The Significance of Ron Paul


Rep. Ron Paul, Republican of Texas, is once again running for president.

No member of the House of Representatives has run for president and won since James A. Garfield in 1880 (and Garfield had been elected to the Senate just before his election as president). No one as old as Paul has been elected president. He would be 77 when he took the oath of office. Ronald Reagan was 69.

Most of all, no one as radical as Paul has been elected president during the modern era.

There are hopes that this time around, Paul will break through to mainstream America because his argument against foreign war, for a sound currency, and for large cuts in spending will catch fire. It will with some voters, but political ideas acceptable to the American public don’t change that fast.

I said this two weeks ago in a talk to my state’s conservative activists — an audience that included Paul supporters. I said I agreed with Paul on some important things, but that he could not win. One came up to me afterward and said, “You know, every time you say that, you hurt his movement. He got as far as he did last time because thousands of people thought he could win.”

And they were mistaken. But he changed some minds. He made arguments that nobody else would have made — and some of those arguments look better four years later.

In 2007, no Republican candidates were arguing against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan except Paul. Now the Politico website reports a rise of war weariness and even “isolationism” among the Republicans in Congress. They are far from a majority, but they are a faction. And there is another libertarian candidate in the race, former governor Gary Johnson of New Mexico, who also calls for getting out of the foreign wars immediately.

Four years ago, no Republican candidates other than Paul were talking about protecting the value of the dollar. I still haven’t heard them doing it — but gold is above $1,500 an ounce, and the US dollar is below the Canadian and Australian dollars. The topic ripens.

Four years ago, there was no quasi-libertarian Tea Party movement, and Ron Paul’s quasi-libertarian son Rand Paul was not in the US Senate.

The ground has changed.

Still, it has not changed enough to elect Ron Paul as president. There is no point collecting dandelion seeds, such as the CNN/Opinion Research poll last week, which showed Paul running stronger against President Obama than any other Republican candidate. I have heard that poll cited several times, never mentioning that the split was Obama, 52%, Paul, 45%. Anyway, it was a poll taken 15 months before the election, which means it was a poll of a public not paying attention. Paul, in particular, had not been seriously attacked.

A few days later, he was. Conservative columnist Michael Gerson of the Washington Post ripped into him for his answer to a reporter’s question. The question was whether Paul favored the legalization of heroin.

There is a purpose in questions like that. It is to see whether the reporter can catch the candidate saying something crazy — not crazy, maybe, to a social scientist or a philosopher, but crazy to a political operative, or Joe Sixpack.

The role of the radical candidate is to take the taboo stands, fight valiantly, lose, and change the political ground.

In his answer, Paul compared freedom to use drugs to freedom of religion. Here is how Gerson paraphrased it: “If you tolerate Zoroastrianism, you must be able to buy heroin at the quickie mart.” This, Gerson sneered, is the essence of libertarianism.

But Paul had said more than that. Wrote Gerson: “Paul concluded his answer by doing a jeering rendition of an addict’s voice: ‘Oh yeah, I need the government to take care of me. I don’t want to use heroin, so I need these laws.’ Paul is not content to condemn a portion of his fellow citizens to self-destruction; he must mock them in their decline.”

Gerson concluded that any candidate who supports “the legalization of heroin while mocking addicts” is marginal and unserious. His column was a way of looking at the Republican list and scratching out the name of Ron Paul.

Libertarians can rail against Gerson as biased, which of course he is. He is an opinion columnist. Bias is part of his job description. But if your candidate is taken seriously, which Paul was not in 2008, this is the kind of attention he is going to get — and here it is attention from a conservative. If Paul became the Republican frontrunner, the pundits of the Left would go after him with machetes and crowbars.

They haven’t, because they delight in schism on the Right. But if he becomes the frontrunner, they will. And Paul has said plenty of things they can use to make a bogeyman out of him. Legalize heroin. Imagine what they could do with that.

Here is the reality. Certain political stands are safe, others are daring, and some are taboo. The role of the radical candidate is to take the taboo stands, fight valiantly, lose, and change the political ground. It is a valuable role to play: it is changing the field so that other good candidates, later on, can win.

What other candidate? Maybe Rand Paul in 2016 or 2020. Maybe Gary Johnson. One can imagine a Mitch Daniels-Gary Johnson ticket in 2012, with Johnson running in the top position later. Once a libertarian faction has been established in the Republican Party and is built into a substantial faction, room is made for other candidates, ones aiming more directly at winning, to have a go.

On the day that Paul announced, I had lunch with his 2008 campaign manager, Lew Moore. The timing was accidental; I had met Moore among the conservative activists two weeks before, and I hadn’t seen him in years. I asked him: when Paul ran in 2008, did the congressman seriously think he could win, or was it mostly to change the debate?

Without denying that Paul had had some chance of winning, Moore said the campaign was mostly about changing the debate. He said, “That is what his whole life has been about.”

And, at 75, Paul is not done. You have to admire the man. A lone congressman from Texas, never enjoying the support of his party’s establishment, has changed the political ground within the Republican Party.

And maybe he will change it some more.

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Why does anyone think that Republicans, or Democrats for that matter, will advance libertarianism?

Ron Paul may be the "most" libertarian of a bad bunch, but even his partial libertarian ideas are overwhelmingly rejected by the Republicans, and Democrats.

The truth is... voters, both Republican and Democrat, want government to steal money from their neighbor and give it to them, without having their own money stolen. Tricky effect there.

