David Bahnsen is the son of the prolific author Greg Bahnsen. Greg Bahnsen was an articulate Christian apologist and defender of theonomy, which is the belief that God’s law, revealed in both testaments, is the standard of righteousness and justice to which God holds all nations accountable. He also defended postmillennialism, the doctrine that God will ultimately triumph as His law will eventually be obeyed by all nations and peoples everywhere. I can personally say that Greg Bahnsen’s articulate defense of God’s law as the basis for morality played an integral role in shaping my own Christian worldview. There are many excellent resources available by the late Greg Bahnsen on a variety of important topics and issues.
Greg’s son David Bahnsen is a senior vice president at Morgan Stanley, as he is fond of reminding everyone at every possible opportunity. Bahnsen is an ardent neoconservative1 and supporter of the policies of the former President George W. Bush. He considers himself to be an “economically-literate Republican,” which evidently means defending the Keynesian policies of Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke. He is particularly vocal in his support for foreign interventionism, especially to help and aid Israeli interests in the Middle East, and he is also an avid critic of Congressman Ron Paul and his political supporters.
The Contemporary Status of American Politics
Before discussing Bahnsen’s perspective on Ron Paul, economics, and foreign policy issues, I would like to comment on Bahnsen’s approach to politics in general. One of Bahnsen’s criticisms of Ron Paul and his supporters is that they are so far outside of the mainstream that they have no chance of winning, which allows them to criticize politics as usual without the accountability of actually having any say in what happens. Presumably, this must mean that Bahnsen thinks that mainstream GOP politics are doing just fine. So how are things going under the current regime of mainstream politics that Bahnsen seems to cherish so much?
Well, the debt obligations of the U.S. federal government currently stand at about 22 trillion dollars! The unconstitutional Federal Reserve continues to inflate the money supply and devalue the already pitiful dollar. Out-of-control spending, especially entitlement spending, grows stronger all of the time. Entitlements have not been cut since they began in earnest after World War II, and this includes several supposedly conservative Republican administrations (including the much-revered Ronald Reagan).
The government has grown beyond what any of the Founding Fathers could have imagined. The delegates to the Constitutional Convention did not even remotely envision the extent to which the federal government they created would abuse its power (though perhaps they should have2). Federal taxes and astronomical deficit spending have rendered the American economy at its worst condition since the Great Depression. There is no sign of the current recession ending either, as the only mainstream ideas on the table involve more deficit spending, more bailouts, and empty promises about “job creation” and “fiscal responsibility.”
Meanwhile, a continuous third-world invasion is being perpetrated with the cooperation of liberals, libertarians, and neoconservatives, all in the hopes that this will boost their various political agendas, but never once considering how this impacts the welfare of the actual American nation. Genuine rights and liberties are steadily eroding as America devolves into a police state due to the inherent insecurity of allowing a bunch of hostile foreigners with equal rights and citizenship. The now gay-friendly American military is spread out over the globe, fighting in dubious wars for the interests of a dubious ally in Israel3 and defending dubious rights.4
The family has completely collapsed, and genuine community has declined along with the family. Policies that promote “gay marriage,” abortion, radical brainwashing through “sensitivity training,” and radical redistribution of wealth have all taken a firm hold in what is now considered mainstream. What was unconscionable even a few decades ago is now so accepted that these abominations and perversions are off the table for discussion during political debates. America’s social fabric has entirely unraveled, and this has increased dependence upon the welfare nanny state all the more.
Why do I mention all of this? Because David Bahnsen is insistent that supporting an “unelectable” candidate is not only pointless, but even “pathetic.” Remember this when you consider where mainstream policies and politicians have brought us over the last several decades. Personally I find given the current state of affairs in American politics to be entirely incongruent with prevailing political rhetoric among mainstream politicians. Just listen to what you hear coming from most candidates during debates for the upcoming presidential election. You will hear all sorts of empty rhetoric about how America is the greatest nation (empire?) that has ever existed in the history of humanity, and how Americans will wade through the present social and economic crises of the present because Americans are smart, creative, and entrepreneurial people. We made it through the Great Depression, after all; what’s to stop us from successfully navigating through this recession as well?
