The infatuation of certain segments of American society with the presidential candidacy of Ron Paul has the potential to turn American governance and the very Constitution on which it is founded on its head.
This is part II of a collaborative series written by Doug Porter and Andy Cohen. You can read part I here.
Ron Paul has built himself quite a rabid following. The adoration of the 76 year old Texas Republican Congressman is almost cult-like in its voracity, especially among the younger generations. And it’s reasonably easy to understand why. Ron Paul is a rarity, particularly in Republican circles. He favors the legalization of marijuana and other illicit drugs, including heroin. He is and has been a staunch opponent of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is adamant that the administration bring the troops home. He wants the government of the United States to mind its own business and stop “meddling” in the affairs of every other country in the world. When younger Americans hear an older, conservative lawmaker express views on such topics that are so similar to their own it’s easy to believe that the guy just might not be all that bad after all.
But there’s a danger in falling for a candidate simply because he shares your views on such a narrow subject matter. That’s not to say that ALL Ron Paul supporters are ready to rush to the polls and push the button next to Paul’s name based on a limited scope of issues and without taking a broader look at his policy positions and how they might affect society at large. But many are, and that’s troublesome.
Ron Paul, in fact, is quite unique among Republicans. Republicans have always believed in small government, or at least they say they are. However, recent history has shown us that when Republicans are in power, government has a tendency to increase in size. Significantly increase. But Ron Paul’s brand of Libertarianism is different, and his voting record generally shows that he’s willing to put his vote where his mouth is, with a few curious exceptions. His anti-war stance is decidedly un-Republican, as is his eagerness to cut military spending.
The fact that he’s been so willing to buck the traditional Republican Party line made him quite an unlikely rock star on the campaign trail in 2008 and again in 2011. And while there are certainly a number of areas where progressives and libertarians can find common ground, there are a lot of other areas that should be of concern to those who support the basic premises of equality and fairness.
In a May 13, 2011 appearance on the MSNBC program “Hardball” hosted by Chris Matthews, Paul stirred up a hornet’s nest that his son, newly elected Republican Senator from Kentucky Rand Paul, had kicked over the previous year during his Senatorial campaign. When confronted by Matthews, the Texas Congressman insisted that he would have voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, saying that it was unconstitutional and a violation of individual property rights.
Title II of The Civil Rights Act of 1964 says that since businesses such as restaurants, hotels or inns, theaters, stores, etc. are considered public accommodations, it explicitly prohibits discrimination by a business owner on the basis of color, race, religion, or national origin. Although Paul feebly tries to talk around it, his position essentially is that discrimination is OK, that Title II of the Act denies freedoms of an individual business owner, while forgetting that the business patron is entitled to those same rights.
Paul is also opposed to the Voting Rights Act, which guaranteed the right of every citizen to vote without being subject to poll taxes, literacy tests, or any other conditions placed on an individual’s right to vote.
The Supreme Court disagrees. In 1964, the Supreme Court overturned an 1883 ruling in deciding that Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is indeed constitutional, and that business owners cannot discriminate against certain customers. If a business is open to the public, then it is open to all members of the public. Government action was necessary to enforce the 14th and 15th Amendments.
For nearly 90 years the Civil Rights Act of 1875 went unenforced, yet Paul insists that left to its own devices and without any government intervention whatsoever, society would have ended the ills of racial discrimination. He believes that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has actually hurt race relations in America by forcing equal treatment, when in fact he has it completely backwards. Without the not-so-subtle nudge of the law, race relations would never have seen the advancements that have taken place in the last 40 years. We know this because minorities had been denied their rights as equal citizens until the Act.
Paul is also of the strange notion that Abraham Lincoln should never have started the Civil War; that Lincoln should never have acted to end slavery in the United States. He says the way it should have been done was “you buy the slaves and release them.” The question is who would buy them and release them? What was to stop the slave owners from taking their profits from the sale and simply buying even more slaves, thereby extending the slave trade indefinitely? Ron Paul apparently believes that slavery is OK; that the slave owners’ rights were violated because slaves were considered property, not human beings, and the 13th Amendment took away that property. So much for individual rights and liberties. So much for Ron Paul’s insistence that he’s not a racist.
The Free Market and the Environment
Like most Republicans, Ron Paul worships at the altar of the almighty free market. Yes, our economy is built on the basic tenets of capitalism and the ability of the “market” to determine the value of a good or service. Paul, like most Republicans and libertarians, abhors the idea of government regulation. And it is his stated position that as President he would seek to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency (among other federal agencies, but more on that later………and he’s certainly not alone among the other Republican presidential candidates).
The trouble with Paul’s position is that the free market is never really free. Those with more wealth and more power will always be able to manipulate the markets in their favor. A certain amount of regulation is necessary to ensure fairness and that everybody plays by the same rules. Without government regulation you get Enron and Tyco. Without regulation businesses are free to act in fraudulent manners and bilk consumers. Consumers, Paul retorts, are free to pursue damages in court. However, such court battles always favor corporate interests, since they have virtually unlimited resources to draw out any court case for decades. In Ron Paul’s survival-of-the-fittest world view, businesses/corporations have all the rights and all the power, while consumers have none.
