'I'm Not a Libertarian'

One of Andrew's readers links to this TIME piece, and I think it's important in terms of getting the terms of debate right:

Pure libertarians, he says, believe the market should dictate policy on nearly everything from the environment to health care. Paul has lately said he would not leave abortion to the states, he doesn't believe in legalizing drugs like marijuana and cocaine, he'd support federal drug laws, he'd vote to support Kentucky's coal interests and he'd be tough on national security. 

"They thought all along that they could call me a libertarian and hang that label around my neck like an albatross, but I'm not a libertarian," Paul says between Lasik surgeries at his medical office, where his campaign is headquartered, with a few desks crammed between treatment rooms.

I think it's important to distinguish libertarianism from basic right-wing populism, even if they, at times, overlap. I think when you consider Paul's inability to defend his position on the Civil Rights Act, along with his own words here, you conclude that his opposition comes more out right-wing populism than any serious understanding of political theory and American history. 

I don't much care if Ron Paul, or anyone affiliated with the Tea Parties, is racist, or not. I would not be so bold as to weight the hearts of men. But I reject populism, left or right, because I think it quickly indulges the prejudices of the mob. I don't believe in the nobility of the common man, any more than I believe in the innate wisdom of aristocrats. I don't think suffering, or lack thereof, is necessarily ennobling. That said, right wing populism, in particular, has almost never been a force for good when it comes to healing our ancient birth defect. To the extent that Tea Parties are a right-wing populist movement, I see no reason to expect that to change.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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