Keeping Ron Paul's liberty movement alive

Ron Paul's movement threatens to blow apart without him. We should hope that it doesn't. Photo: Associated Press

NATCHITOCHES, La., June 9, 2012 — This week has presented a challenge to Ron Paul’s supporters. Rand Paul endorsed Mitt Romney, and Ron Paul said in an email that he will not have the delegates to take the GOP nomination. These events have raised questions about the movement that has chosen Ron Paul as its head.

Michael Nystrom writes at the Daily Paul, “The Liberty movement is big and sprawling, and the only thing holding this faction together is Ron Paul. And now we are seeing it start to blow apart.” The feelings of Paul’s supporters towards his son have exploded into venomous rage, the adjectives “treasonous,” “sickening,” and “worthless” all being frequently directed at him online. Paul’s comments urging followers to show respect to likely nominee Romney have been treated like the ramblings of a senile old man. “I spit on Obamney,” retorted one online commenter.

Are people like Nystrom right? Is Paul the only thing holding the movement together? Without him, is it an ant colony without its queen - filled with frenzied, furious activity but without purpose or future?

That depends. If the movement is about Ron Paul, then it never had a future. It was born terminally defective. If it’s about ideas and ideals, it will never die. The only Party in which it has a chance to thrive, though, is the GOP, and the GOP must nurture at least some of Paul’s ideals if it is to have any useful existence of its own.

The most important ideals are two that should be the foundation of any American political party: the Constitution and liberty. That should go without saying, and it’s sad commentary on our politics that it does not. A huge amount of what’s been pursued by the White House and Congress in recent decades has been a relentless assault on both.

In just the last few years we’ve seen Congress pass a National Defense Authorization Act that allows the president to order the indefinite detention of American citizens on just the suspicion of aiding terrorist groups. Think about that: no charges, no trial, just suspicion and the president’s approval, and you’re detained, indefinitely.

That’s marginally better than another development. Obama Administration legal experts have determined that the president may order the execution of American citizens abroad, again without trial, if he determines that they are helping enemies of the United States. No charges, no trial, just suspicion and the president’s approval, and you’re dead. 

The president is conducting a foreign policy of assassination. It’s popular, with few American casualties, but at least as it pertains to assassinating Americans, it stands the Constitution on its head. As it pertains to foreign citizens, our policy is one of violence against anyone, anywhere, whenever the president sees fit to use it. There are legitimate disagreements between Paul and other Republicans about when and why force should be used abroad, but as our power to strike with precision has grown, our willingness to use force has become overbearing and anti-humane.

Killing is far too serious a business to be left to the discretion of one man, and so is war. 

There are other assaults on liberty. Think about your status as a free man or woman the next time you stand with your hands over your head while you go through an electronic strip search. The relentless growth of government undermines contracts, property rights, and the principle of limited government - three fundamental institutions of capitalism. 

The individual mandate of PPACA extends interpretation of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution to give the federal government power to block or coerce almost every type of economic transaction you can imagine. The only limits would be the self-restraint of Congress and the limits of the courts’ willingness to see impositions filling a compelling need. The Constitution gives the government considerable power in the economy, but we’ve been too willing to let it exercise that power without pushing back to keep it under restraint.

The ideals of the Paul revolution are heavily rooted in economic liberty. From this springs his concern with the Fed. Ben Bernanke arguably has more power over the economy than the president, and Paul asks a pertinent question: Why should economic controls lie in the hands of either? Without economic liberty, political liberty is toothless.

The important movement isn’t the “Paul movement,” but the liberty movement. Paul isn’t the movement, and putting him in the White House isn’t its reason for existing. If it’s going to survive, his followers must not think in those terms. Their priorities should be different: 

  • Establish a party home. Third parties have almost no chance of success, and the Democratic Party is hopelessly dependent on big government. The GOP acts much like the Democratic Party when it’s in power, but it still pays lip-service to small government and economic liberty. It has to be turned from its infatuation with social conservatism. 
  • Start winning state and local races. Paul’s followers must realize that presidents shouldn’t and don’t constitutionally have the power to do all the things they want him to do. That power is properly vested in Congress and in the states. Their obsession with the White House betrays an obsession with Paul, not with his principles.
  • Prioritize. FDR, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton all failed to get all that they wanted right away. They were successful by persistence and by tackling one thing at a time. Some people who are solid on economic liberty have an expansive view of American power. Some who favor a less intrusive foreign policy are also enamored of government growth. Sometimes “the lesser of two evils” isn’t evil, but a useful tool. You just don’t use a shovel to pound nails or a hammer to dig holes.

Whether or not Paul’s supporters can vote for Romney, they have to find a way to remain within the GOP even if Romney is the candidate. If they leave, they’ll find it hard to impossible to get back in, and if they don’t get back in, they’ll have to find a third-party home. That’s the path to complete irrelevance. They don’t have to like or vote for Romney, but they need to get more of their people in statehouses and Congress, and the easiest way to do that will be as Republicans. 

If they don’t find a way to square that circle, they’ll be a historical footnote, and America will be the worse for it. They might start by not spitting on Rand.


James Picht is the Senior Editor for Communities Politics and teaches economics at the Louisiana Scholars’ College in Natchitoches, La., where he went to take a break from working in Moscow and Washington. But he fell in love with the town and with the professor of Romance languages, so there he stayed. Now he teaches, annoys his children, and makes jalapeno lemonade. He learned in math classes that you can’t square a circle, but you can get arbitrarily close. He tweets, hangs out on Facebook, and has a blog he totally neglects at


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Jim Picht

James Picht is the Senior Editor for Communities Politics and teaches economics and Russian at the Louisiana Scholars' College in Natchitoches, La. After earning his doctorate in economics, he spent several years working in Moscow and the new independent states of the former Soviet Union for the U.S. government, the Asian Development Bank, and as a private contractor. He returned to Ukraine recently to teach principles of constitutional law and criminal procedure at several Ukrainian law schools for a USAID legal development project. He has been writing at the Communities since 2009.

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