The influence of libertarians at the Republican National Convention cannot be understated. Although their favorite politician, Ron Paul, will not be nominated for president and may not even get on the ballot, the ideas of adherents to individual liberty are taking root within the Republican Party. Paul’s unsuccessful run for president in 2008 inspired a core group of libertarians to become active in politics; these same libertarians must now redirect the attention of the party back towards its fundamental principles as the presidential election draws closer.
In 2010, the Tea Party movement took many libertarian themes to the national stage, calling for candidates from both parties to champion fiscally conservative values. While it did not share libertarians’ views on social issues, the Tea Party movement was able to both bring a serious debate on spending into the national spotlight and inject libertarianism into the Republican Party.
Many libertarian ideas have been incorporated into the party platform, a testament to the amount of hard work Ron Paul and his supporters have done to influence Republicans and the political debate in America in general.
Five years ago, Paul’s crusade against the Federal Reserve was considered a fringe movement. This week, the Republican Party adopted language supporting a full audit of the Fed and the creation of a commission to evaluate a return to the gold standard. On a more practical level, Paul Ryan has indicated support for eliminating the Fed’s dual mandate. The dual mandate requires the Federal Reserve to keep both unemployment and inflation in check, despite evidence indicating that the Fed can’t influence long term unemployment.
Paul Ryan talks a good game, but in the past he has been less than libertarian in his votes. He has supported No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, Head Start, the Bush Stimulus, TARP and the GM/Chrysler bailout. All of these big government measures were taken under the direction of Republican George Bush at a time when limited government was nothing more than a buzzword to Republicans.
Paul Ryan’s voting history pales in comparison to the impact he could have using the bully pulpit to proclaim the good word of economic liberty. He makes a compelling case for not only the morality but also the pragmatism of free markets.
What is critical for libertarians going forward will be to separate Ryan’s pro-market rhetoric from any big government policies the Romney/Ryan administration and Republican Party implement. Rampant deregulation and capitalism were incorrectly blamed for the 2008 financial crisis, and these same voices now call for more government intervention to stimulate the economy. The first of many failed government interventions in the wake of the crisis was pushed by Republican George Bush and defended as necessary to save capitalism.
In his speech at CPAC this past February, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul called the Republican Party an “empty vessel” which we must imbue with values. The Republican Party went astray in the 2000s when it began to stand not for free markets and individual liberty, but for big government solutions to society’s problems, becoming “Democrat Lite.”
Ronald Regan famously said that libertarianism is the heart and soul of conservatism. It will be up to the vocal minority of the Republican Party that staunchly believes in individual liberty to be the conscience of a party which sometimes cares more about election results than principles.