Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

“If large numbers of people believe in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech even if the law forbids it. But if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.”     George Orwell

March 29, 2009

Is Ron Paul Wasting His Time, And Ours ?

by Doug Mataconis

On several occasions over the past several months, we’ve seen Ron Paul in Congressional Committee hearings questioning men like Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke (see here, here, here, here, and here,), Obama economic adviser Paul Volcker, and, most recently, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.

Without fail, those encounters take the form of Paul spending two-thirds or more of his alloted five minutes espousing his own views on the subject of the hearing, and then throwing a question, sometimes a question that has little to do with the subject of the hearing itself to the official, usually without sufficient time for a real answer, never mind a follow-up question.

It makes for fun YouTube viewing, no doubt, and I’ve posted many of those encounters on my personal blog, but does it really accomplish anything ?

One libertarian blogger thinks not:

Another rambling, indirect, wasteful performance today by Ron Paul.  He gets 5 minutes to question Geithner, and should have asked him about his comments to the CFR regarding the dollar, or any of the hundred other pressing issues of the day, but instead he has another ad lib ramble about innocent until proven guilty, which Geithner easily evades without saying anything meaningful.

(…)

[W]hen he gets a few minutes to challenge those in power, he turns into an ideologue and a wallflower and it is immensely frustrating.

(…)

Ron is not speaking to a friendly audience where he can deliver the same lines and stories over and over, but he’s there as an investigator and an interrogator.

I appreciate everything Ron Paul has exposed me to, and his personal sacrifices to further liberty, but it’s not hard to see how a guy can be punchless in the Congress for so long, when he just can’t ask a few direct questions, and insists upon going on and on about abstract moral and ethical issues that don’t even relate to the hearings.

What a wasted opportunity.  And opportunities are so few they can’t be squandered so carelessly.

The post goes on to compare Paul’s questioning, unfavorably, to that of European Parliament Member Daniel Hannan, who became famous last week for delivering a devastating take-down of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

On some level, I think the comparison is unfair.

First, because Hannan was speaking speaking before the European Parliament during “question time”, not asking questions in a committee hearing (it would be more fair, then, to compair Hannan’s speech with one of Ron Paul’s speeches before the full house (see here, here, and here). Second, because, well, everything sounds better with a British accent; which is why you’ll never see James Bond played by an American actor.

That said, I think the blogger at No Treason has a point.

These Congressional Committee hearings are one of the few opportunities that the American public, through their elected representatives, has to confront the Executive Branch about what it is doing. Spending half, or more, of your allotted time on obscure philosophical arguments doesn’t really seem to me to accomplish much of anything.

The libertarian movement is in desperate need of spokesman that can not only explain it’s ideas to a wider public, but also to challenge those on the other side in a manner that actually gets the point across.

Ron Paul isn’t exactly the guy for the job.

H/T: Hit & Run

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25 Comments

  1. he gets 5 minutes to interact. you need to ask yourself “what exactly am i expecting with this 5 minutes?”

    are you expecting Tom Cruise to get Col. Jessup to fess up to his crime in 5 minutes? you have already seen time and time again Bernanke, Paulson, and now Geithner lying and/or blowing off direct questions every time they are asked in these 5 minute hearings. RP doesn’t really care what their responses are since it will be a lie or a blow-off.

    and as for Hannan, plenty of US politicians can do diatribes quite well. let any one of them do it. if you really think the “libertarian movement” is looking just for some congressman to rail against Obama, that’s pretty easy to do and just about any one of them could it. but at the end of the day, 5 minutes isn’t going to change the landscape of the politics in the nation regardless of what the speaker uses it for, and an eloquent hard-hitting personal diatribe isn’t what RP is interested in.

    personally i cant wait for some other Congressman to deliver the diatribe that the “libertarian movement” is waiting for, so that the “movement” can attach themselves to that person and forget about RP, including the fickle support, backlashes, weird attack-obsessions (namely like those of Reason magazine and those of this blog especially in 2008) and the other usual activity.

    Comment by oilnwater — March 29, 2009 @ 7:19 am
  2. He could, you know, ask a real question.

    That would be a start.

