For many in the militant libertarian wing within the GOP (and outside of it), Ron Paul has emerged as Moses come to lead the American people out of the land of big spending liberal statists and hair-trigger Neocon Pharaohs. They see Paul as an outsider on the inside, despite having first entered politics when I was nine years old. To his loyal cadre he has remained steadfast in his libertarian belief that can be boiled down to two central notions.
On the international front, the United States is the great aggressor of the world (and 9/11 is what a nation gets for such aggression) and that harmony is the natural state among nations and all we need do is close our bases, pull our troops out and we can find common ground with anyone from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Hugo Chavez. On the domestic front, government is always the problem, is never the solution and the invisible hand of free markets will eventually solve all ills from healthcare, to parcel delivery to policing our streets.
I’ll leave foreign policy aside for another article. What prompted this writing was a recent discussion with Paul supporters whose ardor for him eerily reminds me of the blind emotional devotion of Obamanauts of 2008.
I pointed out to them that if Paul is such an outsider, if he is so much the anti-government/free-marketeer, how is it that in 2011 Paul was one of only four Republicans to request earmarks? $138 million worth in fact. A whopping $398 million in 2010. Here is this year’s laundry list that Paul attached to various bills to bring government money (which one would think is not needed as there should be a free market for these things) back to his district to fund his pet projects. [Source: Paul’s Website]
·$8 million from federal taxpayers for Recreational Fishing Phase Piers.
·$2.5 million from taxpayers for “new benches, trash receptacles, bike racks, decorative street lighting.”
·$2.5 million from taxpayers to modify medians and sidewalks for an “Economically Disadvantaged” area.
·$2.5 million from federal taxpayers for a “Revelation Missionary Baptist Community Outreach Center.”
·$38 million in multiple requests for literacy programs to “encourage parents to read aloud to their children.”
·$18 million from federal taxpayers for a Commuter Rail Preliminary Engineering Phase (light rail).
·$4 million from federal taxpayers for the “Trails and Sidewalks Connectivity Initiative.”
·$11 million from federal taxpayers for a “Community-Based Job Training Program.”
·$2 million from federal taxpayers for a “Clean Energy” pilot project.
·$5 million from federal taxpayers in order to build a parking garage.
·$1.2 million for a “Low-income working families Day Care Program”
·$4.5 million from federal taxpayers for a new Youth Fair facility.
Paul’s answer to this, and duly parroted by his acolytes so much in his camp now that he could be revealed to be the anti-Christ and they wouldn’t care, is this: he supports the concept of earmarks out of principle because that is the transparent manner in which government should spend money rather than in large lump appropriations. It is instead the level of government expense that he objects to. But, hey, if they are going to give it to him, he’ll take it.
The principle of the earmark is our responsibility. We’re supposed to — it’s like a — a tax credit. And I vote for all tax credits, no matter how silly they might seem. If I can give you any of you of your money back, I vote for it. So, if I can give my district any money back, I encourage that. But, because the budget is out of control, I haven’t voted for an appropriation in years — if ever. …
He may not have voted for any bill yet Paul was happy to take the money from riders he attached to bills that others voted for. What about as a principled gesture not accepting the allocations but rather putting it towards the deficit he is so adamant will destroy us? (The answer: the man likes to get re-elected). He goes on with more dissonance:
I don’t think the federal government should be doing it. But, if they’re going to allot the money, I have a responsibility to represent my people. If they say, hey, look, put in a highway for the district, I put it in. I put in all their requests, because I’m their representative.
Notice how Paul plays a clever game whereby he requests earmarks and then turns around and votes against the bills. This way if the bills do pass, he can dutifully bring the pork back to his district while maintaining that he has “never voted for earmarks.”
Yet the more philosophical question remains, how is it that a true libertarian, one who sees that the less government the better and for whom the private sector is the sole artery through which goods and services ought to be channeled, can ever justify his request that the federal government to fund sidewalks, piers, parking garages, even a Baptists community outreach center (any libertarians care to explain how this jibes with their desire for church/state separation)? Are there not private companies that can perform these tasks. And should there not be a market to support them on their merits as economic investments rather than as public works?
Some Paul supporters weakly echo him by offering that all their man is doing is bringing confiscated tax money back to the tax-payers from whom it was taken. I remind them that Texans are not the only Americans who reluctantly pay into the federal coffers. (And unlike most of the rest of us, Texans pay no state income taxes, which one would think unfair as these federal expenditures are for parochial intersts). Still, is that very allocation process not the essence of what hard-core Paulites would rail against as coercive government – the enumerated power to tax and spend?
Taxpayers pay taxes into the central bin and then their representatives allocate them as they deem necessary. It is a messy, inefficient, often corrupt process and to me, a conservative, the best way to reform it is to de-centralize the power of government and reduce (not raise) federal receipts so there is less to distribute to special interests, lobby groups, and, ahem, pork-barreling libertarians (is that not an oxymoron?)
For Ron Paul, a strict construction Constitutionalist, somehow park benches and piers and outreach centers in his home district are quite necessary to “provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty.” And are we to presume that such necessary projects could not exist without government funding? If so then that raises yet another question: would not a true libertarian offer that if they can only exist with government money they they should not exist at all? Aren’t they the most vocal proponents of the mantra “no market, therefore no need”?
This perception of Paul as a principled crusader who serves only the Constitution is at odds with his wholehearted embrace of typical pork-barrel politics – especially considering the House Republicans’ voluntary ban on earmarks last year. But tell this to Paul supporters and you will be jeered as a either a neo-con propagandist, a shill for the status quo powers that be, or one who simply doesn’t understand that when their favorite libertarian warrior dips his arms elbow-deep into the public till he is doing it out of one of the following “principles”: 1) earmarks are transparent; 2) he never actually votes for them, he just requests them; 3) all he is doing is re-claiming confiscated money on behalf of those from whom it was robbed. When a conservative or, heaven forbid, a liberal politician brings home the bacon to his constituents, he/she is a symptom of the disease of money in Washington against which Dr. Ron Paul will inoculate the entire political system when he gets in the White House. When Paul does it, well…well so what?