Republican Candidates Battle for the Law Professor Vote:
Here's the tally so far; a surprisingly large percentage of well-known conservative professors have signed up with a campaign.
Rudy Giuliani: Lillian Bevier, Steven Calabresi, Ronald Cass, Charles Fried, John McGinnis, Daniel Rodriguez, George Priest, Nicholas Quinn Rosencranz, Ron Rotunda
Fred Thompson: Michael Abramowicz, Jonathan Adler, John Baker, Michael Dimino, Viet Dinh, John Duffy, Brian Fitzpatrick, Rick Garnett, Orin Kerr, Caleb Nelson, Eugene Volokh, Todd Zywicki
Mitt Romney (technically an advisory committee on the Constitution and the Courts): Michelle Boardman, Mary Anne Glendon, Alan Ferrell, Douglas Kmiec, Stephen Presser, Brad Smith
John McCain: If law professors are organizing themselves on behalf of McCain, it's not easy to find on the web, though my colleague (and former head of the FTC) Tim Muris is a bigwig in the campaign.
Careful readers will note that Thompson thus far has an overwhelming edge among Volokh Conspiracy bloggers (no, we haven't discussed this among ourselves, and I'm pretty certain there won't be a blog endorsement). I find it especially interesting that Romney, who was pro-choice until recently, seem especially popular among the "serious Catholic" law professors.
As for me, I can't say I have a strong preference, and I find that, as usual for someone like me who is very libertarian and highly skeptical of politicians, the choice is a choice among lesser evils, to wit: Thompson's "Lawyers for Thompson" site attacks Giuliani for being pro-choice and pro-gay rights, which are among Giuliani's greatest virtues as a candidate. I thought Giuliani was about as good a mayor as New York is going to get, but I can't forget that he abused his prosecutorial office for political gain as U.S. attorney in the 1980s, and he is probably the least likely of all the major candidates in both parties to rethink the drug war. At least Giuliani has stayed true to his liberal positions on social issues; Romney's sudden conversion to pro-life conservatism suggests that either his current or his former views were purely opportunistic. And then there's McCain-Feingold.
Ron Paul is a tempting protest vote, and I did support him in 1988 when he ran as a Libertarian, but he strikes me as running less of a "libertarian" campaign than a pacifist, populist campaign that does have some appeal to young and idealistic libertarians, but has too much appeal to the old, paranoid, and racist pseudo-conservatives. There seems to be a right-wing version of the Popular Front mentality among many Paul supporters: just like it was okay for Social Democrats to ally with Stalinists for "Progressive" ends in the old days, it's okay to ally with 9/11 and various other conspiracy theorists, southern secessionists, Nazis and fascists, anti-Semites and racists, against the common enemy of the modern "welfare-warfare" state. Count me out!
So I have no strong preference among the Republican candidates at this point. Even if I did, I can't imagine why anyone would care enough to bother putting my name on a list, but then partisan politics isn't my thing.
UPDATE: Not surprisingly, I've heard from some Paul supporters urging me to reconsider. Also not surprisingly, none of them have provided any indication that my description of the Paul coalition is inaccurate, or that Paul has gone out of his way to discourage support from the conspiracy-mongers and "white nationalists."
Assessing Presidential Candidates:
Like David Bernstein, I doubt I will pick a particular presidential candidate to support. In my view, assessing candidates is a far more difficult business than many people seem to suppose. In looking over the candidate's record, it's necessary to separate out those positions that he or she took because of genuine commitment from those adopted because of the political constraints the candidate was under at the time. Consider Mitt Romney's socially liberal/pro big government (on economic issues) record as governor of Massachusetts. How much of this represented Romney's true convictions, and how much was the liberal Massachusetts political environment? It's very difficult to tell. If Romney's past positions were primarily a product of the political environment he was in, they may be poor guides to how he will perform as president in a very different setting.
Like co-blogger Jonathan Adler, I'm impressed with some of Fred Thompson's statements on federalism. However, I wonder how much of it he really means and how much represents the fact that he spent his political career as a senator from a conservative state and then as a Republican presidential candidate (settings where supporting federalism - especially in a vague general way - carries few risks, and at least some political benefits). Back in 2000, candidate George W. Bush also made positive noises about federalism, only to support massive expansions of federal power once he got into office. Thompson is probably better in this respect than Bush (I suspect); but it's hard to tell by how much. In any event, being better than Bush on federalism is a very low standard of comparison.