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — March 29, 2009 @ 7:28 am
  3. he could do what he wants to do. if some blogger feels that he’s wasting his (libertarian blogger’s) time or the nation’s time, then the mantle falls on the first guy to “ask the Great Question” or “craft the Pivotal Diatribe.” and believe me, i can’t wait for it to happen no more than you can for two reasons:

    1) “libertarians” step off Ron Paul’s dick. forever. he’s not running anymore and doesn’t demand anything from you and doesn’t deserve the disrespect shoveled on him, especially now.

    2) it’ll just be nice behold the New Lightning Rod capture the imagination of “libertarian” and the general freedom minded revolutionaries alike.

    Comment by oilnwater — March 29, 2009 @ 7:34 am
  4. It’s not disrespect to question his effectiveness.

    The worst thing about the Ron Paul Revolution, of which I was a part, is that it deified Ron Paul and made him a Saint, not a man.

    No one who watched that testimony can honestly tell me that they thought he was remotely successful at anything. And that’s been par for the course for some time. At least since I took my “I LUV RON PAUL 4EVER” goggles off and became more philosophically aware of the issues.

    Comment by DixieFlatline — March 29, 2009 @ 8:35 am
  5. it’s disrespect to question what he’s doing as though he owes you. since you’re now “philosophically aware,” who else do you feel owes you to turn everything around in their 5-minute allotment?

    that’s the thing about people in these circles. you piss on someone relentlessly. and then, because you act in the same manner as a mentally ill person, you keep pissing on them in perpetuity when a mentally healthy person would have instead 1) pissed on someone and 2) MOVED ON and forgotten about that person. that’s respect.

    Comment by oilnwater — March 29, 2009 @ 8:50 am
  6. What Ron could do is engage in Socratic questioning, until the Central Bankers were tripped up by the internal contradictions of their positions.

    Getting a guy to say “A” and “Not A” is a great way to discredit them.

    Honestly, it’s been a long time since I’ve done anything but cringe at a Youtube video of Ron Paul during a congressional hearing.

    Comment by tarran — March 29, 2009 @ 8:55 am
  7. Incidentally, I don’t think we will ever have anybody for the job;

    In parliamentary democracies, typically the seats are apportioned by party vote, meaning that the political party wins a seat and then places a person in that seat. The political party’s decision-makers are selecting which candidates hold the posts, and things like oratorical skill and impressive argumentative abilities are assets which improve a candidate’s chances of being seated.

    In the U.S. there is a strong anti-intellectual cultural tradition. People who ‘think too much’ are viewed with suspicion. Since office holders are directly elected, the result is that anti-intellectual sorts tend to win elections over intellectual sorts, those who sound educated tend to lose to those who don’t sound educated etc.

    Comment by tarran — March 29, 2009 @ 9:03 am
  8. Tarran:

    In the U.S. there is a strong anti-intellectual cultural tradition. People who ‘think too much’ are viewed with suspicion. Since office holders are directly elected, the result is that anti-intellectual sorts tend to win elections over intellectual sorts, those who sound educated tend to lose to those who don’t sound educated etc.

    As an interesting side note, George W. Bush lost his first political campaign, for a Texas congressional seat, because his campaign was too intelligent and intellectual. They had mastered all of the issues and had well thought out, well reasoned positions for them. The guy that beat Bush was a “down home” politician that kissed babies, at BBQ, etc. And spent a lot of time tearing down Bush as an elite intellectual that couldn’t understand the issues that district faced. He clearly had learned from that by the time he ran for Governor of Texas. Just an interesting illustration to the point Tarran is making.

    Comment by Eric — March 29, 2009 @ 9:15 am
  9. i’m noticing among people i associate with that ron’s message although it is old news to many of us, is finally sinking in. be patient the ignorant masses need a little more time to catch up.

    Comment by william king — March 29, 2009 @ 9:55 am
  10. I think that the question about the presumption of innocence until proven quilty is an important issue with regards to the collection of income tax. I regret that the length of Ron Paul’s preamble did not give Geithner adequate time to respond to the question. I hope that Geithner is asked this question again.

    Comment by yoikes — March 29, 2009 @ 10:06 am
  11. Ron Paul has been bringing up the same questions for over fifteen years (check out his old RP vs. Greenspan videos)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=csCHZXcav4g

    Part of the problem may be that he doesnt realize he has a new audience.

