December 28, 2011

Re 2: GOP's Circular Firing Squad: National (Ron Paul) Edition

Carroll Andrew Morse

A key problem with Ron Paul's candidacy, indicative of all his others, was by made clear by the biggest unheralded gaffe in the December 15 Sioux City, Iowa Republican Presidential debate, specifically the mess of an answer that Rep. Paul gave on the earmarks he has requested for his district over his Congressional career...

The real message is you should include in your question also you have never voted once for an earmark.

No, it's a principle that I deal with, because if the government takes money from you and you fill out your tax form, you take your deductions. I look at that the same way in our communities. They take our money, they take our highway funds and we have every right to apply for them to come back.

As a matter of fact, it's a bigger principle for me than that. I think this whole thing is out of control on the earmarks, because I think the congress has an obligation to earmark every penny, not to deliver that power to the executive branch. What happens when you don't vote for the earmarks it goes in to the slush fund, the executive branch spends the money then you have to grovel to the executive branch and beg and plead and say oh, please return my highway funds to me.

So if this whole principle of budgeting that is messed up, but I never vote, I never voted for an earmark. But I do argue the case for my -- the people I represent to try to get their money back if at all possible....

[Intervening question, "isn't that the same thing of having your cake and eating it too..."]

Yes, but you're missing the point. I don't complain about earmarks, because it is the principle of the Congress meeting their obligation. But if everybody did what I did, there would be no earmarks. The budget would be balanced and we'd be cutting about 80 percent of the spending. So that would be the solution.

So Rep Paul doesn't vote for the earmarks he requests, and believes that if everybody followed his example and requested earmarks but didn't vote for them, the budget would be cut and "there would be no earmarks" -- which he apparently believes would be bad, since "congress has an obligation to earmark every penny". Huh?

If a John Kerry or a Joseph Biden offered such a bumbling explanation of their position on a piece of legislation, they would be rightly excoriated for wanting to create an image for voters that did not portray accurately the reality of their governing decisions, and there's no reason that Rep. Paul deserves any special exemption here. A Ron Paul presidency would not bring the United States governance by a "philosophically consistent libertarian" or even its illusion, because a President Paul would not have the luxury of being able to cast symbolic libertarian-sympathy votes against legislation that he supports for non-libertarian reasons. There is no voting "present" when you are President of the United States.

Ron Paul's problem is not that he subscribes to some libertarian ideas, or that there's a media conspiracy against libertarianism. His problem is and has always been the poor choices of compromises and alliances he makes with with non-libertarian and non limited-government quarters, which he (and his followers) want to pretend don't exist. Two examples -- that don't even bring us to the issue of the newsletters -- are his belief (acted upon in the earmark example above) in getting yours from government if you are in a position to do so while minimizing public accountability, and his belief that "world law" might not have allowed him to order the Osama Bin Laden raid, an idea which has nothing to do with libertarianism or limited government. These kinds of choices have justifiably placed Ron Paul on the fringe of what most GOP voters are willing to consider.

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He's guilty of poorly explaining the principle, but the principle itself is valid.

Paul doesn't like earmarks so he votes against bills loaded with them and the overall framework whenever possible. But he recognizes that, regardless of his vote either way, many of these bills will pass and the money from his district will simply be redistributed to another district if he doesn't throw in his own earmarks.

It's actually quite logical. I run into the same thing when people tell me I'm a hypocrite for accepting U.S. mail or various other things. Yes, I would *like* to see the U.S. Postal Service abolished, but as long as I am paying for it anyway, I might as well get some of my money's worth out of it instead of getting no return.

Posted by: Dan at December 28, 2011 11:48 AM

Put more simply:

1. Ron Paul's first choice is for his constituents to get all of their tax dollars back instead of being used for earmarks, so he votes against specific earmarks and the overall earmark system whenever possible.

2. Ron Paul's second choice, in the event of earmarks, is for his constituents to get some proportional fraction of their tax dollars back in the form of public works and services rather than the money simply being taken from them and handed to somebody else, so he submits his own proportional earmarks to cover that (most likely) scenario.

The most rational and principled way to go about achieving his first and second choices, in that order, is to do exactly what he is doing. It's not objectively hypocrisy. You can accuse him of not going far enough and suggest that he martyr his constituents' tax dollars to make a point, but that's more of a question of tactics than philosophy. I personally don't feel I have to live in the woods, hunt for food, and become a hermit to be a principled advocate against big government.

Posted by: Dan at December 28, 2011 1:24 PM


Your first point above may be your view, but it's not Ron Paul's, who does not oppose earmarks in principle. He thinks (sometimes) the entire budget should be "earmarked", and it is objectively hypocritical for him to claim that not voting for earmarks is an act of significance, when he has made sure his personal earmarks are inserted in a bill that is likely to be passed. That places him squarely in John Kerry I-was-against-them-after-I-was-for-them territory.