Ultimately, however, the key lesson of libertarianism is that we don't want a system where we have to place heavy reliance on the good intentions of individual politicians. Such reliance is all too likely to be misplaced. Instead, our ultimate objective must be to reimpose strong limits on government power so as to minimize the harm that politicians of any stripe can cause.
As I see it, my main comparative advantage as a blogger is not to tell you to support candidate X vs. candidate Y, but rather to help promote and develop libertarian ideas as thoughtfully and effectively as I can. If those ideas become widely enough accepted, even the most unprincipled of politicians will have to reckon with them out of self-interest. If they don't, even candidates personally sympathetic to liberty will have to support big government to a large extent in order to get themselves elected. The world I hope one day to live in is one where the outcome of presidential elections matters a lot less than it does now because government - especially the federal government - doesn't wield so much power.
None of this means that we should be completely indifferent to electoral outcomes. Some candidates are indeed a lesser evil than others. However, I prefer to focus most of my energy on analyzing broader systemic issues rather than on the immediate electoral politics of the moment. In the long run, the tide of opinion on the former is likely to be far more important than the latter.
Reflections on Ron Paul:
Various people have asked me what I think of Ron Paul's presidential campaign, and whether it will be good for libertarianism. Here's my take:
Ron Paul deserves credit for his strong commitment to limited government on many issues, including taxes, regulation, federal spending, and federalism-based limits on federal government power. Nonetheless, I am skeptical that his candidacy will provide much of a boost to libertarianism. There are also a number of major nonlibertarian elements to Paul's issue positions, some of which are extremely disturbing. The worst is his highly statist position on immigration. I should also note that I strongly disagree with Paul's foreign policy positions. But I'm not going to focus on those issues in this post, because I think libertarianism leaves room for extensive disagreement in that field.
I. Why Ron Paul's Candidacy Won't Provide Much Help to Libertarianism in the Long Run.
The big problem with claims that Paul's candidacy will provide a major boost to libertarian prospects is that he has virtually no chance of winning the Republican nomination or even coming close to doing so. Virtually all polls have Paul running under 10%. Despite the understandable enthusiasm of Paul's supporters, I doubt that he will even come close to winning a single primary, let alone the nomination. I don't see how libertarian ideas are helped by becoming associated with a presidential campaign doomed to abject failure. To the contrary, if libertarianism more generally becomes closely associated with Paul, his virtually inevitable crushing defeat will be viewed as a major setback for all of us.
Some Paul advocates compare him to Barry Goldwater or George McGovern, presidential candidates who advanced their ideology's longterm prospects despite suffering overwhelming electoral defeat. The big difference between Paul and these predecessors is that they managed to win control of their respective political parties, even though they went on to lose in the general election. Paul, by contrast, has no realistic chance of taking control of the Republican Party.
II. How Libertarian is Paul?
Even if Paul has no chance of winning and little chance of providing a major boost to libertarian prospects, it might be reasonable to support him as a protest candidate, in order to express support for libertarian views for its own sake. I might be willing to go along with this view if it were not for the fact that some of Paul's major issue positions are distinctly nonlibertarian.
As the Club for Growth describes here, Ron Paul has opposed virtually all free trade agreements. Few ideas are more fundamental to libertarianism than free trade. As the Club has documented, Paul also has opposed school voucher programs. In both of these cases, in fairness, Paul claims that his position is based on the idea that some other approach - unilateral free trade or home schooling - is even more libertarian than what he opposes. Even if he is correct on these points, I see no libertarian virtue in supporting the far less libertarian status quo against free trade agreements and school vouchers respectively. Even if trade agreements and vouchers are not the optimal libertarian policies, they are surely superior to the status quo of tariffs and government monopoly schooling.
Perhaps worst of all, Paul has bought into the conservative nativist line on immigration. He not only favors a massive crackdown on illegal immigration but even seems to endorse the view that immigration should be "reduced, not expanded" whether legal or not. To my mind, the freedom to choose where you live and the right to move to a freer and more prosperous society are among the most important of all libertarian principles. From a libertarian perspective, our relative openness to immigration is one of the most admirable aspects of America.