    Comment by Mark D — March 29, 2009 @ 10:56 am
  12. I think that Dr. Paul already knows that these people are going to simply wriggle through any hard question. I think he uses the time he’s given to try to get other people to think about his statements, not the canned answers that Geithner and Co give back to him

    Comment by rokdevil — March 29, 2009 @ 11:06 am
  13. During an internet-only Fox program called Freedom Watch with Judge Napolitano, Congressman Paul joined Judge Napolitano and Peter Schiff for the last segment.

    Peter Schiff suggested to Congressman Paul: “…try to keep your questions very short and poignant so you can have a chance to rebut them…”

    Paul responded: “There’s two arguments on that. I get a lot of criticism for not doing that, but over the years I have found that when I do that – ask a short question and expect an answer – it’s very hard to keep them short. Sometimes he gets more time than I do. And I get a total of 5 minutes and that’s it. It’s a judgment call. And I just think that when they get 4 out of my 5, or 3 minutes out of my 5, that doesn’t work very well.

    I agree with both oilnwater and tarran that, while it’s highly unlikely that the respondent will issue a theatrical confession after 5 minutes of being expertly grilled on the stand, there is a small chance the questioner can catch the respondent in a contradiction. That would indeed be a powerful sound bite. It would probably be explained afterwards as “I misspoke, here’s what I mean….”, but if the respondent doesn’t recover well, it could indeed snowball into controversy.

    Five minutes is a short time, but it’s on camera, and may actually be watched by a very small segment of the general population. What does one fit in those five minutes? I can see Congressman Paul’s point that he prefers to have those five minutes represent his point of view, rather than be consumed by more expostulation or evasion from the other side.

    Truly, if you find yourself able to craft that perfect silver bullet cross examination question, perhaps you should post it here, or send it to Congressman Paul so he can use it on the next attempt.

    Comment by Akston — March 29, 2009 @ 11:21 am
  14. Akston,

    I really had never considered Ron Paul’s point. Interesting…

    Please note, though, that one can hold the floor like Danial Hannan, staying on message in limited time.

    If you check out Danial hannan’s youtube channel, you will note that he is very disciplined, delivering blistering takedowns in the space of 1 minute.

    Comment by tarran — March 29, 2009 @ 12:37 pm
  15. I agree with this A LOT. RP has a great record of voting according the Constitution and being basically the only one to uphold his oath, but not exactly for asking tough questions and actually getting answers for them. He seems very timid in these hearings and I wonder what happened to the RP from the 1988 presidential run.

    While I’m glad he is in Congress, I really hope he DOES NOT run for President in 2012. If he does, and Lew Moore and Jesse Benton are anywhere near the campaign, I won’t donate $1 to it. RP’s 2008 Presidential campaign was nothing more than a huge failure. The grassroots are what got RP’s name out and actually recognizable, RP’s campaign was a failure and I’m still waiting on an apology for the money they wasted.

    Comment by Scott — March 29, 2009 @ 12:51 pm
  16. I’ve noted this tendency of Paul’s for years. Call me odd, but I prefer movement in the direction of more freedom to philosophical oratories framed as questions.

    At one time, I could flip on C-SPAN at midnight most given nights to see the good doctor giving a speech to himself, too.

    I’d prefer to see Dr. Paul spending more of his time crafting legislation which can actually pass which also makes the country a freer place. That requires a whole lot more work than giving some speech to make the folks at LRC and RonPaulForums happy, though.

    I’ve been hearing politicians talk the talk all my life. While Paul’s talks (the substance, obviously not the style) can be refreshing at times, it would be nicer to see him working on driving winnable freedom-oriented legislation.

    Of note is that the Campaign for Liberty is also doing a whole lot more talking than walking.

    Comment by Stephen Gordon — March 29, 2009 @ 4:47 pm
  17. In defense of Ron Paul, he is who he is, and he does what he does. Trying to get him to change now is not only unfair to him, but also would probably be less effective. If Dr. Paul were to suddenly transform himself into the American coming of Daniel Hannan, he would instantly be pilloried by his opponents for selling out or something like it.

    In my book, the most effective thing for Ron Paul to do is to keep being Ron Paul. The most effective thing for the pro-liberty movement to do is to find some other speakers with different voices and take some of the heat off Dr. Paul. We need speakers of many types to take our message of individual liberty forward. Someone like Daniel Hannan will connect with certain segments of the population, while a smooth-talking baby-kisser will connect with others, while Dr. Paul will reach still more. Expecting one person to communicate well across the spectrum is a strategic error. There are some who can, but it should never be planned on.

