The Corner

Ron Paul Revisited

Writing about Ron Paul is not for the faint of heart. I noted in my interview with him “the enthusiasm of both Paul’s fans and his detractors,” and have been subject to that enthusiasm since publication. Angry e-mails come with the job, so I’ll just highlight some of the more illuminating online responses.

Lew Rockwell uses the interview as an occasion to denounce the “Unthinking Right.” He objects in particular to the description of Ron Paul as “a little weird” — which in Dr. Paul’s case is practically scientific, which was meant fondly, and which Paul himself is unlikely to contest — and writes:

Let’s talk about weird. What’s weird is the world of National Review where it troubles no one to call for huge spending cuts and slashing government at the domestic level while defending the worst form of global imperialism abroad, complete with reflexive defenses of every violation of human rights and liberty.

He goes on:

Regardless, it is a sad and pathetic thing that people at National Review would look at a consistent proponent of liberty like Ron Paul and find his views completely quixotic, bizarre, unpredictable, incoherent, whereas every single one of the monikers applies in spades to a crowd that imagines itself opposing government while lustily calling for the death of anyone who would dare reveal to the public the inner workings of that government.

Leave aside the business about the lusty calls, and note how Rockwell begins with one adjective that I did use, “quixotic,” and then adds three of his own invention which become progressively more pejorative. That is some misleading writing. (And what reader of Cervantes could find such insidious intent in the adjective “quixotic”?) Rockwell’s response as a whole is extraordinary — the interview devoted its several thousand words to highlighting Dr. Paul’s ideas; Lew Rockwell derives a Jeremiad from exactly two.

It seems like a disproportionate number of Ron Paul’s supporters have a bunker mentality, in which straightforward descriptions of Paul, or even interview questions and prompts, are interpreted as pregnant with negative connotations, subtly insidious assaults. Words which most consider neutral, or even honorific (like “gadfly,” which usually evokes Socrates), they find defamatory. That defensiveness seems misplaced, as the really remarkable thing about Paul is his popularity in diverse circles

An example of this comes from a writer who objects to the claim that Paul “opposes abortion rights,” and concludes that NRO is condemning Ron Paul for being pro-life, hence hypocritical in his libertarianism. Quite the contrary: I in fact noted the consistency of Paul’s libertarian philosophy and pro-life advocacy by writing that Paul considers the unborn to be persons, hence entitled to state protections. The phrase “opposes abortion rights” is simply a neutral, legally descriptive term for reporting, as against loaded terms like “pro-life/pro-choice.” There was no condemnation; just description. The writer is also exercised by the deliberate contrasting of “isolationism” and “non-interventionism.” In this case his objection is too clever to be understood.

Other bloggers interpreted the prompt “So inflation transfers wealth?” as a sneering denial of the fact. Many were enraged by the reference to Paul’s newsletter scandal. How could an objective journalist leave it out?

But most responses were variations on a theme sounded by A blogger writes, “Shaffer seems perplexed or baffled by Dr. Paul’s philosophy.” It is by now a trope among Ron Paul’s followers that his ideas are just too difficult for the rest of us to understand simply because they don’t fit into the traditional reflexes of “Right” and “Left.” That belief is unjustified. Each of us likes to imagine that our own ideas are nuanced and difficult while our opponents’ are reflexive and simple. But if we all think that, we can’t all be right. Ron Paul has been around for a while now, and his libertarianism is a consistent application of pretty basic premises that have a long history in the American political tradition. There probably aren’t many political junkies or journalists who are actually “baffled” by Ron Paul. His supporters should begin searching for alternative explanations for why some people disagree with — and are willing to relay criticism of — the good doctor.


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