Cathy Young On The Ron Paul Phenomenon

Reason Magazine’s Cathy Young has a column in the Boston Globe about Ron Paul, and his interesting coalition of supporters:

What, then, is Ron Paul all about? While his views are decidedly unorthodox for today’s Republican Party, they represent a venerable, oft-forgotten Republican tradition of small government at home and noninterventionism abroad. In some ways, he is an heir to Barry Goldwater, the Arizona Republican who ran for president in 1964. Paul, a 72-year-old physician, first ran for president in 1988 on the Libertarian Party ticket. Then, he decided to work from within the GOP. He won a House seat as a Republican in 1996, over strong opposition from the establishment.

On the campaign trail, Paul articulates a philosophy that recalls the famous dictum often attributed to Henry David Thoreau: “That government is best which governs least.” “I want to be president mainly for what I don’t want to do: I don’t want to run your life, I don’t want to run the economy, and I don’t want to police the world,” he told a potential supporter at the Strafford County straw poll. He wants to abolish the Federal Reserve and the income tax, to end the war in Iraq and the war on drugs, to dismantle the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Education.


Paul’s followers are a veritable rainbow coalition drawn from across the political spectrum. The most striking image from his campaign – the slogan “Revolution” with the letters “EVOL” reversed to spell “love” backward – is, to use a 1960s metaphor, more Beatles than Barry Goldwater. (The creator of this slogan, Arizona libertarian Ernie Hancock, explains in an online article that the “love” refers to love of liberty, but concedes that the visual was chosen mainly for its emotional impact.)

In a sense, Paul is the Ralph Nader of the right, attracting people who are deeply alienated by conventional politics. Inevitably, he attracts people from the lunatic fringe, such as Sept. 11 conspiracy theorists who believe the US government engineered the attacks. But it would be unfair to paint Paul as the candidate of crackpots. His message resonates with many people who don’t fit into conventional categories of left and right.

But can this type of coalition be crafted into something that can win elections ? Much like the coalitions that rallied around Ralph Nader and Howard Dean, Young doesn’t think so:

In its pure form, Paul’s libertarianism is not politically viable. Polls have shown that, at most, about 10 percent of Americans are in favor of reducing the scope of government, and domestic government services, to a minimum. Paul’s case for noninterventionism abroad is problematic as well. He has contrasted our entanglements in Third World countries that cannot pose a military threat to the United States with the fact that “we stood up to the Soviets [who] had 40,000 nuclear weapons.” But American foreign policy in the Cold War was an interventionist one, requiring massive and expensive commitments from the federal government. And there is a strong argument that, in today’s globalized world, totalitarian movements rooted in religious extremism would inevitably threaten US interests and safety if left unchecked by American power.

Is she right ? In some sense yes.

We are far too gone for it realistic to think that the IRS, most of the Federal bureaucracy, and the Federal Reserve can be realistically abolished with the stroke of a pen. And, the idea that isolationism can be a viable foreign policy for the United States today is, at best, naive. Given the choice between Ron Paul’s freedom, Hillary Clinton’s Nanny State, or Rudy Giuliani’s Surveillance State, I think far too many Americans would make the choice for safety over freedom.

But we’re not too far gone if candidates like Ron Paul, if there are others out there, can start talking about the ideas of liberty and actually find a receptive audience for it.

  • Michael Wagner

    I have two reactions to this post.
    First with regard to foreign policy, Ron Paul is absolutely correct that our constant intervention is the greatest threat to our liberty. People do not fly airplanes into buildings or strap bombs to their chests unless they are motivated by political, not religious reasons.
    We do not need to fear any possible “religious fundamentalist” regimes any more than we feared the Soviet regime. Like socialism, a regime based on a single religious ideology is inherently unstable and will not stand. The main force which drives the radicalization of the the Muslim world is US intervention. Absent out interference, more moderate Muslims, who out number the radicals, would prevail and we would have nothing to fear from such regimes.
    My second comment has to do with Ron Paul’s ability to remove the IRS and the Fed “by the stroke of a pen.” Certainly the President cannot do this without Congressional support. But Ron Paul is a great teacher. From the “bully pulpit” of the Oval Office, he will teach the American people why these agencies must be dismantled. Once the people understand, Congress will follow. Also, Ron Paul can veto bills that support any agencies he thinks need to go. Any bill which allocates money for these agencies can be vetoed. The veto message can be another opportunity for Ron Paul the educator to do his thing.
    In addition, Ron Paul will have the power of appointment. He can appoint people who support his agenda to head the various agencies he wants to eliminate. He can also allow positions to remain vacant if he chooses. Some agencies can simply be allowed to “die on the vine.”
    A Ron Paul Presidency will not bring utopia overnight; it will simply be the beginning of a long and difficult road back to Liberty.

