Sunday, January 13, 2008

Ron Paul and the Decreased Influence of Libertarians

A comment I left in a thread at the Liberty Papers:

I just wanted to address the argument that other (anti-freedom) politicians get away with incompetence, lies, and scandals, so therefore we should still support Ron Paul. This is at least a coherent argument, which I partially addressed here.

But I want to elaborate a little bit more. Paul is either a protest vote or a vehicle to advance the libertarian philosophy (although I think his affiliation with paleoconservatism undermines this substantially to begin with). The above-referenced post addresses the protest vote issue sufficiently for me, at least - though others will differ.

On the issue of advancing the philosophy as a whole, I think any further support he gets is counterproductive, as it will only attract people to the Rockwellian brand of libertarianism that is much closer to Pat Buchanan’s paleoconservatism than to libertarianism. More importantly, though, Paul has - for better or worse - become the face of libertarianism in this country. If he is to continue in that role and if he has no actual chance of winning, libertarians should hold him to a higher standard. This is especially true where the scandal is one that ties (fairly or not) Paul’s ideology to blatant racism.

When a politician is running primarily to advance an ideology with which the majority of people are unfamiliar, that politician will symbolize the ideology to those people for all time. This means that libertarians may only get one crack at this- ever. If the candidate that gets that crack is perceived as a racist or (equally bad) accepting of racism as a legitimate philosophy, he will tarnish the ideology for a very long time. Yes, he may still gain new adherents to the philosophy- but he will turn off far more people from even allowing adherents into the door in the first place.

People don’t have to be libertarian to be persuaded by libertarian policy arguments- but they do have to have at least a positive or neutral impression of the people making those arguments in the first place. The more that Ron Paul remains the face of libertarianism, the more negative the view of libertarians will become, and the less impact libertarians can have on a national, state, or local scale.