The Ron Paul Movement Wasn’t About the Culture War. It Was a Rejection of It

Congratulations to the Mises Caucus on their Libertarian Party victory. But let’s be clear about what the Ron Paul Revolution was about, and wasn’t about.

I watched the Mises Caucus takeover of the Libertarian Party at their national convention Memorial Day weekend from a distance. While I have voted for several Libertarian candidates and will likely do so in the future, I have no major investment in the party. I’m glad they exist for voters of conscience like myself and wish them well in general. 

I congratulate the new leadership on all their hard work and hope they can take the LP to even greater heights, especially at the local level, which I believe they intend to target. I am with the Libertarian Party in spirit, even if it’s not a personal focus.

Reason’s Brian Doherty (who wrote a fine and valuable book on the Ron Paul movement) covered the Libertarian convention. Doherty noted that, “The Mises Caucus people often dub themselves the revival or continuation of the Ron Paul revolution of libertarian ideas in the GOP’s 2008 and 2012 presidential races.”

If you rundown the Mises Caucus platform, it most certainly reflects ideas and principles that we all fought for during the Ron Paul revolutions of 2008 and 2012 and everywhere in between. Kudos! Please bring even more of that to the LP.

Great video here, featuring Dr. Paul’s personal endorsement:

But movements can and usually are about more than just their platforms. 

Many Mises Caucus activists have accused the former LP leadership of being more wedded to leftist identity politics than libertarianism in the past. And they have a point.

Both left and right libertarians exist, but pretending that only left or moderate libertarians somehow represent true libertarianism neglects the fact that the rest of the country very much sees most of us as being on the right end of the political spectrum. Any libertarian of any persuasion who doubts me should talk to a progressive about free markets for about 60 seconds and then gauge how we are viewed by the Left.

What’s more, the greatest and most significant political libertarian activity of our lifetimes has come from the Ron Paul movement, the elevated profile of his senator son, Rand Paul, and congressmen such as Thomas Massie and Justin Amash—accomplishments which have all been Republican and conservative flavored.

That said, Doherty had a reaction similar to mine in how some in the Mises Caucus put a particular emphasis on the culture war.

Doherty observed, “While the Mises Caucus might argue that the threat of progressive woke thought control was less severe then (author’s note: and those who would make this argument would be right), the podcaster/memelord edgy-offensive-insult-comedy stance they often embrace is entirely opposite to how Ron Paul presented himself and won his huge audience as a presidential candidate.”

Bingo. Entirely the opposite.

For the record, there is a raging war coming from the woke Left on our free speech and our basic civil liberties that must be met and defeated. This attack on liberalism coming from progressives is worse and more dangerous than at any point I have seen in my life.

But we can say this clearly and with urgency without having to reimagine history.

A major aspect of the popular Ron Paul presidential campaigns was a rejection of Democrats and Republicans fighting a mindless culture war over typically trivial things coupled with their embrace of a man of ideas who rose above the usual partisan muck.

Whereas, when he wasn’t warmongering, Sean Hannity could do an hour on former President Barack Obama bowing to Saudi princes back in the day–because that was SO important–Paul would get annoyed by such partisan distractions and would insist on talking about the Fed. War. The drug war. Civil liberties. Sound money. 

You know, things that actually matter.

It was all about sticking to the issues and never about what conservative movement co-founder Russell Kirk once called the “preoccupation with the hour’s political controversies—the curses of American conservatives…”

A 2010 Politico story on how the Tea Party movement split evenly between the Ron Paul and Sarah Palin camps demonstrates how most Paul supporters did not fashion themselves as hard-right culture warriors. That was the role of the Palin camp, and even they were more varied.

Politico noted of a relevant poll of Tea Partiers, “The results, however, suggest a distinct fault line that runs through the tea party activist base, characterized by two wings led by the politicians who ranked highest when respondents were asked who ‘best exemplifies the goals of the tea party movement’ — former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), a former GOP presidential candidate.”

“Palin, who topped the list with 15 percent, speaks for the 43 percent of those polled expressing the distinctly conservative view that government does too much, while also saying that it needs to promote traditional values,” Politico noted.

The report added, “Paul’s thinking is reflected by an almost identical 42 percent who said government does too much but should not try to promote any particular set of values — the hallmarks of libertarians.”

The Tea Party overall at that point—which in 2010 was about half Paul supporters, according to this poll—was more fiscally than culturally conservative. Or, as the report noted, “In general, those who turned out for the April 15 event tended to be less culturally conservative than national Republicans.”

Politico continued, “​​Asked to rate their level of anger about 22 issues on a scale of one (not angry at all) to five (extremely angry), the issue that drew the most anger: the growing national debt. The least: courts granting same-sex couples the right to marry. Twenty-four percent said they’re ‘not at all’ upset about gay marriage.”

Obviously, gay marriage is not the hot social issue today that it was a decade ago, but this is still a good measure of how much Ron Paul supporters cared about similar cultural issues compared to constitutional and limited government questions.

Here’s that Paul/Palin split again: “Specifically, 51 percent of tea party activists say ‘government should not promote any particular set of values,’ while 46 percent said ‘government should promote traditional family values in our society.” 

Notice how different the average Tea Partier in this Paul-heavy movement 10 years ago was than the typical Republican. “Compare this to national Gallup Polls, which recently found 67 percent of self-identified Republicans think government should promote such values,” the report said.

And finally, “Paul performed best among those who don’t think government should promote any particular set of values, but Palin dominated among the family values set.”

In 2012, when I had the honor of working for the Paul presidential campaign as a blogger, one of the primary criticisms I would receive from grassroots activists was that I was being too favorable to conservatives and Republicans in my messaging (Guilty! He was running in a Republican primary. Paul is also a conservative libertarian. So am I). I can’t count how many times my critics would send me some variation of conspiracy theory pundit Alex Jones condemning “the false left-right paradigm.”

They were desperate for me to understand that “left” and “right” weren’t even real. (Author’s note: They are.)

Obviously, the grassroots is in a different place today, where even many self-identifying libertarians seem to believe going as hard right as possible is the proper strategy. But any attempt to associate this posture with the Ron Paul movement as it actually existed is revisionist history.

Paul and his movement were definitely populist—and we need populism today to counter the illiberal left—but he was not a culture warrior, constantly aching to own the libs. No, as right and left partisans argued over the silliest of happenings, Paul was consistently BETTER than them, in his thought and words. 

Bringing people together through liberty.

Or, as Dr. Paul put it in his farewell to Congress in 2012, “To achieve liberty and peace, two powerful human emotions have to be overcome. Number one is ‘envy’ which leads to hate and class warfare. Number two is ‘intolerance’ which leads to bigoted and judgmental policies. These emotions must be replaced with a much better understanding of love, compassion, tolerance and free market economics. Freedom, when understood, brings people together.” 

“When tried, freedom is popular,” he finished.

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Jack Hunter
Jack Hunterhttp://LibertyTree.com
Jack Hunter is a freelance writer, the co-author of Sen. Rand Paul’s 2011 book ‘The Tea Party Goes to Washington’ and the editor of the libertarian news site Liberty Tree, published by Sen. Paul’s campaign.

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