Ron Paul: Why Not?

How can Ron Paul, who counts among his supporters a sizable group of people who hope that his first act as president will be to reveal that the 9/11 attacks were an inside job, continue to draw significant poll numbers among Republican primary voters?  American conservatives evade this question at their peril, because, while he probably cannot win the Republican nomination, Congressman Paul does absorb the support of many genuine conservatives, who might, if properly engaged, be drawn to other candidates.

Paul's position in the race is unique in that he is the only person running whose presence makes everyone else in the process uncomfortable -- candidates, voters, and media alike.  As a result, when he is mentioned at all, it is generally to dismiss him, rather than to discuss his ideas.  His supporters, therefore, feel marginalized, and understandably so.  One can agree with Romney's or Cain's position on X or Y without worrying about being perceived as a Romney or Cain supporter.  No one, on the other hand, wants to take the risk of being deemed an aPaulogist -- that is to say, a radical, drugged out 9/11 truther who went to see Atlas Shrugged five times.

The other thing that is striking about the true aPaulogists -- as opposed to some old-line conservatives (e.g., John Derbyshire at National Review) who simply appreciate Paul's constitutionalist views on the role of the federal government -- is that, unlike the supporters of other candidates, they will have no truck with the civility of declaring their willingness, in the end, to support any Republican nominee against President Obama.  They are for Paul -- and only Paul.  There is a general perception that the aPaulogists think of their man as the only elected official standing between them and the black helicopters.  In other words, they vaguely sense -- or, in some cases, explicitly state -- that all the other Republican candidates are Trilateral Commission plants, and hence that accepting any of them as one's eventual representative would mean voluntarily boarding the FEMA Camp Express.  Paul's appeal with such voters cannot be denied, nor can it be thoroughly detached from his policy positions, since part of any honest analysis of his campaign must include his deliberate cultivation of this part of his support base.  On the other hand, the assumption that his voters en masse represent a lunatic fringe, and hence that his appeal with them constitutes de facto evidence against him, is more politically expedient than it is rational.

So it is time to come out of the tall grass on the issue of Ron Paul and to assess him and his ideas exactly as one would judge any other candidate.  This serves two purposes: by establishing a good-faith relationship to his campaign, one is less easily dismissed by his thoughtful supporters as just another defender of the Washington establishment, and by approaching his shortcomings from a collegial position, it might be possible to engage his honorable supporters in a reasoning process that will lead them to reconsider their rejection of other conservative candidates.

First, the pros:

(1) The debt.  Among this year's candidates, only Michele Bachmann is as consistent and blunt on the necessity of balancing the budget now, even at the price of significant spending cuts to essential government departments, such as Defense.  Very few candidates in this process seem to understand the overwhelming and urgent reality of America's impending debt-driven doom.  Paul is solid on this issue.

(2) Taxes.  Paul, of course, opposes the progressive income tax, instead advocating a flat or fair tax.  He is one of the few candidates who understands this issue as a matter of individual liberty -- and who does not, as most do, regard a 98-year-old law (the 16th Amendment) as inherently beyond some statute of limitations regarding repeal.

(3) The Federal Reserve.  Whether one agrees with Paul that abolishing the Fed ought to be the ultimate goal, those who scoff at him on this topic are expressing a fuzziness of thought that is unhealthy among policy-makers in a free society.  In 2008, when asked by Jim Lehrer about the proper relationship between the Fed chairman and a U.S. president, Alan Greenspan -- probably the only libertarian-leaning Fed chairman ever -- infamously said the following:

First of all, the Federal Reserve is an independent agency, and that means, basically, that there is no other agency of government which can overrule actions that we take. So long as that is in place, and there is no evidence that the Administration or the Congress or anybody else is requesting that we do things other than what we think is the appropriate thing, then what the relationships are don't frankly matter.

"[T]here is no other agency of government which can overrule actions that we take."  This is broadly true of all the independent agencies of the U.S. federal government, and thus is not the "jig is up" revelation that conspiracy theorists on the Fed would like it to be.  Nevertheless, in light of the extreme authority over the monetary system and economic well-being of the nation that this agency alone commands, anyone who would ridicule Paul's calls for a complete audit of the Fed, while calling (as all the candidates are) for stricter limits on other independent agencies, such as the EPA, is either in denial or intellectually squeamish.

(4) The TSA and the Patriot Act.  Many American conservatives, I suspect, crave clarity from the candidates on the increasing powers of the TSA, and in particular its groping-for-bombs and naked scanner policies.  For candidates to hide on this one, or worse, to make excuses for such government-imposed indignities on the basis of "USA!  USA!" nationalism -- using "war" as a talking point, rather than a grave concern -- is disturbing.  The argument, offered by some during the November 22 foreign policy debate, to the effect that "if we can stop one terrorist from..." is demagoguery.  Paul's counterargument that we might also be able to prevent crimes by putting government cameras in every home is as reasonable as it is obvious -- or as obvious as it should be to people living in the first country ever to ensconce genuine individual liberty in its founding documents.  It is "letting the terrorists win"; no more, no less.

