Ethics Hero: Rep. Ron Paul

One of the benefits of absolutist ethical systems is that they can force you to maintain your integrity when unethical positions are convenient or temporarily beneficial. So it was that libertarian Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tx) emerged from Monday’s New Hampshire debate among GOP Presidential hopefuls as the only candidate who rejected limiting the participation of gays in the military and the infamous “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy. While Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum (naturally), Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty all said, in various and convoluted ways, that they supported DADT, Paul cut precisely to what is ethically offensive about the policy.

“We have to remember, rights don’t come in groups,” Paul said. “We shouldn’t have gay rights. Rights come as individuals….it would be behavior that would count, not the person who belongs to which group.”

I am far, far from being a Ron Paul fan, for his libertarian principles lead him to as many irresponsible positions as ethical ones. And he is certainly emboldened to risk the displeasure of the Republican base as a candidate with about as much chance of getting the Republican nomination as I do (though more of a chance than Newt Gingrich).  But on a night when six of his rivals pandered to homophobia and embraced a policy that both violates core American values and endorses lying, Ron Paul alone had the courage and principle to correctly place “Don’t Ask” where it belongs, in conflict with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

24 thoughts on “Ethics Hero: Rep. Ron Paul

  1. I listened to some of the debate. It made me sick to my stomach thinking that these people are contenders for President. Truly, truly scary, though its’ still early in the primaries so they’re likely pandering to the base. I think that and Romney’s calm “The Constitution will still be the law of the land” (while Cain was acting paranoid about muslims trying to impose Sharia Law in the U.S. and Gingrich comparing them to Nazis or Communists) were the most reasonable things said last night.

    I think the “this or that” questions were asinine, though. Were they supposed to be like a rhetorical palate cleanser or something? “Deep dish or thin crust?” OMG Who the **** cares?!

    • I agree: The pandering was scary; the anti-Muslim paranoia was scary; the cowardice was scary. What was scariest was that all of the candidates ducked the same key question Obama ducked in his debates with McCain: given the nation’s debt crisis, what are your priorities…what will you choose NOT to do? Obama—I remember at the time thinking, “Uh-oh!”—answered by saying, in essence, “It’s all important…I want to do everything.” And that’s just how he’s governed, too. Leadership requires discipline and focus. I didn’t see any last night.

      The “this or that” questions were idiotic. The device could be well done, to expose which of the candidates are, for example, completely estranged from the culture. But knowing that Tim Pawlenty doesn’t watch either Leno or Coco tells me nothing other than the fact that he goes to bed at decent hour.

  2. On the other hand, the supposedly pro-civil rights Ron Paul for decades published a newsletter containing vile racist commentary. When first asked about this in 1996, he accepted responsibility for writing or editing the columns in question and denied they were offensive. When again confronted with the columns in 2008, he claimed to be learning of them for the first time and denied all knowledge of how they came to be written and published. (Remember, the columns bore his byline, were written in the first person, and contained details of his personal life and those of his wife and children.) After saying that he was too busy during the period of time when the newsletters were published to know who wrote and edited them, he claimed that he had fully addressed the issue and declared the matter to be closed.

    Doesn’t he have an ethical responsibility to fully investigate how he came to publish vile, racist newsletters and reveal the truth about this matter to the public?

    • I swear I wrote about this when it first surfaced, but I can’t find it. Sure, Paul is 100% responsible for what is published under his name, and both the Paul boys have dubious racial views, I’d say: his son still thinks the Civil Rights Act is unconstitutional. Ethically (and otherwise) flawed people can still do and say the right things, and when they do, it’s appropriate to give them credit. Note that Paul gets no ethics points from me for opposing the Defense of Marriage Act, wince he did so on ideological rather than ethical grounds: he doesn’t think the government should have a role in defining marriage, just as he thinks the government shouldn’t confer benefits or incentives for marriage. A libertarian can be a bigot or not, and it won’t change his positions one bit..

  3. Adam,
    Your take on the Paul Newsletter controversy is a bit off. When confronted in 1996, Paul stated that the writings were offensive but vehemently denied writing them (a story which has never changed). One can definitely argue he still bears responsibility, but there’s a difference between carelessness and bigotry.

    It may also be important to note that the statements in the newsletters were never repeated in public speeches, or anything writings which could directly be tied to Ron Paul himself. Moreover, when the controversy re-arose in 2008, he was defended by no less than members of the NAACP who also agreed they were not indicative of his overall beliefs or message.

    Secondly, Jack, *I* think the Civil Rights Act is unconstitutional and while my views may be wrong or misguided, they don’t make me (or Rand Paul) a racist. Believing that racism isn’t the same as supporting Jim Crow. How can you not attack him for not supporting the Defense of Marriage Act because of principle, but suggest racism on Civil Rights? Furthermore, his opposition to the DOMA isn’t solely because he doesn’t like government involved in marriage, but because it’s bigoted as well. Most of the things he said are merely echoes of statements make decades earlier by none other than Mr. Conservative himself, Barry Goldwater (also in favor of gays in military service and against the CRA). Was HE unethical too?

