The government with Only One Law
by Ronn Neff: part two
50 Ron Pauls
The first objection is this: Can I not see that things would be different if the Libertarian Party could elect 50 Ron Pauls to Congress?
Of course, things would be different. It does not follow that a freer or more-just America would be one of the things that would be different. But yes, some things would be different.
Preeminent among the different things would be the Libertarian Party itself. The election of 50 Ron Pauls to Congress would imply, for example, that there were 50 Ron Pauls in the Libertarian Party. At present, there are none. Even Ron Paul isn't in the Libertarian Party, though he once ran as their hapless presidential candidate.
The problem with the idea of 50 Ron Pauls being elected to Congress from the Libertarian Party is that the LP doesn't have 50 Ron Pauls, let alone 50 who could ever be elected. This objection illustrates a major problem with political strategic thinking, and the strategic thinking of the Libertarian Party in particular: it projects a state of affairs, asserts that that state of affairs would be a Good Thing, and then calls for efforts to achieve it. It does not ask whether that state of affairs is consistent with people as they are; it does not investigate political relationships to determine whether libertarianism can be inserted into the mix successfully and without damage to itself. It merely observes that people can vote, and if they can vote, it asks, why not vote for a Libertarian? It rightly understands the metaphysical fact that people can change their minds and assumes that it can persuade them to change their minds about existing political relationships.
What is omitted is what might be called a feasibility study.
Could the LP ever raise enough money to get 50 Ron Pauls on the ballot? Where would it come from? Would the ballot-access laws be a hindrance? How would the campaigns be conducted and who, ultimately, would do the voting?
And if elected, what would the winners do? Would there be no defections to support nonlibertarian measures? Would the new officeholders all agree on what would and what would not be acceptable compromises? What would their influence be? Would they (could they?) be reelected?
The central problem is always the question of the context in which these 50 worthies would be standing for election. If you think that the fundamental problem with America is that it is essentially a well-conceived or -designed republic, though lately betrayed and corrupted, and that if we can just elect the "right people" all will be well, then you might imagine that the 50 Ron Pauls could be elected and have an influence in Congress and Make a Difference.
But if that is not at all the kind of country the United State is, then, perforce, there are other factors at work that the dreamer of 50 Ron Pauls has not taken into account. He is like a chess player who devises a brilliant attack that completely omits the countermoves his opponent might make. Keep in mind that the political class Republicans and Democrats have already colluded to keep third-party candidates from enjoying an equal chance of gathering votes. If there is a ruling class in the United State, that class will also not be idle in meeting the threat of 50 Ron Pauls. It will stymie them at certain points, and when it cannot, it will work to corrupt them. To be sure, some Ron Pauls will always slip through; the ruling class is neither omnipotent nor omniscient in its choice of methods of meeting a threat. But its judgment is right often enough for its purposes.
Moreover, if the United State is not just some republic that has gone wrong here and there and all we need to do is to get the Right People in office, then the LP must confront the remaining obstacles. And, having never given them a thought, it has no idea of how to overcome them. Indeed, the Party has not even considered whether they can be overcome by political action. Its entire strategy of political action is based on assuming the answer to questions it has never asked.
Consider an analogy with socialists and environmentalists. Pose a social or economic problem, and they offer a solution that involves expanding government power. It is a commonplace that they do not ever ask whether the state may rightly involve itself in the matter. Many libertarians and even some conservatives have noted that omission. But socialists and environmentalists also do not question whether the state is competent to solve the problem. They merely note that if they can get a certain amount of money and enact a certain number of laws, then the problem will be solved, or at least it will be managed. They do not see deeply into the body politic or into the economy to apprehend that their actions will create other problems. They do not apprehend that the instrument they wish to use is not suited to the purpose of solving the posed problems.
Similarly, Libertarians never look deeply enough into the matter of political power. They see that they are a political party. They see that other political parties win elections and accomplish goals. Why can't they? They merely dream that their party can produce a desired outcome. They do not first establish that a party is the proper instrument for achieving that outcome.
Their error stems from their failure first to notice that the outcome they desire is different in kind from the outcomes desired by successful parties. Other political parties are able to achieve power and even to exercise it because that is their goal. Political parties are perfectly good instruments for achieving such outcomes. But the Libertarian Party claims that it has a different goal; is it plausible that partisan political action can achieve that different goal? Why should the methods appropriate to reducing liberty be appropriate to rescuing and expanding it?
One Ron Paul. But there is yet another difficulty of the 50 Ron Pauls: Ron Paul himself is no Ron Paul. Yes, we all delight in hearing that he has opposed this or that measure as unconstitutional, that his lone voice has been raised in objection to the president's bombing some miserable outpost that has remained outside the empire. But Paul, like all of us, must pick and choose his battles e.g., whether to vote for Dennis Hastert as Speaker of the House of the 107th Congress and he will make choices (more exactly, his staff will make choices) that disappoint some Libertarians. And those disappointments would mean if he were a Libertarian that he would meet with primary challenges that as a Republican he perhaps is less likely to meet. And what do primary challenges entail? They entail the soaking up of resources that are then not available to use in the general election. In other words: Precisely because the Libertarian Party attempts to be a party of principle, the compromises its elected members make will weaken them as candidates the next time they must seek reelection.
