Sunday, March 16, 2008


I have been an enthusiastic supporter of the Ron Paul campaign for President. Although the rational portion of my brain told me that Dr. Paul was not going to secure the Republican nomination, despite his rather unprecedented fundraising, I thought it was important to support his candidacy with my vote and with my campaign contributions.

Anyone who has spent more than five minutes discussing politics with me knows that I am essentially a Goldwater-Reagan Republican. My views would certainly be classified, generally, as right of center and while I hold some opinions that are more traditionally conservative, the over arching principle that guides my politics is fundamentally libertarian. I believe, as Locke and Jefferson so eloquently maintained, that each of us is endowed by our Creator with basic, inalienable rights and that, as Jefferson said, “to secure our rights is the only reason to tolerate government at all.” Government exists to protect our liberty from both foreign and domestic threats and the purpose of our Constitution is to set strict limits for our government so that it cannot become, in itself, a threat to our personal liberty. Although those who would empower and have empowered our federal government to live beyond its Constitutional means often have the best of intentions: trying to make our streets safer by banning certain types of gun ownership, forcing those who have earned a lot of money to help those with less, protecting us from hurting ourselves with addictive drugs, stopping “catastrophic” climate change, protecting us from violent criminals, or protecting us from foreign threats and terrorists; the end result is always the same for any of these government programs – the expansion of the government sector of the economy, the expansion of the role of government in our lives, the expansion of the power and authority of the federal government, and the resultant slow withering away of our privacy and property rights.

Sadly, however, we have witnessed an alarming expansion of federal government over the last 7 years by my own party, the very party of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. Poor President Reagan’s body didn’t even have the chance to grow cold before his own party had set it spinning in his grave. Under the “leadership” of Republicans, agricultural subsidies have grown; while negotiating free trade agreements with Latin American countries, tariffs were placed on European steel; the Attorney General of the United States attempted to use controlled substances laws (in and of themselves of dubious Constitutionality) to subvert the right of the state of Oregon to regulate medical practice in that state and to overrule the overwhelming wish of a majority of Californians to allow medical use of marijuana; free political speech has been restricted by new campaign finance laws, which ultimately have not reduced to influence of moneyed interests in our campaigns; the Congress of the United States waded into a state law issue in Florida over legal medical decision making; the federal government’s role in education has been expanded to the degree that the federal government, not state and local school boards, are the final arbiters of educational success; an incredibly large and expensive new health care entitlement has been created which will saddle our country with more debt for generations to come; and the government has listened to private telephone conversations without first obtaining proper warrants to do so.

As I watched debates, I found that almost none of the candidates (although McCain did decry overt pork barrel spending and earmarks) spoke to this fundamental misdirection of the Republican party and the Conservative agenda. The movement that brought Ronald Reagan to the White House in 1980; lowered our taxes; won the Cold War; promoted free trade; and in the 1990’s took control of Congress to reform welfare, balance the budget, pass a line-item veto, reject an anti-terrorism bill (1994-5) that threatened civil liberties, and decry nation-building as foreign policy was being systematically unraveled by the very same party that spearheaded it and no one in the party one seemed to notice or care. Or almost no one. The one candidate that consistently spoke about how the Republican party had lost its way and needed to return to its principles of limited government was Ron Paul. The more I watched the debates, the more I would turn to my wife and say, “Ron Paul is the only one of them that makes any sense.” Congressman Paul’s presence in the campaign was important addition to the debate over the direction of our country and to provide a voice championing the principles of limited government, which used to be the cornerstone of the Republican agenda.

Then, of course, there is the war. My dissatisfaction with the Bush 43 administration really began in earnest 5 years ago with the unprovoked U.S. invasion of Iraq (prior to that I made excuses for the President’s blatantly left-of-center domestic policies). This blatant act of imperialism forced me to confront the dichotomy of my views – that I supported minimal government at home, but activist government abroad. And of course almost everyone who has run for President in the last two election cycles has been, on some level, a supporter of the war. Only Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich, Barack Obama, and Howard Dean have had the courage to challenge the assumptions that led to the invasion in the first place. All of the others, Democrat and Republican alike, voted for the war. The other Democrats, and John McCain, have all criticized management of the war and the intelligence failures that led up to the war, but none have questioned the premise that if Saddam Hussein really did have stock piles of WMD and the invasion had been handled more competently, that this would have been a justifiable use of pre-emptive military force. And of course, amongst the candidates who were opposed to the Iraq war from the beginning, only two (Kucinich and Paul) had to put their political credibility on the line by voting against the war in Congress and only one is a Republican who shares my views on other issues. I thought it was critically important to have some voice questioning the policy assumptions that led us into this war in the debate on the Republican side. It needed to be made clear that support for invading Iraq and conservatism are not the same thing. There are good conservatives who supported invading Iraq and there are equally conservative people who did not. I have consistently viewed the invasion of Iraq as immoral and unnecessary, so of course my candidate was Ron Paul.

