Ron Paul, An Honorable Man

By A. G. Moore  December 31, 2011
Ron Paul is an honorable man in a field of candidates who are not all honorable. However, being honorable is a necessary, not a sufficient quality for being president of the United States. To be president, a person must also be correct about certain basic issues. And here Ron Paul falls short.I’ve given money in the past to the Paul campaign; $10 here, $10 there. I did this because of his honesty: his early disapproval, for example, of the War on Drugs; his resistance to the Iraq War; his opposition to wiretapping and detaining Americans without due process.However, when Paul questions basic principles of federalism, I take exception. When Paul talks about 80% of the federal government being illegal, he is suggesting the legitimacy of a time when states and not the federal government defended individual rights. I fear he is suggesting a time before 1909, when a landmark Supreme Court decision established the principle of federalism upon which future court decisions (re: federal gov’t vs. the states) were premised.In The United States v. Shipp, the sheriff of Chattanooga was cited with contempt for defying a Supreme Court order to delay the execution of one Ed Johnson. Although Shipp did not carry out the scheduled execution, he, in the eyes of the court, facilitated the actions of a lynch mob which performed that service for him.Johnson, a black man, had been charged with raping a white woman. His lawyers were given, despite their protests, only one week to prepare for what was a capital case. There were no blacks in the jury pool and thus Johnson was tried in front of an all white jury. During the trial, one of the jurors stood up and threatened the defendant. After the trial, which resulted in a guilty verdict and a sentence of death, Johnson’s lawyers told him not to bother with an appeal. If he tried that, not only would he surely be lynched, but the lawyers themselves might be subject to the same danger.Justice John Marshall Harlan of the U. S. Supreme Court heard an appeal from a new lawyer for Johnson. Harlan issued a stay of execution and ordered that Johnson be maintained in jail until the Supreme Court could review the facts of the case.There was an uproar in Chattanooga. The Supreme Court action was seen as a usurpation of states rights, an unwarranted intrusion by the federal courts into the state courts. Never before had the assertion been made and enforced that protections under the Bill of Rights extended to the states as well as to the federal government.Johnson was lynched. This time it wasn’t as much for the rape as for the insistence by the states that they run their own affairs. Sheriff Shipp was charged with contempt of court for letting the lynch mob go forward. He was convicted and sent to jail. Thus began the era, in the eyes of many historians, of federalism: the Supreme Court of the United States became the final arbiter of law in the whole country. And the Bill of Rights was acknowledged as being binding on both the states and the federal government.When I hear Ron Paul speak, I hear echos of Sheriff Shipp’s argument. The federal government has no right under the Constitution to meddle in state affairs. I am certain that Paul would deplore the actions of the lynch mob, but I am almost as sure that he would protest the intrusion by the federal courts into the state courts.While Paul is an honorable man, and perhaps the Ed Johnsons of the world would be safe in a universe filled with Ron Pauls, unfortunately this is not the universe in which we exist. Less than honorable men walk the earth. Left unchecked, these men would demonstrate no more regard for the rights of the individual than Shipp demonstrated for Ed Johnson’s life. An overreaching federal government is to be feared, but so also is an unchecked state government. There are different views of federalism, to be sure. There is the view that the government protects by taking away rights (National Defense Authorization Act); this view, in the extreme, is fascism. And then there is the view that the government acts in order to insure that rights under the Constitution are preserved (Voting Rights Act of 1965).Federalism is not the problem. It is the people we trust to govern under the principle of federalism that are the problem. It is our own lax stewardship of citizenship that is the problem.When we fall for saber rattlers who say we need a spy in every house to be safe, then we betray ourselves. And when we fall for the individual who says government does not have a role in protecting our individual rights, then we likewise betray ourselves. And we betray that plan for government, the Constitution of the United States, about which Ron Paul, the honest man, speaks with such passion.So…who is there to vote for? Obama has just signed the NDAA, so he’s out. The whole Republican field (except for Paul) offer caricatures of Obama’s worst traits, so they are all out.Any suggestions?ReadingsProgressives and the Ron Paul Fallacies By Glenn Greenwald in SalonU. S. Vs. Shipp Marshall Harlan News Articles on Ed Johnson’s Lynching and the Shipp Case:

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