Monday, December 10, 2007

Horwitz on the Paul Campaign

I'm extremely late posting about this, but I've been following Professor Steven Horwitz's series of posts explaining his skepticism of the Paul campaign with great interest. In reading this series of posts, I've found myself frequently nodding in deep-seated agreement with the whole of his commentary. I am probably more willing than Horwitz to actually vote for Paul come primary time, but Horwitz explains far better than I ever could why the Paul campaign may not necessarily be good for libertarianism in the long run. Not surprisingly these days, Horwitz's series of posts have ignited a firestorm of sorts, largely with those who believe (in practice, at least) that the Paul campaign should be above criticism.

The first post in the series is here., the second here, and the third and final post here.

Some of the most significant quotes from the final post (which I think is the clearest):

[W]hen the Paul campaign, for all of its other libertarian strengths, takes up an immigration position that strikes me as both unlibertarian (in its implicit call for stronger state enforcement – see Sheldon Richman’s earlier post) and as against the cosmopolitan spirit of the liberalism that animated Mises, Hayek and others, and takes up other positions that are couched in ways that appeal to nationalism and nativism, I simply find myself very uncomfortable supporting it. I think on a few substantive positions, the Paul campaign is not libertarian and I also think in the way it has presented itself, it appeals to a constituency that does not share the cosmopolitan outlook that is, and has been, part of the libertarianism that I wish to be associated with.

In some ways, this also explains my discomfort with the appeal to the conspiracy theorists, particularly on the North American Union/NAFTA superhighway points. The discomfort isn't whether such "conspiracies" exist; the problem is that appeals based on such "conspiracies" imply an inherent nativism and nationalism that is to my mind quite un-libertarian. Libertarians should not buy into American exceptionalism in the sense that the US, as currently defined, is perfect or would only be made worse by associating more closely with other nations. Libertarians are fundamentally individualists; an emphasis on protecting the sovereignty of the US and its state governments is inherently collectivist. Libertarians should care little or nothing about the sovereignty of the US, and instead should be concerned first and foremost about their sovereignty as individuals.

More from Horwitz:

What I do blame Paul for is running a campaign that takes positions and discusses issues in ways that allow, if not encourage, such groups to believe he is worthy of their support. I wish he were running a campaign that left much less doubt that such groups could see him as an agent of their goals. And I wish he would clearly, forcefully, and publicly distance himself from them because I believe, as Sudha Shenoy put it in an earlier comment on the second post, they have "anti-libertarian aims." One need not be a racist to take up positions or frame issues in ways that would appeal to racists.

And finally:

[W]e should aspire, as a movement, to do as much as we can to articulate our positions (and, in some cases, adopt substantive positions consistent with liberty) in ways that minimize their possible appeal to racists, anti-semites, nativists, etc.. Ron Paul is hardly the only libertarian who could do better on this score.

In essence, the problem with the Paul campaign is not just its un-libertarian positions on things like immigration. It is as much or more that the Paul campaign has couched its positions in terms that seem designed to appeal more to racists and conspiracy theorists than to traditional libertarian values; the support of such groups is thus not accidental, but carefully sought after. Indeed, I have seen a number of such individuals credit Paul's affiliation with Alex Jones for much of his campaign's fundraising success, at least in the early going.

Perhaps some will say that in doing so, Paul is at least bringing in people who are not traditional libertarians into the libertarian tent. While this may be so, seeking out such groups limits the ability of the libertarian tent to expand into more mainstream groups with whom libertarians probably have more common ground. Indeed, it is absolutely worth pointing out that, despite Paul's fundraising successes and positive publicity in recent weeks and months, his national support has only managed to bump up by a couple of points in the polls (including in the early primary states). Meanwhile, his name recognition in the early primary states has gotten up to around 90%, yet his favorable/unfavorable ratings are extremely poor, with far more primary voters viewing him negatively than positively. This suggests one of two things:

1. His close association with fringe groups like conspiracy theorists and white supremacist groups has substantially turned voters off to his campaign; or
2. His message is one that people just don't want to hear.

Given that his main issue is the Iraq war and that polls show a majority of Republicans in the state of Iowa, for instance, are opposed to the war, I'd say the most likely reason for his high negative ratings is 1, rather than 2.