This week, Ron Paul gave his closing remarks to the United States Congress, ending a term which began in 1996. It remains to be seen whether his remarks give rise to a libertarian renaissance, or whether his followers will look back 20 years from now and remark, "The revolution was good while it lasted." What can be said, however, is that Ron Paul demonstrated that the Republican Party could once again become ideologically diverse.
I haven’t decided whether or not I will miss Ron Paul. He was an important (if also uncharismatic) leader, but it was obvious even when he first gained notoriety at the Republican primary debates in 2007 that this man would never be president. He could only influence others who might one day reach the Oval Office. The candidate most likely to fulfill this legacy is his son, Senator Rand Paul of Tennessee.
Even in his last attempt for the White House in the 2011-2012 election cycle, Ron Paul never had a chance. (Unlike Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, he never won any major primaries.) Nonetheless, he stuck it out longer than any of the other contenders, something entirely characteristic of his contention that there were no fundamental differences between candidates whom the media regarded as “mainstream.” He was the voice calling in the wilderness to the silent — or, indeed, “silenced” — majority.
As it turned out, that silent majority was a silent minority, but that didn’t keep it from being heard. And the more it was heard, the more it was accepted. Rand Paul’s 2010 victory is a part of this legacy. (We shouldn’t forget that in spite of his opposition to the Iraq War, Paul still managed to win the Republican primary as the “conservative candidate,” something that would have been unimaginable in 2008.)
But Ron Paul’s campaigning accomplished much more. Without Ron Paul’s revolution, the careers of Justin Amash, Connie Mack IV, and Ted Cruz might have been nipped in the primaries by candidates with more interventionist views on foreign policy. It is doubtful that Senator Jim DeMint (S. C.) would have ever voted to revoke authorization for the Iraq war, or Senator Mike Lee (Utah) would have opposed intervention in Libya had Ron Paul not demonstrated that it was possible to be a conservative in good standing while opposing military action.
Ron Paul’s legacy might lead to more of these successes, but his platform was still a failure. Ron Paul steadfastly refused to endorse Mitt Romney, but his son came around to doing so.
Even as some Republicans (many of whom have promising futures in the party) have adopted some of his positions, they have sought to distance themselves from him. Ron Paul’s political positions — whether on intervention, the federal reserve or the Gold Standard — were based on ideology rather than experience. He had read books like the 9/11 Commission Report but didn’t realize that conflicts within the global community stemmed from a complex history of agreements, betrayals, alliances, standoffs, obligations and resentments which could not be resolved by a foreign policy which basically asked “Why can’t we all just get along?”
He was as dismissive of his opponents as “neoconservatives” as they were of him as an “isolationist.” He never considered that diplomats and foreign policy officials made decisions on based on global strategy rather than ideological precepts. America’s foreign policy elite, both Democratic and Republican, had come to a consensus which had very little to do with ideology but everything to do with leaving ideologues like Ron Paul and Representative Dennis Kucinich in the cold. They were hedgehogs in an age which favored foxes.
What does this mean for the future of the Republican Party? It’s too early to call at this point. But the current administration’s prolific use of predator drones and kill lists are definite benchmarks for a Ron Paul-influenced Republican to oppose in a few years. Given Mitt Romney’s recent campaign, this may still be hard to imagine. Then again, as recently as October of 2000, George W. Bush could say that he would pursue “a more humble foreign policy” than his Democratic counterpart and sound somewhat credible.
Perhaps this will be Ron Paul’s most important legacy: Making the pre-9/11 Bush’s foreign policy kosher once again.