Cathy Young On The Ron Paul Phenomenon
Reason Magazine’s Cathy Young has a column in the Boston Globe about Ron Paul, and his interesting coalition of supporters:
What, then, is Ron Paul all about? While his views are decidedly unorthodox for today’s Republican Party, they represent a venerable, oft-forgotten Republican tradition of small government at home and noninterventionism abroad. In some ways, he is an heir to Barry Goldwater, the Arizona Republican who ran for president in 1964. Paul, a 72-year-old physician, first ran for president in 1988 on the Libertarian Party ticket. Then, he decided to work from within the GOP. He won a House seat as a Republican in 1996, over strong opposition from the establishment.
On the campaign trail, Paul articulates a philosophy that recalls the famous dictum often attributed to Henry David Thoreau: “That government is best which governs least.” “I want to be president mainly for what I don’t want to do: I don’t want to run your life, I don’t want to run the economy, and I don’t want to police the world,” he told a potential supporter at the Strafford County straw poll. He wants to abolish the Federal Reserve and the income tax, to end the war in Iraq and the war on drugs, to dismantle the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Education.
Paul’s followers are a veritable rainbow coalition drawn from across the political spectrum. The most striking image from his campaign – the slogan “Revolution” with the letters “EVOL” reversed to spell “love” backward – is, to use a 1960s metaphor, more Beatles than Barry Goldwater. (The creator of this slogan, Arizona libertarian Ernie Hancock, explains in an online article that the “love” refers to love of liberty, but concedes that the visual was chosen mainly for its emotional impact.)
In a sense, Paul is the Ralph Nader of the right, attracting people who are deeply alienated by conventional politics. Inevitably, he attracts people from the lunatic fringe, such as Sept. 11 conspiracy theorists who believe the US government engineered the attacks. But it would be unfair to paint Paul as the candidate of crackpots. His message resonates with many people who don’t fit into conventional categories of left and right.
But can this type of coalition be crafted into something that can win elections ? Much like the coalitions that rallied around Ralph Nader and Howard Dean, Young doesn’t think so:
In its pure form, Paul’s libertarianism is not politically viable. Polls have shown that, at most, about 10 percent of Americans are in favor of reducing the scope of government, and domestic government services, to a minimum. Paul’s case for noninterventionism abroad is problematic as well. He has contrasted our entanglements in Third World countries that cannot pose a military threat to the United States with the fact that “we stood up to the Soviets [who] had 40,000 nuclear weapons.” But American foreign policy in the Cold War was an interventionist one, requiring massive and expensive commitments from the federal government. And there is a strong argument that, in today’s globalized world, totalitarian movements rooted in religious extremism would inevitably threaten US interests and safety if left unchecked by American power.
Is she right ? In some sense yes.
We are far too gone for it realistic to think that the IRS, most of the Federal bureaucracy, and the Federal Reserve can be realistically abolished with the stroke of a pen. And, the idea that isolationism can be a viable foreign policy for the United States today is, at best, naive. Given the choice between Ron Paul’s freedom, Hillary Clinton’s Nanny State, or Rudy Giuliani’s Surveillance State, I think far too many Americans would make the choice for safety over freedom.
But we’re not too far gone if candidates like Ron Paul, if there are others out there, can start talking about the ideas of liberty and actually find a receptive audience for it.