Ron Paul: Compassionless Conservative?

Here’s proof that I don’t blindly agree with every word spoken or decision made by Ron Paul. Recently, the House of Representatives passed HR 1181 (“Expressing condolences and sympathy to the people of Burma for the grave loss of life and vast destruction caused by Cyclone Nargis.”) 410-1. Guess who the “1” was. That he was the lone voice of opposition in the House is not news. Why he opposed this symbolic resolution and which symbolic resolutions he hasn’t opposed may be. Andrew Malcolm of the LA Times Top of the Ticket blog explains:

“So Paul’s symbolic stand against symbolic silliness looks good.

“But then along come the sharp-eyed folks over at Radaronline.com, specifically Nick Curran, who finds out that Paul’s stand against symbolic silliness when it comes to Asians whose huts and hovels were erased by cyclone, is not quite so principled and a whole lot more enthused about dumb statements of sentiment when the silliness is closer to home.

“Come to find out Paul has voted in favor of similar empty resolutions to congratulate the University of Kansas football team for a swell season and winning the 2008 FedEx Orange Bowl, to the Louisiana State football team for, golly, winning the 2007 Bowl Championship Series and to celebrate the New York Giants for their come-from-behind victory in Super Bowl XLII. “

This didn’t sit well with me, so I wrote an email to Lew Rockwell, Ron Paul’s congressional chief of staff from 1978 to 1982, founder and president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, libertarian activist, and prominent blogger, asking if he or someone he knew could possibly explain Dr. Paul’s rationale. His answer was less than satisfying.

“Eric, the government is not the church. What happens in Myanmar or any other foreign country is none of Congress’s business. Are the victims helped by blather from DC? In addition, foreign aid is unconstitutional and imperialistic.”

I agree that bureaucratic blather does nothing to help suffering people. I also agree that foreign aid is unconstitutional and can sometimes be given in support imperial ulterior motives. There are at least two problems with Rockwell’s reasoning, though. The first is the assumption that the resolution represents blather and not diplomacy. The second is that the resolution offers no aid whatsoever. Here’s what I wrote back to Rockwell:

I think what bothered me more is that though he voted no regarding Burma, he voted yes for domestic frivolities. Where does the Constitution say that Congress can/should pass silly resolutions praising sports teams?

Also, the resolution for Burma offered no aid. The line that a Paul spokesman said offended him suggested that a referendum election be postponed in favor of humanitarian efforts. What’s wrong with that? Is diplomacy beyond the scope of Congress’ powers? If Congress threatened violence or sanctions for noncompliance with its suggestion, it would of course be wholly in the wrong. However, I cannot see why states cannot or should not suggest to others how they ought to address important matters, so long as those suggestions can be freely ignored without fear of reprisal.

You mention the Church. The Church’s laws are only binding on those within the Church. However, the Church is still free to suggest how all people should live (i.e., according to the Gospel), provided that it does not forcibly coerce people into accepting and enacting those suggestions. Likewise, other religious bodies are free to suggest how people should live. Why should governments be constrained from acting likewise on behalf of those who elected them? Why can’t Congress diplomatically suggest that the Burmese government postpone an important vote until order is restored and those devastated by catastrophic events can be reasonably be expected to participate?

Rockwell’s reply left me scratching my head.

“It is none of the US government’s business, which is using the disaster to try to expand the empire. The US government, like all governments, engages in theft and murder. It can keep its charity to itself. On the other hand, the US would not allow foreign help for the victims of Katrina.”

Ever get the feeling you’re not being listened to? He didn’t address a single point I made, preferring instead to add to his list of red herrings. I’ll grant him the courtesy he denied me, though, addressing each point in turn.

Who said anything about empire? Certainly not I. If a case can be made that the federal government is seeking to exploit this disaster for political gain, it wouldn’t shock me to hear it. However, that case has not been made to me yet.