  • UCrawford

    I think there’s an audience for libertarianism. It’s usually just a matter of finding common ground and illustrating the problems of big government in terms or through examples that the average person will understand. Most people simply don’t think about the consequences of big government because a lot of those consequences are hidden or counterintuitive, but when people recognize the issue they’ll generally take the side that less is more (although there are some exceptions, but I think that they represent a minority).

    Actually, Reason’s print edition this month had a great article called “4 Boneheaded Mistakes That Stupid Voters Make* (And We’re All Stupid Voters)”, and I thought it did a great job of illustrating the unfounded prejudices and common ignorance of basic economics that many voters have. Neither of those problems is unsolveable.

  • Robert Standard

    You fail to mention Fred Thompson. Maybe it won’t be Giuliani but rather Fred as the GOP nominee. I don’t think Thompson is in favor of spying on American citizens.

    And I’m a Thompson guy, but I don’t think Rudy Giuliani is either. That was a cheap shot at him. Giuliani looks to be libertarian-leaning, at least. Maybe not quite like Fred Thompson, but in the ballpark.

    I think Thompson’s now all-but-certain Presidential run represents a great challenge to partisan Libertarians and especially Ron Paul fanatics.

    How is it that they are going to explain their non-support for Fred Thompson as the GOP nominee, when the guy leans so heavily libertarian?

  • Eric

    Robert, Giuliani leans to the free market but believes very strongly in the use of the state’s police power. His time as mayor of NYC and the many, many statements he has made since then make that clear. That’s not “libertarian leaning”.

    Michael, you make it sound so simple, but the real world is not the black and white of the NeoCons OR the PaleoCons. It sounds wonderful to say that religious ideologies would fall apart without US intervention, but there is little evidence that is the case. They would likely be able to maintain their existence, repress their people and even attack others even if the US took its toys and went home. We simply wouldn’t stir up as much resentment and anger.

  • somebody

    Again, there is a difference between isolationism and non-interventionism.

  • Chris Kachouroff

    I am reminded of the story where Gen. Washington returns to Mt. Vernon. His cousin excitedly tells the General how they warded off the British and saved Mt. Vernon from being burned. Washington tells him he did the wrong thing an he should have let the British burn it. For now, says the General, the people will protect their property instead of their liberty. It is a dangerous precedent.

    I think Doug hit it right on the the head, Americans would rather protect their property than their liberty at this point. Ron Paul is a long shot but long shots do surprise us once in a great while. (See Ross Perot). If you like what he says, then why not try and campaign for him?

    On another note, I’d love to ask him, “Congressman Paul, I understand the part about abolishing the income tax but not the IRS. After all, who will collect the legitimate federal taxes?”

  • Doug Mataconis


    It’s not just protection of property that is motivating some peoples’ apparent disinterest in liberty right now; whether they are right or wrong (and, to a large degree I think they are wrong, most people are more likely to die in a car crash than a terrorist attack on American soil), many people consider their personal safety to be at risk.

    The worst thing that could happen for liberty would be another 9/11 like attack, or worse. And, the valiant efforts of the TSA to protect us from little old ladies notwithstanding, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see something happen again, even though I hope that it won’t.

    The Bill of Rights is unlikely to survive the detonation of a nuclear bomb in an American city.

    I don’t know what the solution is,other than to destroy the terrorists ability to attack us here (a more likely goal, I think, than destroying the terrorists entirely).

  • Robert Standard

    Eric, it’s funny you say Giuliani is libertarian on economic issues. I was actually thinking more along the lines that he was libertarian on social issues, pro-choice, gay rights, anti-nanny state, ect…

    On foreign policy, yes, he’s tough on Islamic terrorism. But one could make the argument that a tough stance against terrorism is actually more libertarian.