If a someone with David Cicilline's record or, one level down in government, Dominick Ruggerio's record were to brag about how he grabbed some tax money for his district, without having to record a vote in favor of it, that wouldn't be viewed as a positive thing. Likewise, Ron Paul deserves no special pass for wanting to create a public record that's different from his acts or his beliefs, that other spend-first/worry-about-the-justification-later pols wouldn't get.

Beware of the trap of believing that libertarianism is whatever Ron Paul says it is. There are a lot of other influences that he mixes with some libertarian principles.

Posted by: Andrew at December 28, 2011 2:45 PM


I admit that I was not 100% familiar with Ron Paul's stance on earmarks. This was mainly because, consistent with your advice, I don't equate Ron Paul with libertarianism or base my own views on what Ron Paul believes. Regardless, I should have researched the issue more beforehand. I did find this video which explains his view on them nicely:

I think what he says in the video makes a lot of sense and I agree with it. I suspect you might as well. Of course Congress maintaining spending authority and specifying how funds are to be used is a good thing in and of itself.

After watching the video and reviewing your original comments, I am still inclined to give Ron Paul the benefit of the doubt. As he points out in the video, technically, earmarks don't add any expenditures by themselves, but we both know that funding is often added with the idea of earmarking the funds for questionable member projects. I think this is what most people in America mean when they criticize "wasteful earmarks" and what Ron Paul means in his advertisements and remarks to mass audiences. The fact that he supports them as a concept for transparency reasons is more academic and confuses the point he is trying to get out - maybe he should do a better job of explaining that distinction and why it is consistent. In any case, earmarks are 1% of the budget total, and Ron Paul certainly wants to cut more overall than Romney or Gingrich.

I do still disagree on the following:
- As I expressed earlier, reclaiming money in the form of services is not necessarily libertarian hypocrisy, and could actually be considered consistency. Ron Paul has expressed this principle himself, as in this video:

-In your final paragraph, you seem to conflate the hypocrisy issue with the flip-flopping issue, or at least pile one on top of the other. I think it's necessary to separate and evaluate these issues separately, even if they both touch on the earmarks subject.

- The issues you bring up are not the main reasons why Ron Paul hasn't enjoyed mainstream support. They aren't even on the radar. It's much more simple than that - most people are not libertarian. Most people support either an extremely aggressive foreign policy or some form of a welfare state, both of which Ron Paul is against. There are also certain things that virtually all educated people in this country know are true but you simply don't say because they are offensive (e.g., the United States didn't enter WW2 to stop the Holocaust). Instead of dodging questions like Romney et al, Ron Paul answers them honestly and creates the offensive soundbytes that sway the stupider portions of the population. This will continue to be a problem for his candidacy.

Posted by: Dan at December 28, 2011 3:47 PM

Ron Paul believes the entire budget should be earmarked, yet he claims that he's superior to other candidates because he never votes for earmarks. How does he expect to advance his ideas on earmarking, when he's constantly undermining their legitimacy in public? The problem for his foreign policy is the same. He says he's for individual liberty, yet far beyond not supporting a so-called aggressive foreign policy, Paul believes it's wrong to speak any official word about increasing the liberty of the individual in country's where it's severely restricted.

How do you explain someone who makes a point of taking high-profile stands against what he says he believes in? There are two obvious possibilties. He might believe that history marches on, whether or not people taking a conscious role in advocating for positive change (i.e., a non-libertarian, paleoconservative thinking in foreign policy), or he might be most interested in picking the biggest moments to take symbolic stands that say "look how different I am" to the world than anything else. The 2nd, I believe, plays a bigger part in Ron Paul's positions than most of his followers recognize -- how else do you explain someone who has made a career out of claiming to be a consistent Constitutionalist suddenly deciding that "world law" was the most important consideration in the OBL raid. Where exactly is America's subservience to "world law" in the US Constitution, and what libertarian goes to "world law" for an explanation of anything?

Ron Paul has fringy poll numbers, because he behaves in this fringy manner.

Posted by: Andrew at December 29, 2011 9:37 AM

This time I will be more careful in my response: I am not exactly sure what Ron Paul meant by "World Law" in that instance, but I have watched enough of his videos and read enough of his writings to make an educated guess. These issues are all about sovereignty to him - individual sovereignty, state sovereignty, and national sovereignty. When he talks about violating "World Law" or something to that effect, he is probably using it as a shorthand for violating the sovereignty of foreign countries. I'm fairly certain, based on everything I know about him and his writings, that he doesn't subscribe to some body of law dictated by the UN or the Hague or some such thing - he would reject that as a violation of our own sovereignty as a nation. So he is likely using the term in a different way than progressive/one-world type people use it. If I am mistaken, and he is actually advocating for such principles, then I certainly won't agree with him there, but I haven't seen any evidence that he is.

I'm not involved in his campaign, and my intention is not to be an apologist, but again, I think he is guilty of poorly explaining himself and not being sufficiently careful about the soundbytes he creates more than any sort of hypocrisy or violation of limited government principles. As you saw yourself, he did initially confuse me about his earmarks position, so if your criticism is that he doesn't always get out a clear and consistent message, I agree with you there.

Posted by: Dan at December 29, 2011 11:15 AM
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