Congressman Ron Paul speaks to a gathering of Tea Party supporters in Greenville, S.C. May 5, 2011. (Photo: Richard Shiro / AP Photos)The Mad Doctor, who proudly consorts with 9/11 Truthers, announced his third race for the nation’s highest office on Friday the 13th (appropriately enough) by declaring that if he were president he never would have authorized a lethal strike against Osama bin Laden. The firestorm over this remark distracted attention from previous controversial comments just eight days earlier, when he used the first debate of the 2012 race to stake out exclusive territory on the lunatic libertarian fringe.
Asked by Chris Wallace of Fox News about his insistence that “the federal government should stay out of people’s personal habits,” and his specific opposition to restrictions on cocaine, heroin, and prostitution, the candidate claimed that social conservatives would nonetheless vote for him “if they understand my defense of liberty is the defense of their right to practice their religion and say their prayers where they want to practice their life. But if you do not protect liberty across the board it’s the First Amendment-type issue… You know, it’s amazing that we want freedom to pick our future in a spiritual way but not when it comes to our personal habits.”
In other words, as long we’re free to seek salvation in heaven, we must be free to enjoy drugs and hookers while we’re alive?
This addle-brained attempt to equate religious freedom with liberty to pursue profit as pimps or pushers counts as daft rather than deft. As a preening “Constitutionalist,” Paul ought to understand that the First Amendment explicitly protects “free exercise” of religion but says nothing about a right to operate bordellos or market recreational drugs.
Wallace also asked the crotchety candidate if he was “suggesting that heroin and prostitution are an exercise in liberty?” In effect, Paul agreed that they were. “Well, you know, I’d probably never use those words, you put those words some place,” he stammered, “but yes, in essence, if I leave it to the states, it’s going to be up to the states.”
This suggestion of leaving regulation to local authorities makes no sense at all when it comes to the drug trade, which usually involves international (or, at the very least, interstate) commerce. Moreover, his invoking of the First Amendment in the need to “protect liberty across the board” means that the states would have no more right to outlaw bongs and brothels than the federal government. The Supreme Court has federalized Bill of Rights protections since 1925 (Gitlow v. New York), meaning that First Amendment protections restrict state power (under the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of “equal protection”) just as much as they limit the Washington bureaucracy. If the feds can’t interfere with selling smack or sex (under some bizarre misinterpretation of a constitutional right to free expression) then states can’t touch those activities either.
Reasonable people might disagree on the advisability of restrictive drug laws and the criminalization of prostitution; many thoughtful conservatives believe that society would benefit by decriminalizing recreational drugs (especially marijuana) and authorizing the sex trade under medically regulated circumstances. But the suggestion that such reforms amount to a sound shift in social policy isn’t the same as Paul’s provocative (and preposterous) claims.