This is despite him consistently winning straw polls, focus group surveys and post-debate polls. Despite him being more consistent in his policies, over forty years, than any of his GOP primary rivals.
I’m always wary about wading deep into the swamps of another country’s political affairs; the last time I did so, I got one of the natives to comment instead. But since this time, it concerns Libertarianism directly, I thought I’d have a go at it myself.
Ron Paul faces two major obstacles in his quest for the presidency: his image, and his followers. I’ve gotten in all sorts of trouble on other Libertarian blogs when I’ve pointed out the bleedingly obvious fact that he comes across as cantankerous and oddball; that, plus a nasal, whiny voice that is an immediate turn-off to anyone with less than a serious interest in politics, plus poorly-cut suits whose too-wide collars make his neck look scrawny…
I could go on. One day, America will get a politician with Ron Paul’s ideas, JFK’s looks and fashion sense, and Reagan’s delivery. One day.
The other problem is his fan club. Last month I watched the Fox News Republican primary debate above (first aired in May) between candidates Paul, Cain, Pawlenty, Santorum and Johnson. The auditorium had clearly been stacked with Paul’s followers who, as you will hear, whooped, yelled and whistled every time their man opened his mouth, much to the consternation of the debate’s moderators. Our GE had a thread running on Paul at the time and, while I believe Paul blitzed them all on policy, I made the (relatively mild) criticisms above regarding his image. The Paulistas are currently roaming the blogosphere on the lookout for this sort of thing, and descended on JD’s blog faster than Moonbat’s flying monkeys. Go to page 3 (sorted by newest) and you’ll see what I mean.
Leaving aside the superficial, LibertyGibbert exists to explore the subject of Libertarianism; and one of the areas I see as worthy of attention is the means whereby Libertarians can reach out to, and sustain constructive dialogue with, mainstream conservatives. This has become more apparent to me as LibertyGibbert’s community is evenly split between those who identify as Libertarians and conservatives (pace Izen), and we will in future be exploring several issues on which the two tend to differ.
Personally, I doubt that a uniquely Libertarian, grass-roots political movement will ever, on its own, gain momentum sufficient to make viable a third political force capable of gaining office, either in the United States, Great Britain or here in the Antipodes. In the U.S., the success of the Tea Party movement in determining GOP Congressional candidates (as opposed to pursuing an ideologically pure but politically impotent Libertarian Party) is testament to the viability of the policy of engagement with the conservatives.
And yet, Ron Paul’s fans seem impervious to any ideas other than their own. My own reading of much of what they say on the ’net gives me the impression of a rather childish, bordering on solipsist, group whose policy views are formed in a vacuum of any opposing ideas. They appear not to want a dialogue. If they would pause to recognize that a) Libertarianism actually rests on an intellectual and historical foundation even more solid than conservatism, and b) today’s conservatives share so much common ground with Libertarians that a “broad church” approach is more likely to achieve the greatest number of positive outcomes for both, then not only would they feel less threatened by the thought of engaging on policy, philosophical and practical levels with conservatives, but Ron Paul would today have a far better shot at the GOP nomination than he currently does.
Then there is the issue of his power base. Frankly, he doesn’t have one. As Representative of Texas’ 14th Congressional District, he has the backing of neither big business (which stand under a Paul administration to lose subsidies, tax exemptions and other government largesse), nor of the labour union movement, nor academia (except for a tiny sub-section), nor—most crucially—the press. I’m not big on conspiracy theories, yet their lack of attention to some rather stunning successes in early primary debates—to which they openly and brazenly admit—can only encourage those who believe the whole thing has already been sewn up by cabal of oligarchs, the military-industrial complex, the CIA, Bilderberg, the British Crown, the Freemasons, Opus Dei, martians…
On substantive issues of policy, Ron Paul for me stands miles ahead of any other candidate. I don’t propose an exhaustive recital of his position on every issue; rather, I thought I’d look at some of the most common policy and personal criticisms levelled at him, and explain why I believe those criticisms are unfounded, factually incorrect or based on false premises.
Ron Paul’s proposed return to the Gold Standard is unrealistic and potentially dangerous.
