Being a libertarian can be incredibly frustrating during an election year. While at the very least enjoying the horse-race circus and laughing at the absurdity, most often we are left with two politicians who agree on 95%-97% of substantial issues, but differ on minor ones, wear different suits, or use different rhetoric. As Friedrich Hayek noted decades ago, liars and crooks tend to rise to the top in politics, and this presidential election is no different. Obama versus Romney, two wings of the same bird of prey.
Which is why I should be forgiven for occasionally indulging in political fantasy to ease my desperation. Let's say, for example, that instead of two corporatist and warmongers competing for the presidency, Texas Republican Congressman Ron Paul was elected president in 2008.
Far-fetched? Perhaps. But this idea deserves exploring given what Obama has done in the last three years, and what the Republicans and Democrats, the only two parties we're supposed to vote for, have accomplished in the last few decades. First off, President Paul — a genuinely humble and decent man, a doctor not a lawyer, someone who understands history, economics, and is as well read as Thomas Jefferson — would instantly bring a new look to the Oval Office. Paul stutters, stammers, uses run-on sentences, wears suits that don't fit, and would be the oldest president in history. He is the ultimate un-politician. In an era of sex scandals, teleprompters, and grammatically challenged leaders, Paul is a statesman that tells you the truth and is armed with the courage of his convictions.
Paul talks openly about his philosophical opposition to the welfare-warfare state, his defense of individual liberty, and support for constitutional government, but dismantling decades of bad economic policies and unnecessary foreign entanglements can't be done overnight. Nor should it be. Given his strict adherence to the Constitution, Paul knows that he needs the approval of Congress in order to get anything done, like abolishing federal departments. Even with a loud populace behind him making call after call to their congressman, it would be unlikely to trim the domestic state down to its proper constitutional size. But Paul's best weapon is not an ability to legislate and compromise, but his veto pen and a non-interventionist foreign policy.
1) A Curtailment of Empire
Paul has said repeatedly that if the president has the power to order U.S. forces into combat on nothing more than his own say-so, then it stands to reason he can order troops home as well. On day one, Paul tells his generals that he needs a quick, effective exit strategy on his desk tomorrow morning, or their resignation letters. Troops (and contractors) are soon withdrawn from Afghanistan and Iraq, the over 1,000 military bases around the globe start shutting down, hundreds of thousands of troops come home to their families, and the Navy is pulled back. Paul announces to us and the world that the U.S. seeks peace, friendship, and trade with all, urges neutrality and diplomacy, and lifts sanctions and embargoes. In practical results, this means a likely huge drop in the price of oil (war causes volatility and shaky prices), billions if not trillions of dollars saved, no Predator drones, no assassinations of U.S. citizens, and puppet dictators are cut off from their taxpayer handouts. State threats are easily deterred by an armed populace, a strong Air Force, and a couple of nuclear submarines, and non-state threats are quickly and effectively captured and tried or killed by letters of Marque and Reprisal and other constitutional tools.
2) The Bill of Rights is Restored
Paul's "Freedom Agenda Act of 2007" would be the basis of his work to stop the erosion of our basic civil liberties. The bill, which basically repeals the Military Commissions Act of 2006, would "clarify that no information shall be admitted as evidence if it is obtained from the defendant through the use of torture or coercion. It codifies the FISA process as the means by which foreign intelligence may be obtained and it gives members of the Senate and the House standing in court to challenge presidential signing statements that declares the president's intent to disregard certain aspects of a law passed in Congress. It prohibits kidnapping and extraordinary rendition of prisoners to foreign countries on the president's unilateral determination that the suspect is an enemy combatant. It defends the First Amendment by clarifying that journalists are not to be prevented from publishing information received from the Legislative or Executive branch unless such publication would cause immediate, direct, and irreparable harm to the United States."
Straightforward, direct, and the country'd be freer overnight. Paul does this simply by ordering federal agents not to snoop, spy, torture, or violate anyone's privacy or be fired. No more PATRIOT Act or Obama's NDAA. Paul would also direct federal agencies to respect the Tenth Amendment and refrain from undermining state laws. Fifty laboratories of experimentation with different policies and an end to a one-size-fits-all federal approach to delicate issues. Which brings me to...
