by Sean Haugh
I’ve been following the Ron Paul campaign with great interest and yes, not a little bit of sheer excitement. I cheer every time I see him on TV, and it sure is nice to see the word “libertarian” used with much greater frequency in news outlets like CNN and the Washington Post.
Honestly though, when I consider the effect this campaign has on the Libertarian Party and the libertarian movement as a whole, so far all it has to offer is this excitement. Meanwhile I have witnessed how it has already caused us some real damage. What’s worse, in the blind rush to support this Champion of Liberty, I see little so far to indicate we will we better off when this campaign has run its course.
Now I love Ron Paul a whole lot. In all the debate among Libertarians about him, the only real reason offered not to love him is that he is a Republican. It’s sad that the existence of parties muddles up everything, but that doesn’t change the fact that parties dominate American politics. The mere fact that we formed as a political party ourselves shows we acknowledge this basic fact.
So sure, let’s be excited about Ron Paul, and let’s help him spread the good news of Liberty. But let’s be smart about it folks. With all the glorious promise of the Ron Paul campaign, we need to ask ourselves, what are the actual results?
On the positive side, Ron Paul has enjoyed some significant success using the big podium of a Presidential campaign to promote the ideas of Constitutional government and all those wonderful libertarian ideas that come along with it. This simply is an extension of what he was doing in Congress all these years, and it really is thrilling to see that stuff he’s been saying all this time finally get some play in the major media. I personally have witnessed many examples of people in the unlikeliest of places, such as fantasy football message boards, spontaneously arise and start talking up Ron Paul. There really are a lot of folks who weren’t interested in politics before who are activated now because they finally heard a Republican get up and talk some sense.
That’s it really for the positives. In them I see a whole wide world of opportunity, but so far that’s all it is, opportunity. Seriously, can anyone cite to me an example of person who has joined the Libertarian Party because of Ron Paul’s campaign? Are our affiliates fielding new inquiries generated by it? I don’t know of any.
Do we have a real plan of any kind to reach these people and get them in the party? If so, I’d love to hear it. Becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of the Ron Paul campaign really doesn’t strike me as much of a plan.
The positives only go so far. I am telling you now, my dogs have as much of a chance being elected the next President as Ron Paul. For all of the publicity Ron Paul has received, this has not translated into any public support whatsoever according to the polls. None. The most recent Rasmussen poll (an outfit historically very sympathetic to libertarians, mind you) shows Paul still languishes among the five last place Republican candidates sharing 3% support. Any talk of what Ron Paul could do as President is utterly irrelevant because it simply will not happen.
Everybody feels great about how Ron Paul stuck it to Rudy Giuliani on the lessons of 9/11 in the South Carolina debate. But did you hear the audience reaction? They loved Rudy! Yes, a downright stupid sack of lies came out of Giuliani’s mouth in response, yet the audience still ate it up. You think *Republican primary voters* are going to make Ron Paul their candidate? Please, don’t be a fool.
Meanwhile, the real negatives are starting to pile up. Fundraising for libertarian causes has taken a massive hit. Groups which kept diversified sources of fundraising, like the national LP, are surviving, but those who went solely to internet fundraising, such as Downsize DC, have seen their income approach zero in the last 2-3 months. If you go look at the FEC reports for Paul, you would find quite a number of names of regular big donors for the party and libertarian causes. The rising tide of support for Ron Paul could very well wipe out several small but important libertarian efforts.
I see a whole lot of Libertarians putting their energy into Ron Paul while we have a party of our own to build. I would feel better about this if I saw any flow of energy in the other direction. Where is the new blood for the LP?
And that’s where the one reason not to love Ron Paul becomes significant. It is still a Republican campaign. As much as he is cast as a party outsider, his mere existence gives people the false hope that the Republican Party can be a vehicle for restoring Liberty. We can’t allow that destructive illusion to tear us apart any longer. The very first thing I would like to stop is Ron Paul as an excuse for Libertarians to be at odds with each other. That’s why I’m not terribly judgmental about people who want to support him. But I still expect Libertarian Ron Paul supporters to show me what his campaign does for me, really, and I haven’t heard too many good answers yet.
Even the one good answer is limited. Sure, everyone can lovingly cite how Ron Paul always voted against the war and voted against the Patriot Act, and yes that is beautiful stuff. Yet while using his Congressional office as a platform to promote Liberty, can anyone name one piece of legislation that Ron Paul actually got passed? Not just to help restore Liberty, on any subject at all?? No matter how big he gets, he’s still just a voice in the wilderness crying out “no!” God bless him for it, but he’s proven one vote doesn’t get you too far in Congress.
The one and only thing Ron Paul does for me is that he has put the notion of Constitutional government back into the debate at the highest level. Don’t get me wrong, I do not wish to dismiss the significance of this. This is big stuff.
But what are we doing about it? How are we preparing for the day when Ron Paul has to withdraw from the Presidential race, which is no later than next spring? Will we come out the other side of that stronger, with his supporters looking for a new political home and finding us? Or will they stay within the Republican Party and look there for a new limited government savior? Or worse, will they just go home burnt out and twice as jaded as before?
Consider also, how many of our own people who have followed Ron Paul’s Pied Piper will do the same, stay Republican or give up in disgust?
So far I don’t see much of anything that shows me the first option will win out over the other two. It won’t happen on its own. We have to make it happen.
So yes, I am very interested in supporting the Ron Paul campaign, but not because I expect he might could actually become President. I just want to steal his mojo. Show me how your support of Ron Paul is going to take all that newly activated libertarian sentiment among the people and bring it where it all belongs, in the Libertarian Party, and you will have my full support. Until then, I have a job to do for my own party.
Sean Haugh is assistant editor for Liberty For All. Sean is married to longtime Libertarian Pam Adams, and they have a family of three dogs and five cats. Besides them, Sean loves God, Liberty, and Oklahoma Sooners football. Write to Sean at email@example.com.