One can describe libertarians in terms eerily similar to Morpheus’ first description of the Matrix: They are everywhere; they are all around us; even now, in this very room, there are closet libertarians waiting to turn around in their desks and proselytize in Viennese economics. You can see them with their hodgepodge signs when you look out your window, and you can spy their novelty wigs when you turn on your television. Whining libertarians are there when you go to work, when you go to church and especially when you pay your taxes.
I can go on and on, and not just because I am unready to accept that this movie is already 12 years old. (Seriously! When did we all get so old?)
But truth be told: It seems everybody knows at least one libertarian acolyte, and often enough, one who isn’t a hysteric parody of Paul Revere. We have come to acknowledge their omnipresence, if not also as a real force to be reckoned with. What sticks with us is the peculiarity of their evangelism, their willingness to parade their outsiderness, and to passionately broadcast their views while steering surprisingly clear of the veiled hate speech that marks the Tea Partiers’ rhetoric. They exert themselves more while at the same time arguing for less.
Why do I suddenly pay them any attention at all? Because this week presidential candidate Ron Paul, the zany septuagenarian who is already the indisputable President of the Internet, announced he would curtail his already neutered bid for the White House, effectively closing the book on his longshot campaign for the Presidency.
Paul has not quit outright. His hope appears to be to pull off an upset in the nominating convention by amassing enough delegates to trade for a policy coalition in a possible (but not really possible) Romney administration.
“Moving forward, however, we will no longer spend resources campaigning in primaries in states that have not yet voted,” Paul said on Monday. “Doing so with any hope of success would take tens of millions of dollars we simply do not have.”
I must give some brief applause to Paul, though. Any other Republican candidate in this position would just have sought a massive corporate udder to nurse on. That Paul seems to value the honesty of his fundraising is noteworthy.
The demise of his campaign’s viability, however, points out an interesting irony in his libertarian platform. Libertarians, if I understand their Morphean logic well enough, ought not to be able to complain. If the people really wanted a President Paul, the free market would arrange it for them. Paul has been unambiguously rejected by the Republican electorate; it should follow that his supporters quiet down or else rally behind Romney.
Nevertheless, I feel we are all in for some whining and moaning from our ubiquitous libertarians this week. Now that their principles have been soundly refuted, I suggest we do not distract ourselves from our cramming to argue with them on these grounds. This would be quite like explaining astrophysics to a Ptolemaean. Here’s a better approach: Paul would not have made a very good president anyway.
His strategy for health care has famously been a tacit solution involving the infirm taking refuge in church pews until they perish. His foreign policy involves reversing a half-century of neoconservative momentum to return us to the type of isolationism where half of Europe must be conquered before we may consider intervention. He would dissolve the Department of Education and the EPA, ostensibly so our tax refunds could pay for more toxic water bottles and duty-free lead-painted garbage from China.
Does Paul’s marginalization present any real consequences for the election? Probably not, except for the fact the right wing loonies now possess the only podium loud enough to challenge President Obama. And those types are handily defeated, if not by Obama alone then by Obama and Romney together.
I suspect that the discrediting of libertarianism that we see in front of us, at least for now, is less an ambition of the Obama campaign and more a cruel twist of fate, a broad public disillusioning with a clever idea that once rang some bells of patriotism. There is still ample room for libertarian thought, for all its emphasis on individual liberties and deliberate government, in the liberal menagerie.
President Obama has discovered his possession of several new ideas recently. Perhaps it is high time for some of them to come with a libertarian twist.