Unlike in the case of free trade and school choice, Paul doesn't even pretend to argue that his position is based on the idea that there is some other policy that will be even more libertarian than the one he opposes. Instead, he clearly endorses the big goverment option of a "allocat[ing] far more resources, both in terms of money and manpower" to cracking down on illegal immigration and perhaps reducing legal immigration as well.
Lastly, like David Bernstein, I am troubled by Paul's refusal to repudiate the Stormfront neo-Nazis, racists, 9/11 "Truthers," and other assorted wackos who have endorsed him. Paul is not responsible for the views of these people, and I do not believe that he personally agrees with them. However, his apparent unwillingness to distance himself from them suggests that he is insensitive to the despicable nature of their views, and the significant damage that association with them could do not only to his campaign, but to libertarian causes more generally.
On some of the above issues, I might be willing to swallow Paul's shortcomings if he had a real chance of winning. A successful campaign necessarily requires compromise, and I'm not naive enough to believe that I can find a viable candidate that I agree with on everything. A libertarian protest candidate, however, must be judged by higher standards. If I am to support a candidate not because he is the lesser evil among those with a chance of winning, but as a statement of libertarian principle, he better actually reflect those principles. By that standard, Paul clearly falls short.
One Last Ron Paul Post:
Several Paul supporters have pointed me to the Paul campaign's official statement on racism, which they say makes it clear that Paul is against racism, and doesn't want the support of racists. Color me unimpressed and unpersuaded, at least on the latter point. Here is the statement, with my comments in bold:
A nation that once prided itself on a sense of rugged individualism has become uncomfortably obsessed with racial group identities.
Just recently? No obsession with "racial group identities" in the Jim Crow South? Was African slavery "rugged individualism?" Whites, in general, are actually much less interested in their "racial group identities" these days, aren't they?
The collectivist mindset is at the heart of racism.
Okay, I'll buy that.
Government as an institution is particularly ill-suited to combat bigotry. Bigotry at its essence is a problem of the heart, and we cannot change people's hearts by passing more laws and regulations.
The primary issue for public policy isn't whether "bigotry" can or should be stopped by government, it's whether "discrimination" (acting on bigotry with regard to employment, housing, etc.) can and should be stopped by government.
It is the federal government that most divides us by race, class, religion, and gender. Through its taxes, restrictive regulations, corporate subsidies, racial set-asides, and welfare programs, government plays far too large a role in determining who succeeds and who fails. Government "benevolence" crowds out genuine goodwill by institutionalizing group thinking, thus making each group suspicious that others are receiving more of the government loot. This leads to resentment and hostility among us. (emphasis added)
Wait, I thought "we cannot change people's hearts by passing more laws and regulations!" So the government can only create bigotry, but never combat it?
And come on, the idea that the federal government "most divides us" is absurd. I don't know how to measure the precise effect of government on harmony among Americans, but I do know that historically there is a positive correlation between a small federal government and high levels of bigotry in society. I don't think that this is a causal correlation, but it's also true that, historically, small federal government hardly prevented racism and other forms of bigotry, and that large and growing federal government has been consistent with a decline in such bigotry.
Racism is simply an ugly form of collectivism, the mindset that views humans strictly as members of groups rather than as individuals. Racists believe that all individuals who share superficial physical characteristics are alike: as collectivists, racists think only in terms of groups. By encouraging Americans to adopt a group mentality, the advocates of so-called "diversity" actually perpetuate racism.
So far, Paul has condemned racism in general, but the only specific categories of racialist thinking he has criticized are racial set-asides, and advocates of "so-called 'diversity.'"
The true antidote to racism is liberty. Liberty means having a limited, constitutional government devoted to the protection of individual rights rather than group claims. Liberty means free-market capitalism, which rewards individual achievement and competence - not skin color, gender, or ethnicity.
This wording technically would apply to claims of white European males making "group claims" against the government, but given that in practice it's only non white European males who are currently the beneficiaries of group claims, Paul is continuing to attack only left-wing racialists, and not more traditional manifestations of racism.