Dangerous? As opposed to a Federal Reserve printing un-backed, paper dollars so fast that no-one is completely sure just how much U.S. currency is in circulation? As a matter of fact, Paul is not proposing a return to the gold standard in the foreseeable future. What he is advocating, as he wrote so eloquently here over thirty years ago, is an end to the monopoly currently enjoyed by the baseless paper ticket that is the modern U.S. dollar, as “legal tender” for the settlement of all debts; to force the greenback to compete with sound money: that is, hard currencies (those backed by gold or silver), issued by private institutions who, in order to ensure complete convertability, will need to end the fraudulent practice of fractional-reserve banking; and to end the contract law ban on the inclusion of gold clauses. The only “risk” associated with such policies would presuppose that the greenback’s fundamentals are so weak that it cannot withstand that kind of competition; which kind of demolishes the naysayers’ arguments anyway, don’t you think?
That’s his personal position, yes. And what’s more, it’s a position arrived at, not as part of a grab-bag of some religious creed or idealogical school, but from personal experience, as a career obstetrician and gynaecologist who has delivered over four thousand babies. Still, he doesn’t seek to impose his private views on the American people.
What are you talking about—he wants to overturn Roe vs. Wade!
Well, yes. But here you’re seeing Ron Paul’s true colours. Unlike pretty much everyone else running for president this time around, he believes, first and foremost, in upholding the Constitution of the United States: no ifs, no buts. Now, if you can point out to me where the U.S. Constitution has anything to say about abortion—let alone arrogating to the Federal government the power to dictate to the states over abortion law—then I’ll gladly change my mind and agree with your criticism of him.
The fact is, the lack of reference to abortion in the Constitution renders it ipso facto a matter for state legislation. I don’t want to pre-empt my own (currently half-written) thread on the subject, but the issue in America is so finely and deeply divided, even among Libertarians, that it is a natural outcome for different states to have different laws on the subject. Which means, from a practical point of view, abortion would be available to all who need only cross a state border to procure one. Ron Paul knows this will be the outcome of overturning Roe; he is therefore, in fact, placing his regard for the Constitution ahead of his private views on abortion.
He’s too old.
I assume by that statement, you mean that he was born on August 20, 1935, which will make him 77 years, 153 days old on the day he takes the Oath of Office (more meaningfully than any of his predecessors for a century), and 81 or 85 when he leaves the White House. Right here, right now: a 20-mile bike race, or a five-mile run, between Ron Paul and the cigarette-huffing, fifty-year-old White House incumbent; we’ll see who’s too physically frail to hold the office of POTUS. My money’s on the man who won the Pennsylvania 220-yard-dash junior state championship, a decade before Obama was even born (not in Pennsylvania), and keeps himself in excellent physical condition to this day.
For that matter, I wouldn’t mind seeing the entire GOP field in that race. Apart from Gary Johnson (a triathlete who climbed Mount Everest in 2003, and the other Libertarian candidate) I reckon Ron Paul would leave the rest of them choking in his dust (and finish Newt Gingrich off for good).
Mentally, there’s none sharper than Ron Paul. He’ll be the first medical man to occupy the Oval Office and, as an intellectual who has spent a lifetime going against the mainstream of political thought, almost certainly has a better grasp of the philosophical underpinnings of his politics than any recent POTUS, or any of his GOP rivals. He comes from a long-lived family, and shows no sign of slowing down; if anything, the wisdom of age and long experience he would bring to bear as the United States’ first octagenerian president would be of immense benefit to his country.
His policies are just so radical and impractical; he’s so unrealistic.
Radical? I would have thought he is going back to the original ideals of personal Liberty enshrined in the United States’ Declaration of Independence and Constitution. It’s the policies of today’s administration that are the radical ones. Mainstream Republican thought, having been swallowed by the D.C. machine as fully as the Democrats, are really not much better in this regard. That Ron Paul is calling the whole lot of them out simply means he’s different; it’s the mainstream of politics who are the radicals.
Impractical? I guess you’ve got me there; the mainstream of politics today is nothing if not practical. Totally, unswervingly, horribly, practical. How’s practical working out for you? By that definition of the word, Ron Paul’s proposals may appear impractical—but that’s only if you’re prepared to accept as unchangeable, “facts of life” assumptions about the nature of the world, and how it should be. Paul’s proposals are all logical, feasible and fundable—for the simple reason that he rejects many assumptions which most of his contemporaries take for granted. More on this in a minute.
Unrealistic? Well, once again, that depends on whose reality you’re talking about. Presumably, you’re referring to the reality that exists, and is almost universally accepted, within the D.C. Beltway; if so, you had better understand that Paul is an iconoclast who, though he has worked in D.C. for many years, rejects many of its fundamental axioms utterly.
But we’re talking very broad-brush here. Apart from those issues I’ve already mentioned, which of his policies specifically do you find so impractical or unrealistic?
Abolishing income tax—and even the entire IRS; I mean, that’s insane!