    Like I said, I like Fred. But Giuliani is my second choice. And the more I look at him, the more I like.

  • Kaligula

    10% might actually be a bit high in terms of the pure minarchist libertarian vote, but, overall, Americans are generally more libertarian overall than given credit for, even if most americans don’t use that term to describe themselves. The proof of this is the Rassmussen poll taken in 2000 that asked a series of questions and then classified/ranked the ideological spectrum based on the answers.

    32% of American voters are centrists; 16% are libertarians; 14% are authoritarians; 13% liberal; 7% are conservative; and 17% border one or more categories.

    The more interesting thing about that poll is that asked to self-describe themselves, only 2% described themselves as libertarian and a whopping 39% described themselves as conservatives.

    Of course, now in 2007, the one thing to note is that the percentage of people self-describing themselves as conservative has dropped precipitously.

    Here were the 10 questions asked and the percentage responses to each question.

    Personal Freedom
    1. Military service should be voluntary. There should be no draft.
    59% Agree
    31% Disagree
    11% Not sure
    2. Government should not control radio, TV, the press, or the Internet.
    65% Agree
    22% Disagree
    13% Not sure
    3. We should repeal regulations on sex for consenting adults.
    35% Agree
    26% Disagree
    39% Not sure
    4. Drug laws do more harm than good. Repeal them.
    28% Agree
    44% Disagree
    27% Not sure
    5. People should be free to come and go across borders; to live and work where they choose.
    28% Agree
    65% Disagree
    7% Not sure

    Economic Freedom
    6. Businesses and farms should operate without government subsidies.
    42% agree
    43% disagree
    15% not sure
    7. People are better off with free trade than with tariffs.
    50% agree
    24% disagree
    27% not sure
    8. Minimum wage laws cause unemployment. Repeal them.
    27% agree
    57% disagree
    16% not sure
    9. We should end taxes. Pay for services with user fees.
    36% Agree
    46% Disagree
    18% Not sure
    10. All foreign aid should be privately funded.
    30% Agree
    42% Disagree
    28% Not sure

    You can’t look at those numbers and tell me there isn’t a “libertarian coalition” that isn’t out there. Indeed, if wasn’t for the electoral college system, which re-inforces a 2 party monopoly system, we would probably have 4 roughly equal political parties:

    1) Conservative
    2) Liberal
    3) Libertarian
    4) Populist

  • Jeff Molby

    Indeed, if wasn’t for the electoral college system, which re-inforces a 2 party monopoly system, we would probably have 4 roughly equal political parties

    The EC is a secondary problem. Yes, the spoiler effect is present in the EC, but we’re not even getting to that point.

    First we need to remove the spoiler effect from the popular election. You do this by switching to any number of different voting methods. Check out wikipedia for more info. Approval Voting, Range Voting, and many others. Any of which would be better than plurality.

    By the time we do that, everyone will see the value of reforming the EC, so it will be a cakewalk.

  • Larry

    I swallowed the GOP koolaid over 35 years ago and have been voting republican ever since. Our country is sick and I don’t blame it on the democrats because there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties. Both have sold me out. If we don’t put a stop to it now, we may never get another chance. Ron Paul is truly speaking for me. I’m not 100% in favor of everything he says, but I’m 100% sure that he’s the only candidate running (either party) that can slow down this liberty robbing bureaucracy that’s eating the very substance out of my country. We either want freedom or not. I say yes to freedom and yes to Ron Paul. No more blind republicanism for me.

  • rob

    I fail to see how any self-respecting libertarian could vote for Rudy Giuliani or Fred Thompson. In the first place, I’ve never heard either of them utter any statement that was remotely libertarian. But even if they were libertarian on domestic issues, they are the hawkiest of hawks on foreign policy. Giuliani has named neo-con in chief, emeritus, Norman Podhoretz as one of his leading foreign policy advisers and recently published a childish, but typically neo-con, foreign policy assessment in Foreign Affairs magazine. Thompson is a fellow at the ultra neo-con American Enterprise Institute.

    This foreign policy approach is entirely too dangerous to be allowed to continue. I would rather vote for a socialist like Dennis Kucinich than help a Guiliani or a Thompson continue the foreign policy madness of the Bush Administration.

