the distinguishing feature of libertarianism was defending both economic and personal liberty, based on the insight that they are two manifestations of the same thing. But what do I know? I did not realize that the rule of law was a concept invented by F.A. Hayek until the Times explained it to me.

The article's main complaint, as expressed in the headline, is that "Paul Disowns Extremists' Views but Doesn't Disavow the Support." That is remniscent of the position Paul took during his last bid for the Republican presidential nomination, when he declined to return donations from white supremacists on the grounds that using the money to promote liberty was better than giving it back to people who might use it to promote racism. "If people hold views that the candidate doesn't agree with," a campaign spokesman told Dave Weigel, "and they give to us, that's their loss." This time around Paul offers a similar rationale:

If they want to endorse me, they’re endorsing what I do or say. It has nothing to do with endorsing what they say....I'm always looking at converting people to look at liberty the way I do.

It surely is unfair to blame Paul for the opinions expressed by some of his supporters. “We understand that Paul is not a white nationalist," Stormfront's Don Black tells the Times, "but most of our people support him because of his stand on issues." Black likes Paul's views on the Federal Reserve, for instance. "I understand he wins many fans because his monetary policy would hurt Jews," he says. "Our board recognizes that most of the leaders involved in the Fed and the international banking system are Jews." Logically speaking, Black's anti-Semitism has no bearing on Paul's motives or the wisdom of his policy prescriptions. Does Paul nevertheless have a moral obligation to tell Black and likeminded supporters to f**k off? Or is it merely tactically wise to do so? Maybe neither. Discuss.