Let us pass over the exercising issue of his vote to invest unconstitutional war powers in George W. Bush (but see my "Ron Paul's Gift") and limit ourselves to a somewhat obscure measure: Ed-Flex. This was a bill that allowed states to waive certain federal education regulations and opt out of certain federal education programs, and to use federal funds the way the states saw fit. However, in order to participate in the program, the states had to agree to certain accountability measures of student performance. If student performance did not improve, the federal government could take the state's flexibility away from it. Should Ron Paul have voted for or against this bill? Some of the grassroots groups that have supported him argued that he should not vote for it, because he would be conceding a certain level of school accountability to the federal government. Others argued that he should vote for it, because the program returned some marginal bit of control over education to the states. Still others pointed out that returning control of education to the states failed to free education from the iron fist of government from local government, which has no more right to regulate education than the federal government has.
Ron Paul voted for Ed-Flex. That vote did not cost him a primary challenge in the Republican Party. But is there any doubt that it might have cost him a primary challenge if he were a candidate in a Libertarian Party healthy enough to have primary challengers?
Because of the way measures are presented in Congress, the 50 Ron Pauls can often expect to have to vote on measures just as confusing as Ed-Flex. And they, too, must take into consideration the possibility of getting reelected. Some years back, a Libertarian state legislator in Alaska voted for an increase in the state corporate income tax on oil companies. He argued that the measure was sure to pass, because the alternative before the legislature was to increase the personal income tax. Had he voted against the measure, his vote would have been represented as a vote in favor of increasing the personal income tax. Could his own publicity have protected him when it was time to stand for reelection? No one will ever know.
The point is just this: Ron Pauls are not as plentiful as they might seem to be when mere fancy is doing the counting; and once they are in Congress, there is no doubt whatever that some of them will cease to be Ron Pauls and some of them will cease even to appear to be Ron Pauls. And most of them will never see the inside of the House of Representatives except as tourists. The American political system requires a certain kind of man to win elections and to function in its government. Most Libertarians are of such personality and character and find themselves in such circumstances that they would probably never run its gauntlet successfully; they would never reach the kind of local prominence necessary to win a congressional seat at all. The existing electoral system can tolerate one or two Ron Pauls if it has to; and it is astonishingly adept at keeping others out.
Polite Totalitarianism is not going to be overturned just by fancying that the Libertarian Party can elect 50 Ron Pauls. An average chess player might equally as well say that he can become the World Champion: all he has to do is consistently make better moves than his opponent.
But there is even more that the Libertarian Party has overlooked, and that is how these Ron Pauls are going to function if they do win. I refer here not to their votes on measures that come before them or to the necessity of reelection. I refer to the most mundane and quotidian activities, starting with their pay. Bear in mind that the Libertarian Party rightly regards taxation as theft. Just how are these 50 Ron Pauls going to be paid once they are in office? Will the party find only rich men who do not need an income disbursed from the taxes extracted coercively from their constituents? Does the LP suppose for a second that the rest of the government will sit still while someone else makes donations to these congressmen so that they can continue to pay their mortgages, put their children through college, or even make their car payments? The LP debated this matter some years ago. I do not know whether it ever arrived at a plan, but I am confident that whatever it decided it cannot legally put into effect.
I said "office" a moment ago, and I was referring to the congressmen's position in government. But let's ask about their physical offices. Will they be renting space out of an office building somewhere in Washington, paying for their own electricity and heating? Of course not. Their offices will be found on "government-owned" real estate, and all the bills attendant to them will be paid out of funds extracted coercively from their constituents. Will they have a staff? Who will pay the staff? It is illegal now for any Ron Paul to pay his staff himself or for anyone else to pay them. It is also illegal for private persons to buy the computers for staffers or to pay the monthly charges on their cell phones. It is even illegal for the staffers to buy their own office equipment. And if those Ron Pauls decide that in that case they will do without a staff, then their effectiveness will be compromised.
What the state has done is to so armor itself with so many presuppositions and prohibitions that no one who would reform it from within can do so because the presuppositions and prohibitions must be accepted even to be within. And this is yet another matter the LP has never properly confronted: You cannot reform the state from within unless you are within it. And to be within it is to become part of the problem that was to have been solved in the first place.
But perhaps it will be thought that certain compromises will be necessary just to get real reform started and that those compromises can be tolerated. To be sure, that is a possible outcome. But it is not the outcome that one expects from a party that proclaims its devotion to principle.
Can such a temporary compromise succeed? I myself doubt it. I take my thinking from a Russian proverb that stands at the head of Tolstoy's play "The Power of Darkness": A talon is caught; the bird is lost.
To the next part: "The government with Only One Law."
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