  • rob

    Why all these constant comparisons between Ron Paul and Barry Goldwater? I’ll admit that Goldwater was libertarian on a large range of domestic issues, but his foreign policy was straight out of the neo-con playbook.

    A non-interventionist he was not. He campaigned in 1964 as an advocate of an “aggressive” foreign policy. He suggested the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Vietnam. He enthusiastically endorsed Johnson’s intervention in Vietnam early on and never changed his position.

    He was a Brigadier General in the Air Force Reserve, a member of the Armed Services Committee, and a strong supporter of the military.

    Ron Paul compares much better with former Senate Republican Leader Robert Taft of Ohio. Taft was a staunch anti-interventionist who opposed NATO and opposed selling arms to nations not threatened with attack. He criticized Truman for exaggerating the Soviet threat in order to retain WW II era controls on the economy and on society.

    He was not as ideological as Ron Paul and actually sponsored a public housing bill. But for the most part he was staunchly opposed to the expansion of government and warned especially of the emergence of a “garrison state.”

  • Kaligula


    Don’t lump in Goldwater with the Neoconservative foreign policy. It’s not accurate. Neoconservatism inherits from the liberal progressive view of imperial american power. Goldwwater was a virulent anti-communist(a position, frankly not that unreasonable to hold at the height of the cold war back in 64) but in no way iherited from the woodrow wilson tradition. Goldwater wanted to defeat the communists and then scale back down to a constitutional republic.

    Contrast that with the Neocons who whined incessantly during the 90s about decadent american materialism and the relative military drawdown and advocated global american military hegemony, especially in the middle east. The Neocons view a purely constitutional american republic as an anathema.

  • Kaligula


    I agree with your assessment of Giuliani and Thompson. Giuliani holds traditional democratic positions on abortion, gay rights, and guns, not libertarian views. And Norman Podhoretz is a lunatic. Anyone who puts that nutjob on the payroll should be automatically disqualified from any consideration.

  • dp

    I find it a bit curious that a blog called the “liberty Papers’ continually posts articles that attempt to discourage people from supporting the only presidential candidate who touts a liberty message.

  • Jeff Molby

    I find it a bit curious that a blog called the “liberty Papers’ continually posts articles that attempt to discourage people from supporting the only presidential candidate who touts a liberty message.

    If you keep watching, you’ll pick up on the pattern: Doug Mataconis.

    He “supports” Ron Paul and “will vote for him if he’s still on the ballot”, yet he takes every opportunity to marginalize him.

  • Tannim

    Kaligula, that Rasmussen poll was the Advocates for Self-Government’s quiz, aka in Libertarian Circles as the Nolan Quiz (named for LP founder David Nolan). We use it a lot in outreach activities.

    However, it is flawed in the premise that there is a difference between “centrists” and libertarians. There isn’t. Libertarianism *IS* the political center and always has been so. The MSM dinosaurs tend to label libertarians as far right for our economic positions, while ignoring the social positions. Call us libertarians, moderates, blue dog Democrats, or whatever the GOP calls us these days (usually preceded by a @#$%^&!), but we are and always have been there, the silent 60% majority in the center. The trick has always been convncing the mass in the middle of that.

    As for Guiliani, his pro-censorship position disqualifies him not only from being anything resembling a libertarian, but also President. If he doesn’t understand the fundamental priniciples of Freedom of the Soul that the First Amendment embodies in its entirety, then how can we expect him to be fit to be President and uphold that very foundation of our nation?

  • Chris Kachouroff


    I don’t think Mataconis is marginalizing him. I think he’s trying to give a realistic assessment of Paul’s chances. Mataconis will change the assessment I’m sure, if Paul starts showing up better in the polls. But this is the tip of the iceberg in terms of Paul’s problems.

    The major problem is getting beyond the primaries. It is controlled by the establishment and I’m sure this is a major basis for Mataconis’s assessment.

    Take for instance, the Texas straw poll. How is that Paul could show so poorly with so much support? Easy. Don’t allow votes by anyone who hasn’t been there in the previous election cycle. Most pragmatists are already involved in the process. It’s very difficult because Paul’s campaign isn’t organized like the machinery of Romney.