The leading Republican candidates all talk about reining in spending, balancing the budget, and practicing fiscal responsibility. The problem is that most of these candidates never get around to specifying concrete ways in which they will achieve their goals and keep their promises. Barely any of the candidates have ever offered any hint of how they will rein in spending. How can one balance a budget without cutting spending, especially on entitlement programs? You cannot, which is why the mainstream GOP frontrunners have studiously avoided making any concrete commitments. They know that taking a hard line stance on entitlements will alienate them from the burgeoning welfare class. Cutting entitlements like welfare is bound to be unpopular when those paying a net amount in taxes are outnumbered among voters by a ratio of 2 to 1. The leading candidates are not stupid. They know this fact well, which is why they have no intention of curtailing any entitlement program, and also why entitlement programs have not been reduced over the recent decades, even in spite of more recent “conservative” victories in Congress and the two-term presidency of George W. Bush. Again, whenever you hear criticism about someone’s being “extreme” in his political or social persuasions, remember where mainstream politics have taken us!
Frankly, I find our typical election cycles both boring and depressing. It is almost comical when I constantly hear politicians on the left and pseudo-right promising the same things over and over again. I have lost count of how many times during the debates that job creation was mentioned without the slightest indication of how anyone intended to create jobs. Republican politicians have stopped discussing the deficit after most of the frontrunner candidates conceded that the debt ceiling would have to be raised. Politicians who came to power running on a populist platform of deficit reduction have since abandoned this stance as unrealistic or unattainable.
While the media has always impacted the election process, the advent of television reporting has greatly impacted the shaping of public opinion. The first televised presidential debate occurred during the 1960 campaign between then-Vice President Richard Nixon and Senator John F. Kennedy. Television gave Kennedy a considerable advantage, and political author James Druckman concluded that “television viewers were significantly more likely to think Kennedy won the debate than audio listeners.”5 This began a trend of style over substance in American political discourse. Major media conglomerates continue to control the topics discussed in debates and have immense influence of how different candidates are perceived by prospective voters. It does not require much imagination to understand how this impacts elections. Yet there is one candidate known for his cavalier positions who seems to succeed, despite being ignored or attacked by mainstream media outlets: a candidate who does seem to break this mold of vague promises and abstract rhetoric. That candidate is Congressman Ron Paul.
Bahnsen’s Criticism of Ron Paul on the Basis of Incrementalism
One of the striking things about Bahnsen’s criticism is its utter lack of substance. If you read what he has to say against Paul, his arguments (if they can be called that) fall into two categories. One is that Ron Paul is too much of a radical. Reining in the government cannot possibly be accomplished as quickly as Ron Paul promises. The level of change that Paul demands makes him an easy target for the mainstream establishment and therefore renders him “unelectable.” The second objection that Bahnsen has is that Paul’s supporters are dangerous, mediocre, and unsuccessful. Let us take each of these objections in turn, beginning with the first.
Congressman Ron Paul is not shy about the specific policies that he will pursue as president. He is a vocal proponent of auditing, and hopefully closing down the unconstitutional Federal Reserve. Paul is also an opponent of foreign aid, including aid to our dubious ally in the Middle East. In spite of Paul’s principled stands in favor of genuine fiscal responsibility and an actual balanced budget, and because of Paul’s defense of a noninterventionist foreign policy and substantial reductions in spending, Ron Paul has managed to draw the ire of David Bahnsen. Part of the reason that Bahnsen gives for his disapproval is because Paul desires too much change and too fast, whereas Bahnsen claims that such policy goals could only be attained over the course of a generation.
Bahnsen states: “SOME of what Ron Paul says he wants to do, I want to do too. But I want to do it over a generation, because it absolutely will never get done if it is not done over a generation.”6 He approvingly cites Jonah Goldberg to this effect. But consider the state of American politics as mentioned above. We are in the midst of a severe crisis, and we should acknowledge just how severe our circumstances are. The appropriate approach is to reverse course as aggressively as we possibly can. Bahnsen clearly does not get it. He asks, “Where is the commitment to multi-generational and incremental change?” and adds, “It took us over 100 years to become this progressive and nanny-dependent as a society. It took over 100 years for the citizen to beg the government to do as much as it does for the citizen, and for the government to oblige said citizen. It will not be undone in 100 minutes. It will take a lot of work. Political change will take a lot of work. Cultural change will take a lot of work.”7
Of course, Ron Paul has never stated that the problems we face can be solved with any sort of superficial policy changes or that all of our problems can be corrected even over the course of his presidency. An appeal to incrementalism seems like a weak criticism of any candidate in the current political climate. If Bahnsen thinks that Paul has laudable goals, these goals need to be attained immediately! We simply cannot continue to tax, spend, and wage war the way that we have been. I find Bahnsen’s claim that he has “every confidence that we will be successful in that endeavor, incrementally” to be asinine.
