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Liberty! Liberty!
Why I'm for Ron Paul.


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John Derbyshire

You can waste a lot of time in my line of work, noodling around on Internet search engines to not much effect. If the matter is sufficiently pressing (translation: remunerative), when the Internet has comprehensively failed you, you can head to your library. If that fails, you can head to the nearest university library; and if that fails, to some mega-resource like the New York Public Library. If the matter isn’t that pressing, you give up and think of something else to write about.

I got into one of these whirlpools a few months ago, at the time of the Scooter Libby conviction. The thing I couldn’t get past was Libby’s being the vice president’s chief of staff. Why (I wondered) does the vice president need a chief of staff? Or even a staff? Where is that in the Constitution? Yes, this is going to be a Ron Paul piece. Patience, please — I’ll get there.

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My touchstone in these matters is of course our late, great vice president, Calvin Coolidge. From Claude M. Fuess’s mesmerizing biography:

As Vice President of the United States, Coolidge occupied a position which paid him a salary of $12,000 a year. In addition to this, he was allowed his own automobile and chauffeur, his own secretary, page, and clerk, and his private telegraph operator. His chief duty was to preside over the Senate; and he was entitled to a room in the Senate office building but also to one in the Capitol, directly behind the Senate chamber. In the Senate proceedings he had no vote except in case of a tie. He was also ex officio President of the Smithsonian Institution. His actual duties, beyond these, were not numerous, and he had plenty of time to himself.

(Pop quiz: From which of the three branches of government does the vice president draw his salary?)

That, of course, was then (1921), and this is now. The office of vice president has expanded some in the past 86 years. Wikipedia gives an outline account of the process. For quite some time, though, the Vice Presidency remained a poor stepchild of the federal-legislative apparatus. Presidential biographies fill in the details. When Richard Nixon moved from the Senate to the vice presidency in 1953, for example, his staffing allowance dropped from $70,000 as a Senator to less than $48,000 as veep. Nixon seems to have held on to all 13 of his senatorial staff members somehow; but he never appointed anyone chief of staff.

So to the present. Scooter Libby was of course the current vice president’s chief of staff until he resigned. David Addington now fills the post. And … how many other persons are on the vice president’s staff?

Try finding out. That was the whirlpool I bailed out of those months ago. (Can you bail out of a whirlpool? Whatever.) I see I still have some scattered notes from my inquiries. The United States Government Manual for 2007/08, published by the Office of the Federal Register, lists 17 names under “Office of the Vice President,” with titles from chief of staff to executive assistant.

That can’t be the whole story, though. Only three of those names have titles containing the phrase “national security” — four if you include “homeland security” — yet we know that in 2004 Dick Cheney had 14 staff members dealing with national security. (Al Gore had managed with five.)

There are 40 names listed on the Legistorm website; the overlap between this list and the one in U.S. Government Manual is only six names. So: how many people are on the vice president’s staff? I repeat: Try finding out. What’s his staff allowance? Same answer.

What has been the value-added in advancing from Silent Cal’s chauffeur, secretary, page, clerk, and telegraph operator, to Dick Cheney’s battalions of assistants to deputy assistants? You don’t need to sign on to leftist Cheney-pulls-the-strings hysteria to believe that it was in part the research and counsel supplied by all those busy beavers on the vice president’s payroll that gave us the misbegotten Iraq war. Cal’s telegraph operator performed better service to his country.

No offense to the current vice president, who seems to me to be a very charming and capable man. (I still cherish the recollection of his 2000 debate with Joe Lieberman — the one that made everyone say: “Ah! Here are the grown-ups at last!”) This isn’t personal, nor even really political; it’s systemic. How did the office of the vice president get so much power? And so many people? Heck, even the vice president’s wife has a chief of staff! Where is that in the Constitution?

* * * * *

Which brings us back to Ron Paul, and the appeal thereof. How on earth did we arrive at this point of vast, bloated, and secretive government, in which the wives of inconsequential federal officials (the office of the vice presidency used to be a byword for inconsequentiality — “bucket of warm p***,” etc.) have chiefs of staff, whose actual staffs and actual budgets are undiscoverable by a reasonably intelligent citizen?

