Sunday, September 30, 2007

Ron Paul Visits Dartmouth

Congressman Ron Paul visited Dartmouth yesterday, speaking and meeting for about an hour with a large group of students at the Rockefeller Center. Back in June, I wrote, "My libertarian leanings make me predisposed to like Congressman Paul." After attending the event, I still like him, but I don't think that having libertarian leanings should necessarily translate into support for his Presidential campaign. I'll give two reasons:

First, he's running for Commander in Chief, not Contrarian in Chief. If these are his views, and he has spent the last decade in Congress (after his earlier service in the 1970s and 1980s), then it is reasonable to expect that he would have not just voted libertarian on key issues, but that he would have built a consensus among his colleagues so that the work product of Congress was itself more libertarian. I don't see any evidence of that sort of leadership.

Second, his answers to questions of public policy tend to be too procedural for my liking. Under questioning by a number of the students in attendance about public policies, his responses in support of limited government tended to be of the form, "It is not in the Constitution, so we should not be doing it." This was the case, for example, when a student asked about the extreme inequalities in the quality of primary and secondary education across the country and what the Department of Education's role should be in addressing that. Do you allow children in poor neighborhoods to continue to get abysmally substandard education? The question merited an answer based on Milton Friedman's spirited argument for education vouchers and market solutions, not a faint protest that he'd like to scrap the Department of Education.


Curt said...

Your objections save one are no more than criticisms of his mismatching the response to the audience.

He lives in a universe where people expect and desire answers that have comprehensible constructs. There is a difference between knowing the right answer and the practical necessity of carrying on a debate in a forum with people who have different understanding and experience. He knows that difference and abides by it.

As to his failure to push a libertarian agenda in congress, it is simply impossible to get a consensus built in that environment. It is more important that he is actually in office and we need to find a way to include more of his kind, so that coalitions can be built.

As to his statement about the constitution, a man running for president who is already forcibly marginalized, cannot run on a platform that desires to further undermine the constitution. He would lose the support that he does have. Answering otherwise in the context is simply irrational.

It is the purpose of research programs to debate fundamental truths. It is the purpose of politicians to implement what is directionally practical in persuit of them. These are different purposes in our division of labor. It is the researcher's job to be able to understand this difference. In this case, your argument would coalesce in support of revolution rather than in support of directional democratic change. Certainly that is not what we expect a candidate for the presidency to advocate. And asking a candidate to do so is simply illogical.

These are not substantive objections. The question is whether he would be better than other candidates at promoting liberty. And in that sense, the answer is yes.


Michael said...


I'll address both of your points.

1) You mention Ron Paul's contrarian position on many congressional votes. I sincerely hope that you understand and teach your students that many of these congressional bills have other things "attached" to them. Many of these additions are very wasteful and sometimes highly unconstitutional. Even though the base of the bill maybe worth voting for, the attachments are not. When we have a government that is so far removed from the Constitution, I sincerely believe that by voting no and working to get our country back to the notion of what the Constitution really is. The most basic, fundamental Law of the Land. Something many people & politicians have forgotten.

2) Although, I partially agree with you about Ron Paul's lack of explanations. The time that he has in the debates or question & answer sessions are very limited. Although, many people understand his overall positions are interconnected, so when he mentions the disbandment of the DOE, they "get it" because their would be more competition for schools, no income tax and property tax (if any) would be for vouchers and/or home schooling.

I do agree that a full explanation of all his positions is necessary; however, just the simple mention of Vouchers would elicit an entirely different discussion on their feasibility.

Ron Paul is a thinking mans candidate because we have to understand many different things such as: logic, history, economics, politics etc... All coupled with the fact that we have to remove/restrain our emotional knee jerk reactions to fully understand that abolishing the DOE is actually not a bad thing.

Thanks for your article.

Mark said...

A criticism for each reason;

1st reason:
Dr. Paul's speeches to the House give me chills. He is doing what any man can in a House full of sellouts. He is full of leadership qualities but the political system is corrupt. The heart of leadership is the ability to rally support and I think it is clear that his support is growing daily.

2nd reason:
Law is procedural and we should follow the law. The Constitution is the law. Schools should be accountable to the parents not federal bureaucrats. Since the Dept of Education has been involved there has been a steady decline in what schools are turning out. Perfection cannot be gained and socialized education is far worse. Dr. Paul's answer was not inadequate just because he didn't quote Friedman. It was correct because he understands the Constitution, which is the law of the land, and he is the only one arguing for it.