That the US government, like all governments, has at times engaged in theft and murder is obvious historical fact. However, the implication that all governments inevitably or characteristically engage in evil deeds and are therefore wholly evil is a question too substantial to beg. I agree that the government that governs best governs least, but I don’t think we’re ready for Thoreau’s ideal of a government that does not govern at all. Furthermore, Rockwell has not presented an argument for why the symbolic resolution should be construed as a prelude to evil deeds.

Again, the resolution commits no charitable aid. The US government can indeed keep its charity to itself, since it has offered none.

If the US government rejected foreign help for Katrina victims and did a 180 to urge Burma to accept foreign aid for Nargis victims, those involved may be hypocrites. Whether they are or not, though, is a moot point. Rockwell and other hard-core libertarians advise against giving foreign aid on philosophical and constitutional grounds, so why should they be upset if the US government rejects aid? If it’s wrong to give aid, doesn’t it stand to reason that accepting aid would be wrong as well?

I often agree with Lew Rockwell and his associates, and I frequently enjoy reading his blog. However, he’s greatly disappointed me in this matter. I’d say we don’t see eye to eye, but that would imply he’s even facing me. Not only has he responded to reasoned arguments with irrelevant flippancies, he’s also failed to offer any real defense of Ron Paul’s strange voting pattern. For that, I have to look to a comment made regarding the Radar post Malcolm linked to. Commenter hershjay says:

“You didn’t do your homework. Did you read the text of the resolution? Contained within its sympathy framework, was a series of specific condemnations of the Burmese/Myanma military junta’s domestic policies. The resolution was, therefore, neither symbolic, nor benign, but a latent foreign policy stance that could lead to later substantive–probably very expensive–actions by our government. The sports resolutions contained no latent possibilities of later action by the Congress. Ron Paul knows when to be serious, and when to simply cheer. Nice try, but you’ll have to do better.

Below are the offending lines in the resolution. Decide for yourself if they represent a dangerous “a latent foreign policy stance”.

  • Whereas Burma’s military regime did little to warn the people and is not providing adequate humanitarian assistance to address basic needs and prevent further loss of life;
  • Whereas despite the devastation, the military regime has announced plans to go ahead with its May 10, 2008, referendum on a sham constitution, delaying voting only in portions of the affected Irrawaddy region and Rangoon;
  • Whereas the military regime has failed to provide life-protecting and life-sustaining services to its people;
  • Whereas more than 30 disaster assessment teams from 18 different Nations and the United Nations have been denied permission to enter Burma by the junta;

[…]

Resolved, That the House of Representatives–

  • […]
  • (5) calls for the Burmese military junta to consider the well-being of its people and accept broad international assistance; and
  • (6) demands that the referendum to entrench military rule be called off, allowing all resources to be focused on disaster relief to ease the pain and suffering of the Burmese people.

As for the assertion that the sports resolutions “contained no latent possibilities of later action by the Congress”, Arlen Specter’s SpyGate may speak to the contrary. Anyhow, friend and fellow blogger Jerry helped me to see my exchange with Rockwell in a more productive light.

“This is why we need to be both charitable and aggressive in fostering the growth of Paul’s revolution, so it doesn’t become the property of any one ideology. It may mean a loss of purity in the eyes of some, but if the laws of purity are excessively rigid, who cares.

“Rockwell et al. rightfully fight those who would use the force of law and excessive regulation to create some secular Utopia. I agree with them on that count, as I could be described on some levels as an ‘Augustinian liberal': I want to do what I can to help weak and vulnerable, but am quite aware of the limits of what the ‘City of Man’ can do on an institutional level and as a result of that I am suspicious of governmental capabilities and intentions.

“However, Rockwell forgets that Augustinian philosophy is a two-edged sword, in that it would say that any ideology, even libertarianism, ultimately fails you if you make it your one and only polestar. Your email provides plenty of evidence of this failure, such as his unwillingness to see any government, whether ours or the Burmese junta’s, as being more than a thief. To compare us with Burma or whatever is ridiculous. I’d much rather live here and take my chances with Katrina than Cyclone Nargis in Burma. Private groups and individuals helped in New Orleans; they cannot do so in Burma without being harassed or robbed blind at best.

