I Get Emails: Why Aren’t Conservatives Warming Up To Ron Paul & Libertarianism?

Email: I’d love to get your take on something, which I’ve asked many people, mostly Romney/Newt/Perry/Cain/Bachmann/Ron-Paul-Doesn’t-Exist Republicans – few of whom have given me a an answer in any form other than an eye-roll, as if I’m just ‘the cutest little heretic they’ve ever met’.

My question is this: How come if you were to ask any conservative – and most democrats for that matter! – their opinion on Friedman or Hayek (assuming they are familiar with their work), and so on, they will immediately take on a child-like excitement, a sort-of modern ‘eudaimonia’, at the very mention of their names and shout their appreciation and agreement and love for them from the top of a mountain; but when asked about the only-lonely little presidential hopeful who plans on putting those economic truths into practice, who articulates those somewhat abstruse ideas better than all current American politicians – Dr. Paul – and who is a strict representative of Friedman’s core economic principles, those same people will surely look at you as if you’re a fool who just “doesn’t get it”, because Libertarianism (REAL liberalism/true modern conservatism) is “unrealistic”.

How come this is so? For all I know, Ron Paul is just an imaginary friend I’ve made up who doesn’t exist in reality. If I only read the papers and watched the news, never browsing the internet, one would be inclined to believe just that!…that Ron Paul does not, or cannot, or should not exist in the minds of potential voters. Can you give me some insight on the conservative ignoring of Ron Paul? And where possible, please omit any potential reminders of how Ron Paul supporters are “cult members” and so on – I’ve definitely heard that already. Besides, it’s not the case that I’m for Ron Paul, the man. It’s not as if Ron Paul is “the right guy” – there is no such thing as “the right guy”, to quote our pocket-sized economics professor. I want to know why D’s and R’s both do their best to make damn sure Libertarianism doesn’t reach the minds of the masses. Thoughts? — From Sam, who liked my 10 Of The Best Economics Quotes From Milton Friedman column

Sometimes when you write a post, you do so knowing that a significant portion of the people reading it are going to conclude that you’re a jerk by the time that they’re done — well, at least that happens to me. Other bloggers not so much, maybe. They don’t write the post. I do. It’s just part of my style, I guess.

In this case, most of the Libertarians who read this post are going to end up mad at me. I know this because that happens EVERY SINGLE TIME I try to address differences in thinking between conservatives and libertarians — especially where it relates to Ron Paul. Whether I’m blunt or I use the most delicate phrasing imaginable, the end result is always the same.

Angry Libertarians.

This is because Libertarians tend to set up a lose/lose situation. They often get upset that they’re being ignored, but when their ideas are taken seriously and criticized, they get even angrier.

That’s why so many conservatives have just ignored Ron Paul this cycle. They’ve seen this movie before in 2008, they feel certain he’s not going to win, and they’ve learned that any criticism of Paul will bring down yowling mobs of Libertarians on them.

So, they just pretend he doesn’t exist.

I’m used to it; so I will tell you honestly what I think of Ron Paul.

To begin with, I agree with Ron Paul on a lot of things — particularly domestically. I think we’ve gotten away from the Constitution. I’d like dramatically smaller government, much less spending, and I’d very much like to see the Fed audited. If Ron Paul and I had a conversation about the ideal size of government and spending, we wouldn’t agree on everything, but we’d probably agree on 90% of it.

But, this starts to get into one of the fundamental differences between conservatives and libertarians. Libertarians tend to think conservatives talk a good game, but don’t believe what we say, while conservatives usually think Libertarians are lost in a theoretical world. It’s kind of like the old joke about economists,

There’s an old chestnut about an economist stuck in a deep hole with two other people whose occupation depends on who’s telling the story. But after the other two try to escape in ways appropriate to their jobs, they turn the economist for a solution. The economist replies, “Assume a ladder.”

To conservatives, many libertarians seem to start with unrealistic policy assumptions like, “Electability is completely irrelevant,” “There is no court system to stop us,” “We can easily make radical, sweeping changes in a variety of areas”….it reminds of a time a few years back, when I was arguing with a libertarian who wanted open borders. When I pointed out that if we had open borders, we’d be leaving ourselves wide open to massive welfare, food stamp, and Social Security fraud, the response was something like, “Just get rid of all of those things.” Ehr…okay, I’ll just wave my magic wand and all those problems will go away. What it comes down to is that there are a lot of constraints imposed on politicians by history, the courts, and the American people that most libertarians either don’t see, don’t care about, or just completely ignore.

Going beyond that — and this is going to be hard to hear– hard core Libertarianism is not a philosophy that is ever going to be embraced by the masses. We live in a society where almost half the people don’t pay income tax, more than half of Americans voted for Obama, and 20% of the country, including the people who control Hollywood, the mainstream media, and the schools, are diehard socialists whose economic views are much more in line with Marx than Milton Friedman. Every square inch we move the country in the right direction requires a political knife fight in a phone booth, so even on the issues where Libertarians and conservatives agree, trying to move the country 10 yards at a time doesn’t seem to be particularly realistic.

……..Which, in a roundabout manner, brings us back to Ron Paul and more things most libertarians aren’t going to want to hear.

Let’s start with this…. Ron Paul is a pretty awful politician.

This seems like a bizarre statement to a lot of libertarians. After all, Paul is great at fund raising, he has a fanatically dedicated fanbase, and he says so many great things about shrinking government, reducing spending, and liberty.

All true and all fair to bring up.

But politicians are kind of like ice cream; a few rat turds can turn a perfectly delicious ice cream cone into a disgusting disaster.

In Ron Paul’s case, he has a number of positions that don’t seem radical to Libertarians, but seem EXTREMELY radical and dangerous to many other Americans. Just to name a few, legalizing crack. Getting rid of the FBI and CIA. Going back on the gold standard. Any one of these issues could be a campaign killer.

That’s even setting aside his foreign policy views.

Honestly, there’s a pretty good case you can make for America being less involved around the world, cutting back our foreign bases, reducing foreign aid, becoming less involved in the UN, and working to improve the efficiency of international trade.

The problem is that Ron Paul doesn’t make that case.

Instead, he takes every one of those positions to the most radical extreme and explains it so poorly that he often comes across like a press flack for Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and anyone and everyone who hates America and Israel. Libertarians never seem to see this, but Ron Paul sounds like a Noam-Chomsky-style, America-and-Israel-hating lunatic when he talks about foreign policy. He doesn’t have to come across that way — He just does. It’s because he’s a terrible politician who has no idea how to artfully explain anything. To a lot of Libertarians, this is part of his charm. It makes him sound authentic. Unfortunately, that only applies if you share the same assumptions about foreign policy that he does, which most Americans in general and most conservatives in particular, do not.

None of this is meant as a rebuke to Libertarians. If Ron Paul were to win, I’d support him against Obama. I also think Libertarians would be smart to join the Republican Party and try to move it in their direction. That said, at the end of the day, there are just some philosophical differences that Libertarians have with conservatives and more importantly, with the rest of the American people, that are probably not going to be ironed out in our lifetimes.

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