3) Legalized Marijuana/End to the Drug War
Even with the threat of the federal government and a very aggressive DEA hanging over the heads of any state that wants to write its own laws, 16 states have already legalized or decriminalized marijuana. Paul's strong convictions against drug prohibition, combined with an enforcement of the Tenth Amendment, withers the drug war. This begins to highlight the true absurdity of the drug war and the black market profits that it creates, leading to the decriminalization of other drugs as well. Drugs are soon sold by pharmacies instead of ruthless cartels. Millions of non-violent drug users are released from prison back to their friends and families. Violent crime begins to decline, and with the expansion of individual liberty comes the growth of more humane ways of handling drug abuse and addiction. Prison costs fall. Both cops and neighborhoods are safer.
4) No More Corporate Welfare
This is an easy one. The super-rich are easily the biggest benefactors of government welfare and wealth transfers, and this becomes a popular place to cut. The Export-Import Bank is defunded, no more TARP-style bailouts, and corporations like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Monsanto, and hundreds of others that wax fat off of government subsidies are forced to compete in the free market and face the wrath of choosy consumers. The CEOs may not like it, but the people cheer.
5) Social Security Protected
While correctly noting the unconstitutionally of welfare transfer programs like Social Security, President Paul does more in one term to preserve the program than any person before him. Most of the empire and overseas spending is slashed by now, and the money saved is used to patch up the current holes in Social Security and help those who currently rely on it for their retirement. But in the midst of making sure these programs aren't touched, Paul is frank and honest with the American people: these types of programs are not authorizes in the Constitution, are antithetical to a free society, and that previous administrations have been lying to you about the cost.
By 2050, "entitlement" programs will incur nearly $120 trillion of debt. Not only is the forced transfer of private property and wealth from one person to another immoral, Paul reasons, the program is bankrupt. Paul urges a program that would allow the young and most tax-burdened to "opt out" of the Social Security payroll tax, voluntarily creating a generation of more independent and free people.
Additionally, Paul constantly stresses the Federal Reserve's role in destroying the purchasing power of the dollar, a trickle-down tax that especially harms those living on savings and fixed incomes, like seniors. So what good is a Social Security check every year if it continues to buy less and less? Populist support for an audit of the Fed grows, as does support for Paul's calls to legalize currency competion.
Now, this seems like a lot to get done in one term as President, but keep in mind that these are all things that can be accomplished simply by having a principled statesman in the White House dedicated to the repeal of unconstitutional government power. Most of the stuff Paul would like to get done, however, would require Congress (as it should). While dismantling an empire, restoring civil liberties, and pulling back federal bureaucrats, Paul would constantly be working with both Democrats and Republicans in Congress to lower taxes, auditing the Federal Reserve and repealing legal tender laws, repealing federal regulations, abolishing the IRS, and shutting down departments.
This will obviously keep Congress busy, and realistically, very little of these repeals (at least in their original form) will likely be approved by Congress. Much gridlock will ensue. But wouldn't that be great? Some peace and quiet from Washington! While Paul comes off as a moderate who will only sign a balanced budget and is honestly concerned about the financial future of the country, the spend-happy Congress looks more and more like extremists. The country's mood shifts, ever closer to Paul's pragmatism, discipline, and the power of his veto pen. Even if Paul does not get a single thing he wants from his domestic libertarianism, just imagine how much better off the country would be if Paul was elected in 2008 and only the above things were accomplished. That's quite the first term if you ask me.
And perhaps most importantly, for four years President Paul has the bully pulpit at his disposal, and in his calm and gentlemanly demeanor, would do what he did for decades on the House floor, issuing prophetic warnings about the dangers of central banking, empire, a vanishing Bill of Rights, and the virtues of peace and a free society. The national debate would constantly be shifting in Paul's direction, as people are finally offered an idea that isn't Left-Right bickering but a philosophy that synthesizes civil liberties and free market economics, that believes in the Fourth and Second Amendments. A Paul presidency would have been just what the country needed: a new foreign policy, decentralization, and a coming out party for a libertarian philosophical tradition that stretches back as long as human beings have desired to be free.