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Ron Paul has not been the only libertarian making a concerted effort to sell progressives on the idea that their economic goals can be met through nonstatist means. In the rarefied world of academic philosophy, a group of libertarian political thinkers operating under the rubric “bleeding heart libertarians” has been toiling on the same project.
While most bleeding heart libertarians seem reluctant to embrace or support Ron Paul specifically, they are fighting for the same mental ground as Paul, on a distinctly nonpolitical battlefield. John Tomasi, a bleeding heart libertarian who teaches political science at Brown University, recently published Free Market Fairness (Princeton University Press), which argues that modern liberals who want to maximize the well-being of the poor should embrace free markets more than they do. Tomasi preaches to the left that respect for economic liberties is a key part of respecting individual autonomy and that a properly freed market generates enough wealth to benefit the least well off. Paul, in his more folksy and Constitution-anchored style, has been saying largely the same thing.
Robin Koerner, a Brit who launched the “Blue Republican” idea in a Huffington Post column, suggests that libertarians offer progressives who “believe we will all die” without the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) a deal like this: “OK, but how about we agree we will have that argument in a world where we still have a Bill of Rights and don’t kill people as a default international relations tool? Where we don’t have crony corporate capitalism? Can we agree if we got there, you as someone who leans left will have a world so much more like you want and I as a classical liberal will have a world so much more like I want, and in that world let’s argue about the EPA and FDA.”
Despite the common ground Paul has unearthed between libertarianism and the left, the Paul political machine has linked itself to the Republican Party for two election cycles now. His intended political heir, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), endorsed Mitt Romney for president in June, when many of his father’s fans still believed Ron Paul still had a distant shot at the nomination. Progressives are not likely to get into bed with the modern GOP, no matter how simpatico a particular Republican seems.
Did inertia and partisan stubbornness keep progressives from embracing a promising champion of their cause? Or do they care more about abortion and income redistribution than the war and civil liberties issues they emphasized during the presidency of George W. Bush? Either way, it’s too late now. Paul is on the verge of retirement with no obvious successor. Progressives probably won’t see his like again anytime soon.