Friday, November 23, 2007

Why I Quit the rEVOLution

Most of the comments I got in response to my tirade (here, here, and here) against Ron Paul's Thanksgiving Eve appearance with Alex Jones were the usual Rockwell Brigade incoherent rants. However, one or two made some valid points, which I want to respond to.

Specifically, I wanted to respond to this comment:

Ron Paul needs media exposure. If someone is going to give it to him, he'll take
it. He's not going to tell Fox News, "no thank you, I don't support your views
in the war in Iraq." And why should he?It's a free country and people can express their opinion. They shouldn't be punished for it. (Don't say that or I won't appear on your show!)Alex Jones loves Ron Paul. Why shouldn't he? Ron Paul has explicitly told Alex Jones he doesn't agree with his 9/11 conspiracy theory. He did this on the air in one of his earlier interviews with him. There, end of story.Do you want to live in a world where we can't associate with people because of what's been said about them?What exactly is the ethical principle here that you feel is at stake?

In response, I said this:

This is less a matter of ethics as it is a matter of what I am willing to have people associate with me. I will not publicly support someone who panders to the 9/11 Truth movement. Other people are free to choose if they are willing to do so. However, I think his pandering to the 9/11 Truthers/conspiracy theorists/anti-Semites has a net negative effect on me, because:

1. It will severely limit his appeal to mainstream voters, thus keeping his support on the fringes of society (and therefore not doing much to advance the cause of liberty); which would be acceptable except for

2. The fact that it will result in mainstream voters associating libertarianism with conspiracy theories/9/11 Truth/anti-semitism.

As a libertarian, I refuse to support a movement that I believe will have a net negative effect on my beliefs (the advancement of liberty) and well-being.

Put another way: this isn't an issue of Congressman Paul's ethics, in my opinion. It's much, much more an issue of whether Paul is running his campaign in such a way as to advance the cause of liberty (to which I subscribe) in this country. Certainly, if he were to be elected, I think he would do quite a bit of good (although a number of people have correctly pointed out that his states' rights emphasis could decrease liberty in a number of places thanks to issues of racism). But by pandering to this particular tiny group of people, he is eliminating whatever small chance he had of winning (or significantly impacting) the nomination or, for that matter, the Presidency. That means that his campaign will, in the end, lead to little or no net increase in libertarian policy in this country.

A lack of impact on policy would still be acceptable in my view, if his campaign improved attitudes towards libertarianism in this country. This is where pandering to Alex Jones' audience will have the worst effect. Like it or not, conspiracy theorists like Jones are on the fringe in this country. The second the average person thinks you are a conspiracy theorist, they will immediately stop listening to anything you have to say (IMHO, with good reason- conspiracy theories are often a sign of true intellectual laziness). Well, whether or not Paul is himself a conspiracy theorist, his close, continuing, and public relationship with Jones will brand him as a conspiracy theorist in the minds of voters. Worse, though, it will brand (rightly or wrongly) any of his followers as Jones-style conspiracy theorists and anti-Semites. And make no mistake about it: from what I heard on the air the other night, Jones is an outright anti-Semite.

If and when that happens, it will be even more difficult than it already is for libertarians to "get their foot in the door" when it comes to political argumentation in this country.

If Paul were at some point to make an explicit and, as importantly, public refutation of everything that Jones stands for, then the equation for me would change significantly. But until that time, I can no longer support him, and will argue that his campaign will have a net negative effect on libertarianism in this country.