Representative Ron Paul (R-Texas) has stood out in the 2008 presidential race. While not a mainstream candidate, or as flashy or articulate as some other contenders, Paul has gained the attention of many on the Internet and in alternative news sources (and sometimes even primary news sources thanks to the Internet push). I have found him to be the most captivating candidate, though his views are contrary to my own in many regards (Paul is best classified as a Libertarian, whereas some might call me a Democratic Socialist or some such label). Why the appeal for Ron Paul, particularly among liberals and progressives?
Paul stands as the the only Republican candidate who can truly be labeled anti-war. And he’s not only against the Iraq War, but virtually all war. Along with the policies that lead up to war and foreign aggression. In this he stands out fro mall candidates, Republican and Democrat. Not even the most vocal anti-war Democrats (Kucinich and Gravel) speak with the authority and clarity of Paul. Bill Richardson speaks of closing Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, but falls short of calling for the dismantling of the less visible American symbols of imperialism. In this respect, Paul has “out-liberaled” the liberals.
The Debates, Giuiliani
Representative Paul came to many people’s attention during the first two Republican presidential debates in the first half of 2007. Most noteworthy was a comment he made saying our bombing of Iraq (in the 1990s) was partially responsible for 9/11. Michael Scheuer, a CIA operative who tracked bin Laden, had maintained the same position for some time — bin Laden saw America as an occupying power in the Arab world and his attacks were “revolts” rather than terror (a view that we can understand even though we may not agree). One quotation from Scheuer, for example:
The fundamental flaw in our thinking about Bin Laden is that “Muslims hate and attack us for what we are and think, rather than what we do.” Muslims are bothered by our modernity, democracy, and sexuality, but they are rarely spurred to action unless American forces encroach on their lands. It’s American foreign policy that enrages Osama and al-Qaida, not American culture and society.
How is the United States threatening Muslim lands? The post-9/11 crackdowns on Muslim charities have effectively ended tithing, which is one of the five pillars of Islam; our casual denunciations of “jihad” sneer at a central tenet of the Muslim faith. America supports corrupt anti-Muslim governments in Uzbekistan and China, “apostate” governments in the Middle East, and the new Christian state of East Timor. And, above all, it continues to house occupying forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
During the debates, Rudy Giuliani called Paul’s position “absurd” and asked him to retract his statements. Paul did no such thing, and further clarified his contention about “blowback” (the bad results of doing unsavory things in foreign lands). Giuliani, who clearly had no knowledge of the origins of terror, got the crowd’s applause, but Paul came away a much stronger presence than he had been on the world stage.
Representative Paul made subsequent appearances on Sean Hannity’s show (where he was mocked), Bill Maher’s “Real Time” program (where he was praised, and not surprisingly — Maher is a known Libertarian) and even made a public statement where he gave Rudy Giuliani a “reading list” to better understand terrorism and foreign policy.
The list consists of “Dying to Win,” which argues that suicide bombers only mobilize against an occupying force; “Blowback,” which examines the unintended consequences of U.S. foreign policy; and the 9/11 Commission Report, which says that al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was angered by the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia. Also the book “Imperial Hubris,” by Michael Scheuer, the CIA’s former chief in charge of hunting bin Laden, who not surprisingly supports Paul for President (Scheuer, that is — not bin Laden).
Whether Giuliani will read any of these books or learn anything from them is debatable, but what is not debatable is that Giuliani did nothing but further boost Paul when he wished to silence him.
Daily Show Appearance
Representative Paul appeared on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” on June 4, 2007 and made many more of the same comments he had made at the debates and on Bill Maher’s program. I will try my best to more fully sort through his words on this particular occasion.
“I don’t believing in spreading [liberty] with guns. We should spread it by setting a good example and get others to emulate us. But not to try to force it on other people.”