The other day I got an e-mail from a reader. I get lots of e-mails from readers, of course, but this one stood out. A man’s death, said China’s Grand Historian, may be lighter than a feather, or heavier than Mount Tai. I feel kind of the same way about reader e-mails. This one landed in my in-box with an almighty house-shuddering thump. It’s from a reader in the Mile High City.

Mr. Derbyshire,

I saw your post on The Corner that one hundred dollars of the now nearly $16 million dollars Ron Paul has raised this quarter are yours. I’m up to $150 dollars, in twenty five dollar increments, plus another thirty something dollars for yard signs. I donate online and man, do I love hitting that send button.

The first vote I ever cast was for Ronald Reagan in 1984. Today, I look at the Huge Government Republican establishment in Washington D.C., and read its enablers … and I have no idea who these people are, or what happened to the GOP I signed on with.

I’m in construction and get paid by the hour, so a twenty five dollar donation to Dr. Paul is roughly one pre-tax hour of my labor.

So here’s the deal: for every two weeks that Ron Paul is in the race, he gets the fruit of an hour of my time and effort. And every time another member of the conservative intelligentsia disparages Dr. Paul’s campaign for a limited and constitutional government, it will just make hitting the send button that much sweeter.

I don’t know that I can say any more about my reasons for supporting Ron Paul than my reader said right there. I, too, like my reader, have no idea who these people are, and don’t even seem to be able to find out (see above). Probably they are all, like Dick Cheney, very nice people, taken as individuals: but that they are all toiling away in anything I recognize as the national interest, I cannot believe.

To the degree that I can say anything more, I have already said it implicitly, in columns like this one, and this one, and yes, this one. From the first of those:

As the elites pull away from the rest of us, and the rest of us become more atomized and disorganized — “a heap of loose sand” in Sun Yat-sen’s memorable phrase about the late-Imperial Chinese — we may be headed for the kind of intractable elite-commoner hostility predicted by Michael Young in his 1958 book The Rise of the Meritocracy. I don’t think it is fanciful to see an element of this in the current widespread anger towards the political class — the president’s approval ratings down in the 30s, and Congress’s even lower.

Some of that is anger at particular policies — Iraq, the immigration bill. Much, though — a rising proportion, I believe — is systemic: a feeling that the elites are now running the show for their own interests, Latin-America-style, with not much regard for ours. As [one of my readers] correctly observed: “The low paid politician has vanished. The surest route to wealth is politics, followed closely by government service.”

Here is Paul Johnson in Modern Times:

Like FDR, he [i.e. John F. Kennedy] turned Washington into a city of hope; that is to say, a place where middle-class intellectuals flocked for employment.

What I am seeking is an anti-JFK — a candidate who will transform our nation’s capital from a city of hope for middle-class intellectuals, into a city of despair for them. The despair of those intellectuals, I am increasingly convinced, is the hope of our nation. Looking at all but one of the Republican candidates (and, it goes without saying, all but none of the Democratic ones) I see nothing in prospect but a new draft of office-seeking intellectuals, primed and eager to bring us new expansions of federal power, new pointless wars, new million-strong reinforcements for the Reconquista, new thousand-page tax loopholes, new inducements for idleness and crime, new humiliations for the saps who follow rules and obey laws. Sadly and reluctantly at last, I include the S.O.B. in that “all but one.”

* * * * *

From Kimberley Strassel’s piece in the Dec. 14 Opinion Journal:

Paul rallies heave with voters waving placards and shouting “Liberty! Liberty!”

Are those supporters crazy, as some colleagues tell me?

Perhaps they are, to be shouting for liberty in 2007, after decades of swelling federal power and arrogance, of proliferating taxes, rules, and interests, of gushing transfers of wealth to politically connected elites from working- and middle-class grunts, of the college and teacher-union scams, of the metastasizing tort-law rackets, of ever more numerous yet ever more clueless intelligence agencies, of open borders and visas for people who hate us, of widening cracks in our sense of nationhood (“Press one for English …”), of speech codes and race lobbies and judicial impositions.

If those people are crazy, though, I want to be crazy with them. I’m for liberty, too. That’s why I’m for Ron Paul. And why do we have 75,000 soldiers in Germany?



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