In a free society, every citizen gains a sense of himself as an individual, rather than developing a group or victim mentality. This leads to a sense of individual responsibility and personal pride, making skin color irrelevant. Racism will endure until we stop thinking in terms of groups and begin thinking in terms of individual liberty.
In short, at best this statement reveals a naive faith in the idea that government is the root of all problems, as in the old joke, "How many libertarians does it take to screw in a light bulb? None, the market will take care of it!" Don't like racism? Reduce the federal government and it will go away!
At worst, by completely ignoring the historical role of racism in American society, and the diminished but not insubstantial role racism by whites continues to play in our society, and focusing criticism only on advocates of "diversity," (even, apparently, when they advocate only voluntary, non-governmental action to achieve diversity), the Paul campaign is appealing to the Pat Buchanan (and beyond) wing of the "Old Right", while trying to preserve some plausible deniability on race to its more tolerant libertarian constituency.
That's not to say that personally Paul isn't really against racism; in the absence of evidence to the contrary, I assume that he is. Rather, the point is that his campaign seems to be taking the same unfortunate position that Goldwater did in 1964; condemning racism in general on principled libertarian grounds, but providing winks and nods that support from racists for racist reasons would be welcome.
And now, back to my hiatus.
UPDATE: Here's a transcript of Paul condemning the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Interestingly, Paul doesn't manage to slip in any kind words for the Act's prohibition on discrimination by the states, a prohibition all principled libertarians should support, and, for that matter, that even Goldwater, with his strong suspicion of federal power, supported. Paul's condemnation of "forced integration" under the act is rather ambiguous; is he talking only about government imposition on private parties, or about the federal government's role in prohibiting state and local government discrimination, too?
FURTHER UPDATE: A similar, somewhat more detailed critique by Dale Franks.
And, from Alabama history professor, David Beito, here are clips of Ron Paul speaking in a debate before a primarily minority audience. As David points out, Paul deserves praise for pointing out the destructive effects of the drug war on inner-city communities.
Ron Paul, Racism, and Federalism:
As co-blogger David Bernstein discusses here, Ron Paul's statement on racism claims that "it is the federal government that most divides us by race, class, religion, and gender." As I have argued in great detail here, the federal government's record on racism is not as good and that of the states not as bad as is often supposed. For much of American history, the federal government facilitated rather than combatted slavery and (later) Jim Crow. For example by imposing southern-style segregation in the District of Columbia, the one part of the US where the federal government enjoyed virtually unlimited lawmaking authority even before the New Deal. Prior to the modern civil rights movement, blacks probably benefitted from federalism in so far as it permitted northern and western states to pursue more liberal racial policies than Congress would likely have imposed had it enjoyed the same degree of control nationwide as it did in DC. As I have discussed in various articles (e.g. - here and here), federalism enabled many southern blacks to "vote with their feet" and move to relatively less hostile jurisdictions.
Nevertheless, Paul's claim that the feds are principally responsible for racism and racial division cannot possibly be sustained. It was, after all, state governments that took the lead in defending slavery, segregation, and other forms of discrimination against blacks and (in the Western states) Asian-Americans.
As David notes, Paul's statement on racism mostly targets modern affirmative action and racial preferences, while ignoring traditional racism against minorities. Even these policies, however, are much more common at the state and local than the federal level. Most government-created affirmative action preferences involve state and local government contracting or admissions policies at state universities. I don't agree with Paul's implication that these programs are as bad or worse than traditional Jim Crow-style discrimination against minority groups. But to the extent that they do cause racial division and other harms, state governments are primarily to blame.
The inescapable truth here is that combatting government-imposed racial discrimination often requires federal intrusion on the autonomy of state and local governments. Recognizing this is in no way inconsistent with libertarianism, a political philosophy in which the allocation of power between different levels of government is a purely instrumental value. It does, however, seem to be a blind spot for Ron Paul and his campaign.
UPDATE: It is only fair to note that, to my knowledge, Ron Paul is the sole candidate in either party to denounce the harm done to inner city African-Americans by the War on Drugs, the federal government policy that has probably done more damage to minority communities than any other over the last several decades. I don't think that the War on Drugs is inherently racist, but it certainly has been prosecuted with almost criminal indifference to the welfare of low-income minorities.
