A man isn’t just known by the friends he keeps, but also by the enemies he makes.
This adage equally applies to politics, where often the best way to tell where a candidate stands, or how effective they would be, is not by gauging who stands beside them on the podium but who their sworn enemies are. Being intensely hated can have a more powerful effect on garnering support than being regarded indifferently.
Indifference in politics is a sign of powerlessness.
With Enemies Like These….
Jerry Taylor, president of the DC-based think tank Niskanen Center, writes in a recent column as to why Rand Paul, the most libertarian presidential candidate in the Republican presidential primary, is polling so poorly. Taylor claims that Trump stole many of his supporters who, rather than attracted to Ron Paul’s libertarian stance, were drawn in by his anti-establishment.
The secret of Trump’s appeal to Paul’s base is that a large segment of the “Ron Paul Revolution” leavened its libertarianism with a pony keg of crazy. Birthers, 9/11 Truthers, a wide assortment of conspiracy theorists (many of whom believe the Federal Reserve to be a modern manifestation of the Illuminati), and naked racists rivaled the number of reasonably sober libertarian-ish voters among the faithful.
Paul let these voters down because he was disinclined to offer the distasteful dog whistles that his father traded for extremist support, much less the louder, baser appeals that are Trump’s stock-in-trade.
Putting aside Taylor’s childish rhetoric (as if the idea of a central bank having the authority to print up all the money it wants and set interest rates for millions of people isn’t something to be alarmed at) he pinpoints the problem with how Rand has branded himself, just not in the way Taylor believes.
One thing I agree with Taylor about, however, is that many of those who comprised the Ron Pau Revolution were decidedly not libertarian. They were drawn into the liberty movement for various reasons, chiefly one-issue topics. We’ve seen this in how many who once supported Paul’s campaign have withdrawn from the movement when the principles of libertarianism contradict The Vision™.
Nor would I argue that the Tea Party movement was libertarian, even at its inception. At best, it was a constitutionalist movement with bits of libertarian ideas thrown around when they fit the narrative. But I would refer to it as an anti-Establishment or status quo effort. It certainly had elements of libertarian thought, but how many Tea Party activists quoted Murray Rothbard’s works or that of Ludwig Von Mises, rather than Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand? They were also quite willing to feature speakers like Sarah Palin and throw their support behind Mitt Romney.
Where I disagree with Taylor, however, is that he believes Rand’s lack of support is because he failed to pander to the ugly aspects of his father’s base. Rand’s failure, from what I’ve seen, is he isn’t making enemies. He isn’t hated and despised, as his father was. His remarks aren’t met with an indignant media calling for apologies.
Indifference is a sign of political impotency.
For those of you who wish to recall the 2007 presidential primaries, while Obama was being adorned on magazine covers and subject glowing reviews and the praise and adoration only a full-out sycophant media can provide, Ron Paul was openly hated and reviled as an outsider and extremist. In 2011, media outlets went out of their way to ignore him.
When he was booed by the audience during a debate for suggesting U.S. foreign policy might actually impact how other countries perceive us, it may have appeared like his days were done, but in reality there were far more people who perceived in him a threat to the Establishment and decided he was worth their time and money.
Ron Paul had friends, but what drove many to back him was his list of enemies.
I contend that Ron Paul Revolution was centered around an anti-Establishment theme that sadly failed to sustain itself in that form. Thankfully, it served as the incubator for those of us who eyes were opened and inspired those who had supported liberty for years but been ignored.
Rand’s problem is that he is not creating enemies. Nobody hates him. The media is not calling for his head for saying something You’re Not Supposed To Say even though its true. He isn’t perceived as a threat. One might agree with his political beliefs more than other candidates, but at this moment in American politics voters are less interested in ideas than the destruction of the current regime. They’re not looking for an engineer, so to speak, but a demolition expert.
Trump is clearly waging a war against the current Establishment (even if he intends to replace it with his own), as evidenced by the sheer number of enemies he’s amassed in the passing months. An entire cable TV news station attempted to knock him out of the primaries. Companies have boycotted him. He’s responded in kind. He has drawn blood. Whose nose has Rand bloodied? Who is calling for Rand’s head?
Trump’s supporters don’t like him as much, I think, as they hate the people who hate him. They look at the enemies he makes and see someone who can wreck havoc. As long as he continues fighting and inflicting casualties, they’ll back him. If Rand were to do the same, I believe his support would rebound.
None of this has anything to do with his “libertarian” stances or his image as the libertarian candidate. Ron Paul’s candidacy showed what happens to the libertarian candidate. That ship has sailed.
Political Elections Are Not the Place to Measure the Merit of Ideas
Despite his apparent sympathies with libertarian beliefs, Taylor argues that there is no libertarian vote out there, because if there was someone would have tapped into it by now. On that, I also agree. However, he doesn’t explain why that is (emphasis added); worse, he blames this on libertarians.
Libertarians love to preach the virtues of markets. Yet in the “marketplace of ideas,” their bundled product has been regularly and thoroughly rejected for over a century.
Until libertarians acknowledge that market verdict and re-think either what they’re selling, how they’re selling it, or both, they will remain on the margins of American political life. And for friends of liberty, that would be a tragedy.
The flaw in Taylor’s logic is assuming politics is a free market where people’s political choices have no impact on the rights of other people to choose their preferred ideas. Think of the perverse incentives democracy offers. Rather than selecting what’s best to do with your own property, you are choosing what is best for you, often at the expense of others. For example, in a free market person A and person B can go to choose different places for goods and services. In a political election, however, it is the equivalent of voting on which movie everyone must watch.
In the marketplace, it’s about what you yourself are offering; in politics, it’s about what you’re offering that was stolen from someone else.
Libertarianism doesn’t do well in the “market of ideas” in political elections because voting “libertarian” is often, if not mostly, a contradiction in terms. Elections don’t involve individuals making individual choices for themselves from a wide range of possible options.
I would remind Taylor that communism and its various forms led to the outright slaughter or starvation of tens of millions in the 20th Century alone. The Pilgrims attempted communism before nearly dying of starvation the first winter. Yet the repeated failure of this political ideology and its economic system has done nothing to damper its popularity among voters, even if they’re referred to as “Republican” or “Democrat” proposals. Despite the failures of central planning by the Federal Reserve and the ridiculous length of regulations codified in the Federal Register, when the next economic collapse happens we’re going again see candidates win on a campaign against the excesses of capitalism and the “obscene profits” made by corporations thanks to
getting special favors from the federal government the unfettered free market.
Taylor is right; most people aren’t libertarian, but he fails to entertain why this is other than the fact that it isn’t branded well. Politics rewards the wrong behavior and punishes the right behavior. The best ideas often do the worst in political elections.
Let us not forget that the “market” in politics reflects what the voters want. Could we entertain the idea that freedom and liberty is simply not appealing to the average voter when that freedom and liberty means they must surrender The Vision™? If offered free stuff that someone else has to pay for, or a chance to earn it themselves through a free market, which one do you think the typical American is going to choose?
Trying to make libertarianism fit into presidential elections is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, and any attempt to make it fit only leads to diluting the ideology of any value.