Ron Paul and the Reaction against Big Government

Kudos to Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch for dominating the Washington Post’s Sunday Outlook section the way Ron Paul supporters dominate online polls.  And kudos to the Post for running an article on the Ron Paul phenomenon by writers who actually sympathize with it. Gillespie and Welch write about “a new and potentially transformative force . . . in American politics”:

That force is less about Paul than about the movement that has erupted around him – and the much larger subset of Americans who are increasingly disillusioned with the two major political parties’ soft consensus on making government ever more intrusive at all levels, whether it’s listening to phone calls without a warrant, imposing fines of half a million dollars for broadcast “obscenities” or jailing grandmothers for buying prescribed marijuana from legal dispensaries.

Paul, who entered Congress in 1976, has been dubbed “Dr. No” by his colleagues because of his consistent nay votes on federal spending, military intervention in Iraq and elsewhere, and virtually all expansions of federal power (he cast one of three GOP votes against the original USA Patriot Act). But his philosophy of principled libertarianism is anything but negative: It’s predicated on the fundamental notion that a smaller government allows individuals the freedom to pursue happiness as they see fit. …

Paul’s “freedom message” is the direct descendant of Barry Goldwater’s once-dominant GOP philosophy of libertarianism (which Ronald Reagan described in a 1975 Reason magazine interview as “the very heart and soul of conservatism”). But that tradition has been under a decade-long assault by religious-right moralists, neoconservative interventionists and a governing coalition that has learned to love Medicare expansion and appropriations pork.

The Reason editors cite a 2006 Pew Research Center poll that found 9 percent of Americans holding basically libertarian values. I’m sorry that out of all such calculations they picked the one that found the smallest number of libertarians. As David Kirby and I pointed out in “The Libertarian Vote,” Gallup found 21 percent. Using somewhat more restrictive criteria, Kirby and I found that libertarians were 13 percent in the Gallup and American National Election Studies surveys, 14 percent in a different Pew survey, 15 percent of actual voters in the ANES survey, and 15 percent in a Zogby survey of 2006 voters.

Of course, some of the Ron Paul supporters wouldn’t show up in any of those estimates. They’re conservatives who are fed up with Republican spending, liberals who want to stop the war, and previously apolitical folks who are attracted to straight talk. Gillespie and Welch do a good job of describing the quintessentially American spirit that draws them together.