Ask and Tell

"SPRADLING: Congressman Paul, a question for you.

"Most of our closest allies, including Great Britain and Israel, allow gays and lesbians to openly serve in the military. Is it time to end [the] don’t ask/don’t tell policy and allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. military?"

"PAUL: I think the current policy is a decent policy.

"And the problem that we have with dealing with this subject is we see people as groups, as they belong to certain groups and that they derive their rights as belonging to groups.

"We don’t get our rights because we’re gays or women or minorities. We get our rights from our creator as individuals. So every individual should be treated the same way.

"So if there is homosexual behavior in the military that is disruptive, it should be dealt with.

"But if there’s heterosexual sexual behavior that is disruptive, it should be dealt with.

"So it isn’t the issue of homosexuality. It’s the concept and the understanding of individual rights. If we understood that, we would not be dealing with this very important problem."

The above is from the transcript of the Republican presidential candidates’ debate in New Hampshire on June 5. The questioner was Scott Spradling of WMUR. The answerer was Congressman Ron Paul. I have been a fan of Rep. Paul for many years, and I think that what he’s giving us in the debates is more than a breath of fresh air. He is laying out a consistent case for non-interventionism by the U.S. federal government in foreign affairs, as well as in most domestic affairs. It’s a case that no federal politician on the national scene has made since Sen. Robert Taft, often called "Mr. Republican," did so in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Indeed, Rep. Paul has shown himself to be, in some important ways, even better than Taft. On domestic issues, for example, Rep. Paul votes, and speaks, even more consistently for individual rights and freedom than the late Sen. Taft did.

Moreover, Rep. Paul has many antiwar liberals and leftists interested in, and occasionally excited about, his candidacy. Just look at his positive interviews with Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher, and Jon Stewart. Even some conservatives have gotten interested and are friendly; witness his interview with Tucker Carlson on MSNBC. And his lengthy interview with New Hampshire’s NPR on June 5, the day of the debate, was amazing. It’s worth listening to, but let me highlight two things. First, Rep. Paul, an obstetrician, advocated deregulating health care, even to the point of ending the doctors’ legal monopoly on health-care delivery. I’ve been advocating free markets in health care for almost 40 years and have been a health economist for 25 years. I’ve talked to dozens of doctors who are sympathetic to economic freedom. But Rep. Paul is the only doctor I’ve ever met who has forthrightly criticized his own profession’s government-granted monopoly.

The second striking aspect of Paul’s New Hampshire NPR interview was how he managed to reach his interviewer, Laura Knoy, who clearly had never heard his combination of domestic and foreign-policy views. Ms. Knoy, who has a great NPR-style voice, was charmed by him, and, after firing a few hardball questions that he hit out of the park, she asked him his views on a range of issues and on his background – his early jobs and his work as a doctor in the early 1960s for $3 an hour, for instance.

Ron Paul is doing what the defunct Inquiry Magazine, founded by the Cato Institute in 1977, was designed to do – get leftists and libertarians talking with each other. As my late friend Roy Childs pointed out to me in a letter in 1978, when I had carelessly criticized Inquiry, it was important to get these groups talking because they basically hadn’t spoken to each other since World War I. This one man, with his campaign for the Republican nomination, is doing that.

Which makes Rep. Paul’s answer to the question about gays in the military all the more disappointing. Actually, most of his answer was quite good. Whether or not there’s a creator, Ron Paul’s right that we do have our rights as individuals rather than as members of groups. He’s also right that homosexual behavior in the military that is disruptive should be dealt with, just as disruptive heterosexual behavior should be dealt with. But that’s why he shouldn’t have said that the current policy of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" is a "decent policy." "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" is not about prohibiting disruptive behavior; it actually bans or expels those who simply announce that they are homosexual, no matter what their behavior. I’m positive that Rep. Paul would not advocate a "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy for heterosexuals, even though, as he himself noted, some heterosexual behavior can be disruptive.

It’s possible that Rep. Paul was caught off-guard. He probably wasn’t expecting that question and needed time to think. Then, as he started thinking, he went back to first principles and came up with a brilliant answer that would make his opening objectionable sentence simply a form of throat-clearing. In that case, he should make clear that he is against "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell." Rep. Paul is running a brilliant campaign. It would be too bad to mar it with this one jarring philosophical inconsistency.

Copyright © 2007 by David R. Henderson. Requests for permission to reprint should be directed to the author or

Author: David R. Henderson

David R. Henderson is a research fellow with the Hoover Institution and an emeritus professor of economics in the Graduate School of Business and Public Policy at the Naval Postgraduate School. He is author of The Joy of Freedom: An Economist’s Odyssey and co-author, with Charles L. Hooper, of Making Great Decisions in Business and Life(Chicago Park Press). His latest book is The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics (Liberty Fund, 2008). He has appeared on The O’Reilly Factor, the Jim Lehrer Newshour, CNN, MSNBC, RT, Fox Business Channel, and C-SPAN. He has had over 100 articles published in Fortune, the Wall Street Journal, Red Herring, Barron’s, National Review, Reason, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, The Hill, and the Christian Science Monitor. He has also testified before the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Armed Services Committee, and the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources. He blogs at