Republican Congressman Ron Paul has a history of poor showings in past elections due largely to his public image as a libertarian radical. But Paul has enjoyed an upsurge in popularity during the recent Republican primary elections with his ostensible message of freedom. His message has not changed lately, so how do we explain the so-called Ron Paul Revolution? And will the ideas of this revolution actually return freedom and prosperity to America? “
One possible explanation for Paul’s popularity is that Americans have changed: we will no longer tolerate political candidates who flip-flop on issues of principle.
Consider today’s political leaders. President Obama has alienated many of his supporters because he has balked on campaign promises. He has not closed Guantanamo Bay, as promised, and his “centrist” economic policies have disillusioned many of his liberal followers. On the other side of the political spectrum, Republican front-runner Mitt Romney, who introduced mandatory health care in Massachusetts, opposes Obamacare. This kind of inconsistency leaves many Americans seeking a more principled politician.
By comparison, Ron Paul has remained generally consistent during his tenure as a Congressman. He does not seem to have compromised his ideas for the sake of popularity, and some Americans appreciate his backbone.
More than other candidates, the idea Paul appears to advocate consistently is a distinctively American one: freedom. President Obama is certainly no freedom lover. He championed the individual mandate for health care, which will require all Americans to purchase health insurance by 2014. In addition, President Obama also signed the Dodd-Frank Act, which imposed greater regulations on Wall Street financiers, forcing them to cut through costly red tape and follow prohibitive compliance rules, which restricted their economic freedom. Similarly, Rick Santorum, another Republican front-runner, is a self-described enemy of individual freedom who has declared that the government has every right to interfere with markets, culture, and how Americans live their lives. He is especially well-known for rejecting the separation of church and state.
By contrast, Ron Paul champions the free market. He has advocated an end to the Federal Reserve, fewer regulations on businesses and lower taxes. Specifically, Paul has long opposed government sponsored health care like Obamacare or Romneycare. He also advocates relaxed drug laws. Paul wants to free Americans from Washington’s red tape, and supporters have enthusiastically embraced him in large part because of his professed message of liberty.
So at first glance, the Ron Paul movement appears to be a step in the right direction for freedom. But does Paul really want, or understand, what a true move to freedom would entail?
Consider his views on foreign policy.Like most libertarians, Paul believes that Washington should negotiate with rogue states. This is because he believes that invading a nation amounts to initiating force against that nation, an act which Paul opposes on principle. Paul instead argues that the United States should only defend itself from immediately imminent invasion. Correspondingly, he believes that the United States should do nothing to combat Iran’s increasingly warlike stance in the Middle East. The U.S. should only respond to Iran’s aggression if enemy battleships appear off our shore. Paul would pull back all American troops from foreign bases. Presumably, these troops should be used exclusively to protect our borders from Iranian battleships.
Paul’s foreign policy leaves American interests abroad unprotected and leaves America open to the aggression of foreign dictatorships. His lackluster defense of freedom reveals that he does not truly understand what it takes to guarantee true liberty for Americans. With Iran posturing as aggressively as it is now, how will it act in the Middle East if it knows that the United States is just a paper tiger?
To protect against threats to freedom from governments at home and abroad, Americans need leaders better than Ron Paul. We need a politician whose vision of individual freedom has a proper philosophical basis, namely: an understanding that individuals need freedom in order to pursue their own happiness to the best of their ability in the long range.
Consider a scientist who needs to read scholarly journals, select topics of research, and write extensively to pursue his own research. The scientist needs to be free from the interference of government and other people to accomplish his goals. With this political freedom, the scientist can rationally pursue his career, the truth, and his long-term well-being. Likewise, in pursuing his career and happiness, the scientist needs to fund his research, purchase supplies and hire assistants. So he also needs to be free from state interference in his economic affairs. Both political and economic freedom are necessary for the pursuit of happiness, for scientists and non-scientists alike.
The purpose of government is to protect the freedom of citizens from threatened or actual coercion, whether that coercion originates domestically or abroad. Consider, for example, America’s 19th century war against the Barbary pirates, who attacked U.S. merchant vessels trading in the Mediterranean Sea. These attacks robbed the sailors of their liberty and interfered with freedom of commerce. Rather than feeling that they needed to act only if the pirates attacked the White House, Presidents Jefferson and Madison ordered the U.S. Marines to invade and punish the Barbary States who supported the attacks on U.S. citizens, to safeguard the freedom of the seas in the long term. The Barbary War was successful and piracy ended in the Mediterranean. With this action, the United States government (justifiably) protected its citizens from the aggression of a foreign power.
Politicians today would do well to emulate this example. A politician who grounds his beliefs in this understanding of individual rights would understand that not all nations are equally deserving of the non-interference that Paul advocates. The United States, with its political system based on individual rights, is morally justified in doing whatever is necessary to defend itself. Dictatorships have no right to exist free from interference, because they violate the rights of their citizens and often threaten the lives of others abroad. Specifically, if Iranian tyrants wish to continue their nuclear weapons program, American presidential hopefuls should at the very least proclaim our right to act against this threat without regard for the “sanctity” of Iranian borders. Until Ron Paul recognizes this, he is not a candidate for freedom.
Ron Paul certainly has his shortcomings, but his popularity is a good sign. If Americans want a true protector of freedom, however, they should seek a politician who grounds his or her political philosophy in individual rights. Otherwise, any resurgence of liberty caused by the Ron Paul revolution will be short lived. Only politicians who are fully consistent in their defense of freedom can secure true liberty, safety and prosperity for Americans.
The Undercurrent is a magazine distributed at college campuses and communities across the country. We release a print edition once per semester, and in the interim, regularly post additional articles, blog entries, and campus media responses reports to our website.
The Undercurrent's cultural commentary is based on Ayn Rand's philosophy, Objectivism. Objectivism, which animates Ayn Rand's fiction, is a systematic philosophy of life. It holds that the universe is orderly and comprehensible, that man survives by reason, that his life and happiness comprise his highest moral purpose, and that he flourishes only in a society that protects his individual rights.
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