What does Bahnsen have to show for his incremental approach after his support for the George W. Bush administration? What we have is simply more debt, bailouts, massive third-world invasion, entitlements, No Child Left Behind, and the Patriot Act. Does Bahnsen seriously consider this to be a step in the right direction? If so, he has no credible claim on the label of “conservative” in any meaningful sense. It is safe to say that Bahnsen’s incremental approach has not achieved anything, especially in light of his support for politicians who support raising the debt, furthering our presence in the Middle East in support of Israel, and increasing inflation by the printing of more paper money. The problem is not with incremental progress as such. I for one fully understand that it will take a long time to recover economically and socially from our current crises. As a Christian who believes that Christ’s Kingdom will eventually triumph, I am committed to a certain degree of optimism. (How this will involve the United States is a different question altogether.) The major problem is what Bahnsen considers legitimate progress: higher debt, more foreign entanglements, and more currency debasement by the Federal Reserve do not qualify!
David Bahnsen’s Belief that Ron Paul’s Supporters Are Dangerous
Bahnsen’s criticism of Paul’s libertarian positions can essentially be summarized as though Bahnsen were saying, “I can’t believe anyone believes this or can take it seriously!” Bahnsen correctly notes that contributing authors to LewRockwell.com are generally supportive of Ron Paul. LewRockwell.com is a libertarian think tank which supports the libertarian ideas of Llewellyn Rockwell and Murray Rothbard. This should scare us, suggests Bahnsen, because of the positions they take on a number of other issues. Says Bahnsen:
It is one of the most insidious properties in the entire web universe. I believe that those of you who are in that camp of Ron Paul followers I am trying to reach may conclude that Ron Paul does not deserve to be linked to Lew, but I do not believe you will attempt to defend this man and his extremist and vile views. My challenge is this: Go spend ten minutes on Lew’s website every day for one month, and then decide if you have the stomach to support Ron Paul. In that month you are likely to hear that Winston Churchill was a worse war criminal than Joseph Stalin or Adolf Hitler. You will hear celebration that Tony Snow died of cancer (because he did, after all, support the Iraq war). You will find out that Lew believes the Constitution is a statist document. You will read that the men and women serving our military are despicable little immoral creatures, trained to kill innocent parties. I do not need to rhetorically beat up on Lew; he will be his own best accuser. The man is insane, and the only possible justification for someone supporting Ron Paul after becoming familiar with Lew Rockwell is that one just does not believe that the two are one and the same. But this is an irrefutable fact.8
Notice that Bahnsen simply assumes that any of the ideas mentioned above are “extreme” and does not offer any substantive refutation of any of them. He knows that many of his readers will already be inclined to agree with him and thus does not bother to explain why the Lew Rockwell contributors are wrong. Many of his readers are undoubtedly unaware of Churchill’s order to firebomb Dresden during the Second World War. But Bahnsen simply dismisses unprovoked attacks on German civilians, since he is a committed neoconservative who accepts the unjust and unbiblical idea that total war on a civilian population is just. Whatever your position is on the Constitution, would we really consider patriots like Patrick Henry to be extreme due to their anti-federalism? Even if one disagrees with the anti-federalist position that defended the Articles of Confederation against the Constitution, the anti-federalist position ought to remain a legitimate position to take in American political discourse. Ideas are either right or wrong, but they do not become untenable simply due to unpopularity or the passage of time. It also boggles the mind to consider how Bahnsen can countenance women serving in the military. He assumes that virtually all the wars and police actions in which the American military engages are just. This simply is not true. America’s wars are not making us safer, and the only reason that we fight these battles in the Middle East is the inordinate influence of the Zionist lobby. Bahnsen is assured that the average reader will simply be inclined to agree with him over and against the traditional conservative and libertarian views expressed on Lew Rockwell.
