Book Review: What His Libertarianism Means

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 30, 2012 | Go to article overview
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Book Review: What His Libertarianism Means


Byline: Robert VerBruggen, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

In all of modern American politics, there is perhaps no phenomenon more bizarre than the loyal following of Ron Paul. The candidate has a rare set of ideas, and he is not a particularly compelling speaker. Yet many of his fans would take a bullet for him.

Brian Doherty of Reason magazine has been watching Mr. Paul for decades, and in his Revolution - or rather, Ron Paul's rEVOLution, as it's stylized on the cover to emphasize the backward love - he tells the story of how an unassuming Texas legislator and gynecologist came to lead such a movement.

Mr. Paul is often referred to as a libertarian, and he does want a radically smaller government. But when it comes to describing Mr. Paul, libertarian leaves a lot unsaid. What libertarianism is to the mainstream American political debate - an interesting participant that's far from the center on many issues - Mr. Paul's take on libertarianism is to libertarianism itself.

While most libertarians are leery of governmental attempts to manipulate currency, Mr. Paul's opposition to the Federal Reserve and his support for the gold standard border on an obsession. Where most libertarians support abortion rights, Mr. Paul is strongly pro-life, though he thinks abortion policy should be set at the state, not federal, level. Whereas most libertarians are cosmopolitan advocates of open borders, Mr. Paul has been critical of immigration. And while most libertarians are at least skeptical of foreign entanglements, Mr. Paul has taken an almost across-the-board anti-war stance. He even went so far as to tell Rudolph Giuliani, at a Republican debate in 2007, that Sept. 11 was a result of U.S. meddling in the Middle East.

Mr. Paul has been around for a long time. He was first elected to the House in the 1970s, and he even ran for president on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1988. But in Mr. Doherty's narrative, that Paul-Giuliani exchange was the spark that lit the fire of the rEVOLution; Mr. Doherty says that in his research, he met countless people who came to support Mr. Paul when they saw him face off with the former New York mayor. To Mr. Doherty, Mr. Paul's foreign policy - peace, as Mr. Doherty describes it - is one of the main draws of the Ron Paul movement.

Whatever the cause, Mr. Paul has been a significant force since then. No, he never had any prayer of actually becoming president - Mr. Doherty tells the almost heartbreaking story about how his devotees poured tons of effort into New Hampshire, perhaps the nation's most libertarian state, during the 2008 primaries, only to come away with a mere 8 percent of the Republican vote. But wherever a small, highly dedicated fan base can make a difference - at the Iowa straw poll, in Internet polls, in guerrilla marketing campaigns - Mr. Paul always makes a strong showing.

This following is almost as interesting as the candidate himself.

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