This is really the crux of his argument against intervention, and a fine point. There is a paradox in our foreign policy: we spread liberation through occupation, freedom through rigged elections and the idea of peace by creating mass slaughter. The irony of the word “pacification” says it all: making things peaceful by their utter demise. Can Iraq be free with American soldiers walking the streets and our leaders deciding who can and cannot rule in a land that is not our own (not to mention the theft of their resources)?
“I don’t think [the other Republican candidates] are very good conservatives. They talk about balancing budgets and spending less, but they don’t really.”
Paul does stand as one of the few — maybe the only — conservative who actually understands what it means to conserve. President Bush could hardly be called conservative, running up the national debt on military and war expenses, expanding the government (e.g. adding the Department of Homeland Security, the “War Czar”). Paul understands that fiscal conservation isn’t just cutting taxes but cutting the programs those taxes go towards.
“The Republican Party has been known to have a position where they didn’t like going overseas. The didn’t especially agree with Clinton on going into Kosovo and Somalia, so they flip-flop around.”
Representative Paul is 100% correct on this. Republicans have waged wars (both Bushes invaded Iraq, Reagan had Grenada and a variety of indirectly funded projects), but they have a history of being the party getting us out of major conflicts (or at least claiming to). Eisenhower pulled America out of Korea (which Democrat Truman put us in) and Ford pulled us from Vietnam (where we were sent by Democrats Kennedy and Johnson). Even Nixon spoke an anti-Vietnam message (with debatable levels of follow-through).
“I’d like to think I’ve introduced a brand new idea into this campaign — I’ve even suggested that we follow the Constitution… it’s this thing that we swear to uphold.”
While Paul and I may have a different idea of what the Constitution says, we agree that this should be the starting point of any legal discussion. The past six years have seen presidential powers grow enormously, without anyone stepping in to question the legality of many things (wiretaps, secret prisons, etc.). I may see the Fourteenth Amendment differently than Paul, but we both agree that a strong check and balance system is necessary to keep power in line.
“I think that [expanding the government] is a temptation most people yield to once they get into power. And I hope that I’m different and I hope that I never yield to that temptation; and so far, so good.”
As a libertarian-leaning Republican, Representative Paul wants a smaller, leaner government. My concern is more on the leaner and less on the smaller. I do not believe in adding new positions or departments unnecessarily, but I also do not believe in removing positions or departments without cause. To say that growth of government is categorically good or bad I think is a flaw in his reasoning. It’s not government that’s evil, but how that government operates.
Paul explained why he runs as a Republican rather than as a Libertarian: “We’re overseas spreading the message of democracy, but you know, here if you’re in a third party you have a tough time — you can’t get on ballots. You spend all your time getting on ballots — you have to be a Ross Perot to even get on ballots. So the two parties are very much in control of the system, and they exclude individuals who aren’t in that mold.”
This is a domestic issue that is crucial for all Americans of any political leaning. The two-party system doesn’t work, or more accurately doesn’t work optimally. A push for public funding would give more of a voice to the different views of Americans — not all conservatives are Republicans and not all liberals are Democrats. A move towards more parties in the public eye, or a removal of parties altogether (with a focus on candidates and the issues rather than meaningless labels) is a winning situation for all. All except the heads of the current two parties. But if democracy flourishes only when centralizes power and profit die off, that is a trade worth looking into.
“I think a lot of our government is very wasteful… [While I think we should get rid of Medicare], we’ve taught a couple generations to be very dependent on government… and I think there has to be a transitional period. I happen to think the market can deliver any service better than the government can.”
This is again where Paul and I differ. I won’t object to the idea of government being wasteful. Our taxes go to a variety of projects they shouldn’t — corporate bailouts, excess military spending, etc. — and this could be trimmed. I disagree, however, that a free market is more efficient than the government. In some cases, this is likely true; competition does drive down prices. But it has been known for some time that Medicare has largely fewer overhead costs than private medicine because of the not-for-profit nature of the system. A profit-based system may have lower prices, but it may not — gasoline is a private product and the price remains high even with competitive companies. Furthermore, the side effect of low prices tends to be lower quality and a less-skilled workforce. Is Paul willing to accept low prices by also taking in lower quality (government programs have public oversight) and the threat of lost American jobs? (Although, in Paul’s defense, I don’t fully understand his argument, as I believe he does oppose free trade agreements such as NAFTA and FTAA.)
