Liberties Threatened at Home, Paul Warns
by Ari Armstrong, April 15, 2003
"War is very dangerous for our liberty," Congressman Ron Paul warned during an April 10 talk sponsored by Campus Libertarians at CU, Boulder. Paul explained why he voted against the war resolution, and he expressed concerns about a number of the war's side-effects such as erosions of the Bill of Rights.
Besides the military war in the Middle East, many American politicians are involved in another war on the home front, Paul suggested. "The war against the Constitution is the war against our freedoms." Paul said there's currently a war "against our civil liberties," a war on poverty, and a war on illiteracy. "There's a drug war going on... more people are dying than ever before," he added.
"Only Congress can declare war," Paul noted, "otherwise it's not legitimate." Yet, when Paul attempted to convince Congress to declare war rather than merely pass a resolution handing off the authority to the President, the proposal was "unanimously voted down." Other Congressmen told him Constitutional language has been "overtaken by events." The nation's charter document was also described to him as "no longer relevant," "inappropriate," "anachronistic," "frivolous," and "impractical."
In short, Paul summarized, today's congressional members "don't concern themselves with... Constitutional restraints and limited government." Congress "amended the Constitution right there on the floor," Paul argued, even though a major purpose of the Constitution was to "restrain the power of the... executive branch to wage war." One pitfall of going to war without legally declaring it, Paul noted, is that measures that might otherwise be considered part of the war effort will instead last indefinitely. "Even if you're on the side of the war," Paul argued, "we ought to all be on the side of the rule of law."
Congressman Paul meets with CU libertarians. L-r: John Thrasher, David Wormus, Dariush Rusta, Matt Zenthoefer, Molly House, Brian Schwartz, Paul, and Mike Huemer.
Paul noted two Colorado Congress members are part of his Republican Liberty Caucus -- Marilyn Musgrave from Fort Collins and Tom Tancredo from Littleton (even though Paul doesn't think either of them are libertarians). He said he often hears from other members of Congress, "At least you are consistent." He says he wonders to himself, "Then what are you?"
Paul, who served as a surgeon in the Air Force, said, "I believe in a strong national defense." However, he was not convinced war against Iraq was necessary for defense. He noted Iraq didn't have much of an army, and he saw "no direct aggression by the Iraqis against the American people." Paul fears the change in American foreign policy to taking preemptive action will lead to many subsequent actions around the globe.
Paul noted the irony of going to war based on old U.N. resolutions, but without U.N. approval. The Bush administration is not opposed to the U.N. generally, Paul noted, just in this one particular case. Paul, on the other hand, wants to "get us out of the United Nations." He doesn't like the tendency toward greater U.N. involvement with taxes, gun control, and education control. "We shouldn't allow the U.N. to make U.S. decisions," he said.
Paul chats with Mark Call (right) and Terry Donze.
Paul doesn't think previous foreign policy actions by the United States have been all that successful. For instance, Korea still poses a risk, despite all the money and lives poured into the region. Previous actions in the Middle East have created animosity toward the U.S., he believes. (This point has split libertarians. For instance, David Kelley of the Objectivist Center argues terrorists from the region act because they hate American values.)
If a strategy of military interventionism increased the risk to Americans of terrorist attack, then a policy of noninterventionism would reduce the threat. If the U.S. must interact with other nations, Paul favors "diplomacy and talking rather than outright war."
Domestic policy changes would also reduce the threat of terrorist attacks, Paul suggested. For instance, the federal government should privatize airports and allow individual airlines to protect their passengers. Americans on airplanes were forcibly disarmed, yet, Paul noted, "four guns in the right place would have gone a long way" in preventing or stopping the attacks of September 11. "You never have to sacrifice liberty for security," Paul said; on the contrary, giving up liberty usually results in less security, too.
Paul is concerned "neoconservatives" have too great an influence over American foreign policy these days. They "have an agenda, and it's a world agenda," he said. The "chickenhawks" -- those who declined to serve in the military -- "now are the ones voting for the war," Paul noted. While "some are very sincere," others "push these things for less than noble reasons."
Today's expansionist policies are far different than the ones America's founders advocated, Paul argued. "The policy that I advocate," he said, "is a non-interventionist foreign policy... [that] takes a lot of advice from the founders." An "overgrown military establishment" was never part of the American ideal, he said. America's early leaders urged us to support free markets and "stay out of the internal affairs of other nations."
But Paul doesn't believe the neocons will be able to implement their full agenda: "We're just flat going to run out of money." Paul noted $20 billion of the war package is actually pork-barrel spending. He fears the increased federal spending will drive inflation. "We can't afford this -- we're going broke," Paul warned. "We have lived by borrowing money," but "a country never has to pay back -- a country always inflates."
When Paul first ran for Congress in 1976 (before returning to his medical practice and running for President as a Libertarian), his motivation for serving in office was "more economic." Heavily influenced by Austrian economics, Paul was concerned with the "abuse of the monetary system." After he ran again in 1996, Paul became more interested in foreign affairs. At first, Congressional leaders wouldn't let him hear foreign affairs on committee because he told them, "I wouldn't vote for any foreign aid for anybody."
Paul discussed a number of other economic impacts of war. "Sometimes there are special interests involved" that want a slice of the war-spending pie, he noted: "The military-industrial complex threatens the peace and prosperity of the whole world." High rates of federal spending also reduce economic opportunity in the market and induce young people to instead seek their fortunes working for the U.S. government.
But Paul doesn't merely want to transfer spending to domestic programs like education and medicine, a point which differentiates him from most modern-day "liberals." Paul would prefer "the money just doesn't come out of the economy" at all. He pointed out national economic intervention is unnecessary for people's well-being: "These people would be taken care of if you understand and trust freedom."
