The Club For Growth released another White Paper on the economic policies and records of the various Presidential candidates, and this time it’s all about Ron Paul.
“Ron Paul’s record contains some very laudable components,” said Club for Growth President Pat Toomey. “On taxes, regulation, and political speech, his record is superb. His spending record is impressive, though Paul has recently embraced pork-barrel projects in direct contradiction to his vociferous opposition to unconstitutional appropriations by the federal government.”
Unfortunately, his stubborn idealism often takes Ron Paul further away from achieving the limited-government, pro-growth philosophy he advocates. This is certainly the case with school choice, free trade, tort reform, and entitlement reform, in which he votes against vital free trade agreements, competitive school choice initiatives, and tort reform proposals.
“While we give Ron Paul credit for his philosophical ideals, politicians have the responsibility of making progress, and often, Ron Paul votes against making progress because, in his mind, the progress is not perfect,” Mr. Toomey continued. “In these cases, although for very different reasons, Ron Paul is practically often aligned with the most left-wing Democrats, voting against important, albeit imperfect, pro-growth legislation. Ron Paul is, undoubtedly, ideologically committed to pro-growth limited-government policies, but his insistence on opposing all but the perfect means that under a Ron Paul presidency we might never get a chance to pursue the good too.”
Now, before this sends all you Ron Paul supporters off on a rampage, there are a few things to keep in mind here. The Club for Growth is not a radical libertarian organization, and certainly not as radical as Ron Paul on economic issues. They describe themselves like this:
Club for Growth is a national network of thousands of Americans, from all walks of life, who believe that prosperity and opportunity come through economic freedom. We work to promote public policies that promote economic growth primarily through legislative involvement, issue advocacy, research, training and educational activity.
The primary tactic of the separate Club for Growth PAC is to provide financial support from Club members to viable pro-growth candidates to Congress, particularly in Republican primaries.
In other words, they are dedicated to working within the system to achieve progress toward economic freedom in a manner that might be described, in a non-pejorative sense, as realistic rather than radical. It’s not surprising that they’d be sympathetic too, but a little put off by, someone who talks about eliminating the Federal Reserve and returning to the gold standard.
And the CoG’s assessment isn’t totally negative in any respect. Take this on taxes (footnotes in original text omitted):
Ron Paul’s record on taxes is excellent, epitomized by his rallying cry for phasing out the IRS. A strong believer in the economic benefits of tax cuts, he declared in a 2006 article, “I reject the notion that tax cuts harm the economy. The economy suffers when government takes money from your paycheck that you otherwise spend, save, or invest. Taxes never create prosperity.” Over his career, he has backed up his speeches and articles with many pro-growth votes
And this on spending:
Rep. Paul’s strong belief in limited government translated into an impressive list of votes against increased federal spending
Although they do note the following (again, footnotes omitted):
Despite this impressive record, Ron Paul’s history contains some curious indiscretions, including a vote for $232 million for federally mandated election reform (only 1 of 21 Republicans to vote for it) and a vote against the line-item veto -even after it was modified to pass constitutional muster. Paul’s record on pork was outstanding in 2006, voting for all 19 of Jeff Flake’s anti-pork amendments in 2006, but his record took a stark turn for the worse in 2007, in which Paul received an embarrassing 29% on the Club for Growth’s RePORK Card, voting for only 12 of the 50 anti-pork amendments.
Others have criticized Paul’s record on earmarks and I won’t do so here. Instead, I’ll point out that I think that the CoG has it entirely wrong on the line-item veto issue. The Supreme Court emphatically decided, and Articles I and II of the Constitution make clear, that any attempt to expand the President’s veto power by allowing him to veto specific spending items in a bill cannot pass Constitutional muster; if you want a line-item veto, amend the Constitution to provide for one. Since I think that even legislators have a duty to vote against bills they believe are unconstitutional, Paul’s vote against the line-item veto was, I think, correct.
The Club also criticizes Paul on issues like trade, regulation, and entitlement reform; not so much because they disagree with him, but because they seem to think that his insistence on reforms that, at least at present, are not politically attainable, neglects support for measures that, while not perfect, do move toward the free market ideal:
When it comes to limited government, there are few champions as steadfast and principled as Representative Ron Paul. In the House of Representatives, he plays a very useful role constantly challenging the status quo and reminding his colleagues, despite their frequent indifference, that our Constitution was meant to limit the power of government. On taxes, regulation, and political free speech his record is outstanding. While his recent pork votes are troubling, the vast majority of his anti-spending votes reflect a longstanding desire to cut government down to size.
But Ron Paul is a purist, too often at the cost of real accomplishments on free trade, school choice, entitlement reform, and tort reform. It is perfectly legitimate, and in fact vital, that think tanks, free-market groups, and individual members of congress develop and propose idealized solutions. But presidents have the responsibility of making progress, and often, Ron Paul opposes progress because, in his mind, the progress is not perfect. In these cases, although for very different reasons, Ron Paul is practically often aligned with the most left-wing Democrats, voting against important, albeit imperfect, pro-growth legislation.
Ron Paul is, undoubtedly, ideologically committed to pro-growth limited government policies. But his insistence on opposing all but the perfect means that under a Ron Paul presidency we might never get a chance to pursue the good too.
It’s an interesting question, really, do you insist on the perfect or accept something less than perfect as an advance toward your ultimate goal ? As I’m learning as I read Brian Doherty’s book on the history of the libertarian movement in America, this is a debate that’s been going on for half a century now. Given the nature of the American political system, pursuit of the perfect while neglecting the good typically ends in failure — the American electorate is not revolutionary at the ballot box.
I’m sure that the most strident Ron Paul supporters out there will jump down the CoG’s throat over this but keep something in mind before you do —— we’re all on the same side in this fight folks, we just disagree about how to achieve the goal.
You can find the complete Club for Growth report here.