No one quite knows what to do about Congressman Ron Paul, Republican candidate for president.
He refuses to play by the rules. He’s a bigger supporter of the free market than anyone in Congress, but he’s also the most consistent opponent of war. (That the conjunction of these positions — which amount to classical liberalism in a nutshell — should actually seem surprising or odd goes to show how perverse our political system has become.)
Other than Dennis Kucinich, he is the only authentic antiwar candidate in either party. He has won so many awards from the National Taxpayers Union that he’s probably lost count. CNET rated him the best out of all 435 congressmen in the House of Representatives on issues relating to the Internet. There is no more reliable civil libertarian in Congress than Ron Paul.
His conduct, moreover, is beyond reproach. Lobbyists don’t even bother going to his office. If their scheme doesn’t fall among the federal government’s enumerated powers under the Constitution, they know perfectly well that there is no chance Ron Paul will support it.
Paul’s new book, A Foreign Policy of Freedom, calls for the abandonment of hyper-interventionism and the restoration of a foreign policy of commerce and peace. Although more and more Americans polled agree that their government should mind its own business and try to scale back its impossible commitments — Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes of Columbia and Harvard, respectively, now say that their initial estimate of $2 trillion as the long-term cost of the Iraq war is too low — no one in politics other than Ron Paul will actually say such a thing, much less write a book about it. At last we have a choice, not an echo, as Phyllis Schlafly used to put it.
Dr. Paul, an Ob/Gyn who has delivered 4,000 babies in his career, utterly defies the view of the world shared by right-wing blogs and talk radio, in which America is divided into "liberals" who oppose the Iraq war and conservatives who support it. (As I’ve shown in the past, "liberals" don’t have a particularly stellar antiwar record over the past hundred years, and the "liberal media," including the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the cable news networks, overwhelmingly supported the Iraq war.) Ron Paul’s candidacy is having the useful effect of showing people that their ideological choices are not limited to Al Franken and Rush Limbaugh. You can in fact be antiwar without being a leftist.
At the same time, some on the left are giving Paul a respectful hearing, sensing that this is no ordinary politician. A writer for The Nation argued that "this Constitution-wielding contender, who voted against authorizing Bush to invade and occupy Iraq and has steadily opposed that war since its launch four years ago, would certainly make the GOP debates worth watching — and perhaps applauding."
A writer for the Keene Free Press, who admits he doesn’t "normally give Republicans much of a hearing," found himself in for a "pleasant surprise" at one of Paul’s New Hampshire speeches. "His speech, like his candidacy, is refreshing. Paul seems to be genuinely authentic. He doesn’t have the feel of a politician. His arguments are substantive, and his demeanor warm."
For my part, I hope Paul decides to run. In a weak field, Paul is a true champion. America is at a critical crossroads. Our liberties have been trampled. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights are in shambles. Our reputation has been tarnished internationally by decades of provocative foreign policy. Paul is the only candidate thus far who seems interested in reversing that trend. And for that, if he runs, he has my vote.
An antiwar Republican who is also much sounder on other issues than they are — this is not exactly welcome news to neoconservatives. Not long ago, the neoconservative Pajamas Media featured a presidential poll on which Ron Paul kept winning. That wasn’t the outcome they wanted, naturally, so they finally removed him from contention in order to make things come out right.
Covering their tracks, Pajamas Media tried to claim that they wanted to feature only those candidates who registered at least one percent in national polls. When Ron Paul surpassed that figure, however, they still refused to include him, even though they have included people like Tommy Thompson who are at zero percent because they are not actually running for president. Read all about it here.
Paul did manage to make his way onto the Fox News Channel thanks to the entreaties of hundreds of viewers who wrote to the station demanding to know why the "fair and balanced" network had totally neglected the Paul candidacy. It was a short appearance on Fox News Live’s "Because You Asked" feature, which features stories that viewers themselves have asked to be covered.
Ron Paul has made numerous media appearances, from C-SPAN to Lou Dobbs, since and prior to the announcement of his candidacy. Still, the strategy thus far has been to ignore him to the extent possible. That approach cannot work in the long run, since for one thing the enthusiasm for Dr. Paul all over the Internet cannot be contained forever. For another, people are going to become curious about him when they watch, or hear reports about, the first Republican primary debate on May 3. They’ll see a bunch of establishment hacks uttering platitudes devised for them by handlers and focus groups, and they’ll see Ron Paul, who unlike his opponents is not only intelligent enough to write his own speeches, but who will also raise questions the other candidates would prefer not to discuss. He can pummel every single one of them on their lousy records on taxes, the Constitution, and war. Ron Paul is about to spoil the party. This will be like no other Republican primary debate in many, many years.
Now that will get him noticed.
Think of how much less interesting, indeed how downright intolerable, this election cycle would be without Ron Paul: a bunch of hacks and drones, not one of whom would make a single substantial change to Washington, D.C., if elected. Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani may as well drop the pretense and just run on the same ticket, for heaven’s sake. And since they’re part of the same racket, they both despise Ron Paul much more than they dislike each other — another excellent endorsement of Dr. Paul, of course.
I’ve sometimes said that political discourse in America today consists of a three-by-five card from which no one is permitted to stray. The issues we’re allowed to discuss are confined to whether the top tax rate should be 35 percent or 38.1 percent, for example, or whether the U.S. government should invade country A or country B. If you argue that the questions themselves are faulty in that they unduly restrict our choices, you have strayed from the three-by-five card and will not appear on Meet the Press ever again.
Ron Paul has a tremendous opportunity to shred that three-by-five card once and for all.
Thomas E. Woods, Jr. [view his website; send him mail] is senior fellow in American history at the Ludwig von Mises Institute. His books include How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization (get a free chapter here), The Church and the Market: A Catholic Defense of the Free Economy (first-place winner in the 2006 Templeton Enterprise Awards), and the New York Times bestseller The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History.