Somebody asked Paul what he thought of the theory that one reason for the war was to prop up the U.S. dollar. "I'm not positive, but I think it was a contributing factor," he said. "We're the reserve currency" for much of the world, Paul pointed out. A few years ago "Saddam Hussein broke ranks" and said he would accept Euros, not dollars, for oil. By exporting its paper dollars globally, Paul said, the U.S. government has had an easier time masking inflation. But now "they're starting to come back, and the dollar is dropping." He concluded, "The control of money is nothing new by government."
While war necessarily restricts the economic liberties of American citizens by taking more of their money by force, war also creates a climate of nationalism and fear that tends to erode civil liberties. The so-called PATRIOT Act was bad enough, but now the sunset provisions of that Act may be stripped and PATRIOT II is already in the works.
Paul repeated the rhetorical question, "Who could vote against the PATRIOT Act in a time of crises?" That's the way most members of Congress felt, though the answer Paul liked was, "Only the patriots!"
The Senate version of the bill was "really bad," but the House "really cleaned it up," Paul reviewed. However, simply because the bill was filed early in the morning and no printed version was readily accessible, the bill passed by the House had "nothing to do with the bill they had worked on" in committee. Congress members didn't read the bill prior to voting for it, and they didn't "have their staff even take a peek at it."
While the new laws already erode Fourth Amendment protections, proposed follow-up legislation is even worse. It further replaces judicial review with executive discretion, Paul noted. And "if you really look suspicious... you can lose your citizenship." Paul hopes to remove the provision allowing police agents to look at the reading records of library patrons, but he's not hopeful about other short-term improvements. "The momentum right now is against us... The movement is in favor of security and against liberty."
Paul addressed a number of related points during the question and answer period. Paul was asked if he'd support a federal "Department of Peace." He said he didn't support any new federal agencies, but he quipped, "I'll vote for that one if you give up two other ones."
Should Bush be impeached? Paul joked, "Congress ought to be impeached." He added, "Those short-term political solutions won't work." Instead, the ideas of the culture have to be changed.
What about term limits and the tendency of power to corrupt? Paul said selling out principles isn't really the problem. "They do what they believe in -- they believe in a political career." He said term limits "may help a little but not a whole lot -- it doesn't change ideas." He said that instead of spending the resources trying to implement term limits, he'd rather see that money spent "teaching people sound economics."
Paul complained about the protectionist sentiments of most members of Congress, and he fears trade wars. He also noted the artificially low interest rate has not yet led to economic recovery. "I think the entire world could be slipping into what Japan has," Paul said -- a long-term recession marked by low interest rates, low productivity, and massive government intervention in the economy. Paul agreed with one questioner it's possible the federal government is attempting to keep the price of gold artificially low in order to hide inflation, though he has no direct proof that's taking place. Paul also noted artificially low interest rates hurt, and thus discourage, people who save money.
On the question of open borders, Paul sided with the position taken by many at the Mises Institute: "We shouldn't have open borders." He noted that in a truly libertarian society of universal private property, people could enter the country only by invitation. "I would never argue that you can just open the floodgates," Paul said. He would favor changing the Constitution to no longer grant automatic citizenship to the children of immigrants, and he also wants to deny welfare benefits to immigrants (along with everybody else). However, Paul does support free trade (not subsidized and managed trade) with all. (Paul didn't address the question of whether the government should forcibly prevent employers from hiring people from other countries.)
Paul also reviewed the history of how he became interested in libertarian ideas. In medical school, Paul said, "I read all of Ayn Rand's books." Then he turned to Hayek and Mises. After he won a seat in Congress, Paul found his original copy of the Objectivist Newsletter that contained an essay by Alan Greenspan supportive of the gold standard. He showed the newsletter to Greenspan and reminded him about the essay, and even asked "maestro" to sign it. According to Paul, Greenspan said he still agreed with his essay, but his job was simply to manage the fiat money system.
Paul announced he was going to run for Congress (again) in 1995. The first question from the media was whether he wanted to legalize drugs. Paul had anticipated the issue, so he ran television ads with him wearing his physician's coat. He condemned the misuse of drugs, but also said the drug war creates even more problems. The issue went well for him. "I think people are afraid to speak out," he said.
"The Republicans were not anxious to have me back," Paul continued. In fact, the Republicans talked the incumbent Democrat into switching parties. Paul whipped the incumbent in the primary and went on to win the election, despite the fact that big-name Republicans actively campaigned against him. Paul said he campaigned hard and established trust with members of the community. "Trust goes a long way."
Paul said he loses a few Republicans over his controversial votes. However, "I pick up a lot of independents, and I pick up a lot of Democrats," he said.
Paul supports individual rights, not collective or group rights: "Rights should be identical for everybody." He said rights preserve the "moral integrity of the individual" and promote prosperity. Today, "the economy is overburdened by horrendous regulation." Paul described the sole legitimate function of government as the "promotion and preservation of liberty." He sees the Constitution as essentially a libertarian document.
Paul urged other libertarians to "pick a vehicle" and help educate others about liberty. "We should be optimistic and believe it's worth the effort," he said. It's not necessary to convince 51% of the population -- if even a small percentage of the population is persuaded by libertarian arguments, the country will move in the right direction.
While Paul is nervous about the short-term prospects for liberty, overall "I come down on the side of optimism." More people want sound money and free markets. "Washington is as bad as ever, if not worse, but the people are changing." Teaching the ideas of liberty is crucial, Paul said, because "ultimately the Congress is a reflection of the people."