Search results for the tag, "Ron Paul"

October 17th, 2007

How Ron Paul Justifies Earmarks

Last week, Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) addressed a meeting of the obscure Robert Taft Club, which describes itself (very much like the America’s Future Foundation) as “a loose organization of conservatives and libertarians in the Washington, D.C., area.”

The standing-room audience gathered in the basement of the Boulevard Woodgrill (down the street from where I live in Clarendon), and irked by the parade of compliments gussied up as questions, I zinged the Christian constitutionalist about his paradoxical earmarking.

The video is above; the transcript is below.

Q: Congressman, I have tremendous respect for you, but I was shocked to read, in a Reason magazine profile, that you actually stuff earmarks into appropriation bills, just like every other member of Congress. And I thought you were different, sir. You, of course, vote against the bill[s], but I was curious how you could justify stuffing earmarks, just like every other member of Congress…

A: I think the people that are critical of that don’t understand the process.

Because to vote against an earmark doesn’t save any money. That’s the first issue.

And the second issue is, the spending decision goes to the executive branch, which is wrong. All spending decisions should be by the Congress. So I argue the case that the Congress should make these decisions, since voting against the earmarks, you know, won’t do any good.

Now, as far as making the request, you’re absolutely right: I vote against them all, so I’ve never voted for an earmark. You know, because I vote against all of them.

But to make the request, it’s sort of like of you coming and asking for your Social Security check. I don’t like the system, and I want to change it, but I don’t deny your access to your representative.

So I think there is so much understanding about this earmark. It saves no money whatsoever. It emphasizes that you want to give the power to the executive branch and take it away from the responsibility of the Congress.

Now, if it’s wasteful, that’s a different story, and most of ’em are, and that’s why I vote against the bill. So you can’t say I voted for an earmark.

But I think I’m responsible for representing the people. To me, it’s like taxing a tax credit or a tax deduction. I want to get rid of the income tax, but I’m still gonna give you all the tax credits possible, in order to get as much money as possible. So, to me, it’s in that category.

(Thanks to Reason’s Dave Weigel for video-taping the exchange and uploading it to YouTube.)

Addendum: Andy Roth points to a WSJ editorial titled, “Ron Paul’s Earmarks“:

After reporters started asking questions, the Congressman disclosed his requests this year for about $400 million worth of federal funding for no fewer than 65 earmarks. They include such urgent national wartime priorities as an $8 million request for the marketing of wild American shrimp and $2.3 million to fund shrimp-fishing research.

When we called Mr. Paul’s office for an explanation, his spokesperson offered up something worthy of pork legends Tom DeLay or Senator Robert C. Byrd: “Reducing earmarks does not reduce government spending, and it does not prohibit spending upon those things that are earmarked,” the spokesman said. “What people who push earmark reform are doing is they are particularly misleading the public—and I have to presume it’s not by accident.”

Addendum (10/28/2007): James Joyner links to a CQ article that contains a succincter justification:

Still, why play along by earmarking federal spending? Because a crackdown on earmarks, he says, would only grant the executive branch more control over where the money goes. The total amount of spending wouldn’t change. “There’s nothing wrong with designating where the money goes,” Paul says—so long as the earmark is “up front and everyone knows about it,” rather than having it slipped in at the last minute with no scrutiny.

Of course, this sidesteps the real question: Paul claims to vote for nothing that the Constitution doesn’t explicitly authorize. Where does the Constitution authorize $3 million to test imported shrimp for antibiotics, or $8 million for the marketing of wild American shrimp, or $2.3 million for shrimp fishing research, or $4.5 million to study the effects of the health risks of vanadium?

Addendum (11/6/2007): The Club for Growth calls a spade a spade:

In defense of his support for earmarks, Representative Paul took the if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em position, arguing that “I don’t think they should take our money in the first place. But if they take it, I think we should ask for it back.” This is a contradiction of Paul’s self-proclaimed “opposition to appropriations not authorized within the enumerated powers of the Constitution.”

May 19th, 2007

Beware Internet Polls

In general, I distrust polls. But I really distrust those those don’t even pretend to scientific accuracy, as by distinguishing between likely vs. registered voters, screening for people who cannot legally vote, disclosing the margin of error, using neutral language, and so on. The only thing the latter are good for, as Jesse Walker ably explains, is to measure how devoted a following someone has.

This is why, when in 2002 the Modern Library announced its list of the 100 greatest novels and invited online readers to submit their picks, two groups rose up: the Randians and the Scientologists. Where the official top three consisted of Ulysses, The Great Gatsby and A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man, the people’s house picked Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead and Battlefield Earth.