Bahnsen disapproves of Paul’s theory of blowback regarding the motivation of Middle Eastern Muslims to attack America. Ron Paul believes that a primary motivation for Muslim attacks on America is caused by unnecessary American military presence in the Middle East. I agree. There are no tangible national security benefits that have been gained by our preemptive invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. As I read what Bahnsen has to say about Paul’s policies, I honestly wonder if he himself believes what he writes. It is absolutely dishonest for Bahnsen to allege: “the sad reality is that Ron Paul is entitled to believe that America is the source of the world’s woes (which he does believe), that America has provoked the Islamicist butchers (which he does believe), and that America can function just fine by simply ignoring everybody all over the world.” It is also dishonest to suggest that it is the “explicit foreign policy of Ron Paul” that “you have to wait until the intruder is at your borders to respond.”9 Paul has never even hinted at something even close to this. He has merely advised that our continued military presence in the Middle East amongst nations with whom we are not at war only serves to stir up angst and hatred against us. Bahnsen and his neoconservative ilk have not provided any alternative explanation why Middle Easterners are particularly motivated to kill Americans.
What is ironic to me and to other traditional conservatives is that Bahnsen sees no problem with the “invade the world, invite the world” paradigm which George W. Bush and other neocons espouse. Bahnsen would have us believe that we are made safer by our unnecessary invasions in the Middle East, and then simultaneously, and presumably with a straight face, would tell us that the foreign deluge of third-world immigrants poses no threat to our way of life. Bahnsen is a defender of the former President Bush’s idea that “Islamofascists” hate us because of our freedoms and prosperity. It is not difficult to see how loyalty to Zionism has blinded neocons like Bahnsen to the genuine interests of the American people rather than the Zionist-controlled American Empire.
Bahnsen believes that all criticism of Abraham Lincoln, the Constitution, America’s involvement in the First and Second World Wars, or America’s current foreign policy is off the table and constitutes a “blame America first” perspective of which he believes Ron Paul and his followers are guilty. “Tell us if Abe Lincoln, FDR, Ronald Reagan, and George Bush are warmongers. I already know you believe all of this. And I am ready to engage that discussion,”10 says Bahnsen. We are simply supposed to believe that Lincoln’s waging of total war against the South for daring to resist the federal government was patriotic and heroic. Bahnsen just takes this for granted. And is Bahnsen seriously offended by the lack of enthusiasm for FDR among Paul’s supporters? Are we to honestly admire the man behind the New Deal as a foreign policy hero?11 I suppose that questioning any policy of Ronald Reagan is considered blasphemy to the GOP establishment, but Paul’s criticism of Reagan is typically respectful, and Reagan himself later expressed regret over some of his own foreign policy decisions.
Bahnsen, referring to the war on terror, insists that “we are at war. We did not start the war.”12 This is a false and misleading statement. Bahnsen criticizes the Lew Rockwell libertarians for their lack of enthusiasm for the Constitution, and yet Bahnsen himself demonstrates his own inept grasp of the Constitution. The Constitution explicitly states that only Congress can declare war. No war has been declared by Congress. Ron Paul has stated that if prolonged military action is necessary, then Congress should declare war. This would mean that articles of war would be drawn up with explicit military goals and objectives that would hold the president and military accountable. It is silly to say that we are involved in the “war on terror.” This “war” will be equally as successful as the “war on drugs” and the “war on poverty.” Wars on abstract principles are simply tools used by the government to augment their power and justify massive expenditures. War is a great way to increase the perceived importance of the government, and the warfare state that Bahnsen advocates has directly led us to the welfare state that Bahnsen claims to decry. Ron Paul and his supporters understand this basic principle; Bahnsen does not. No wonder Bahnsen considers Ron Paul’s supporters to be “dangerous.”
Thus far we have analyzed Bahnsen’s irrational fear of Ron Paul and his supporters. Bahnsen has good reason to consider Ron Paul’s supporters dangerous, since libertarians and traditional conservatives are actually opposed to the status quo and not merely content with superficial, meaningless change. Bahnsen’s gloating over the popularity of his favorite candidates demonstrates that he lacks the fortitude and courage to make a positive difference in the world. In the second half of this series, we will look at Bahnsen’s politically correct response to the Ron Paul newsletters. We will also see how Bahnsen perceives his place in the world and how this impacts his interactions with critics.