Really? Income tax makes up about ⅓ of the Federal government’s budgeted income. Paul is talking about reducing the size of government by at least one-third. So, define “insanity”.
But abolishing income tax would favour the rich over the poor!
Now who’s being unrealistic? Go ask the IRS how much the rich actually pay in income tax, compared to the poor. You’ll find that all your multi-million word Federal tax code does, is to support an army of tax lawyers (quite literally an army—they number more than the armed forces of many nations), all of whom will quite rightly view Ron Paul as a direct threat to their livelihoods. It’s been costed elsewhere, and shown—if anything, by concentrating Federal income among excise and property taxes—to shift the total tax burden towards the rich.
But here again, Paul is getting back to basics of your Constitution. Here he writes in 2001:
Could America exist without an income tax? The idea seems radical, yet in truth America did just fine without a federal income tax for the first 126 years of its history. Prior to 1913, the government operated with revenues raised through tariffs, excise taxes, and property taxes, without ever touching a worker’s paycheck. In the late 1800s, when Congress first attempted to impose an income tax, the notion of taxing a citizen’s hard work was considered radical! Public outcry ensued; more importantly, the Supreme Court ruled the income tax unconstitutional. Only with passage of the 16th Amendment did Congress gain the ability to tax the productive endeavors of its citizens.
Yet don’t we need an income tax to fund the important functions of the federal government? You may be surprised to know that the income tax accounts for only approximately one-third of federal revenue. Only 10 years ago, the federal budget was roughly one-third less than it is today. Surely we could find ways to cut spending back to 1990 levels, especially when the Treasury has single year tax surpluses for the past several years. So perhaps the idea of an America without an income tax is not so radical after all.
Ron Paul’s proposed tax reforms are in line with his broader aim to reduce the government to its historical size and duties. No more and no less.
All right; what about his foreign policy: he’s an isolationist.
The last time I looked, “isolationist” referred to someone who opposes all engagement with foreigners: in culture, trade, the arts, sports… How does that relate to Ron Paul? No; once again, Ron Paul is being true to the Constitution and traditions of the United States. It is far more correct to call him an anti-interventionist. I’ll explain briefly.
For much of its history, the United States, having won its independence from Britain in a bloody and costly war in the 18th century, and re-asserting it in another war in the 19th century, put great stock in remaining neutral in international conflicts. From the cessation of hostilities of the War of 1812, following the signing of Treaty of Ghent on 24 December 1814, to Congress’s formal Declaration of War against Germany on 6 April 1917, a period of over a century, the United States never once inserted itself into a military conflict between two third parties. All the military actions undertaken by the U.S. in this period of 103 years, related either to border wars, to U.S. territorial claims or overseas military installations, a war of decolonization, and of course the American Civil War.
Paul’s foreign policy is based on his belief that as president, he must put the interests of America before those of any other nation. This means, first and foremost, border security, and the end of a half-century of active interventionism (in South-East Asia, Central America, Europe and the Middle East). In an interview he gave to the Washington Post in 2007, he said,
“There’s nobody in this world that could possibly attack us today”, he said in the interview. “I mean, we could defend this country with a few good submarines. If anybody dared touch us we could wipe any country off of the face of the earth within hours. And here we are, so intimidated and so insecure and we’re acting like such bullies that we have to attack third-world nations that have no military and have no weapon”.
To find fault with this, you have to bow to the accepted wisdom, in Washington and elsewhere, that the United States has both the right and the responsibility to act as the world’s policeman. This is a concept that has evolved slowly since the end of the Second World War, and is now so deeply entrenched on both sides of politics that is has risen, un-noticed, to the status of a moral absolute. Ron Paul, almost alone in Congress, sees this concept for what it is and, shining a cold, hard light upon it, rejects it in favour of the ideals of the Founding Fathers.
As to aggressors such as terrorist organisations like al-Qaeda who are not nation-states, but hide within them, Ron Paul has proposed the revival of a very ancient idea: the issuance of Letters of Marque and Reprisal, effectively outsourcing to licensed privateers, or bounty hunters, the task of capturing those responsible for terrorist acts against the United States. Given the trillion or so dollars that America has spent sending its own soldiers to the Middle East to fight other people’s wars, Uncle Sam could afford to make those bounties very, very large indeed; so large, in fact, that it would likely tempt one or two of those with intimate knowledge of the terrorists’ whereabouts to chance betrayal in exchange for a lifetime of uber-luxury. And before I hear howls of what about international law?, I’d ask you to remember that this technique suited the crowned heads of Europe just fine for many centuries, so their modern-day antecedent, the United Nations, can hardly squeal today about incorporating the practice into its code. For the really far-leftists still raising decibels, I’d simply point out that I didn’t hear you howling this loudly on 9/11, at the original acts of murder that began all this, so don’t expect to be taken so seriously today.
