Supporters Keep Libertarianism Part of Discussion

Article excerpt

Byline: Associated Press

LAS VEGAS -- To begin: This is not a story about Ron Paul.

Not exactly, anyway. And yet to get where we want to go we will start at OPA!, a Greek restaurant on the edge of town where Clark County Republicans and Tea Party conservatives gathered on Nevada primary night for what looked undeniably like a Ron Paul rally.

In one corner was Cindy Lake, the acting chair of the Clark County Republican Party and a delegate to this summer's Republican National Convention. A self-described "libertarian Republican constitutional conservative," Lake became a Paul convert in 2007 after she heard him advocate for something she passionately supports: the freedom to buy raw milk.

Nearby stood Megan Heryet, celebrating her GOP primary victory in a state Assembly race. Heryet, a real estate agent, substitute teacher and mom, is hardly a Paul fanatic. But she did back him in Nevada's caucuses earlier this year, primarily because she is a big proponent of being free to make decisions such as choosing to give birth to her second child at home instead of a hospital. "It's about being left alone," she said.

And there were the Bunce brothers, Richard and Carl, who marshaled a four-year "Paulist" takeover of the Nevada Republican Party. The tax system is their biggest irritation. "This is the land of the free," said Carl. "How free are we when we've got a government that can choose how much money we keep in our paycheck?"

But we promised this wouldn't be about Ron Paul and, in fact, it really isn't. Rather it's about unpasteurized milk and home births and taxes and, yes, freedom.

Something's going on in America this election year: a renaissance of an ideal as old as the nation itself -- that live-and-let-live, get-out-of-my-business, individualism vs. paternalism dogma that is the hallmark of libertarianism.

Paul, the Texas congressman and GOP presidential hopeful who champions small government and individual liberty, is one manifestation of it. We saw that with his rising popularity during the Republican presidential primary season and, now, the recent "takeovers" of political conventions in Nevada, Minnesota, Maine, Louisiana and elsewhere that will result in a sizable faction of Paul delegates at the GOP convention come August.

There are questions of how all of that might affect the choice of a GOP vice presidential candidate and the Republican Party platform.

But what looms are far larger questions about whether an America fed up with government bans and government bailouts -- with government, period -- is seeing a return to its libertarian roots. And, if so, what that might mean in a potentially close presidential race and long after election 2012 is a mere memory.

"There's this kind of growing distrust of the institutions of government, and so it leads folks to step back and say, `Well if they're not working, then we ought to have less of them in our lives,"' said Wayne Lesperance, director of the Center for Civic Engagement at New England College in the "Live Free or Die" state of New Hampshire.

Paul's libertarian message joins people "who probably under any other circumstances would not see the world the same way and gets them politically involved," Lesperance said. "It is a challenge for the Republicans to wrap their arms around this and harness this in a way that gets them an electoral victory."

This will all be hotly debated this coming week as thousands converge on the Las Vegas Strip for a libertarian fete called FreedomFest. U.S. Sen. Rand Paul -- Ron's son and the future hope of many limited-government enthusiasts -- will speak, along with a slew of libertarian-leaning politicians, scholars, economists and entrepreneurs, from Whole Foods CEO John Mackey and publisher Steve Forbes to Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party's nominee for president.

When the festival first began in 2002, some 850 people attended. …