Read Part 2 Here.
- Hoppe writes regarding the history of neoconservatism: “The neoconservative movement to which Fukuyama belongs emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the American left became increasingly involved with Black Power politics, affirmative action, pro-Arabism, and the ‘counterculture.’ In opposition to these tendencies, many traditional left-wing (frequently former Trotskyite) intellectuals and cold war ‘liberals,’ led by Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz, broke ranks with their old allies, frequently crossing over from the long-time haven of left-wing politics, the Democratic party, to the Republicans. Since then the neoconservatives, while insignificant in sheer numbers, have gained unrivaled influence in American politics, promoting typically a ‘moderate’ welfare state (‘democratic capitalism’), ‘cultural conservatism’ and ‘family values,’ and an interventionist (‘activist’) and in particular Zionist (‘pro-Israel’) foreign policy. Represented by figures such as Irving Kristol and his wife Gertrude Himmelfarb, and son William Kristol; Norman Podhoretz and his wife, Midge Decter, son John Podhoretz, and sons-in-law Steven Munson and Elliott Abrams; by Daniel Bell, Peter Berger, Nathan Glazer, Seymour Martin Lipset, Michael Novak, Aaron Wildavsky, James Q. Wilson; and journalist-commentators such as David Frum, Paul Gigot, Morton Kondracke, Charles Krauthammer, Michael Lind, Joshua Muravchik, Emmett Tyrrell, and Ben Wattenberg, the neoconservatives now exercise controlling interest in such publications as National Interest, Public Interest, Commentary, the New Republic, the American Spectator, the Weekly Standard, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, and they have close ties to several major foundations such as Bradley, Olin, Pew, Scaife, and Smith Richardson. See on this Paul Gottfried, The Conservative Movement, rev. ed. (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1993); also George H. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America (New York: Basic Books, 1976).” As cited in Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Democracy: The God That Failed, p. 223. ↩
- See the Anti-Federalist Papers, which were written against the ratification of the proposed U.S. Constitution: http://www.utulsa.edu/law/classes/rice/constitutional/antifederalist/antifed.htm ↩
- For more information about Israel, the attack on the U.S.S. Liberty, and the Zionist lobby’s political clout in America, see the documentary “Missing Links,” available on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tv1kzLXyZ4k. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also referred to Christian Zionists as “useful idiots” in their support for Israel against Palestinian interests in the Middle East, http://www.whale.to/b/netanyahu_h.html. For more enlightened quotes from Jewish thinkers, see here: http://www.whale.to/b/hate_q.html. ↩
- The “rights” that the American military is defending, whether the individual soldiers realize it or not, are such “rights” as the freedom to murder unborn babies, or to commit sodomy, or to blaspheme the Christian faith. There are several rights that traditional conservatives wish that the permanent standing army would defend. For more information, see Laurence Vance’s “Freedoms I Wish the Military Were Defending”: http://www.infowars.com/freedoms-i-wish-the-military-were-defending/. ↩
- Druckman, James N. 2003. “The Power of Television Images: The First Kennedy-Nixon Debate Revisited.” The Journal of Politics 65:2 (May), p. 568. http://cstl-cla.semo.edu/renka/ui320-75/presidents/kennedy/1960_election.asp ↩
- David L. Bahnsen . The Attraction of Ron Paul to the Mediocre Among Us. The Bahnsen Viewpoint. December 20, 2011. http://www.davidbahnsen.com/index.php/2011/12/20/the-attraction-of-ron-paul-to-the-mediocre-among-us/ ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- David L. Bahnsen. “The Undiscerning and Dangerous Appreciation of Ron Paul.” The Bahnsen Viewpoint. May 21, 2011. http://www.davidbahnsen.com/index.php/2011/05/21/the-undiscerning-and-dangerous-appreciation-of-ron-paul/ ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- For an interesting treatment on Roosevelt’s handling of the Pearl Harbor attack, see Srdja Trifkovic, “Misallocated Infamy.” Chronicles Magazine, December 7, 2008. http://www.chroniclesmagazine.org/2008/12/07/misallocated-infamy/ ↩
- “The Undiscerning and Dangerous Appreciation of Ron Paul.” ↩