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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ron Paul's Daily Show Interview and How Libertarians Should Answer Objections

Jon Stewart's recent interview with Ron Paul was an incredible opportunity for the Texas Congressman to share and defend the idea of Liberty to millions of people interested in what he has to say. What made the opportunity so incredible was Jon Stewart's truly earnest dialogue with Ron Paul-- he really wanted to hear Ron Paul's answers.

(Watch the full video of Ron Paul's Daily Show interview with Jon Stewart at

Stewart is so enamored of Ron Paul's consistency and integrity that you could not miss noticing how desperately the comedian wanted to be convinced by the Republican presidential candidate. He wasn't throwing objections out there to refute and trip up liberty's most visible spokesman of our day. No, Stewart wanted to hear his objections compellingly refuted. He has his honest doubts, but he wants to believe.

That's what made Ron Paul's performance-- and it pains me to say this-- all the more disappointing. The good doctor was funny, friendly, got in a few good quips, and won some audience approval with his opposition to the War on Drugs and open-ended warfare overseas, but when Jon Stewart gave him the opportunity to really defend Liberty itself as a meta-political principle-- repeatedly saying the history of the 1800s makes unrestrained markets difficult to swallow-- Ron Paul didn't give very compelling answers.

To begin with, watch the interview and then try to summarize Ron Paul's argument. You might find it wasn't very memorable, punchy, or coherent, certainly not as much as Jon Stewart's (already almost universally-accepted) objection that the 1800s are a perfect example of unrestrained capitalism run amok. Paul did try to articulate that there wasn't unrestrained capitalism in the 1800s, but hardly defended his claim, using only a brief and poorly-explained reference to "the railroads."

Despite an unmatched record of reaching people-- especially young people-- with the message of Liberty, Ron Paul still has a lot of polishing to do. Another example comes from a recent Republican primary debate. Roderick T. Long has an excellent breakdown of Ron Paul's argument about health care and exactly how it follows the classic(ly wrong) libertarian answer to questions about health care in a libertarian society:

The Libertarian Three-Step Program

Wolf Blitzer: You’re a physician, Ron Paul, so you’re a doctor. You know something about this subject. Let me ask you this hypothetical question.

A healthy 30-year-old young man has a good job, makes a good living, but decides: “You know what? I’m not going to spend $200 or $300 a month for health insurance because I’m healthy, I don’t need it.” But something terrible happens, all of a sudden he needs it. Who’s going to pay if he goes into a coma, for example? Who pays for that?

This is the kind of question that libertarians usually give stupid answers to. Their first impulse is to stress that no one has the right to force other people to pay her medical bills – which is true enough, but a weird place to start. This answer in effect treats the free market as the present system minus welfare, and so takes for granted that the problem described is likely in a free market. It also casts the sick person as a threat to others’ liberty rather than as a person who can be better helped by libertarian methods than by statist ones. If someone is looking to smear libertarians as people who want to let sick people die, this hands them the opportunity on a platter. (Of course it doesn’t help if your alleged supporters are actually yelling in the background that the patient should die.)

Most libertarians’ second impulse is to mention charity. And their third impulse, if they ever get around to it, is to mention the point they should have led with – that the high cost of health care is a product of state regulation.

In the last Republican debate (transcript here), Ron Paul went through the three stages in depressingly predictable order.

Read the rest of the article (really-- read it-- this should be mandatory reading for every libertarian) for a transcription of Ron Paul's answer and Long's analysis.

Wes Messamore,
Editor in Chief, THL
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