Against Mike Huckabee:
I may not know who I'm for in the Republican presidential race. But I do know one leading candidate I'm definitely against: newly anointed frontrunner Mike Huckabee.
Conservative UCLA law professor Steve Bainbridge, libertarian Cato Institute scholar Michael Tanner, and libertarian-leaning columnist Deroy Murdock present some excellent reasons why anyone who cares about limiting the power of government has every reason to oppose Huckabee's nomination. In addition, the pro-free market Club for Growth gives a strongly negative review of his record on economic policy as Governor of Arkansas, concluding that he holds "profoundly anti-growth positions on taxes, spending, and government regulation." As Bainbridge points out, the libertarian Cato Institute gave Huckabee an "F" on its fiscal policy report card, a worse record than numerous very liberal Democratic governors.
I don't quite agree with all of Bainbridge, Tanner, and Murdock's points. Like Huckabee and unlike Bainbridge, I support the death penalty; like Huckabee and unlike Murdock, I am skeptical of the need to use waterboarding of prisoners as part of the War on Terror. However, the overall picture of Huckabee that emerges is one that exemplifies the worst elements of "big government conservatism." Huckabee combines a predilection for high levels of government spending and economic regulation with an even stronger commitment to nanny state regulation of personal behavior. The latter is exemplified by such positions as his support for a national smoking ban, his advocacy of government programs to prevent obesity, and his enthusiasm for government enforcement of conservative social mores.
To be sure, as I noted in one of my earlier posts on the presidential race, candidates' records are difficult to interpret because many of the positions they take are produced by the political constraints they face rather than by conviction. Perhaps some of the more objectionable elements of Huckabee's record are products of the vagaries of Arkansas politics. Nonetheless, it is telling that in his years as governor of relatively conservative Arkansas, Huckabee posted a significantly more anti-market record on economic policy than did Romney as governor of liberal Massachusetts and Giuliani as mayor of liberal New York City; indeed, his record was worse than that of many liberal Democratic governors of liberal states. It is also noteworthy that Huckabee endorses not only those forms of social regulation that other conservatives embrace (e.g. - cracking down on pornography), but also many of those usually associated with liberals (e.g. - the smoking ban). The latter can't easily be explained by the constraints Huckabee faced in conservative Arkansas.
I'll end on this note: the real danger posed by Huckabee is not so much his potential impact on specific policies as his impact on the future of the Republican Party. As president, Huckabee's policy initiatives will to some extent be constrained by a Democratic Congress and other factors. However, if he attains a reasonable degree of popularity and political success, a President Huckabee would have a freer hand in reshaping his own party in his image. He might be able to complete the work begun by George W. Bush and his congressional allies: the transformation of the Republican Party into a pro-big government party emphasizing populism and social conservatism. At this point, of course, it is still much more likely that the next president will be a Democrat. However, if things continue to improve in Iraq and the economy doesn't go south, there is some chance of a Republican victory. If it does happen, let's hope the lucky beneficiary won't be Mike Huckabee. One big government conservative administration in the 21st century is more than enough.
Pro-Fred & Anti-Huck:
As regular VC readers know, I am one of several conspirators who is supporting Fred Thompson's campaign for President. I cannot speak for the others, but my reasons for supporting Thompson include his commitment to federalism, his candor on important issues other candidates would prefer to avoid (e.g. entitlements), and his record on regulatory reform and government oversight over the past thirty years. For National Review's pentultimate issue (the one before they endorsed Mitt Romney), I authored an article making the conservative case for Thompson. For those without subscriptions to the print magazine, here is an excerpt:
Sen. Fred Thompson may be a professional actor, but it's hard to find a more authentic conservative candidate in this campaign. He has been a consistent champion of fiscal discipline, national security, and government reform, among other issues important to the Right. As National Review recently editorialized, "Thompson has set a standard for specificity, conservatism, and soundness" yet to be matched by any other candidate. More than anyone else, he advocates a conservatism of the head that should appeal to conservative hearts. If the Republican nomination should go to the most principled and consistent conservative in the race, there should be little question that Fred Thompson is the man to nominate.