To change this you have to get new voters. Not convert the same old voters. And running in the Republican primary will not get you to these people. You are just trying to convert people who are perfectly satisfied with "saving" social security, medicare, being the world's police force, etc.

As a side note, I doubt Ron Paul would endorse a LP candidate. Ron Paul is much more interested in Ron Paul than advancing libertarianism. And what good would his endorsement do anyway?

scott hutchinson

Give me one reason to believe your statement that Paul is interested in himself over libertarian ideals. I'll give you just two off the top of my head that suggest the opposite is true.

He never signed up for his congressional pension, and has voted for only one or two spending bills in his entire career. Ya don't get to be "Dr. No" by advocating for the theft of people's money, and as evidenced by Dr. No himself, ya don't get popular by advocating against it. That hasn't changed his stance, therefore he obviously has less interest in himself than in his cause.


Dr. Paul has put billions and billions of dollars of spending into bills that he knew would pass. Eventhough, he voted "no" that was just a fraud. He knew perfectly well that the spending of taxpayer dollars would happen even with his no vote. That spending would never happen without his having them put in the bills.

Also, how does he explain his anti-immigration views. Which are obviously unlibertarian? How's he going to pay for his 700 mile fence?

There's a couple reasons why Paul is out for himself, at the expense of libertarian ideals. Would you like some more? I have them.

Willy Star Marshall

Earmarks do not increase the amount of spending in a bill. They only direct that X amount of it be spent in his district. Ron Paul was right to stick as many earmarks in pork-barrel bills as possible, and then vote against the bill. It's just too bad he wasn't able to get ALL of the money in a bill to be spent in his district to the exclusion of all other districts. Then maybe the other congressmen would see that the program really isn't worthwhile at all.
John McCain perhaps is more to your liking. Posing as a conservative, he made a big deal about opposing earmarks, but he certainly never opposed big spending in general. How "mavericky" of him!

Bill Cole

The idea that he put "billions and billions of dollars of spending into bills that he knew would pass." is false. He earmarked funding built into the bill for his district, but that is a responsibility of congress. Funding not earmarked is directed at the discretion of the executive branch. By earmarking money already budgeted, Paul saved money for his local district. This is not advocacy of spending, just that of constitutional oversight and responsibility.

Serge Issakov

To anyone reading this who likes Ron Paul except on foreign policy, this video was made for you.


Most Republicans look upon Paul as insane. I actually heard him called that yesterday by one of the "conservative" radio hosts.

Republicans are too enthralled with being everyone else's daddy to except someone who believes in a little liberty.

Thus begs the question, is this advancing the cause of liberty? Imo, not more so than the LP candidite that will receive 1% in the general election. The US voting population really, really likes big brother, they just disagree a very little on where the money is spent and where the money comes from.

Serge Issakov

"Most Republicans look upon Paul as insane."

Most? Really?

"I actually heard him called that yesterday by one of the 'conservative' radio hosts."

So Limbaugh or Hannity, I presume? Okay, that's one. Or two. How do you get to "most" from that?

"not more so than the LP candidite that will receive 1% in the general election. "

But Ron Paul is favored to WIN in Iowa and get SECOND in New Hampshire. How can you compare that to the impact of receiving 1%?

"The US voting population really, really likes big brother..."

If nothing else, Ron Paul has introduced thousands of young people to libertarian thinking. He has introduced them to the writing of Hayek, Mises, Bastiat and others.

Check out what they are saying.

All these liberty-minded folks are available for growing the LP, and yet many are already turned off by the negativity expressed towards Ron Paul, as is demonstrated by you here.

A not so unlikely outcome here is that Ron Paul does well, but does not get the nomination, and then endorses Gary Johnson on the LP ticket, producing the best results for an LP candidate in history.


"But Ron Paul is favored to win in Iowa, finish second in New Hampshire....."

2 extremely small states, one with a caucas, with very low voter turn out compared to likely voters in a general election. These states had 1% of eligable voters vote in the Republican primaries. Paul is introducing libertarian ideals to very, very few.

At the end of the day, compare his vote totals to that of the LP candidate. They will be very similar.

I'd like to be pollyannic about libertians' chances in the 2012 election. But based on 20 years expierence in the LP I see this election as no different as the other 10 major election cycles. Primarily because americans do not like libertarianism. It may not always be thus, but for the immediate this is an absolute fact.

Serge Issakov

Bruce Ramsey, do you still stand by this article?

Even the prediction market is giving Ron Paul a 7.5% chance of winning the nomination. That's better than all the other GOP candidates, except for Newt and Mitt.

Of course 7.5% is a low probability, but it's still giving him a much better chance than your words from May 2011 did in this article.

Surely you must concede that Ron Paul is doing much better than you expected, with an actual win in Iowa not at all out of the question. And if anything can happen is not the theme of this election, I don't know what is.

If he does win Iowa, or even places second (which he is favored to do), that should get his poll numbers up, as well as his chances of winning into the double digits, perhaps well into the double digits, especially if he also has a strong finish in New Hampshire (also well with the realm of possibility).

I just think we have to wait and see. I agree with you that political ideas don't change that fast, but for the core Republicans who are generally concerned about the economy, government spending, and the size of the government, their ideas don't have to change to favor Paul - just their priorities do. If they lower the priority of foreign policy issues, as more and more Iowans seem willing to do, while raising the priorities of the issues that they do agree with Paul about, he comes out the best choice compared to the candidates.

I suggest that right now we cannot accurately predict the percentage of GOP voters to whom this calculus will apply. Thus, we must wait and see, and in the mean time, throw him as much support as we can.

To liberty!


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