Of course, there’s always some cheating (as in using a single computer to vote multiple times). But as Jesse observes of Ron Paul, who’s been racking up victory after victory in various online polls, “The congressman does well even when the multi-voters are ferreted out.”

The reason for such success, as with the Modern Library survey, is the Internet, which from its inception has been a boon for the marginalized (pornographers being the obvious example). Such people are usually geographically separate, but in a classic display of supply meeting demand, the Web allows them to pool their resources.

The final point is the icing on the cake. As Jesse puts it, those, like Little Green Footballs and Pajamas Media, who have banned Paul from their polls, would do well to “ponder the point of offering a system so easily gamed.” Or, in the case of Fox News host Carl Cameron, who questioned his employer’s text-messaging poll, in which Paul placed a solid second, they might “admit that if the votes for Paul didn’t mean much, the same was true of the remainder of the results.”

May 18th, 2007

Why Ron Paul Is Bad for Himself and Good for the GOP

A version of this blog post appeared on TechRepublican.

Here’s the now-infamous exchange (parts of which I’m omitting, signified by ellipses, to get to its essence) among Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX), Rudy Giuliani and moderator Wendell Goler, during the most recent debate for the Republican presidential candidates:

Paul: They attack us because we’ve been over there. [For instance,] we’ve been bombing Iraq for 10 years. We’ve been in the Middle East. . . .

Goler: Are you suggesting we invited the 9/11 attack, sir?

Paul: I’m suggesting that we listen to the people who attacked us and the reason they did it. . . .

Giuliani: I would ask the congressman to withdraw that comment and tell us he didn’t really mean that.

Paul: I believe very sincerely that the C.I.A. is correct when they teach and talk about blowback. . . . If we think that we can do what we want around the world and not incite hatred, then we have a problem. They don’t come here to attack us because we’re rich and we’re free. They come and they attack us because we’re over there.

For these arguments, many are now clamoring for Ron Paul’s exclusion from future debates. This is not only unhealthy, but also sets a dangerous precedent. (What’s next: baring a Republican who supports gay marriage?)

Dissent—in a debate of all places—invigorates discussion. And since Paul is the only one, out of 10 candidates, to oppose the war, his views merit inclusion.

Of course, not all dissent is worthy. Dissent for dissent’s sake is a waste of time, which is precious with only 90 minutes and 10 people. But dissent that’s grounded in conservative principles (“war is the health of the state“), or even some evidence, deserves a hearing.

Indeed, the idea that the U.S. invited 9/11 is not as radical as one might think. This idea, at least the nuanced, scholarly school of it, does not blame the United States for the attacks, but recognizes that it’s both who we are (“They hate us for our freedom“) and what we do (“We’ve been in the Middle East”) that fans the terrorist flames.

Even if Paul sounds like him, Michael Moore he is not.

But if he’s not a kook, then who is he? Well, some of his ideas are kooky, but the bigger problem is that he’s a poor communicator, who suffers from a rhetorical Napoleon complex. In short, he’s his own worst enemy.

Even a fool realizes that a format where you’re given one minute per question is probably the worst place to articulate perhaps the most controversial thing you could say to an American audience (you have blood on your hands for the deadliest attack on American soil in the nation’s history), especially one of Southern conservatives to whom the war on terror trumps everything. To wit, Paul’s above remarks were unnecessary (yes, he was baited, but he took the bait) and inappropriate (they require far too much time to explain, let alone convince someone of).

Since it’s fair to assume that a 10-term member of Congress is familiar with the cardinal rule of marketing—know your audience—the only explanation I can think of for these follies is that Paul likes controversy. And, to give him his due, as a going-nowhere candidate, he may be right to exploit the P.T. Barnum rule of publicity: all press is good press. If nothing else, his confrontation with Giuliani (it’s playing on YouTube as Ron vs. Rudy) has heightened his profile.

But Paul is seemingly oblivious to the alternative: instead of trying to ride his antiwar bona fides, he should emphasize his domestic agenda.

For example, when asked by both Giuliani and Goler to disabuse those who thought he had just likened Americans to cold-blooded mass murderers, instead of returning to theories of blowback, he might have simply said “No, I am not,” and pivoted back to why the Iraq war is hurting our national security.

What Ron Paul offers are deeply consistent, principled views on what the Constitution authorizes and does not authorize. Among Republicans hungry for a candidate who not only believes but also acts on fiscally conservative principles, this is his unique selling point.

Yet in listening to him, you’d never know this. You’d never know that he has never voted to raise taxes. Or that he has never voted for an unbalanced budget. Or that he has never voted for a federal restriction on gun ownership. Or that he has never voted to raise congressional pay. Why? Because Ron Paul is lousy at self-promotion—when, ironically, he has the most to promote.