What I fervently hope is that the Ron Paul Presidential campaign is the beginning of a movement. Dr. Paul lacks the personal charisma and communications skills of an effective national politician (like Reagan), but just on the strength of his message alone he was able to garner an incredible amount of support. He had over 250,000 donors and raised an unprecedented sum for a lower tier candidate. He drew large crowds and speaking engagements. In the early contests (before Romney dropped out) he consistently garnered about 10% of the vote – usually beating Giulani – and in some of the western states on Super Tuesday got over 20%. That demonstrates a fairly solid nucleus of disaffected conservatives. Hopefully he has consolidated a base that can be built upon in the future by a candidate with better communication skills. I hope this is the beginning of a resurgent limited government movement. I really hope that the movement is able to transform the Republican party – the way Goldwater and Reagan did – but if the neocons have too much of a stranglehold on the party establishment, then I hope this turns into a viable third-party movement.

The underlying importance of this is inescapable. The size of our government needs to be reduced because our freedom and prosperity depend upon it. The value of our dollar is plummeting, prices are rising, and we simply cannot afford to continue to pay for both largesse in government domestic programs and policing the world overseas. Such massive spending will saddle future generations with debt, produce government borrowing that further inflates prices and devalues the dollar, and grant the federal government more power to exert its will on the citizenry.

Confessions of a Life-long Tory

Originally Written on March 7, 2003:

It began in 1981. Prior to that, I had only vague notions of politics and public affairs. As a 9 year old in 1980 I knew only that the President running for re-election shared my name and that I liked blue (the colour typically used by TV networks to denote states that vote Democrat) better than red (the traditional colour for Republican states), so I wanted Jimmy Carter to win.

But things changed in 1981. My awareness of current events increased watching the inauguration of a new President and the return of American hostages from Iran in my fourth grade classroom. Then in the spring of 1981 something happened that, to a 9 and a half year old, seemed unthinkable (but to any student of history since 1860 must have seemed almost inevitable with Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Harding, FDR and JFK all having died in office) – the President had been shot.

I remember in medical school reading a JAMA article about the President’s medical care after the records had been declassified. It was only then that I realized how close he had come to dying – and in fact might have if it had been 1960 or 1940. And surely would have in 1920, 1900 or 1880.

This president had a persona – a B movie John Wayne - vigorous, resolute, and larger-than-life. Unlike his major challenger for the GOP nomination, he hadn’t faced real bullets before public life – only the imaginary ones of Hollywood. But now, as president, he had taken a real bullet and he had done it with grace and courage. He told his wife that he was sorry he forgot to duck. He told his doctors he hoped they were all Republicans. Those comments did more than anything his doctors said (or didn’t say) to reassure the country. To make us believe everything would be all right. And, they gave the President a mythic persona that dwarfed the one he had on screen. It made him larger-than-REAL-life. To a young boy it was awe-inspiring and at that moment Ronald Reagan joined Brooks Robinson on my list of heroes.

And so began my life-long interest in (some would say obsession with) politics. And I began to see myself as a “conservative” or “Republican” like my hero. I had adopted what I will call the Tory position – what I mean is the political ground that is right of center, conservative in the traditional sense of being slow to change, the old guard, the traditional values – particularly with regard to law and order, nationalist, non-isolationist, pro-strong national defense. In America this was the position associated with manifest destiny. In Britain’s past it was the position associated with the maintenance of Empire.

Some of the conservative agenda was easy for me. My Catholic faith already taught me that abortion was wrong. My father’s job working for a defense contractor and my grandfather’s pride in his own military service made me inclined to support a strong defense. And I suppose, I just have a Tory temperament, that whatever part of my personality that is ingrained from birth is receptive to the conservative philosophy. I have a friend who was every bit as taken by Reagan as I was – and in fact still speaks fondly and admiringly of him – who is now a liberal Democrat…. Deep down inside, he just wasn’t a Tory.

