Right now, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) is like the MLB's Houston Astros in May. Mathematically he’s still in contention, but it’s clear he has no chance. That’s not a knock on him. Unfortunately, its just reality – he’s the most honest and consistent candidate in the Republican field. In an age where pandering rhetoric passes for sagacity, his straightforward, audience-be-damned answers are refreshing to hear.
I have always been ambivalent toward Paul. His positions on foreign policy, civil liberties, the Federal Reserve, and ideas of unchecked presidential power have always resonated with me. On the other hand, his Hayekian vision of an unregulated free market society that always produces optimal economic outcomes reeks of the same Utopian stink emitted by the most doctrinaire communists. It isn’t difficult to grasp why Paul is running third or fourth in a field of only four players, especially once you consider his desire to eliminate Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other popular social programs.
But in a way Paul represents the ever-dwindling conscience of American conservatism, whose modern iteration is little more than a coarse bowdlerization of the principles established by earlier conservatives. Republicans today say they are on a crusade against big government and reckless spending, but this is only if it involves Medicare, food stamps, public education, and the like. As far as cutting the Pentagon’s budget, withdrawing from Afghanistan, eliminating or rolling back the civil liberties-eroding PATRIOT Act or the bubble-blowing Federal Reserve, or any other incredibly destructive enterprises that enhance the power of the federal government, most conservatives who are supposedly supportive of small government don’t find fault with these big government endeavors.
The modern conservative position on foreign policy and civil liberties is the most puzzling of all. With the exception of Paul, every Republican candidate endorsed the assassination of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, via a U.S. drone missile, with absolutely no due process at all. Not only that, the Obama administration has said it reserves the right to target U.S. citizens for death without publicly disclosing any evidence of the target’s alleged wrongdoing. This means that the policy is best summed up by the words, “Trust us.”
In a debate, Paul asked his opponents how they could possibly trust the federal government with the power to target Americans for assassination if they don’t trust it to implement a health care plan. It was a damning indictment of his party.
In a similar vein, despite conservatives’ fervent skepticism of the federal government to do anything right, they insist that it should engage in an activist and interventionist foreign policy agenda, and take whatever measures necessary to combat terrorism domestically, even if it means chipping away at the Constitution, which they profess to love so much.
Paul’s candidacy may not be viable at this point, but his presence at the debates has exposed Americans to ideas and facts that need to be heard. Politicians and pundits universally panned his position that the 9/11 attacks were an instance of blowback – a negative unintended consequence of foreign policy. Yet, his view is uncontroversial among intelligence and foreign policy experts. His critique of the Federal Reserve thankfully has had more traction. The views he expressed in debates and his actions in Congress have helped project the issue into the national consciousness. Further, his criticisms of the PATRIOT Act are vital in an age where the abhorrent legislation enjoys bipartisan support in halls of Congress and in the mainstream media.
Paul is polling in a dead heat against Obama, but he will never have the opportunity to run against the president, not because he could never beat Obama, but because Republicans have forgotten what it means to be conservative.
Photo Credit: JohnE777