Texas Representative Ron Paul’s presidential run has attracted a considerable and perhaps surprising amount of attention. His campaign dominates the internet—a recent column I wrote about him attracted over a thousand comments, compared to 15-20 normally. He’s recently been fundraising on a level ($19.5M in Q4) that vaults him above all the other Republican contenders. His message, while misleading, has been unorthodox. He advocates the abolition of most federal departments, including the Federal Reserve, opposes the war in Iraq, and voted against both iterations of the Patriot Act.
Despite all the money and internet support, Paul’s campaign has underperformed. He barely reached 8% in New Hampshire, good for fifth place, a state whose motto is “Live Free or Die.” He lost even to the vaguely authoritarian Rudy Giuliani. He took this overpowering momentum to Michigan, gaining a triumphant 6% of the vote in a race not seriously contested by Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson. Paul didn’t do much better in South Carolina either. His candidacy is effectively over.
Ron Paul’s so-called “libertarian” message, despite his massive fundraising, has failed to catch on with Republican voters outside of the internet, and for good reason. He’s wrong for conservatives and wrong for America.
First off, the man’s a racist. As investigations from The New Republic and CNN showed, the “Ron Paul Political Report” published a series of stories condemning African-Americans in the 1990’s. Paul denied writing those stories, claiming that someone else did, but he bears ultimate responsibility for work that is published in his name. Curiously, Paul did not bother apologize for the reports, despite their clear association with his name. The Representative has also taken money from the founder of the white-supremacist website Stormfront.org, Don Black, and refused to return the money or give it to charity. Despite being prominently featured on neo-Nazi websites like Vanguard News Network and Stromfront, Paul has not made significant comments disassociating himself from them. And finally, he said on national television that the Civil Rights Acts should not have been passed. The idea of a racist president in 2008 is simply unthinkable. American can obviously do better.
Second, Paul alone among the Republican and Democrats wants to abdicate the War on Terror in favor of an isolationist foreign policy. Candidates like Rudy Giuliani and John McCain have made it clear that the United States will continue to combat Islamic fundamentalism; Paul is hesitant on that front at best. He wants,, crazily, to eliminate our intelligence agencies. The Congressman wants to abandon historical allies like Japan and Britain in the name of avoiding “entangling alliances.” He’s content to let genocide and mechanized slaughter occur across the globe without any involvement from the U.S. He’s content to let countries invade each other and build threatening illiberal empires. This foreign policy would not only reverse some of the guiding principles of foreign affairs set out by presidents from Roosevelt to Reagan, but ruin American credibility abroad and allow genocidal and dictators to flourish without any opposition from the world’s superpower. It’s unclear what Paul would have done had he been at Munich, but it’s not encouraging. If Paul was president in the 1980’s, the Soviet Union would still be around today.
Lastly, his faux “libertarianism” is dangerous. For all of Paul’s talk of “freedom,” he’s vehemently anti-choice. He believes that states can regulate sex how they want, including the prohibition of sodomy. He has consistently opposed efforts to redefine marriage to include homosexuals. Some people yearn for a libertarian presidential candidate. This is all well and good, but Paul combines libertarianism with rather extreme social conservatism at times. This man is not who libertarians should be looking for.
Paul represents a dangerous strain in American society. His refusal to separate himself from fascist and racist groups suggests something larger that would make a Paul presidency harmful. As The New Republic puts it, “as his campaign has gathered steam, he has found himself increasingly permitted inside the boundaries of respectable debate.” With Paul’s entrance, this debate now includes neo-Nazis and isolationism. His supporters are consistently angry and aggressive, jumping down the throats of anyone criticizing him. He’s taken it upon himself to offer absolute interpretations of the Constitution, as if those were the only ones. They’re not, and Paul’s is the wrong one. What he never seems to realize is that the American leaders in the late eighteenth century were constrained by the international situation. And what existed then may not be what is good for the country now. Paul’s version of the American society is radically different than the one we have today, and not in a good way.
Paul’s opposition to the Iraq War has made his candidacy en vogue among a certain type of young voters. Let’s hope that he fades long before his supporters grow up.