    Hopefully Paul will get organized.

  • stefani

    are we talking about history? im a senior in high school, so if you are really good at it, could u help me out? i wanna pass with an A! lol thnx

  • stefani

    is anyone else a high schooler and lives in oakland?

  • Jeff Molby

    I don’t think Mataconis is marginalizing him. I think he’s trying to give a realistic assessment of Paul’s chances.

    Initially, I believed the same thing. However, over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading Mataconis’s writing and there has been 1, count ’em 1, article of at least a dozen about paul that didn’t prominently say “he doesn’t stand a chance.”

    I’m pessimistic about his chances too, but I also realize that people saying “he doesn’t stand a chance” is a big reason why he doesn’t stand a chance. As such, I firmly believe Mataconis does more harm than good.

    I make it a habit not to presume another man’s motives, but I’m definitely starting to question his.

  • Chris Kachouroff


    We’ll work on him. My guess is that if Paul loses, Mr. Mataconis won’t have to be let down about a candidate that is closest to a document that means a great deal to us all. No one likes to lose, especially those of us who are frustrated by the attitude of Congress: “What’s a Constitution among friends?”

  • UCrawford

    I don’t question Doug’s motives toward Ron Paul, the points he brings up are usually valid and he’s honest in his assessments. I just think he’s highly prone to negativity so he chooses to accentuate that with regards to Paul’s campaign. It’s not the way I’d choose to go, but hey, it’s his life.

  • Doug Mataconis

    eI don’t question Doug’s motives toward Ron Paul, the points he brings up are usually valid and he’s honest in his assessments. I just think he’s highly prone to negativity so he chooses to accentuate that with regards to Paul’s campaign. It’s not the way I’d choose to go, but hey, it’s his life.

    Frankly, I’d say its based more on experience than anything else.

    I’ve been involved in political campaigns since I was in High School, starting in New Jersey (the undisputed home of dirty politics by the way) and ending in Virginia long about 1992. I’ve been involved in winning campaigns, and that’s great. But, given my political leanings, I’ve been involved in far more losing campaigns, and those suck when they’re over.

    More importantly, though, I’ve lost faith in the libertarian/conservative alliance that transformed Republican politics from the days of Barry Goldwater to the triumph of Ronald Reagan (admittedly, not a perfect President, but better than anything I’ve seen in my lifetime before or sense).

    I’ve linked more than once to a Reason Magazine quote about the `08 Republican race…..”it would be nice to live in a world where Ron Paul could be President.”

    I’d like to be more optimistic than I am, and there are people telling me I should be, but when I look at the people who actually vote in Republican primaries, and, more importantly, the American electorate as a whole, I just don’t see it yet.

    Hopefully, I will be proven wrong.

  • Chris Kachouroff

    I’m coming out of the closet on this one. (Said for UC and Jeff’s benefit.) There’s not going to be another Ron Paul in our lifetime. We have to make good with this opportunity. The hour and the man unite here and now. So let me give a pep talk:

    RP: I AM Ron Paul! And I see a whole army of my countrymen here in defiance of tyranny. You have come to fight as free men, and free men you are. What would you do without freedom? Will you fight?

    All of us: Fight? Against the Republican and Democrat controlled establishment? No, we will run; and we will live.

    RP: Aye, fight and you may lose. Run and you’ll live — at least a while and still be a loser. And dying in your beds many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance to come back here and tell our Republicans and Democrats that they may take our lives, our property, our women, our children, our self-esteem, our hard earned money, our homes, our constitution, treat us like servants, enact irritating laws, keep the man down, black and white. . . but they’ll never take… our freeeeeeedoom!

    All of us: If we run, can we keep the property a little longer?

    Doug is right. It is truly going to suck when it’s all over.

  • Jeff Molby

    I’d like to be more optimistic than I am, and there are people telling me I should be

    I’d like to be more optimistic too. Especially after tonight. I thought Ron got fair questions and did a very good job with them. However, the on-mic laughing and the dismissive comments by post-game commentators represent the biggest challenge of the Ron Paul candidacy: gaining mainstream credibility.

    Your compulsion to repeat your well documented prediction ad nauseum simply makes his job even harder. I cannot fathom why you would continue to belittle his chances publicly if you actually wish him to win.