Some worry Thompson doesn't want the presidency badly enough. In an era when politicians plan their political moves years, if not decades, in advance, Thompson is almost an accidental candidate: someone willing to run if the people want him on his terms. This may be his greatest liability — but it should also be an asset in wooing conservatives to his cause.
Thompson, after all, is not running a campaign of simple slogans or pandering platitudes. He is willing to take positions that risk offending potential constituencies. Witness his attack on the gluttonous farm bill and opposition to some business-favored federal tort reforms. He may have been unprepared to answer a media question about the "Jena 6," but he can discuss the crisis in Pakistan, the threat of nuclear proliferation, regulatory bloat, or the future of entitlements with a level of nuance and detail that comes only from genuine intellectual engagement. If Republicans are looking for an "anti-Hillary" — a reluctant candidate with a commitment to limited government who will bring honor and integrity to the White House — it would be hard to do better than Fred.
In addition to supporting Thompson, I share Ilya's aversion
to Mike Huckabee, and his brand of know-nothing, big government populism. In my view, there is nothing conservative (and certainly nothing remotely libertarian) about Huckabee's agenda. Hence, I declared myself both "Pro-Fred and Anti-Huck.
There are many things I don't like about Huck, ranging from his economic illiteracy and protectionist impulses to his embrace of creationism and nanny-state mentality. As Kimberly Strassel noted in the WSJ, Huckabee sounds good, but the substance is often lacking — and what substance there is provides little comfort.
Over on NRO's The Corner, I have blogged a bit about Huckabee's call to quarantine AIDS victims in 1992. (See also here and here.) Questioned about this statement in the past week, the Huckabee campaign has dissembled (as I noted here), denying he called for a quarantine and pretending as if this was not an irresponsible policy position in 1992. Huck himself took the same tack when asked about the issue on Fox News Sunday, denying the clear import of his prior statement, and suggesting his position was correct, although he would "say it a little differently today." I'm sorry but that's not good enough. If Huckabee cannot acknowledge that his call to "isolate" those who were HIV-positive in 1992 was grossly irresponsible, it is just one more reason he should not be the next President of the United States.
Drezner on Huck's Foreign Policy:
Daniel Drezner has read Mike Huckabee's Foreign Affairs article outlining his approach to foreign policy so we don't have to. It seems Drezner is saving us from Huck's "loopy writing" and contradictory arguments.
The essay is a great symbol of Huckabee's campaign -- there are feints in interesting directions, but in the end it's just a grab-bag of contradictory ideas.
In a New York Times Magazine profile, Huckabee mentions columnist Thomas Friedman and new sovereigntist Frank Gaffney as his foreign policy influences. Those in the know might believe this to be impossible, but Huckabee's Foreign Affairs essay really is an attempt to mix these two together in some kind of unholy alchemy. Take this paragraph:
American foreign policy needs to change its tone and attitude, open up, and reach out. The Bush administration's arrogant bunker mentality has been counterproductive at home and abroad. My administration will recognize that the United States' main fight today does not pit us against the world but pits the world against the terrorists. At the same time, my administration will never surrender any of our sovereignty, which is why I was the first presidential candidate to oppose ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty, which would endanger both our national security and our economic interests.
Really, you just have to stand back and marvel at the contradiction of sentiments contained in that paragraph. It's endemic to the entire essay -- for someone who claims he wants to get rid of the bunker mentality, Huckabee offers no concrete ideas for how to do that, and a lot of policies (rejecting the Law of the Sea Treaty, using force in Pakistan, boosting defense spending by 50%) that will ensure anti-Americanism for years to come.
The AP reports on Huck's article here.
Problems with the Fair Tax Proposal:
Economist Bruce Bartlett has recently published an excellent article debunking the "Fair Tax," a proposal to replace the federal income tax with a 23% sales tax that has been endorsed by Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and a few other conservatives. As Bartlett explains, some prominent Fair Tax supporters falsely claim that it is what he calls a "double free lunch." Against both empirical evidence and basic economic theory, they claim that people will get to keep all the money they would now pay as income tax without experiencing any increase in the prices of goods and services they purchase (even though the latter would now have a hefty new sales tax attached to them).