    Comment by Quincy — March 29, 2009 @ 8:59 pm
  18. Quincy,

    I totally agree with your general argument.

    I simply don’t believe (as some in the movement do believe) that Ron Paul doesn’t poop and probably walks on water and I also don’t believe that being a better speaker means selling one’s soul out to the devil (or Bilderbirgers or CFR or folks-who-believe-that-Neil-Armstrong’s-moon-landing-was-staged-in-a studio).

    I’m tired of the fratricide. Let’s move on and make America a freer place.

    Comment by Stephen Gordon — March 29, 2009 @ 10:18 pm
  19. Stephen –

    We’re on the same page. Libertarians spend far too much time letting perfect be the enemy of good.

    Comment by Quincy — March 29, 2009 @ 10:27 pm
  20. it’s disrespect to question what he’s doing as though he owes you. since you’re now “philosophically aware,” who else do you feel owes you to turn everything around in their 5-minute allotment?

    oilnwater, if you want to challenge me, do it without the strawman arguments.

    that’s the thing about people in these circles. you piss on someone relentlessly. and then, because you act in the same manner as a mentally ill person, you keep pissing on them in perpetuity when a mentally healthy person would have instead 1) pissed on someone and 2) MOVED ON and forgotten about that person. that’s respect.

    I think you might need to emotionally detach from the discussion.

    Comment by DixieFlatline — March 30, 2009 @ 9:32 am
  21. Quincy, the danger becomes, people start to believe that what Ron Paul is doing is acceptable because it is Ron Paul.

    And therein lies the danger of handing out free passes or deifying a figure in the movement for human liberty.

    @all, I find it funny that if I make the comment, I am “pissing” on Ron Paul, but if Peter Schiff makes the comment, no one blinks. I suppose that’s one deity speaking to another…

    Comment by DixieFlatline — March 30, 2009 @ 9:35 am
  22. I think we can find a pretty large middle ground between deifying Congressman Paul and pissing on everything he does.

    I would classify myself a fairly ardent Ron Paul supporter, but do not for a moment consider him to be flawless. He doesn’t consider himself that way either. Congressman Paul is a 10 term Republican Representative that has an amazingly consistent record of voting in line with a constructionist view of the U. S. Constitution, which also happens to coincide with many libertarian views. He is not all things to all people.

    Quincy made an excellent point that several voices of different styles would be far better than any one voice, and I also strongly agree with Stephen’s repudiation of friendly fire.

    Constructive criticism of liberty’s champions is not the same as constant, unyielding attack. I like to save the latter venom for the statists.

    Comment by Akston — March 30, 2009 @ 2:10 pm
  23. hey asshole, simply answer my question.

    Now that you’re “philosophically aware” who are you looking to change the nation in 5 minutes.

    Comment by oilnwater — March 30, 2009 @ 4:51 pm
  24. If that isn’t a classic “have you stopped beating your wife?” type question, I don’t know what is.

    Comment by tarran — March 30, 2009 @ 6:08 pm
  25. DixieFlatline –

    There’s a big difference between expecting a mere mortal to perform miracles and giving someone a free pass. When Ron Paul makes an outright mistake it should be acknowledged, just as anyone else’s should. But when Ron Paul is getting gigged for being Ron Paul and not someone else, the fault lies with the person making the criticism.

    Hell, if he had been anyone but the quirky doctor from Texas, he probably wouldn’t have made it this far. More importantly, the message might not have made it this far. There’s a certain congeniality about the man that makes the message seem more genuine than when it comes from a more polished politician like Bob Barr, and that resonated for a while early last year. Unfortunately, a few misplaced gaffes allowed the media and his opponents to paint Dr. Paul as an absolute whackjob.

    Therein lies the danger of placing our message in the hands of a single messenger. Discredit the messenger you discredit the message. The message of human liberty, and the dignity and sanctity of each human being, has to be bigger than a single messenger.

    If you’re worried about the effectiveness of Ron Paul at spreading the message of liberty, keep your eyes and ears open for those who can pick up the torch and run farther and faster with it.

    Comment by Quincy — March 30, 2009 @ 11:09 pm

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