Paul believes that the regulations enforced by the EPA impinge on a business’ right and ability to operate in the most profitable manner possible. In Ron Paul’s world, Koch Industries would be allowed to run their chemical plants so that noxious gases spewed freely into the air we breathe.
Again, a company’s rights would supersede the rights of the individual since the individual would have neither the time nor the resources to fight to enforce his own rights. And when a company spews noxious chemicals into the air or toxic waste into our water, we all suffer for it. It infringes on all of our individual rights.
The FDA would also be a prime target of a President Ron Paul. He thinks that dietary supplements should be unregulated; that people should be able to buy whatever supplements they want. But what happens when companies produce products that actually harm the consumers that use them? What happens when a meat packing company sends tainted meat to the market? With no FDA and no regulations, companies would be free to flood the market with dangerous goods (as happened with regularity prior to the New Deal); consumers would have no recourse, and no one would be held accountable. Paul and his supporters claim that the free market would do its own safety testing, but with no independent agencies and no accountability, there is no reason to believe that their products could be guaranteed safe until it was far too late.
Education and Health Care
Paul and his fellow Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachman insist that the Department of education is unconstitutional, as do most libertarians. He says that “They don’t educate our kids, they indoctrinate our kids.” While it’s true that education and schools are not specifically enumerated in the Constitution, it could be argued that Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution can be interpreted as allowing for federal regulation of schools.
Article 1, Section 8 states that “Congress shall have the power to………..provide for the common Defence and general welfare of the United States.” Since education can and should be considered part of the “general welfare” of U.S. citizens, the Department of Education could easily be interpreted as being granted constitutionality. Likewise, the department could also be granted its constitutionality through the Commerce Clause, since a well educated workforce is vital to the success and growth of the nation’s economy.
Paul insists that decisions regarding education should be left to state and local governments. The problem with that is that with no national guidelines there would be no uniformity whatsoever in what can and should be taught in our schools. Some states could choose not to provide any public education at all. What would happen if the states of Alabama and Mississippi decided that they should no longer provide a publicly available education?
Not every family can afford or is qualified to home school their kids. Not every family can afford private schools to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars per year. Without public education, education is no longer a right and becomes out of reach for millions of American citizens. Education once again becomes the exclusive bastion of the wealthy and privileged. Without national standards of science and math and language schools would be free to teach propagandistic nonsense or teach strictly to the Bible.
Healthcare too becomes out of reach. Ron Paul famously said in the September 12th, 2011 Republican presidential debate that a man without health insurance who is in need of intensive care to survive should be left to die.
The example posed to Paul in the debate was that of an otherwise healthy 30 year old man with a good job who chose not to have health insurance because he was healthy. But not everyone is able to afford a health care policy. Not every employer supplies health insurance to their employees. And without government regulation of the health insurance industry, insurance companies could simply decide that it is not profitable to pay for care to certain policy holders, as they often do. Those with pre-existing conditions would be unable to find any coverage at any price. Without Medicare the elderly would be denied access to health care.
Given his libertarian bent, Paul’s stance on abortion is rather curious, opening him up to references as a “selective libertarian.” Individual freedoms are the very crux of libertarianism, yet when it comes to a woman’s right to choose what happens within her own body, Ron Paul wants to take away that right. As a means for covering for his own anti-abortion stance, Paul advocates overturning Roe v. Wade and allowing the states to legislate against abortion.
Every Man for Himself
The problem with Ron Paul’s particular brand of libertarianism is the every-man-for-himself nature of his beliefs. The fact is that there is no such thing as absolute individual liberties. Our freedom and liberties exist only to the extent that they do not infringe on the rights of others. When a business determines that it is much more profitable to dump toxic waste instead of properly disposing of it, or to allow noxious gases and fumes into the air, it is a direct infringement on the rights of others to breathe clean air or drink and bathe in clean water. The rights of a property owner extend only so far as they do not limit the rights of those around him. If I blast music at 110 decibels, it is an infringement on my neighbor’s right to peacefully enjoy his own property.
The courts have always treated the Constitution as a living, evolving document. The Founders were brilliant enough to know that they could not possibly account for how society and the world at large would develop. They could not fathom television, the internet, or space travel, or how technology has facilitated the globalization of the world’s markets. They left the Constitution sufficiently vague so that it could be interpreted to adapt to a rapidly and drastically changing world. The Founders also chose a republic with a strong central government instead of a loose confederation of states. They specifically designed the Constitution so that federal law trumps state law, not the other way around.
A government’s job is to protect the rights of its people; to stand for those who are unable to stand up to the more powerful interests. Is there such a thing as too much regulation? Of course there is. But by the same token, there is also such a thing as too little regulation.