Friday, April 29, 2011

Selective Praise

Beltway politics is dirty. That's why besides the occasional joke or quip, I mostly ignore it. But it's pretty disheartening when libertarians seemingly go out of their way to make disingenuous comments about other libertarians. In particular, Ron Paul, in maintaining a cosmic balance for all the undeserved praise he gets, seems to get a good share of fallacious criticism.

Shikha Dalmia writes in praise of Gary Johnson:
Johnson, who became the first to declare his candidacy for the 2012 Republican nomination last week, is the most consistently pro-liberty Republican or Democratic candidate in living memory. Like [Ron] Paul, he is anti-war, anti-big government and pro-civil liberties. But unlike Paul, he is pro-choice (except for late-term abortions), pro-immigration, pro-trade and untainted by bizarre conspiracy theories that NAFTA is a prelude to the dissolution of North American borders. Nor does he have Paul’s racist newsletter baggage. His signature issue is not abolishing the Fed or returning to the gold standard. Rather, it is avoiding the impending financial collapse by cutting government spending on everything by 43 percent -- Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and defense -- a plan bolder than any that either party has proffered.
When I noted that Paul was also "pro-immigration" and "pro-trade," Dalmia responded with an article by Paul which argues that secured borders are integral for national defense, immigration should come legally, immigrants should assimilate, amnesty should be opposed, immigration should not be subsidized by welfare, and birth-right citizenship should be revoked. I wasn't particularly thrilled with the article, but it still doesn't demonstrate he's not pro-immigration. In fact, Paul has stated many times that he believes immigrants are scapegoated for problems actually created by governments. And he's said such things on national television and in debates. He's by no means anti-immigration and every indication is that he supports mobility between nations. The article provided to me was far more anti-immigration than anything I'd heard from Paul prior -- likely not a great indicator.

As far as allegations of not being pro-trade, Dalmia responded that he was "disingenuous" and provided this link which states:
NAFTA is not free trade. And in this I agree completely with Ron Paul. True free trade would require a single sentence “we remove all restrictions and regulation on trade.” It would not require the back breaking document that is the North American Free Trade Agreement. It is, as Congressman Paul says, managed trade not free trade.

I disagree that it would be a good move to get rid of NAFTA at the moment. It is certainly not perfect but it is better in many ways than what existed before and it is better than what is likely to replace it. If Congress would pass a bill with the words I wrote above, then NAFTA can be safely gotten rid of. This, however, seems unlikely.

Ron Paul has this idea that NAFTA will lead to a North American Union that is similar to the European Union. This is a gross misconception of what the EU is and what NAFTA is. There is nothing with the sort of power or role of the Commission, the Council of Ministers, or the European Parliament in NAFTA. There is not even a similarity in the range of policy areas that the two organizations handle.

Furthermore the underpinnings of both are completely different. NAFTA came out of the neo-conservatism of the 1980s. The EEC (later EU) came out of the neo-functionalism of the 1950s. These two concepts couldn’t possibly have less to do with each other. It was never a hidden goal of EEC supporters that they wanted to make a united Europe. It was the stated goal to bind together and avoid the horrors of another world war. The idea that there is a legitimate political movement pushing for a united North America is simply unsubstantiated. NAFTA was meant to increase trade and nothing more.
Disingenuous? I think not. Kooky or not pragmatic enough? That's debatable.

Ok, so a case, albeit I think a weak one, could be made that RP is not pro-trade or immigration (or that he's not concerned with the looming budget disaster and would prefer to yammer about the mundane Fed). What I want to know is why when discussing RP, it's a binary and when discussing Gary Johnson, it's degrees. Paul is implicitly labeled anti-immigration and anti-trade because he holds nuanced positions -- and in the case of the trade, it's actually more principled. But Gary Johnson's "anti-war" cred isn't held up to the same scrutiny. He's clearly not as disinterested in intervention as Paul:
Johnson is open, in principle, to waging humanitarian wars. ‘If there’s a clear genocide somewhere, don’t we really want to positively impact that kind of a situation?’ he says. ‘Isn’t that what we’re all about? Isn’t that what we’ve always been about? But just this notion of nation building—I think the current policy is making us more enemies than more friends.
Johnson might outscore Paul on immigration, abortion, and gay rights, but I'd have no doubt Paul would score better on war, civil liberties, drug policy, monetary and fiscal policy on the "standard" libertarian check list. And where Johnson outscores Paul, the issues are really up for debate.

If one wanted to make the case that Johnson is consistently more pro-liberty than Paul, I think they'd have to argue that pragmatic policy is more libertarian because it actually gets shit done -- that principled libertarianism doesn't get us anywhere. Even if that were the case, Ron Paul hasn't demonstrated that he isn't pragmatic. He's outlined where he would prioritize budget cuts and how he would phase out programs and allow opting out. He has not mention anytime in recent history how he'd just start shutting down operations with the flick of a switch.

Milton Friedman, perhaps the most famous libertarian of them all, argued against open borders in the presence of the welfare state. I highly doubt Dalmia would say he wasn't pro-immigration. In fact, Paul and Friedman are pro-immigration with caveats -- those things you add to your positions so that they make sense given different circumstances. Those caveats might be incorrect, but she ignored that they even existed. If there's one thing libertarians love to bitch about, it's how non-libertarians ignore their nuance. It seems libertarians can be good at playing the same game.

The article was clearly biased. I just want to know why. Why is Ron Paul frequently viewed as a kook, a bigot, a racist, an anti-semite, a homophobe, a xenophobe, etc, etc? Not that he couldn't be those things, but it seems more like it's just assumed by his critics by virtue of the fact that he's an old white Christian traditionalist from Texas. And Oh, he believes in state's rights! Clearly a fascist, right?

I'm not going to vote for Paul or Johnson. Hell, I'm not going to vote. And both have positions I disagree with, but when you're criticizing either one, fucking make sure you're criticizing a position they actually hold.