Why Ron Paul's newfound power both pleases and worries libertarians.

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Dec. 10 2010 7:03 PM

Congratulations! Now Shut Up.

Why Ron Paul's newfound power both pleases and worries libertarians.

Ron Paul. Click image to expand.
Ron Paul

On Wednesday afternoon, Rep. Ron Paul met with Rep. Spencer Bachus, the incoming chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. Paul hated TARP, the 2008 program that bailed out the financial sector, and voted against it. Bachus had voted for TARP, and to get his new job he'd defeated Ed Royce, who voted against TARP. Still, Paul had supported Bachus. The two of them talked briefly, agreed that they could keep working together, and, just like that, any doubt that Paul would get to run the monetary policy subcommittee fell away.

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David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.

Paul started to spread the news to his staff, who'd heard the rumors that he might be denied the job despite seniority putting him in line for it. Andrew Napolitano, who hosts a show on Fox Business and books Paul and his senator-elect son whenever humanly possible, started beseeching Paul to come on and break his news. Can I have it? he asked. Can I have it? He got it, and on Wednesday Paul announced the news that would not become official for 14 hours. And then Paul started to criticize his fellow Republicans for considering ways to define WikiLeaks as a terrorist organization instead of a journalistic one.

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"Doesn't that remind you of 1984," asked Paul, referring to the Orwell novel, "when language becomes pretty vital?"

It was classic Ron Paul. Shortly after getting the job he's wanted for decades—oversight of the Federal Reserve—he was comparing Julian Assange to Winston Smith.

When the midterms were over, with the corpses of Democratic incumbents still being counted and labeled, conservatives and Tea Party activists went after the Republicans in line to take over key committees. They opposed Michigan Rep. Fred Upton's bid to run Energy and Commerce. They worked the phones against Hal Rogers of Kentucky, a "prince of pork" in line to run Appropriations. They backed outsiders to run Banking, the Republican Study Committee, and the Conference Committee. They lost all of these fights, which means that of all the committee fights that activists were watching, the only one they definitively won was Ron Paul's.

If you, like Paul, have spent most of your life arguing that the Federal Reserve is bad for the country and too secretive to boot, this is fantastic news. In a Thursday interview with Bloomberg News, Paul previewed his agenda and suggested that using the committee to educate America about the Fed and expose the threat of quantitative easing was exactly what voters wanted Congress to do.

"Obviously, it is very popular with the American people to audit the Fed and know what they're doing when they can spend trillions of dollars and we don't know where it goes," said Paul. "They have a bigger budget; they spend more money than Congress does. Yet, we have no oversight." In fact, a Bloomberg poll released on Thursday found that 55 percent of Americans wanted the Fed "held more accountable" or "abolished." Support for simply abolishing the Fed, as Paul wants to do, had doubled from 8 percent to 16 percent in just two months.

And yet there are libertarians who consider the Paul takeover in open-mouthed horror, a poor consolation for the elevation of Rogers and Upton.

"Republicans stashed him in this job because they don't want him making more important decisions," said Megan McArdle, a prominent libertarian blogger and economics editor of the Atlantic. "He cares passionately about monetary policy, which most Republicans don't care about. But when you look at his speeches, he doesn't understand anything about monetary policy. He might actually understand it less than the average member of Congress. My personal opinion is that he wastes all of his time on the House Financial Services Committee ranting crazily."