    Frankly, I’m not sure why you seem to have it out for libertarians, but you’ve suggested on more than one occasion that they’re more inclined towards ethical gray-areas or missteps than others which I just don’t see. What makes it more prone to tricky ethical dilemmas than communism, republicanism, or straight-up anarchy? Absolutist positions may seem obstinate, but they’re far from heartless. Libertarians support individuals over groups (or try to), it’s true, but they’re not AGAINST groups in principle.


    • “Dubious racial views’ should not be interpreted as “racist.,’ and I don’t think I’ve ever said either were racist. I think Rand is naive, and that “separate is inherently unequal” slam-dunks the constitutional question re: the Civil Rights Act.

      My ethical problem with libertarians is crystallized by just this issue: there are things government has to do to prevent massive injustice (or worse, in the case of warfare), and yet strict libertarians will oppose them. A sound theory for unethical conduct doesn’t make it less unethical. Conscience clauses are unethical, whether they advance personal freedom or not….as one example.

    • But last night, Paul didn’t say it was bigoted. He just said that government shouldn’t be involved in marriage. If he thought it was bigoted, that would have been a courageous time to say so, don’t you think?

      • Jack,
        No, he didn’t, because it’s not really any of his business. He may not like those who support the DOMA (nor do I) but there’s nothing unethical about having an opinion. It’s laws that are wrong, so that’s the front he fights on (the same could be said of racists, as it were). Being a a homophobe or a racist may be bigoted, but so is hatred of the hatred. Live and let live is a much easier code of conduct to enforce.

        I concede that you never called him a racist, that was me incorrectly paraphrasing you, and I apologize. What upsets me, however, is your assertion that it’s his “racial views” which are suspect, instead of his views on the efficacy of state-run programs. Even allowing for the fact that Ron Paul may have, in fact, believed every word written in his newsletter, Rand is innocent of all those charges. What’s more, even if they are racially dubious, I highly doubt either Rand or Ron want to see the CRA overturned just so they increase problems for Black America.

        “..there are things government has to do to prevent massive injustice..”
        Says who? I realize we could play the example/counter-example game all day long (which would go nowhere), but you can’t simply assert that ONLY government can do something and expect others to tow the line. Which is exactly what makes your critique against libertarians so subjective in the first place. There’s more than one way to skin the proverbial cat, so to speak. At one time we (in the generational sense) were told ONLY government could deliver mail, or that ONLY government could provide electricity, or even send a man into space .. see where this is going? In the reverse, we were told that only government could regulate the airlines or decide safety standards, and look what a clusterfuck that’s become. Social issues are different, I realize, in a pragmatic sense, but it does underscore the point that just because other options haven’t been tried, they don’t exist

        It’s important to note, by the way, that Jim Crow was enforced racism which was being carried out by the very same government that would later rule against them. In fact, the first such laws were passed to stop the growing “problem” of an ever-growing black middle class. The job market was flooded with former slaves and sharecroppers who were willing to work at a fraction of what equally skilled whites and then getting the crazy idea they should have rights too. I’m not sure we should keep putting our faith in a monopolistic, hegemonic institution with such a long history of bad policy making and flat-out ineptitude. Encouraging more regulation, laws, and judicial fiat only worsens the problem by institutionalizing it. There’s been a Bureau of Indian Affairs for over a century and Native Americans are arguably worse off now than they ever were. Seriously, what am I missing?


        • Rand, by his own admission, would have the government allow hospitals, restaurants, doctors, lawyers, hairdressers et al. refuse to serve blacks, no matter how much it disadvantaged them, stigmatized them, and harmed them, because of absolutist principles that simply fail in the matter of race relations. That’s not racist (though most blacks would say so), it”s just, as I said, naive, cruel, and wrong. I have spent several ridiculous hours arguing with libertarians that the United States should have just let Hitler take over Europe, and that Lincoln should have let the south depart in peace. I confess, these ahistorical positions (devised, I believe, because to confess the obvious puts a big hole in ideology) have a lot to do with my skepticism of libertarianism generally.—that, and the fact that I believe that legalizing drugs is literally suicidal.

          I am the last one to assert that ONLY government can address injustice, and I agree that it usually behaves like a six-year-old with a shotgun.

  4. Jack,
    To clear up some confusion, in the 3rd paragraph, I name Rand Paul and them proceed with the pronoun “he” throughout, which might have been fine except I was referring to both Rand and Ron at different points. However, considering their views on both DOMA and the CRA are mostly the same, it shouldn’t really alter the overall point I was driving at. Still, I’m tedious to a fault and couldn’t let the error go uncorrected.



