Ron Paul And Barney Frank Discuss Role Of Government In Lively Debate

It has the makings of a good joke: A hardline libertarian and the embodiment of the modern Democrat walk into an auditorium. Well, rather than a punchline, what you get is the entertaining debate we enjoyed Monday evening. Ron Paul and Barney Frank, two of the most prominent congressmen in recent history, debated the role of government in a civil society in Schwab Auditorium in The Great Debate, an event organized by the College Republicans and College Democrats.

Christian Brady, Dean of the Schreyer Honors College, moderated the debate, and traced the roots of the forum’s topic back to ancient Greek philosophers, when Aristotle preached the necessity of governance. Brady started the conversation with the issue of  marijuana legalization, a timely topic due not just to its cultural relevance, but because the Penn State Economics Associations recently hosted a debate of its own on the benefits of legalizing pot.

Paul, the former Republican congressman from Texas, two-time presidential candidate, and libertarian folk hero, parlayed his famous pro-legalization stance, and included any substance an individual wishes to consume. “I believe in any initiative that will move us closer to a free society,” he promptly said.

Frank, whose candid remarks and whiny pitch have earned him recurring spots on liberal talk shows such as Real Time With Bill Maher, found a rare moment of agreement here. The former Democratic congressman from Massachusetts and House finance committee chair said he’s been working with Paul to lobby the federal government to reform its marijuana policies, and has argued in favor of legalization in the past. “We should not make it illegal for you to consume any substance unless it makes you collapse instantly,” he suggested to a round of applause. “Or if you can show me it’s likely to make you hurt other people.”

Sean Gregory
Photo: Sean Gregory/Onward State

The talk then turned to government regulation as a general philosophy, with a specific track toward consumer rights. The heated subject — and relatively lax rules of the debate — allowed Paul and Frank to question and criticize each other, making for an enjoyable back and forth. Their personalities, as well as the fact that neither needs to woo potential voters any longer, allowed for quite the candid conversation. After Paul suggested he’d do away with government regulation, Frank grilled his opposition: “Ron, would you do without federal food safety regulations?”

“Yea,” Paul cooly responded, to mixed reactions. “This whole idea that everyone is going to die without the government…” Paul retorted before Frank interjected with “No one says that!”

After reigning in the feuding pundits, Brady switched topics to police violence and racial divides, highlighted by riots after instances of police violence in Baltimore and across the country. Frank said that while racism still exists across the country, it’s made tremendous strides since he first entered politics.

In a brief discussion about the national debt, Paul made a head-scratching plea for a nation void of democracy, in large part due to the fact that “democracy isn’t enforced in the Constitution.”

But without democracy, Frank critically pondered, “at what process does society adopt rules?” Paul responded with a long-winded trail of sentences that spoke to the national debt and the US being “bankrupt”, before Frank quickly interrupted — “you’re ducking the question!” — to another round of applause and laughter.

The debate ran over allotted time, thereby eliminating the chance for a question and answer segment. Instead, each politician concluded with advice to current college students crowd. Paul elected instead to discuss how the United States is no longer the “kingpins” of past times, among other topics. Frank provided more concrete counsel: “Do not give in to the self-fulfilling prophecy that only big money counts…do not underestimate the power you can have if you get out there and vote.”

Following the debate, orange-ticketed individuals had access to a brief meet and greet with the two political stars. There, the two agreed on one important topic: where they get their Penn State news.



The two figures provided the audience with strong opinions, sharp wit, and quite a bit of laughter. The entire affair, though not quite as much a debate as a discussion, was thoroughly enjoyable and even thought-provoking, no small feat when you consider your typical partisan debate. Next year’s debate will be right before a presidential election, and no matter the two contestants, will hopefully live up to the the entertainment value this year’s edition provided.

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About the Author

Ben Berkman

State College, PA

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