A Modest Proposal: Ron Paul for President

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“These
are the times that try men’s souls.” So wrote the noted American
patriot Thomas Paine in urging his countrymen to fight King George
the Third. Well now we have another George, who is not a king, but
increasingly seems to act like one. And this George also threatens
Americans’ freedoms. I refer to President George Walker Bush.

When
the American revolutionaries made their case for independence from
Britain, they believed that a decent respect for “the Opinions of
Mankind” required that they give their reasons. Let me, like them,
say why we would be better off with Mr. Bush out of office and retired
to Crawford, Texas for a much-needed rest.

Consider
his attacks on Americans’ freedom since September 11. He, along
with a compliant Congress, has nationalized airport security, presumably
on the assumption that socialism, which worked so badly in the Soviet
Union, will work well here. Now, the same people who require airlines
to show people how to buckle seat belts, over 30 years after seat
belts became mandatory in cars, are entrusted with airline security.
And bit by bit these people have been chipping away at our freedom
to travel, to the point where we now regard it as normal for government
employees to check our identification, search us without a warrant
and without even probable cause, and require us to take off our
shoes before stepping on airplanes that they don’t own. This is
true whether we are 90-year-old grandmothers or 2-year old toddlers.
Moreover, one of Mr. Bush’s functionaries refused to allow pilots
to protect their planes and passengers with guns on the grounds
that pilots would focus on using guns instead of flying planes.
Not surprisingly, flying, for many people, is no longer much fun
and the federal government, therefore, can be held partly responsible
for the destruction of our major airlines.

Mr.
Bush also signed the USA Patriot Act, which gives the federal government
the power to conduct warrantless searches without even the knowledge
of the person being searched. It also gives government new powers
that strip us of much of what we had left of our financial privacy.
It has many other anti-freedom provisions that are too numerous
to list here and that, in fact, were too numerous for Congressmen
to read before they voted for it.

Mr.
Bush has also claimed the power to hold an American citizen, Jose
Padilla, in a military prison for over a year without charging him
with a crime and without letting him see a lawyer. His action violates
habeas corpus, one of the oldest and most important principles in
a free society. When asked by a military officer what was the logical
stopping point that would prevent his boss from suspending habeas
corpus for all Americans, the best his White
House counsel could come up with was
, “We don’t see the need
for suspending habeas corpus at this time.”

Finally,
Mr. Bush signed into law further restrictions on freedom of speech
in politics, the area of speech in which freedom is arguably most
important. I refer, of course, to the increased restrictions that
prevent various groups from advocating their positions at inconvenient
times like just before elections. By signing such a law that he
essentially admitted violated the U.S. Constitution, Mr. Bush knowingly
violated his oath of office. For this act alone Mr. Bush should
be impeached. (Ironically, the Congressmen most likely to vote to
impeach him are almost all Democrats, most of whom also voted for
the law, and the Congressmen least likely to vote for impeachment
are almost all Republicans, most of whom upheld their obligation
to support the Constitution by voting against the law.)

And
now Mr. Bush, in clear violation of Article I, Section 8 of the
Constitution, has claimed for himself the power to declare war.
Even powergrabbers like Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt
did not dare make war without the permission of Congress, the only
body that the U.S. Constitution explicitly gives power to declare
war. Of course, in his actions, Mr. Bush has followed in the footsteps
of, in order, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy,
Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald
Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and William Clinton, in other words, all
the Presidents of the last 58 years. But since when was the fact
that others broke the rules an excuse for breaking the rules? We
expect our children to follow the rules even when their friends
break them. Surely we should expect at least as much of adults,
especially when, as in this case, breaking the rules gives one adult
the power literally to kill hundreds of thousands of people.

Mr.
Bush recently took his country on a military adventure abroad, whose
purpose – take your pick – Mr. Bush seems to – was
to disarm a government, change the government, kill the government’s
leader, or create a free, democratic society. And what is his justification
for making war on a country whose government has never attacked
our country? The fact that it might attack our country. By
such a standard, war against any other country in the world is justified.
The old rule was that you couldn’t attack a country that didn’t
attack you first. Of course, many governments have broken that rule,
including Nazi Germany (when it invaded Poland and then the Soviet
Union), the Soviet Union (when it invaded Hungary, Czechoslovakia,
and Afghanistan), India (when it took over Goa), and the United
States (when it invaded Panama and Grenada, to name two recent ones).
But the fact that the rule was often broken doesn’t mean that it
should be broken.

Of
course, Mr. Bush and some of his advisors tried desperately to find
a link between Saddam Hussein and the September 11 terrorists, but
they failed miserably in their attempt. But this did not stop him
from suggesting to his countrymen, on numerous occasions, that such
a link exists. So what we are left with as the justification for
a war that so far has killed about 200 U.S. and British troops and
about 2,000 Iraqi civilians is that Saddam Hussein might have had
bad weapons and might have use them on us. “Wowee,” as Bob Dylan
once said, “pretty scary.”

And
of course, we are only starting to see the cost of this war. Mr.
Bush has already admitted that the short war cost about $75 billion
and his Army chief of staff has estimated that if the United States
“wins,” an occupation force of about 200,000 people will be required.
Thus, the upfront cost of winning could be at least $100 billion
and the annual cost of winning could well be $20 billion (100,000
times a cost per person in pay, supplies, and equipment of $200,000
per year) and this cost could well continue for a number of years.
To put that number in perspective, financing the $20 billion out
of income taxes would require about a 2% increase in tax rates.
Or, to put it in another perspective, it would cost the average
American family about $150 a year. Higher income families will pay
a few thousand dollars each.