So, I began to embrace the Reagan philosophy that he spoke so eloquently on, but delivered so poorly on, of smaller government and in so doing embraced the most traditional of American values – individual liberty. This is what made the U.S. different. Ours was a nation dedicated to equality of the individual – and equality of opportunity, not result. In the U.S., the individual is more important than the state. And the liberal position in America was tainted by its resemblance to the collectivist thought of the nations Reagan was waging a cold war against. And I began to read Goldwater and the Founders – Jefferson, Madison. These became my philosophical heroes. Later I progressed to the more modern libertarians like Friedman and Hayek. Those that espoused the views of the Revolution: all men are created equal and have innate rights. Government exists merely to protect those rights: law enforcement to deal with domestic threats to rights, and military to protect from foreign threats. The most fundamental of rights, of course, are private property rights – there is no social and political liberty without economic liberty. In short, I had adopted the philosophy of John Locke, mixed with a healthy dose of Adam Smith – which is where my embracing of Reagan’s Free trade philosophy led. Smith had been a visionary – challenging the notion of mercantile colonies and championing free and competitive markets as the key to expanding wealth. Edmund Burke echoed this sentiment when he argued, unsuccessfully, that Britain could have a more profitable relationship with independent American states when no longer saddled with the financial burden of defending American colonies. I, like Burke, wrote a paper in college arguing the same point about the British empire at it’s Victorian height entitled, “Britain’s Unprofitable Empire”. In the paper I compared the U.S. at the end of the 20th century to Britain at the end of the 19th.

But alas, I have always been a Tory. I never embraced Washington’s vision of remaining free of foreign entanglements. I have always supported a U.S. presence overseas – in Korea and Europe and certainly the Middle East. I thought the crime was not aiding Nicaraguan freedom-fighters against communist oppression but, rather, that Congress had passed a law forbidding it. On July 18, 1988 I wrote then Congressman Tom McMillen urging to support a continued US presence in the Persian Gulf to protect shipping from terrrorist attacks, even if there was a cease-fire in the Iran-Iraq war. Why? Because if we don’t do it, who will? No one? The Soviets? It was our duty and obligation to protect trade in the region. Our burden – or as Kipling put it in a less politically correct time, the white man’s burden.

I have been compelled to examine the origins of my own political views by this upcoming war in Iraq. A war that appears far more blatantly imperial and a war that, frankly, even an old Tory like me has trouble supporting. Don’t get me wrong, I think there are a number of good reasons for getting rid of Saddam Hussein and I don’t challenge anything the administration has said about him or the situation in Iraq. However, morally, I feel that wars should be fought because we HAVE to, not because we WANT to or would like to for whatever good intentions. We had to fight our revolution, it was clear colonists would continue to be denied the rights of Englishmen. As tragic as it was, our Civil War had to be fought to address the issues left unanswered by our founders – issues of slavery and of the nature of our Union. Certainly we had to fight World War II, a war in which the only criticism that can be leveled at the US is why didn’t we get involved sooner. And I still believe to this day we had to fight the first Gulf War. And most certainly, we had to go into Afghanistan. In our history, we fought with Mexico and Spain to acquire territory because we wanted to – and whereas the first list represents some of our finest hours, the Mexican and Spanish wars are some of our worst. And invading Iraq seems more like the latter than the former to me. The arguments for it are almost as hollow as Joseph Chamberlain’s defense of the Boer War a century ago. Attacking a small third world country (whose air space we ALREADY control) with little provocation seems to define the word “imperial” and almost validates the criticisms of us the Soviets made decades ago. It has been particularly difficult for me as I respect and admire President Bush – and have to try to figure out how to continue to support him and his other policies if he prosecutes this war… The only saving grace is the Democrats will likely nominate someone who also supports the war (all the front runners are doing the Lieberman-Kerrey-Edwards-Gephardt shuffle – we support the goal, just not the way the President is going about it. This position is particularly ludicrous for Lieberman has he has been calling for Saddam’s head since 9.12.01) and only Wesley Clark jumping into the race is likely to change that equation. But, it has forced me to think about that paper I once wrote and confront the dichotomy of my attack on the Pax Britannica while supporting all along the Pax Americana and to discover that despite my belief in drug legalization, perhaps my conservatism is more traditionally conservative and not quite so libertarian after all.

Which leads to wonder: despite my reverence for Jefferson and Adams, despite the picture of Jefferson and facsimile of the Declaration of Independence on my wall, despite my belief that the most amazing document of governance in world history is the U.S. Constitution, whose side would I have been on in 1776? Would I have been with radicals like Jefferson and John Adams – and their more firebrand colleagues like Paine, Patrick Henry and Sam Adams? Or would I have sided with the Tories?

Mission Statement

This blog is inaugurated today and will remain dedicated to the principles of individual liberty and limited government. Inaugural postings will include reflections on the Ron Paul 2008 campaign for president and a piece I wrote initially five years ago on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. I will be posting additional previously written pieces and then plan to maintain a blog of current political opinion. Civil discourse is welcome - minds are like parachutes, they work best when they are open.