Punctuated by his move past Michele Bachmann into third place in the race for the Republican nomination for president, Ron Paul has arrived in the “top tier.” While this is a significant positive for his supporters, it does not mean that opposition to Paul from within the party will diminish. On the contrary, now that it is undeniable that he really could win the nomination, Paul’s supporters should expect attacks from the opposition to intensify. They have.
Beginning with a piece in the American Spectator by Jeffrey Lord, conservative opponents of Paul have fired the first shots in what from here on out will probably be an all-out bombardment of Paul and his platform. I say “Paul and his platform” because along with substantive criticism of his positions, one should expect a generous amount of ad hominem directed at Paul himself. Judging from the Lord piece and Mark Levin’s replies in weighing in on the matter, one can expect even more mudslinging than usual.
That is not to single out Lord or Levin as particularly unique in this regard. Mudslinging or “muckraking” has been a part of American politics since the earliest days of the republic. Contrary to what many Americans seem to believe, there never was a “golden age” of American journalism where reporters objectively reported the facts and avoided all political bias. In fact, early American newspapers were not only unapologetically biased; they were unconcerned about even the veracity of the mud they slung. During the election of 1800, John Adams was reported to have “ordered Charles Cotesworth Pinckney to London to procure four pretty mistresses to divide between them.”  Adams laughed off this completely false accusation, saying that Pinckney must have kept them all to himself.
Indeed, Ron Paul is unique among politicians for his refusal to attack his opponents personally, even when he vehemently disagrees with their positions. After Rick Perry suggested that Ben Bernanke’s monetary policies might be treasonous, Ron Paul declined to join in even when invited to. Asked by Wolf Blitzer to respond to Perry’s comments, Paul refused to take the bait, saying “I try never to make it the individual as much as the philosophy.”
In the same spirit, I would like to take a look at Lord’s and Levin’s criticisms of Paul and respond to the substantive parts of them. Generally, both accuse Paul of not being a true conservative due to his foreign policy of non-interventionism. Lord claims that this policy is rooted in “neo-liberal” philosophy and that in Paul’s case, like many of the supposed neo-liberals that Lord cites, the policy is also motivated by racism (anti-Semitism being racism directed at Jewish people). Finally, Lord accuses Paul of being disingenuous in portraying the founding fathers as non-interventionist, citing Washington’s invasion of Canada during the Revolutionary War, John Adams’ prosecuting of the Quasi War, James Madison’s prosecution of the War of 1812, and James Monroe’s Monroe doctrine.
Taking these points in order, the first concerns “non-interventionism.” What is it and what is its motivation?
First, we have to recognize the actual definition of the word “intervene.” It certainly does not mean using force to defend oneself. If an individual is attacked by a mugger and uses force to defend himself, he is not “intervening.” Intervention is by definition the interposing of one party into the affairs of two or more others. Thus, if England and France go to war, and Russia enters the war on France’s side, then Russia is intervening. Likewise, if a revolution occurs in Albania, and Spain enters the war on the side of the rebels, Spain is intervening. However, if the United States were attacked by Russia and used military force to defend herself against the attack, the United States would not be intervening.
Ron Paul consistently states that the United States should have a strong national defense but should also be non-interventionist. Is this philosophy rooted in racism? In my own interview with him in July 2011, Paul confirmed that the underlying philosophy that informs all of his positions is the libertarian non-aggression axiom (this question and answer begins around the 11:50 mark). This axiom holds that no human being has the right to initiate force against another, including against their person, liberty, or justly acquired property. This is what makes Paul’s positions against the welfare state, the Patriot Act, and preemptive war consistent. All of these policies represent the initiation of force.
Mssrs. Lord and Levin do not distinguish the concept of non-aggression from pacifism. This is an error. Libertarians like Paul are fierce defenders of the right to bear arms precisely because they are not pacifists. They recognize the right, even the duty, to defend oneself with force against aggression. This applies both to the relationship between individuals within society and the relationship between nations. Paul does not champion pacifism if another nation attacks the United States. However, he opposes the United States initiating force against another nation, even if that nation’s policies are oppressive or otherwise objectionable.
Lest opponents of this libertarian philosophy tag it as “leftism” the reader should understand that it was the central principle that inspired Thomas Jefferson’s philosophy. In his own words,
“Our legislators are not sufficiently apprised of the rightful limits of their powers; that their true office is to declare and enforce only our natural rights and duties, and to take none of them from us. No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another; and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him.”
This was by no means the only time that Jefferson invoked the non-aggression principle. He invoked it in defending religious freedom, saying ““The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”
In fact, on nearly every occasion where he had the opportunity to define the role of government, he invoked this principle. His first inaugural address was centered around it.