In addition to Bartlett's many well-taken objections, there is another serious problem with the Fair Tax and other schemes to replace income taxation with sales taxes: they makes the true cost of government less visible to voters. For all its flaws, the income tax system at least gives taxpayers a fairly clear indication of what their total income tax liability is: every April you have to calculate it, or hire an accountant to do it for you. In a sales tax system, by contrast, you don't really know how much money you're paying the federal government in all. To be sure, you can calculate the amount by keeping close track of all your purchases and then multiplying by 0.23 at the end of the year (assuming the proposed Fair Tax rate of 23% is the one enacted). However, given that most voters are "rationally ignorant" and have little incentive to keep close tabs on government policy, it's unlikely that many will do so. Moreover, as Bartlett explains, Fair Tax supporters intend to supplement their basic proposal with a complex system of rebates that would make the total tax burden even more difficult to calculate. The net result of the Fair Tax would be to make the true cost of government less visible to voters. That, I would argue, has been one of the effects of the somewhat similar value added tax (VAT) by which many European countries raise a large part of their revenue.
I'm not suggesting that this effect is Huckabee's objective or that of other Fair Tax supporters. The libertarian in me is a bit suspicious of Huckabee's motives, given his simultaneous support for high levels of government spending and "nanny state" regulation. A political leader with Huckabee's views has an obvious interest in establishing a tax system that would reduce public awareness of the costs of the many government programs he advocates. However, I don't doubt that there are many people who support the Fair Tax in good faith, and perhaps Huckabee is one of them. Whatever their motives, however, the potential harm caused by the enactment of the Fair Tax is likely to exceed any benefits.
UPDATE: It's worth noting, as Bartlett points out in his article, that the 23% Fair Tax rate is misleading. If one were to calculate the FT tax rate the same way we normally describe income taxes and state sales taxes, the true FT rate would be about 30%. The 23% figure is arrived at by calculating the tax's percentage of the total price of a good, including the tax, as opposed to the conventional method of calculating the tax's percentage of the pretax price. If you want a more detailed explanation of this point, see Bartlett's article. For the purposes of this post, the bottom line is that the misleading way Fair Tax advocates calculate their proposed tax rate is likely to make it even more difficult for taxpayers to figure out how much they are actually paying to the government each year.
Ron Paul, Evolution, and Right-Wing Populism:
Libertarian science writer Ron Bailey points out that Ron Paul has denied the theory of evolution:
In a South Carolina forum, Paul was asked about his views on evolution, to which he replied, "I think it's a theory, the theory of evolution and I don't accept it as a theory." He also said that he thought it was an inappropriate question to be asking presidential candidates.
I don't believe that scientific illiteracy on this issue is an absolute bar for supporting a presidential candidate. However, for reasons that Bailey explains in his article, it's definitely a negative. Worse, Paul's position on evolution is of a piece with other indicators that he's less a libertarian than a far-right populist. It is consistent with his penchant for right-wing conspiracy theories, such as the supposed plan to form a "North American Union," his opposition to free trade agreements on the ground that they undermine "sovereignty," and his nativist (and highly unlibertarian) position on immigration. Unfortunately, it's also consistent with his having published far-right racist, anti-Semitic, and conspiracy-mongering articles in his political newsletters in the late 1980s and early 90s. Even if Paul didn't endorse their content, he clearly was willing to associate with the sorts of people who believe these things and didn't mind letting them take control of the content of his publications.
Ron Paul isn't all bad. However, it is increasingly clear that association with his presidential candidacy does more harm than good to the cause of libertarianism, a point that I tried to make in my very first post about him. Not only is his candidacy turning out to be a flop politically, as I predicted. It also creates the risk of tarring libertarianism by associating it in the public mind with bigotry, conspiracy-mongering, and xenophobic hostility to free trade and immigration (though the latter, unfortunately, is actually quite popular even outside far-right circles).
The Opportunity Cost of Ron Paul:
One of the main points cited by Ron Paul's libertarian defenders is his fundraising prowess. And it is indeed true that Paul has succeeded in raising far more money than most political observers would have expected. As of October 29, the Paul campaign had raised some 8.3 million dollars, and no doubt it has taken in more since then. However, now that it's clear that his candidacy is both a flop politically and likely to damage the image of libertarianism, this fundraising success turns out to be a double-edged sword. The millions of dollars spent on Paul's candidacy could surely have instead been spent in other ways that do far more to promote libertarian causes. The same goes for the time and effort invested in Paul's campaign by libertarian political activists. To take just two of many examples, imagine what all that money could have accomplished had it been given to the Institute for Justice or to the Milton Friedman Foundation.