  5. I have to take exception to the notion that disagreeing with repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and reversing said repeal is somehow proof of homophobia in and of itself. I disagree. How is that pronouncement of homophobia anything other than prejudice? Or is this a form of “ethical” prejudice?

    The military’s purpose is not to be some laboratory for social experiments, or even to be a reflection of society. It’s job is to protect the country.

    • The “social experiment” argument is a dodge. What experiment? Gays have been in the military for centuries. Patton may have been gay. Adding women was a much bigger “social experiment,” and that has worked out OK. DADT treats gays as some kind of destabilizing contagion…if there were legitimate justifications for it, there would be some honest gay commentators who favored it. It is based, by definition, on fear of what the presence of gays will do, which is a phobia. Homophobia could not be more accurately applied.

      • Exactly. Being gay isn’t contagious, we don’t forcibly convert soldiers in the shower, and we aren’t going to slip you Congressman Weiner while you sleep. Grow the *** up.

  6. It should be noted that the law that was enacted last year was not a repeal of DADT, but an expansion . As an opponent of homosexuals in the military put it .

    An actual repeal of DADT would have been to go back to the pre-Clinton policy, where recruits were asked if they were gay, and an affirmative answer disqualified them from joining the military.

    DADT was not repealed.

    It was instituted as a “camel’s nose in the tent” method of opening the military to gays. This latest move is the next step in the process, letting the camel in.

    Ron Paul had voted for DADT back in 1993. His vote back then versus his recent statements are not contradictory.

  7. Pingback: Hooray for Romney and Paul for eschewing the politics of discrimination and hatred against Muslims and gays at the GOP debate « Ethics Bob

  8. It must be interesting to live in the alternate reality-land that is modern liberalism. The Constitution and limited government. Scary? Really?

    Government being given carte blanche to socially engineer society is a historically ignorant and suicidal position. This may not be the intention of modern liberals, but when you empower the government to act to enforce “social justice,” and to right the wrongs of society, then you are wittingly or unwittingly empowering the government to dumb down the population, to make them passive, docile, and obedient.

    Since modern liberals have an “us-them” attitude towards those who do not subscribe to their ideology, this may not seem like a bad thing. After all, “hateful” bigoted Christians need to be put in their place, or else they might start roaming the countryside looking for witches. White males might start looking for black girls to gang rape, and might seek to reinstitute slavery again. Am I right or am I right?

    The point is that the government has no business meddling in society, for any reason whatsoever. Not to make you and supposed minority groups feel more socially accepted, and not to civilize people, which is to say, condition them for state domination. Men and women are supposed to have dignity, which is only possible with relative autonomy.

    It never ceases to baffle me how supposed intellectuals can be so trusting towards the state, so fearful of the market and of difference of opinion in society, so indifferent to truth and reason, so hateful and disrespectful to those who do not agree with them, so ideologically confused as to the nature of politics, society, and economy, and the proper relationship between them most conducive to human freedom and the potential for happiness.

    (I don’t expect you to publish this, because modern liberals don’t believe in free speech and open debate either. In your eyes, I’m just a hateful troll.)

    • This is a false choice argument, of course. Confirming the governments traditional role in reinforcing societal values and standards does not in any way point the way to an excessively intrusive entity. “Government has no business meddling in society, for any reason whatsoever” is utter nonsense, a great example of ideology completely divorced from reality. Societies need cultures, and a society’s leadership always has a legitimate role in shaping that culture. There has never been a successful society that operated otherwise.

      And the real joke is that you could read this blog and label me, of all people, a “modern liberal.” When you are so far out in the libertarian stratosphere that I look liberal, your compass is waaaaay off, buddy. Check your equipment.

      • There is no false choice arguments, only actual choice arguments. Reality isn’t about synthesis, A=A. Only Marxists use this “false choice” argument. And the very notion that governments should determine culture, that is just a pure cultural Marxist assumption. Every hear of a civil society? Probably not in the non-Gramscian sense. And as for your subjectivist closing, I am judging you on the basis of your ideology, not on my subjective perception of them, There is a way to define ideology according to evidence, and not according to some solipsistic whim.

      • Jack, I don’t envy you the “honor” of being the only man I know to have been accused of being liberal, conservative, pro-religion, anti-religion, pro-government, anti-government, politically correct, bigoted, uncompromising, accommodationist, etc., all on the same day.

          • Heck, it’s the reason why I still read your blog. Also, rogueoperator’s comments remind me of the adage that dogma, no matter what its content, tends to be really similar in form; replace Marxist with Capitalist and subjectivist with objectivist and I could see his last comment being written out by some Hard-Left nut.

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