On a related topic, during the November 22 debate, Rick Santorum rebutted Paul's claim that the Patriot Act gives the federal government unconstitutional powers by arguing that Abraham Lincoln "ran right over civil rights" during the Civil War.  By thus conceding that the Patriot Act does indeed imply rights violations, Santorum reinforced the need for a Paul-like voice on this issue.  Lincoln's suspension of constitutional protections was undertaken during a full-scale civil war.  Whether he was right to proceed in this way, regardless of the danger, and further, whether the present situation is sufficiently comparable to Lincoln's context to justify similar measures, is precisely the debate that cannot simply be swiped away like a mosquito.  Paul, right or wrong, is a useful voice in this debate.

If you are looking for a candidate who understands the seriousness of the deficit, and who sees all issues through the prism of constitutionally protected freedoms, Ron Paul is worthy of your attention.

On the other hand, there are undoubtedly some cons:

(1) The "99%."  Paul is committed to this one, as he is to most of his positions.  In this case, however, he goes down in flames.  No one as versed in economic theory and as committed to free-market principles as the congressman has any justification for pandering to the Occupy Wall Street bunch, and particularly in these terms.  As I have explained in detail in another forum, the entire point of view encapsulated in the movement's cry of "We are the 99 percent" is bogus.  Paul's claim in support of OWS -- offered repeatedly over the past several weeks -- that he too is fighting the crony capitalism of Wall Street is painfully off-target.  OWS is not an anti-cronyism movement.  It is an anti-capitalism movement.  OWS radicals who would use his voice to shield themselves now would just as happily serve him to the lions should they ever actually achieve their goal.

(2) Israel.  I use that word as shorthand for "foreign policy."  Paul is certainly right, in my view, that genuine American national interest, narrowly conceived, is the only justification for risking American lives and treasure.  However, Paul's conception of the "national interest" is flawed in the manner of a modern man who, using a travel guide from 1912, calculates that his trip across the Atlantic will take two weeks.  In other words, it may or may not be possible to return to the monetary policy of 1912, but it is certainly impossible to return to the foreign policy of 1912.  Modern weaponry, modern transportation, modern global communications, and modern notions of what is possible in the way of conquest have simply rendered old-style "isolationism" obsolete.  To question the viability of recent "global policeman" models of American interests is quite legitimate.  However, when Paul defends a foreign policy based on removing the American military presence from every danger spot on the planet, and of trying to be friendly and nice to people for a change, rather than bossing them around, he sounds laughable.  And when he cites the propaganda of those who would, if they could, kill or enslave every citizen of every free country on Earth as evidence of the negative effects of recent American policy, he sounds worse.

Paul has repeatedly argued that Israel has plenty of military might to defend itself, if only America would get out the Middle East, where she has no business in the first place.  The question he must answer is this: had the U.S. not been "in the Middle East," at least figuratively, for the past several decades, would Israel be in a position to defend itself now?  Would there even be an Israel now?  Perhaps Paul would indeed be prepared to answer this inquiry truthfully, and without flinching on his policy views.  He should have to.  (The same demand, in fact, could be made regarding Korea, Western Europe, and so on.)

(3) Finally, Paul needs to answer for the aPaulogists themselves, or at least some of them.  Of course, a candidate cannot fairly be saddled with responsibility for every belief of every one of his supporters.  (Nor should all of a candidate's supporters be held accountable for the views of any subgroup among them.)  Paul's is a special case, however, as the dubious subgroups in question are people he has actually courted, to some degree.  A few specific examples have been outlined recently by Larry Bailey in American Thinker.

In particular, I would note his appeal to young radical voters, especially those of an anti-war stripe.  Single-issue-based support for a candidate is any voter's right, of course.  The candidate, however, has a moral obligation -- to himself and his other supporters -- to be explicit about his disagreement in principle, if there is one, with the views of those who regard him as their advocate.  There is no doubt that reasonable conservatives can disagree about America's post-Afghanistan foreign policy.  But disapproving of the policy need not involve portraying the U.S. in a manner that plays into the Great Satan narrative -- a portrayal that Paul all too easily projects in his speeches and in recent debates.

For example, on November 22, he claimed empathy with the Taliban's hatred for an America that occupied their country.  First of all, the idea that the Taliban are the legitimate representatives of Afghanistan is bizarre.  They were themselves occupiers, insane pseudo-theocratic oppressors of the actual Afghan people, feared and hated in the region for years before 9/11, including among neighboring Iran's democratic underground of activists and artists.  Imagining that the Taliban would become a kinder, gentler force if only Americans would "mind our own business," as Paul put it, not only demonstrates complete ignorance of the subject, but, again, suggests American culpability in the region in a manner that gives succor to America's enemies, both within and without.  In this matter, he leaves little room between himself and Michael Moore.

Paul is among the most agreeable of all this year's candidates on some fundamental issues.  His battles with the Republican establishment candidates on important domestic matters have been valuable.  Nevertheless, he has more to answer for on the foreign policy and OWS fronts than can be answered for within the context of one who seeks to be a consistent defender of the principle of liberty.  The constitutional conservative camp can and must do better than Ron Paul.

Daren Jonescu has a Ph.D. in philosophy (McMaster University).  He teaches at Changwon National University (Korea) and contributes to Canada Free Press.  Contact Daren at