That’s
not the only cost. Remember that the reason so many people support
the war is that they are worried about further terrorist attacks
on Americans. But
there is ample evidence that increases in U.S. intervention abroad
are followed by increases in terrorist attacks.
That, in fact,
is why in December 1999, I
predicted a terrorist attack that would kill a few thousand Americans
on our soil
. Do you feel safer now that the war has ended? Interestingly,
even Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, one of the most
pro-war people in Mr. Bush’s administration, recently admitted that
the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia is a very effective
way for Osama bin Laden to recruit new terrorists to his cause.
If this is so, Mr. bin Laden must be absolutely delighted every
time he reads of an Iraqi who is killed by the “coalition of the
willing.” Mr. Bush’s actions in the Middle East are stirring up
many hornets’ nests and we shouldn’t be surprised if some of those
hornets bite us, as some of them just did recently in Riyadh. Of
course, if that happens, we should be angry at those hornets. We
should also be angry at the man who stirred them up.

It’s
time to end this madness. There are many ways to skin a cat and
I offer one such way. My modest proposal is that Republican Congressman
Ron Paul of Texas run for the Republican nomination for President.
I have no illusion that Dr. Paul would win, delightful as that result
would be. What Ron Paul could do is similar to what Senator Eugene
McCarthy did to Lyndon Johnson’s ambitions in 1968, that is, destroy
them. Talk to people who’ve heard of Eugene McCarthy’s showing in
the 1968 New Hampshire primary and they’ll often tell you that McCarthy
beat Johnson. Not so. Actually, McCarthy earned 42% of the vote,
against Johnson’s 49%. But 42% was a strong enough showing that
shortly after, LBJ
announced his intention not to run
.

Ron
Paul, I believe, would be an even better candidate than Eugene McCarthy.
Eugene McCarthy was a one-issue candidate, basically running against
the war. Ron Paul, by contrast, is the only member of Congress who
is consistently on the side of freedom and who actually consults
the Constitution before voting (although by now he probably knows
the Constitution almost by heart). Ron
Paul was one of only 67 Members of Congress to vote against the
USA Patriot Act.
It was he who, shortly after the September
11attacks, called attention to the fact that that the Constitution’s
provision for “letters of marque and reprisal” can be used to set
up a bounty to motivate people to catch terrorists. Had his advice
been followed using a bounty of, say, $10 billion, there’s a good
chance that Osama bin Laden would now be sitting in Sing-Sing awaiting
execution, with far less loss of civilian life in Afghanistan and
a far lower cost to the beleaguered American taxpayer.

One
of the upsets I have had against the left wing of the antiwar movement
was that many of them had a visceral hatred of America, a country
that I loved enough to immigrate to. In fact, when I first saw anti-Vietnam
war protesters on TV in the late 1960s, shouting anti-American slogans,
shutting down private universities, and destroying private property,
I became reflexively pro-Vietnam war. I don’t brag about that fact;
in fact I’m rather ashamed of it. I should have evaluated their
arguments independently of their character and their actions, but
there it is. Similarly today, many people who could be attracted
to the antiwar fold are repelled by some of the slogans, some of
the collateral political issues, and some of the inconsiderate or
even destructive actions of anti-war protesters.

Here
is another area where Ron Paul shines because he is a pro-American
patriot. He loves this country and what it has stood for – freedom,
private property, rule of law, no intervention in other countries’
affairs – and he wants it to stand for that again. He has been speaking
out on the floor of Congress against the war and against the myriad
restrictions on freedom that have been foisted on us by a political
class in Washington that is largely hostile to the freedom of Americans.

I
could go on and on about Ron Paul and the depth, sincerity, and
wisdom he has that he brings to all the issues he faces. He is,
quite simply, the best Congressman I have ever known of since I
started following Congress in the late 1960s. But don’t take my
word for it. Read
his record and his speeches.
He clearly outshines not only Mr.
Bush, but also all of the Democratic contenders for the nomination,
many of whom support the war against Iraq and none of whom was willing
to speak out against the war shortly after it had begun because
they wanted to “support the troops.” (Interesting question: when
we see our own people being killed in a mistaken cause, are we really
supporting our troops by advocating a war in which more troops will
die? Just asking.) As a result, Dr. Paul is likely to get not only
a lot of votes from Republicans, but also crossover votes from Democrats
and independents who are disgusted by the failure of the Democratic
party to yield an unabashedly anti-war candidate. This, in fact,
is what happened in Congressman Paul’s latest election, where, even
though the Texas Republicans tried to redistrict him out of a seat,
he won 68% of the vote with crossovers.

If
we had more freedom in this country, I would try to raise $200,000
in contributions for a Ron Paul for President campaign. And, now
that the contribution limit has risen from $1,000 to $2,000, I am
confident that I could find 100 people in a few weeks who would
be willing to contribute $2,000. But I’m a federal employee. (I
teach economics in Monterey, California to U.S. and foreign military
officers who, by the way, are the salt of the earth.) There’s the
rub. As a federal employee, I am prohibited by the Hatch Act from
becoming that active. I can, however, make my own $2,000 contribution.
And if Ron Paul is persuaded to make a serious run for the Republican
nomination, I plan to do just that.

May
22, 2003

David
R. Henderson [send him mail]
is the author of The
Joy of Freedom: An Economist’s Odyssey
(Financial Times Prentice
Hall, 2002). He is also an associate professor of economics at
the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, and a research
fellow with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He was
previously a senior economist with President Reagan’s Council of
Economic Advisers.
He is a registered Republican. Here’s
his personal website.


     

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