To be sure, not all of the money Paul raised was contributed by libertarians. Some no doubt came from the sorts of people who agree more with the antiwar, right-wing populist, nativist, or conspiracy-mongering aspects of his message. But to the extent that many libertarians did contribute time and money to Paul, they would have served their cause better by investing those resources elsewhere.
UPDATE: Paul's campaign claims that it raised almost $20 million in the fourth quarter of 2007 (the figure cited in the original post only covers the period up until October 29). If the claim is accurate, it further reinforces my point by making the opportunity costs of Paul's candidacy even higher than I thought.
UPDATE #2: Instapundit, and some commenters question whether the money given to Ron Paul really would have gone to other libertarian causes had he not run for president. Maybe, Instapundit suggests, it would have gone to "beer and skittles" instead. Perhaps so. But to the extent that some of that $20 million came from committed libertarian activists, it is not implausible to suggest that it might have gone to other libertarian causes instead. In addition, my main point is that libertarian donors should invest their funds in projects with better returns for libertarians than Paul's presidential bid - whether or not those donors are actually inclined to do so. Finally, even more spending on "beer and skittles" might have been better for libertarianism than the damaging debacle that Paul's campaign is rapidly becoming.
Ron Paul and the Political Strategy of Appealing to White Racial Resentment:
Julian Sanchez and David Weigel have an interesting article in Reason compiling evidence suggesting that Llewellyn Rockwell of the Ludwig Von Mises Institute was the author of the notorious racist and anti-Semitic material published in Ron Paul's political reports in late 1980s and early 90s.
To me, the most important part of the article is not the possiblity that Rockwell wrote the newsletters but the fact (mentioned only in passing) that Paul apparently supported Rockwell and Murray Rothbard's political strategy of appealing to white racial resentment as a strategy for gaining support for what they called "paleolibertarianism" (a combination of libertarianism and paleoconservatism). According to Sanchez and Weigel, Paul even went so far as to abandon his planned 1992 presidential bid in order to support Pat Buchanan's candidacy, which Rothbard and Rockwell had endorsed. It is difficult to imagine an American political platform much more inimical to libertarianism than Buchanan's combination of protectionism, support for economic regulation, nativism, racial resentment, thinly veiled anti-Semitism, and extreme social conservatism. Unlike the newsletters, Paul's apparent embrace of Buchanan's candidacy and the Rothbard-Rockwell racialist political strategy can't be blamed on the misdeeds of ghostwriters whose work Paul was supposedly unaware of.
Finally, it's worth mentioning that the Sanchez-Weigel article represents a welcome break from Reason's previous overly enthusiastic approach to Paul's presidential candidacy, a policy that was rightly criticized by former Reason editor in chief Virginia Postrel. Even in this article, however, I have a few minor nits to pick. For example, I think that Sanchez and Weigel are too quick to conclude that Rockwell and his "paleolibertarian" associates have abandoned their previous racial rhetoric "since 2001." As libertarian writer Tom Palmer shows in a long series of posts, they continue to indulge in racist and homophobic appeals - now mixed in with praise of terrorists and anti-American dictators (and I do mean praise of these groups, as distinct from simply criticisms of US policy towards them).
CONFLICT OF INTEREST WATCH: I suppose I should mention that I myself have written articles for Reason on unrelated issues. I think it's generally an excellent publication. But they did for a time miss the boat on Paul's shortcomings. However, I can't quarrel much with Sanchez and Weigel's current bottom line on Paul:
Ron Paul may not be a racist, but he became complicit in a strategy of pandering to racists—and taking "moral responsibility" for that now means more than just uttering the phrase. It means openly grappling with his own past—acknowledging who said what, and why. Otherwise he risks damaging not only his own reputation, but that of the philosophy to which he has committed his life.
UPDATE: The broken link to the Reason piece has been fixed. Thanks to commenters for alerting me to the problem.