“This militarism is the opposite of defense.”
Like my note on “pacification” above, “defense” is a misnomer when the Defense Department is constantly on the offense. (Recall that the Secretary of Defense up through World War II was called the Secretary of War — a far more honest appellation.)
Jon asks Rep. Paul if he would privatize the postal service: “I’d just legalize competition in first-class mail and let the market decide which is best.”
This is an interesting suggestion. He doesn’t want to take apart the post office, just allow others to compete with it. It’s an idea I’ve never considered and have no real qualms with. As Paul pointed out, we have FedEx doing what the post office used to and they co-exist very well. If nothing else, this would be an interesting experiment.
Jon asks if a free market puts the power in the hands of corporations instead of governments: “[I’d drop regulations on corporations.] There’s a big difference between corporations who benefit from government and (inaudible). That’s corporatism and that’s evil. You know Halliburton… the military-industrial complex… How about a Bill Gates, though? He’s very wealthy because we buy his services and I think that’s okay. I don’t think we should be afraid of people who make a lot of money.”
On the one hand, Representative Paul has a fine point: if Bill Gates invents a product, puts a price on it and people are willing to pay it, how is this a problem? In principle and theory, it’s not a problem. But in practice, we are all-too-aware of the problem that arise. Once Gates became powerful enough that essentially all computers ran on Windows, the prices he set were no longer something a customer could take or leave. More generally, a free market encourages competition but ultimately leads to monopoly — who can buy out whom? If media goes unregulated, we have Rupert Murdoch (the owner of News Corp and Fox News) buying the Wall Street Journal. We have banking institutions and oil companies joining together. We end up with corporations that are as massive as governments — entities that are big enough to be more efficient than the little guy, but without any price controls, transparency to the consumer or way to legally address concerns with a company.
Perhaps some regulations are too strict (and that’s a big perhaps), but clearly some exist for a reason. One company running all of one thing leaves us all in a world of hurt.
“I find some of [the other Republican candidates’] ideas distasteful.”
If only Paul had the time to elaborate on that…
All this praise and air time for Paul is wonderful, but there is something hidden beneath the brilliance and I must confess, I can’t support Ron Paul. Just as it is foolish and naive for conservatives to elect a politician on one issue (gay marriage or abortion, for example), it is just as foolish and naive for progressives to pick the candidate who is most anti-war while not looking into his other stances.
As much as I like the isolationist policies Paul wants and certain other values we share (his desire to end the drug war, for example) there still remains the list of things I can’t accept. The reduction of social programs such as Social Security, Welfare and Medicare is a big one. Also, while I tend to support states rights, I don’t think it would be wise to go back on federal decisions — reversing the progress on segregation or other discrimination issues.
And, of course, Representative Paul is still a Republican even if he doesn’t always talk like one. The Party platform as it stands in this country today is just not for me.
Ron Paul is a man for two groups: true fiscal and social conservatives (as opposed to many modern Republicans and “neoconservatives”) and anti-war progressives. Conservatives find a kindred spirit in Paul, a man who wants a simpler government — less bureaucracy, fewer taxes, and more of a focus on states rights rather than federal power. And progressives, while likely opposed to Paul on many issues, can support him for speaking out against America’s obsession with war and interventionism. A Ron Paul presidency would be disastrous for the liberal cause, but Paul in the debates shaping the way conservatives are thinking about American values and the cost of said values is a godsend.
When the elections come around, I will not be voting for Ron Paul. But up until that point, I give him my full support to speak the message that needs to be heard and has been shut out of the national conversation for far too long. Even without the presidency, Paul is already making a major difference in the hearts and minds of Americans.