07.01.11

Ron Paul Book’s Juiciest Red Meat

From federal power grabs to freedom-curtailing taxes and global warming hoaxes, the 2012 candidate’s bestselling latest, Liberty Defined, offers plenty of fodder for New Hampshire’s liberty-loving libertarians.

There are two distinct styles of presidential campaigning—one for the top tier, and one for the also-rans. While Mitt Romney’s Allentown visit or Michele Bachmann’s declaration of candidacy in Iowa get lots of attention (the latter helped by a couple of gaffes), lesser-knowns like Gary Johnson or even Rick Santorum are forced to become road warriors, pounding the pavement and hitting small events. That’s what Ron Paul did Friday in New Hampshire, visiting small businesses, a house party, and even a gas station.

But Paul, previously one of those fringe candidates, has become a more influential figure in his party, though still a very long shot for the nomination. And like Romney, Tim Pawlenty, and Bachmann, he has a recent political book, that rite of passage for presidential contenders. In fact, he’s more prolific an author than any of his rivals except Newt Gingrich.

Paul's newest book, Liberty Defined, was published in April, spent a couple weeks on The New York Times bestseller list and peaked at No. 3. So what’s in the book? We cracked it open to find out the juiciest pieces of red meat—including the bits that might appeal to New Hampshire’s staunchly libertarian “Live Free or Die” crowd—and the strangest digressions.

First, a note about the book. It’s subtitled “50 Essential Issues That Affect Our Freedom,” and the format is basically a series of stump speeches on topics arranged alphabetically, from Abortion to Zionism. Here’s a sampling of what’s inside—aside from the usual boilerplate about the Federal Reserve.

1. FDR’s Four Freedoms Is a Fount of Tyranny

How do you turn a speech best known through a series of heartwarming Norman Rockwell paintings into a serious threat to America? Watch and learn: Paul explains that Franklin Roosevelt’s “odious Four Freedoms Speech”—it gets its own chapter—not only improperly usurped enforcement of the First Amendment for the federal government, but also laid the path for American intervention abroad by suggesting the freedoms were universal. An extra reference to Roosevelt’s “stealing the gold from American citizens” comes free. Attacking this speech is an innovation of sorts, but bashing the father of the New Deal goes well with Tea.

2. The Bush-Obama Doctrine Stokes Foreign Anger at America

Once upon a time, Paul’s isolationism made him an oddball in his party. But now, with more Republicans turning against American action in Libya, his view is more mainstream. And there’s plenty of it here. He makes frequent reference to the “Bush-Obama doctrine,” a formulation that neatly sets him apart from both the adventurism of the Bush years and the present Democratic administration; he even states, bizarrely, that Obama’s foreign policy “is not as visibly run by the neocons at the American Enterprise Institute.” But sometimes he veers into territory that could irk staunch patriots. He’s insistent that American foreign policy has driven anger at America abroad—a stance that has long been grounds for accusing liberals of “blaming America first.

3. Federal Power Grabs Are Curtailing Our Sovereignty

It’s the reddest of the red meat both for Tea Partiers and Paul’s own more purely libertarian base: blasting the federal government for stomping on states’ and individuals’ sovereignty. He reprises comments he and his son Sen. Rand Paul have made about the Civil Rights Act improperly applying to private establishments. A chapter on states’ rights turns into an argument for nullification, the long-discredited notion that states can nullify federal laws they oppose (in making his case, he mentions in passing that “the Civil War was fought to keep all states under the thumb of a powerful central government”—even though a chapter on slavery directly precedes it). Paul even flirts with the idea that the Constitution should apply only to those who personally consent to it; then he quickly moves on, writing, “Enforcing the Tenth Amendment is a big enough challenge to us for now.”

