Glenn Greenwald has complained on many occasions about the obsession of the press with superficial character traits and flaws, horse race popularity contests, petty scandals, and other irrelevant matters over substance. I strongly agree, which is why I was happy to see Matt Yglesias taking a look at Ron Paul's political views to see how well they compare to the actual tenets of libertarianism.
I think all too often, Paul's opposition to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and staunch support for some civil liberties are inappropriately attributed to his being a libertarianism. As if being a libertarian means automatically holding this populist and automatically just views.
It's not that Paul is a libertarian and therefore holds these views. It's that Paul holds these views and so do many libertarians, combined with the fact that Paul claims to be a libertarian and constantly links the two together.
It's reminiscent of John McCain claiming to be a maverick and a moderate Republican while, going back to at least to 2006, holding the third most conservative voting record in the U.S. Senate. He so thoroughly supported George W. Bush's policies in 2008 that he got stuck with the moniker of "Bush's Third Term". (A label well suited to Barack Obama when it comes to civil liberties, national security, and government secrecy. It would be deeply unfair to make such links between Obama and Bush when it comes to prosecuting whistle blowers, abusing the state secrets privilege, and expanding done attacks in foreign countries though. Far from mere embracing and continuing those actions, the Obama administration has far exceeded its predecessor in those areas - often generating high praise from former Bush administration officials and neo-conservatives in Congress and in print.)
Claiming to be something is not the same as being that thing. In fact it's quite common for those who claim to be something frequently and loudly to end up being exactly that which they rail against. (Do a search on socially conservative Republicans and religious leaders and activists that espouse virulently anti-gay views and support ugly, anti-gay social and political policies who then turn out to be gay themselves. You'll see what I mean.)
It's a subtle shift in the direction of correlation, but also quite significant. There are some Republicans who are not libertarians that also oppose the wars and support some civil liberties (for Americans - unless they are Muslims) very strongly.
The best way to find out if Ron Paul's persona is a fictional character and a fraud, like John McCain's was and still is, is to look at his actual policies instead of taking his word for what he is and stands for.
Abortion is perhaps the best issue to consider. During the "debate" over Democratic health care reform in 2009, one of the go-to talking points for the GOP was to complain that HCR would put government bureaucrats between a person and their doctor, and that it represented a government takeover of health care.
While the takeover claim was rated the "lie of the year" by award-winning and non-partisan Politifact, the issue of the federal government sticking its nose in a person's medical decisions resonates with a lot of people, regardless of ideology. That's why complaints by pro-life conservatives of Big Government interfering too much in our private lives seems like nothing but empty rhetoric. How much more invasive and intrusive can Big Government be when it starts dictating to women whether or not they should be forced to give birth?
Ron Paul, the supposed staunch libertarian who for the most part is only known because of that persona, according to Yglesias, is actually a "forced birther" who wants to outlaw abortion and make abortion - a constitutionally protected right - a criminal offense.
And for such a civil liberties supporter and fan of the Constitution, Paul supports legislation that would forbid Americans everywhere in the country from asking a federal court - including the Supreme Court - to protect their constitutional rights in regards to abortion.
Forget about merely outlawing it, Paul and other Republicans want to forbid you from even asking the Supreme Court - any federal court - to review these laws.
It really does say a lot about how little respect for the Constitution that people like Ron Paul have, that in order to avoid it guaranteeing a right to Americans that he doesn't like, he'll end-run around it by simply forbidding the courts from hearing challenges to forced birther laws. That strategy of simply forbidding the courts from enforcing the Constitution in specific circumstances is quickly widening to other areas including civil rights. Michele Bachmann, for example, supports similar legislation that would bar the Supreme Court from hearing cases involving same-sex marriage.
What kind of libertarian would ever forbid a court from hearing a citizen's challenge to the constitutionality of a law? Under this level of constitutional gerrymandering, Congress could have simply forbade the Supreme Court from hearing any challenges to Democratic health care reform in order to protect it from judicial scrutiny.
Is that the kind of free society full of wonderful civil liberties and personal freedom that Ron Paul has in mind?
A true libertarian should argue that both same-sex marriage and abortion are state's rights issues and that the federal government should take no action to support or oppose. But when Paul makes his argument, he's not talking about keeping the issue out of the hands of Congress and the White House so that the states can decide for themselves whether or not to allow abortions and gay marriage.
To the contrary, the entire basis of Paul's policy rests on passing federal legislation that deprives Americans of their right to fight state laws and unjust actions in the federal courts that they believe violate the Constitution, as a sort of protection racket for state laws that he personally supports - state laws that directly conflict with the due process and equal protection clauses of the Constitution and the fourth amendment right to privacy.
In that light, Ron Paul's views on abortion are actually quite extreme in the amount of power they give the federal government to interfere with the states. So much so that they trend more towards anti-democratic authoritarianism that actively and harshly deprives citizens of personal liberty (the right to make the most important medical decisions for themselves) and destroys the free society (the ability to challenge unjust laws) that Paul supposedly wants.
That's the kind of substance that's missing from the national political debate, largely due to a lazy and corrupt media that allows charlatans like Ron Paul and John McCain to lie to the American people with virtually no consequences.
I'm reminded of a 2008 interview that McCain gave during the campaign where one reporter forced McCain to reveal his contradictory views in perhaps the clearest possible terms I've ever seen. When asked his position on same-sex marriage, McCain - pretending to be that awesome maverick that appeals to independents - said clearly that it was a state's rights issue that the federal government shouldn't be involved in. The reporter quickly followed up with, what if most or all of the states legalize same-sex marriage?
McCain stated just as clearly and without equivocation that he'd then support a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
Little else of substance like that survived in 2008 and we're seeing even less of it now. But we can avoid repeating the same mistakes over and over again by forcing the press to do its job by telling us what these people actually stand for and what the consequences of their policies will be, instead of repeating their intellectually empty campaign slogans like good little stenographers and before calling it a day.
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Among other things Yglesias found, really just by reading Paul's own website: Ron Paul thinks the greatest threat to America today isn't Islamic terrorism, China, growing poverty, failing education, or the recession which has turned into what looks like a Japan-style lost decade. No, we're all doomed because of the Federal Reserve and illegal immigration.
While one can make many legitimate criticisms of the behavior of the Fed, ginning it up as the biggest threat to American national security and even our very existence sounds more like the rantings of a lunatic than a principled libertarian. And it definitely sounds like standard Tea Party caltrop.
Besides depriving all Americans of the right to challenge state abortion laws in the federal courts (including the Supreme Court), Paul wants to repeal the 14th amendment which grants citizenship to any person born on American soil, no matter what. The 14th was passed 143 years ago to ensure that the children of slaves would become citizens. This was just 11 years after the Supreme Court ruled that blacks are not citizens under the Constitution and therefore neither were their children that were born here.
That's what Ron Paul wants to return America to.
As Matt said: "Paul's views, in short, seem much closer to the isolationist nationalism of Pat Buchanan ... than to the libertarianism of Milton Friedman."
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Try as I might, I couldn't find anything on Paul's website under issues for his plan to create jobs and jump start the economy. This is one of the few policies (even though it's a non-policy) that's perfectly in line with true libertarianism, which believes that even during a deep recession - depression even - the federal government should let the states take care of the problem. While the standard GOP view is that government can't create jobs, Paul's view is that government shouldn't create jobs.
I wonder how many votes these Republicans and Ron Paul would get in 2012 if the media told the public that.