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August 10, 2007

Patriot Candidate Profile: Ron Paul

“As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed.” –James Madison

If there is one man who elicits a strong response across the gamut of GOP constituencies, it is Texas Republican congressman and presidential candidate Dr. Ron Paul. Because he is a genuine libertarian, Paul has been a gadfly to liberals and conservatives alike since his first election in Texas to the U.S. House in 1976, and his long-time presence in the GOP is an anomaly that deserves attention.

Ron Paul, a ten-term congressman, small-town doctor, retired Air Force officer and great-grandfather is, indisputably, a Patriot and a gentleman. In a legislative body where integrity seems an increasingly rare quality, Paul’s is unquestioned. Not content merely to condemn unconstitutional taxes and expenditures, every year Dr. Paul returns a portion of his congressional office budget to the U.S. Treasury. In his medical practice, Paul refused to accept Medicare payments on principle. Recently dubbed “the most radical congressman in America” by a New York Times Magazine feature article, Ron Paul’s “radicalism,” clearly, is made of different stuff.

Contrary to Congress’ dreams of ever-increasing power, Dr. Paul’s congressional career is laced with legislation that seeks to reduce the size and scope of the federal government. During his first stint in the House (1976-1984), Paul served on the House Banking Committee, where he was an outspoken critic of the Federal Reserve policies of the era. From that time forward he has sponsored bills and voted to reduce and eliminate federal taxes, as well as federal spending and regulation.

Paul has never voted to raise taxes, never voted for an unbalanced budget, never voted to raise congressional pay, never voted for gun-ownership restrictions, and has voted against regulating the Internet. He is consistently pro family and pro life. In his own words, Paul “never votes for legislation unless the proposed measure is expressly authorized by the Constitution.” Notably, Paul was one of only four congressmen to endorse the presidential candidacy of Ronald Reagan in 1976.

Where do I, an old-school Reagan Republican, find myself on the issue of Ron Paul? How should other Reagan Republicans see this genuine maverick presidential candidate for the GOP?

The key is the difference between the meanings of “libertarian” and “conservative.” As for Ron Paul’s status among Reagan Republicans, this is the only question that matters.

When it comes down to the nitty-gritty, conservatives and libertarians have often divergent and incompatible perspectives on the Constitution. For the libertarian, the government that governs best is the one that governs least. For the conservative (and by “conservative” I always mean “constitutional conservative”), the government that governs best is not necessarily the one that governs least, but the one that governs according to the letter of the Constitution.

Here we might also consider the differences between libertarianism and liberalism. Libertarians believe in maximal individual liberty – the absolute maximum of individual liberty that a society can tolerate without anarchy. In this vision, government should be as small as possible, so as not to interfere with the liberty of the individual. Paul cemented himself in this camp in 1988, when he accepted the Libertarian Party presidential nomination. At the other end of the spectrum, liberals pursue the advancement of maximal corporate liberty, which is accomplished (in their thinking) by ensuring the rights of groups. A big government with expansive jurisdictions and prerogatives, then, is a necessary feature of the leftist vision for society. More often than not, though, ensuring group rights means trampling individual rights.

Ultimately, libertarians and liberals stand at opposite ends of the age-old problem of “the one and the many.” Whereas libertarians champion the nearly unfettered rights of individuals (the many) at the expense of society, liberals demand rights for society (the one) to the detriment of society’s individuals.

Unlike libertarianism or liberalism, conservatism seeks to reconcile the one and the many by means of a singular bedrock principle: government limited by the law. In American government, this commitment takes the form of constitutional constructionism – the doctrine that the jurisdiction of the federal government is limited to those things explicitly set aside for it in the Constitution.

In our federal system, all other rights and responsibilities are left to the discretion of individuals and the states (the 9th and 10th Amendments). Federalism, then, is the hallmark of constitutionally limited government in our system. Under such a system, the federal government should actually be strong where it has a constitutional mandate to govern (contra libertarianism); this same strong government should be nonexistent where no constitutional mandate exists (contra liberalism).

Regrettably, there is little room for federalism among libertarians or liberals. The strange fact of the matter is that libertarians are becoming increasingly dissimilar to conservatives across a whole range of issues, and increasingly similar to liberals.

Nowhere is this truer for Ron Paul than with national-security issues – the one area where the Constitution couldn’t be more clear about the role of the federal government. One month after 9/11, Paul was one of three Republicans to vote against the Patriot Act. He was the lone member of either party to vote against the Financial Antiterrorism Act (412-1) to inhibit the financing of terrorist groups, and he has been the most vocal of all anti-war Republicans when it comes to the Iraq war, which he repeatedly derides as an exercise in “empire building” and cavalierly dismisses as a war “sold to us with false information.” While never actually embracing any of the conspiracy theories of the Iraq war, Paul’s criticism repeatedly lends them credence.

This disagreement with Dr. Paul trumps all others and is why Paul will not be Commander in Chief. The only way to preserve American liberty is to defend it vigorously from hostile regimes, and the constitutional obligation of the federal government to do so is beyond dispute. To be sure, we want to defend American sovereignty without an expansion of the state, but Paul’s view of Iraq as a “war of choice” conjured up by war profiteers and “a dozen or two neocons who got control of our foreign policy,” is more than most conservatives can bear. We loved ye, Ron Paul, but we never knew ye.

(Publisher’s Note: The Patriot’s editors have provided Presidential Candidate Ratings. These ratings are based on comprehensive analysis of many factors, including each candidate’s record, experience, capability, character, leadership qualifications and, of course, demonstrated ability to grasp the [plain language of our Constitution |] – and promote it accordingly.)

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