I’m not sure of his views on General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing’s (oft-quoted but historically dubious) rather peremptory method of quashing Muslim terrorism during the Moro Rebellion in 1911; but outsourcing carries with it the added benefit that it is the licensed privateers, and not the United States military, who would now be bound by any “rules of engagement” in fighting those who recognize no such thing. I wonder just how many journalists the privateers will allow to tag along with them? 😆
And that’s another thing: he’s anti-Israel.
By that you mean, he proposes to end the three billion dollars in aid the United States affords the Israeli government. What people who claim he’s anti-Israel fail to include in that statement is, the U.S. quietly gives three times that amount annually to Israel’s enemies. Paul is proposing to end those subsidies, too.
Doug Wead is a former advisor to two presidents; he’s a born-again Christian and a strong supporter of Israel. He is supporting Ron Paul in 2012, and you can view his take on this issue here. Ron Paul recognizes that each new day, Israel faces a literally existential threat at the hands of neighbours who have vowed to wipe the Jewish state off the map. He therefore feels that the United States has no business passing judgement on the means by which Israel defends itself, but that does not extend so far as materially aiding Israel in that defense. Paul’s position on Israel is, in fact, a extension of the Monroe Doctrine, formulated by two of the Founding Fathers, James Monroe and John Quincy Adams. Hardly radical.
He’s a racist.
You’ll have to take that up with his black, Jewish, Hispanic, East Asian and Indian supporters.
This particular chestnut has been put about for nearly twenty years, since anonymous, second-hand reports surfaced of comments of his which appeared in a minor newsletter, comments which (though factual, could easily be construed as borderline racist) Paul later confirmed were ghost-written for him, not shown to him before publication, and which he subsequently denounced. The only “racist” charge against Paul that bears even a scintilla of substance, relates to his consistent criticism, over many years, of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. When in 2004, a motion was raised in the House hailing the fortieth anniversary of this Act, Ron Paul one of the very few Congressmen courageous enough to speak out against it (many others, while privately agreeing with Paul and his reasons, dared not). From his supporters’ website again:
Ron Paul: Mr. Speaker, I rise to explain my objection to H.Res. 676. I certainly join my colleagues in urging Americans to celebrate the progress this country has made in race relations. However, contrary to the claims of the supporters of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the sponsors of H.Res. 676, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not improve race relations or enhance freedom. Instead, the forced integration dictated by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 increased racial tensions while diminishing individual liberty.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 gave the federal government unprecedented power over the hiring, employee relations, and customer service practices of every business in the country. The result was a massive violation of the rights of private property and contract, which are the bedrocks of free society. The federal government has no legitimate authority to infringe on the rights of private property owners to use their property as they please and to form (or not form) contracts with terms mutually agreeable to all parties. The rights of all private property owners, even those whose actions decent people find abhorrent, must be respected if we are to maintain a free society.
The “racist” charge is actually now so patently transparent that it has become something of a throwaway line, and none even among his more serious opponents use it much any more, for fear of the ridicule it would rightly bring down upon themselves. As Paul himself points out here, racism is itself one of the inevitable fruits of collectivism. Says Paul, “the true antidote to racism is liberty”.
So much attention has been devoted to denouncing Paul, all carefully orchestrated so as not to afford his campaign any unwanted oxygen, that it begs the question, what are his opponents so afraid of? A cantankerous old man, his loopy fan club and a power base that has never risen above grass roots?
I’d venture as an answer, it’s the informed opinion of the American public. I’m guessing you haven’t read about this poll of over 2,400 voters, taken on September 27. It shows Paul and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney being the clearest chances to prevent Obama from achieving a second term; and Romney, a centrist who is taking a small-target approach and pitching primarily at independent and blue-collar Democrat voters (leaving Republican voters nowhere else to go) is in the picture for all the wrong reasons.
Is it possible for a candidate to win the Republican nomination, and even the presidency, with nothing but grass-roots backing? And would the Tea Party movement, peopled in a large part by disaffected, bible-belt conservatives, support a candidate with his positions on drug law and gay marriage? For that matter, could progressive voters swallow their pride (as this more thoughtful writer has done) and vote for a Republican candidate who is, on almost any measure, far more liberal than Obama?
I’m looking forward to your views, particularly my American readers. My own guess is an absolute, unqualified… maybe.