The highlight of the last Republican presidential debate before the Florida primary might have been when debate moderator Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul a question about U.S. relations with Cuba:
“Imagine you’re in the Oval Office. You speak to Raul Castro. What would you say to him?” Blitzer asked. Paul responded characteristically after a chuckle, “Well, I’d ask him what he called about.”
This was just one in a string of particularly inane questions reflecting the sorry state of these debates, including: “Why do you think your wife would make a great First Lady?” “What Hispanic leaders would you choose to serve in your cabinet?”
While the other candidates pandered on these questions, Paul answered matter-of-factly. His wife of 54 years is a nice lady who writes cookbooks. He wouldn’t choose people based on their race, but on their qualifications.
By any measure, the gadfly libertarian Republican congressman had a good debate, and avoided stumbling through questions on foreign policy designed to elicit strong audience reactions. But Paul still leaves political pundits and party elders puzzled: Since he has little chance to win the nomination, why is he still in the race?
To ask that question is to miss the entire goal of Ron Paul’s life. Ron Paul is using his presidential campaign to educate fellow candidates, Republicans, and citizens on the true meaning of liberty.
Just listen to Paul’s debate answers and speeches. Instead of focusing exclusively on exciting current issues (i.e. How can we prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb?), he targets ideas. He explains how government-sponsored enterprises buckled under political pressure to create the housing crisis and how inflation is the stealthiest of all taxes, particularly affecting the lower and middle classes. He asks how we expect to continue to pay for a military presence worldwide when there are needy people at home. And he explains how free trade is the most effective way to spread the values of economic and personal liberty worldwide.
Before Paul, how many people had been exposed to the unadulterated ideas of free market economics? How many people had given serious thought to the notion that government involvement in housing, medicine, and money sets the stage for those institutions’ inevitable collapse? Paul’s conviction in principles is indisputable. It’s how he applies these principles so consistently that irritates (and scares) so many on the right and left.
Setting aside the majority of Republicans’ concerns with Paul’s foreign policy, numerous left-wing columnists have written that what the candidate says about war and drug policy is worth consideration. Such writing is, of course, nearly always accompanied by at least one disclaimer that the author is not and would never dream of endorsing Ron Paul for president. His “reactionary” and “reprehensible” ideas about empowering individuals over bureaucracies make such endorsements untenable.
But that’s not the case for so many young people now coming of age politically. Many young people are rediscovering the basic idea that inspired the civil rights movement, woman’s suffrage, and the American Revolution alike: liberty.
The idea of liberty is most exciting to young people who feel the youthful urge to change the world.
Ron Paul is not a perfect messenger for liberty. Essays once published under his name contradict some of liberty’s most basic precepts. He often stumbles when speaking, and there are some occasions where he insists on a role for government before personal liberty.
Yet his starting point is always to facilitate peaceful relations among people and nations. That is why he answered Blitzer’s question about a call from Castro so unexpectedly. Cuba was an enemy in the past, but there’s no reason why, through dialogue and trade, it can’t soon become our friend.
It will be interesting to see how Ron Paul influences the Republican Party not only during this campaign and the GOP convention in August, but also as the country’s problems become more acute, and today’s young activists take their place as platform setters and elected officials in their own right.
Although he will likely not win this race, Ron Paul has won a more significant victory over the ideas and values that will guide the United States in coming decades.
The next time you watch a Republican debate, pay attention less to Gingrich’s gratuitous applause lines or Santorum’s scowls, and more to when Ron Paul says something that is greeted with silence. If you want substance in your politics, you will find it there.
Photo Credit: JohnE777