4. We Don’t Need More Bipartisanship

What’s the perfect message for a Republican electorate dead set against compromise on everything from health care to the debt ceiling? Try this: “People often say that what this country needs is for people in Washington to stop fighting and just get the job done. To achieve that, we need more ‘bipartisanship.’ I don’t agree…When the ideas of both parties are bad, there is really only one hope: that they will continue fighting and not pass any new legislation.”

5. John Maynard Keynes Is to Blame for Everything

Aside from the federal government, the great bête noir of Paul’s book is John Maynard Keynes. Keynesianism gets its own chapter, but the economist appears frequently throughout. Paul says he’s discredited but doesn’t bother getting into the weeds of arguing the case. It doesn’t matter, though: Keynes is most important as a byword for all that’s wrong. Even the militarists Paul detests are labeled “military Keynesians” who see defense spending as economic stimulus.

6. Global Warming Is a Hoax

Another slam dunk: dismissing global warming as a hoax. The chapter is one of Paul’s least coherent arguments but best political grandstanding. In just 11 pages, he makes a variety of spurious claims. “The idea that government can plan weather patterns for decades strikes me as the height of absurdity,” he writes, an uncontroversial argument against a nonexistent straw man. Without a trace of irony, he calls the scientific consensus on climate change “an unserious, intellectual luxury.” He blatantly misrepresents the “Climategate” controversy. And he suggests that while some people genuinely believe in global warming, many others are “brainwashed, some join to keep an academic career going,” and others are purely doing it to pave the way for authoritarianism. There are almost no facts involved, but as rhetoric, it’s a command performance.

7. There Is a Connection Between Abolitionists and Von Mises

A chapter on slavery starts with a casual assertion: “John Quincy Adams was not an abolitionist.” It’s almost as if Paul was anticipating Michele Bachmann’s arguments about Adams. Indeed, the book often seems like half a dialogue with the Minnesota congresswoman: Both are members of Congress vying for the Republican nomination, both are Tea Party favorites, and both are social conservatives (Paul, for example, kicks off with a chapter arguing against abortion). Nonetheless, the most impressive element here is a swift pivot from a meditation on abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips to an ode to Austrian School economist Ludwig von Mises, one of the dedicatees of the book. Blink and you might miss the connection.

8. Taxes Are Bad for Freedom

You knew it was coming, but Paul spends precious little time on details; he doesn’t need to. His final conclusion: Taxes are “a bad deal for liberty.” Enough said.

9. The Right to Health Care Is an ‘Intellectual Error’

Why, in the Tea Party’s moment, is Paul still seen as an unlikely choice for the GOP nod? Consider his chapter on health care. He’s eager to embrace the party line against Obamacare—as a clear case of what the GOP see as federal government overstepping its bounds, he’s on board. But he goes further than most Republicans would, for reasons of policy or politics. Paul acknowledges he’s out of step with the majority of Americans, who might not be fond of the new health-care plan but still seem to think health care is an important service and widely support Medicare and Medicaid. But Paul boldly soldiers on: “The prevailing attitude of the American people is that everyone has a right to medical care. This is an intellectual error that will lead us down a path toward destroying what is good in the current system.”

10. The Federal Reserve Supports the CIA?

More harmful than his stand on health care are the strange side notes that Paul simply can’t resist tossing into his text. He praises Julian Assange and WikiLeaks several times; tosses in a chapter on Zionism that’s unlikely to gain him much praise in the current Israel-loving climate; says Texas’ decision to seek statehood was “probably a mistake”; eloquently speaks out against the death penalty; and mentions in passing that the Federal Reserve may be secretly financing the CIA—a claim that would raise eyebrows even if he supported it with evidence or a footnote, which he doesn’t. Disciplined candidates don’t do such things. Even when Bachmann commits a gaffe, it tends to be a minor incident of misspeaking, not a case of her veering away from her talking points. It’s in moments like this that one realizes why Paul—despite his place as an intellectual godfather of the current GOP—spent part of his Friday afternoon hanging out at the Gilford, N.H., Mobil station.