“At the end of the day, the only -ism I care for is Catholicism. Everything else will pass away. But in the meantime, and to do what we can to help ourselves and our brothers and sisters in this life, I hope that Freedom’s Ground and similar associations of free citizens can help liberate the Paul’s ideas–indeed, the principles of the Founding Fathers–from the ultra-libertarian substrate in which it’s often embedded in these days.”

Comments 5

  1. badmedia wrote:

    Why is it automatically assumed that if he voted no, then he wants the worse and most radical things to happen? Thats a black and white way of looking at it.

    I personally would have voted no myself. But only because I do not think it’s the purpose of congress to do that in the first place, nor do I think it helps or accomplishes anything. Combined with the fact that the entire vote is merely a political tug for the politicians. They can say – oh, I’m compassionate and I care, because I voted for this resolution. Meanwhile, anyone who would dare say – what is this BS, and votes no is automatically assumed to be the worse.

    Is this what we pay them to do? To take a vote on a non-binding resolution to say what most people would say automatically as a response to being with.

    Political Nonsense. 100%. Ron Paul voted against political bs, and also brings up issues that actually matter. He’s honest and does it even when he knows people will use it to attack him just like the Rosa Parks medal, the Reagan medal, and now this. He does the right thing regardless.

    410 people said – hey, voting yes for this will make me look good. 1 person said hey – this isn’t the role of government. Ron Paul is “the one”. And thats why he’s my guy.

    Posted 16 May 2008 at 7:51 pm
  2. Jerry wrote:

    Badmedia: I can respect Paul’s reasoning–you have a good point about the role of gov’t–though I may have still voted for it myself (though it is getting hard for me to take the gov’t’s preaching towards China etc. seriously in the light of all our of own snafus).

    However, what about what Rockwell said? It’s not just what Paul voted on here, but some of the ultra-libertarian principles fueling some of his supporters and what that means for the future of the movement and what’s best for the country.

    Posted 17 May 2008 at 9:38 am
  3. Funky Dung wrote:

    “Ron Paul voted against political bs, and also brings up issues that actually matter.”

    Ordinarily I’d agree with you, badmedia, but what about the symbolic resolutions praising football teams?

    Posted 17 May 2008 at 12:03 pm
  4. Eric Dondero wrote:

    Congratulations! You’ve seen the light. Ron Paul is no libertarian. He’s some sort of whacked out leftwing isolationist populist, but he’s no libertarian. We libertarians support human rights. Paul’s vote was a complete embarrassment to the entire libertarian movement.

    Paul’s not just opposed to human rights for Burma, he’s opposed to human rights across the board for anyone. Working for him, I found my discussions with him always tinged with a hint of Anti-Semitism. I know understand why.

    I suggest that you might in fact be a mainstream libertarian: Fiscally conservative, Socially tolerant and Pro-Human Rights.

    It’s tough leaving the “Ron Paul church.” In fact it’s more like a cult. But I left it successfully, after wasting 12 years of my life as a Paul employee. Just be thankful, you were merely a supporter, and not a full-fledged follower or on the payroll.

    Eric Dondero, Fmr. Senior Aide
    US Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX)
    1997-2003

    Posted 18 May 2008 at 7:54 am
  5. Chester Lunt wrote:

    He did not oppose it because it was symbolic. His actual spokesman came out and said he opposed it specifically because of the last point, the demands it placed on Myanmar.

    Paul has certainly shown in the past he is not opposed to the concept of “symbolic gestures,” congratulating teams, condemning terrorist attacks. But these resolutions did not include demands being placed on the teams to re-sign their winning teams, or demand specific internal policies be implemented in foreign countries. And if they did, he undoubtedly would have voted against these too. Thats the difference.

    http://strictconstruct.com/2008/05/17/condescending-politics/

    Posted 22 May 2008 at 12:38 am

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