So, instead of attacking Giuliani and asking him to apologize, both of which only fuel the perception that he is out of touch, Paul must focus more on himself. He’s already nailed showmanship. Now he needs to master salesmanship.

Addendum (6/1/2007): Finally, Paul declares, “It’s preposterous to say that I’m blaming America. That’s a complete distortion, like blaming a person for being murdered. No, I’m looking at the motives and reasons that elicit such hatred and willingness to kill.”

May 10th, 2007

Ron Paul’s YouTube Surge

A version of this blog post appeared on TechRepublican on May 11, 2007.

We’ve already seen how Ron Paul’s fans are using Digg to fire up his campaign. Now comes evidence that they’re also savvy YouTubers (as are, thankfully, his campaign staffers). Both clips come from last week’s debate among the Republican presidential candidates.

The first, uploaded by “dcarrico,” who previously had posted only one, apolitical video, has been viewed nearly 60,000 times. Moderator Chris Matthews asked Paul whether he supported a constitutional amendment allowing foreign-born citizens to become president. Paul said “no, because I am a strong supporter of the original intent,” to which Matthews muttered, “Oh God” (above; fast-forward to 1:10).

The second clip, viewed nearly 3,000 times and uploaded by the politically active “infowars,” scrutinizes another cheap shot. At the end of an answer concerning the war on terror, Paul declared, “I would work very hard to protect the privacy of American citizens, being very, very cautious about warrantless searches. And I would guarantee that I would never abuse habeas corpus.”

What you probably missed is that Rudy, who disagrees sharply with Paul about the role of civil liberties in wartime, snickered at this last line:

In an earlier era (i.e., a year ago), I would have heard about these details through the grapevine, and probably chalked them up as rumors spread by partisans. In the Age of YouTube, I can effortlessly and for free view and confirm such rumors for myself.

April 25th, 2007

Wanted: A Communications Coach for Ron Paul

Since I missed his talk last night, “Defending the Constitution, Restoring the Republic” (at the District Chop House, courtesy of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute), I was pleasantly surprised that Ron Paul showed up this morning at Grover Norquist’s Wednesday meeting.

Unfortunately, the congressman’s remarks were no better than his recent, lousy appearances on TV (twice now on Lou Dobbs, most recently two nights ago; once on Fox’s Red Eye; on MSNBC; and once on Bill Maher.)

He faces two big problems, neither of which impinges upon his platform per se but upon the way he communicates it.

1. His policies are so radical that they require heaps of explanation, to say nothing of patience for persuasion. Paul is all-too happy to oblige, but he needs to discipline himself to speak in sound bites, not like a professor. He doesn’t need to sandpaper his ideas or poll-test his words, but he needs to compress them into simple syllogisms.

Grover, for instance, has done this well: “The government’s power to control one’s life derives from its power to tax. We believe that power should be minimized.” TV Watch is even succincter: “Parents, not government.”

2. Because his radicalism encompasses every aspect of politics, i.e., he has so much to say, he rambles. The solution: a stump speech, something to keep him on message, so he can constantly hammer home the idea (with which many Americans already agree) that Big Government does more harm than good.

Nobody cares, as Paul is sometimes baited to argue, that the U.S. could have ended slavery without a civil war. That’s ancient history and an academic debate, and any time he discusses it, he rightly loses his audience (their attention and interest) and he rightly looks like a kook.

The good news is that Paul is a good fund-raiser and has a strong online presence. His hard line on immigration also helps him with the Republican base.

Moreover, as a libertarian, Paul offers something for all audiences. Are you an environmentalist? He wants to stop subsidizing Big Oil. Disturbed by the war on terror and its accompanying civil liberties clampdown? Paul opposed the Iraq war before it began and is the only presidential candidate to sign the American Freedom Agenda.

If you’re a gun nut, Paul has never voted for a federal restriction on the Second Amendment. Plus, he’s from Texas. For the abortion crowd, while he is personally pro-life, he is politically pro-choice, even as he votes against taxpayer-funded abortions and would nominate judges who would repeal Roe v. Wade.

To be sure, Ron Paul isn’t even a serious contender for the vice presidency, let alone the presidency. But his greatest hope is considerable: the chance to influence the national debate. To do that, he must communicate better.

On a related note, among the myriad fliers at this morning’s meeting was a scorecard from Americans for Tax Reform on all the presidential candidates. Since Paul has never voted for a tax increase or for an unbalanced budget, I’m curious why his lifetime rating from the antitax group is a middling 71.9?