“What more is necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people? Still one thing more, fellow-citizens — a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities.” [emphasis added]
That this founding principle is completely consistent with non-interventionism is reflected by Jefferson’s support for it in that same speech.
“Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political; peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none;”
Lord points to Jefferson’s war with the Barbary pirates as an example of interventionism, but this is absurd. Jefferson was not intervening in a dispute between two other nations or an internal dispute within one. He was defending the United States against acts of war that had been committed against them. On May 10, 1801, the pasha of Tripoli formally declared war against the United States. Jefferson’s military response was completely consistent with non-aggression and its sub-corollary, non-interventionism. Again, neither non-aggression nor non-interventionism are synonymous with pacifism.
As Tom Woods and Kevin Gutzman have pointed out, all of the early American wars cited by Lord as examples of the founders being ‘interventionists” were in fact similarly defensive. Lord’s citing of the Quasi War with France as “interventionist” is particularly confused. The whole reason that it was called a “quasi” war was Adams staunch refusal to ask for a declaration of full-out war, even against the wishes of many in his own party. As I have written before, Adams actually considered avoiding war with France the crowning achievement of his presidency.
As I argued regarding Obama’s war in Libya, taxing American citizens to defend people in other countries similarly violates the non-aggression principle. If conservatives actually believe that the U.S. government can tax Americans to provide freedom or security to people in other countries, then what is their objection to the liberal policy of taxing American citizens to provide healthcare or housing to other Americans? In either case, one person is taxed to provide benefits exclusively to another. Is this conservative? It certainly isn’t libertarian.
On the racism/anti-Semitism charge, there is nothing in any of Ron Paul’s public statements, voting record, or writing that can remotely support a charge of racism or anti-Semitism. In his own words,
“Racism is simply an ugly form of collectivism, the mindset that views humans only as members of groups and never as individuals. Racists believe that all individual who share superficial physical characteristics are alike; as collectivists, racists think only in terms of groups. By encouraging Americans to adopt a group mentality, the advocates of so-called “diversity” actually perpetuate racism. Their intense focus on race is inherently racist, because it views individuals only as members of racial groups.”
Lord and Levin accuse Paul of not being a true conservative and of espousing major tenets of the liberal philosophy. However, it is they who adopt the tactic that conservatives consistently accuse liberals of using: making an unfounded charge of racism in the hope that the mere association of the word with the position will evoke an emotional response in the minds of voters and persuade them to oppose the position, regardless of its merits. I agree with conservatives that this is a dishonest and reprehensible tactic.
They also accuse Paul and some of his supporters of not being conservative for criticizing Reagan. Reagan, who said in this interview that “the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism,” invoked Jefferson’s first inaugural in stating that it was government’s role to keep us from harming each other, but should not try to keep us from harming ourselves. However, as the interview goes on, Reagan is able to put virtually the whole progressive regulatory state into the former category, with very little recognized as part of the latter. This lends insight into his presidency, where the size and the power of the federal government doubled, despite his libertarian rhetoric both before and after his election.
If the heart and soul of conservatism is truly libertarianism as Reagan argued, then true libertarians and conservatives would have to criticize Reagan’s presidency. He did not, as he promised he would, abolish the Department of Education, but expanded it. He did not, as he promised, reduce the size and influence of the federal establishment back within the limits imposed upon it by the Constitution. He did not lower taxes. He raised them. He did not cut government spending – it doubled on his watch, outpacing the spending increases of Carter and Clinton by large orders of magnitude. Both libertarians and conservatives should criticize these aspects of his presidency. Doing so doesn’t make them less libertarian or conservative. It merely confirms that they have a grip on reality.
Finally, the personal nature of Levin’s attacks on Mike Church and Jack Hunter belie their lack of substance. Levin calls Church a moron, accuses him of being intoxicated on the air, and even belittles Church’s supposedly insignificant radio audience. Most people are familiar with the ad hominem attack. While passion for one’s viewpoints is understandable, “attacking the man” rather than the man’s arguments amount to a capitulation that one has lost the debate. Don’t expect this to diminish as Ron Paul’s popularity continues to increase. Supporters of the establishment have good reason to fear a Paul presidency, and one can expect the attacks on him and his supporters to get uglier and uglier. And yes, expect supposed conservatives to act just like liberals in calling anyone who disagrees with them a racist. Welcome to the top tier, Congressman Paul.
Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.
© Thomas Mullen 2011
McCullough, David John
Adams pg. 544
Jefferson, Thomas Letter
to Francis Walker Gilmer June 7, 1816 from The Works of Thomas Jefferson edited
by Paul Leicester Ford G.P. Putnam‘s Sons New York and London The Knickerbocker
Press 1905 pg. 533-34
Thomas Jefferson, Notes on
Virginia, Query XVII 1782