Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Why not Ron Paul?

(Photo credit: Associated Press)
So I kept meaning to write a post on Newt Gingrich, but couldn’t find the time. Law school finals and papers kept interrupting.

But now that that’s behind me, at least for a few weeks, I can turn my attention back to politics.

And lo and behold, Ron Paul is rising in the polls. How did that happen? And why am I not thrilled? After all, he’s the limited government pro-constitution candidate.

Paul’s legion of followers have long complained that he is not taken seriously by the media. That is changing. Many recent articles have examined Paul’s association with conspiracy theorists and pandering to the political fringes, his liberal foreign policy, his tendency to resort to personal attacks, his naive promises, and his paranoia. A particularly interesting article written by a former staffer explores Paul’s  initial opposition to the  invasion of Afghanistan, as well as his theory that we should have stayed out of WWII.

PHC professor Gene Veith recently asked whether Paul could be the person to unite the left and right. If he means the fringes of each party--that part where the two become indistinguishable--he’s certainly correct. There’s a utopian streak running through many of his followers that is easy to place at either fringe.

Personally, I have my own list of reasons for opposing Paul. He sounds good because he runs on the “constitution” - but his understanding of that document is more akin to the anti-federalists and Confederates than Madison or Hamilton. Or, to use a more familiar analogy, his “constitutionalism” excites conservatives the same way Obama’s “change” excited liberals - it sounds good and allows the listener to project whatever he wants onto the candidate’s platform.

Furthermore, as the racist newsletter and association with conspiracy theorists indicates, Paul is a very poor judge of others. Dare I say he’s too trusting. Even if you like some of his ideas, it difficult to trust him to make good cabinet and  judicial appointments. And then, as with the newsletters, could a president Paul explain away an embarrassing press releases or legislation with “I didn’t read it and disavow it?” Is this interview what Presidential press conferences will look like?

And then there’s his foreign policy. He advocates just getting along with everyone. But as Jonah Goldberg at the National Review pointed out, he wasn’t particularly successful at that as a legislator:

Paul has been in Congress, off and on, for nearly 30 years. In that time, he will rightly tell you, Congress has spent money with reckless abandon, expanded the state’s police powers, launched numerous wars without a declaration of war, and further embraced fiat money (he got into politics when Richard Nixon took us fully off the gold standard). During all of that, he took to the floor and delivered passionate speeches in protest convincing . . . nobody. He authored precious little legislation of any consequence.

Paul’s supporters love to talk about how he was a lone voice of dissent. They never explain why he was alone in his dissent. Why couldn’t he convince even his ideologically sympathetic colleagues? Why is there no Ron Paul caucus?

Why not indeed. While in congress Paul sponsored 620 bills, 4 of which were voted on and one of which was signed into law. That one involved the sale of a customs house in Texas. Rather, Paul managed to get himself kicked off of the conservative group Young Americans for Freedom. He was voted worst follower by Congressional staff in 2006. He also was one of the very few dissenters from his party in a cause he is apparently passionate about . . . earmark spending (which he justifies asking for because he was going to vote against the bill anyway). In short, Paul’s weakness is his ideological inability to compromise or seek agreement.

Yet in foreign policy that is exactly what he condemns the United States for--believing it is the world’s only hope. He wants to solve problems by negotiating, but his record in congress indicates he is incapable of that--whether across the aisle or with his own party. And if he could not come to agreement with his own party leadership, why should we expect anything different from his talks with Ahmadinejad (despite their common belief that Israel should not exist)?
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