When Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas) entered the contest for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination, most observers wrote him off as nothing more than a gadfly, with less of a chance to influence the outcome of the race than fellow Members of Congress Tom Tancredo (R-Colorado), who is running on an anti-immigration platform, or Duncan Hunter (R-California), who is running on his record as former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
Who would have thought that, at this point in the perpetual election campaign, Ron Paul would be drawing attention from the mainstream media and from pundits of the left and right? (That Dr. Paul would have a lot of support on the Internet, including within the blogosphere, comes as no surprise -- libertarians have long been overrepresented in cyberspace.)
In today's Washington Times, for instance, syndicated columnist Bruce Bartlett -- author of Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy and of Reaganomics: Supply Side Economics in Action -- writes:
... significant cracks have developed in the wall of conservative support Mr. Bush enjoyed at the beginning of the war. Today, much is known about the lack of verifiable evidence of Saddam Hussein's possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), about how the White House bullied those urging caution into reluctant support, and thoroughly screwed-up the Iraq occupation. Even Arizona Sen. John McCain, still a strenuous war supporter, has become outspoken on Bush's poor management of it.Bartlett concludes:
Consequently, more than a few conservatives have gone over to the antiwar side. Unfortunately for Ron [Paul], they are mostly former Republicans today, unlikely to vote in a Republican primary.
Among conservatives, another factor is also at work: the growing realization that Mr. Bush has never really understood or shared a Goldwater/Reagan vision of the nature of conservative governance. And even those who still cling desperately to the view that Mr. Bush is better than the Democratic alternative mostly concede his performance in office on a wide range of issues has left much to be desired.
All this has made the Republican soil highly fertile for a dissident campaign based on a genuine conservative message, such as offered by Ron Paul.On the other side of the country, another Bruce -- Bruce Ramsey, a frequent contributor to Liberty magazine -- writes in the Seattle Times:
I still don't think Mr. Paul can win the nomination, but he may end up playing a role not dissimilar to that played by Eugene McCarthy in the Democratic nominating process in 1968. He didn't win, either, but forced Lyndon Johnson to retire and ultimately shaped the Democratic Party's direction for decades.
Ramsey ends his column like this:
Two-thirds of Americans can now see that starting a war in Iraq was a mistake. The majority of Republicans still do not see it. Eventually they will, but it's hard to go against their own president unless one of their own makes them do it.
That may be the usefulness of Rep. Ron Paul. There is no way this libertarian medical doctor from Texas is going to win the Republican nomination. His strict noninterventionist policy is too radical a change for Republicans. But on foreign policy the Republican Party could use a dose of criticism that gets to the root of things, and that is what Paul has to offer.
Paul says his party will lose the presidency in 2008 if they are still supporting the war, and he is probably right. He does not waste time arguing about surges or timetables. He says America ought to get out, and that America ought to adopt a general policy of staying out of other countries' wars.
Paul rejects President Bush's gum-drop idea that the terrorists hate us for our freedom. They hate us because of what our government has done in their part of the world.
Even the mothership of American conservative publications, National Review, is taking Ron Paul seriously. In an article posted on the magazine's web site and dated May 29, Peter Suderman writes:
In foreign affairs, the Republicans are our nationalist party, and there is a role for that. But they need to question the idea of a "global war on terror." The 9/11 attacks were acts of desperation by 19 men with box cutters. What these men did looked and felt like acts of war, but really it was an audacious crime, planned and executed by a political gang financed with private money.
Fighting such gangs is the job of cops, security workers, customs agents, G-men, diplomats and alert citizens. It is an important task, but we are not at war. America hasn't been attacked in nearly six years.
Republicans need to settle on a foreign policy that asserts American interests in a realistic and humane way. Whether they go as far as the noninterventionism of Ron Paul is another question, but they have to jettison the Bush policy of preemptive war. That the leading Republican contenders refuse to question that policy is a sign that they have not learned and, 17 months from now, will not win.
Since entering into the crowded field of Republican presidential-primary candidates, Paul has become a lightning rod for conservative criticism as well as an unlikely Internet phenomenon. After serving in Congress for just over 16 of the last 31 years and attracting minimal national attention during that time, Paul has, in just a few weeks, begun to stand out — and apart — from the rest of the Republican candidates. Among fiscal conservatives, he is the purest of the pure, having steadfastly refused to enter into the sort of deal-making and political compromise on which Washington thrives. And, in a party where support for the war in Iraq runs high and often tops the list of voter concerns, Paul’s apostasy on the issue puts him decidedly outside the GOP mainstream, provoking harsh judgments from several prominent conservative pundits. Yet he is not without supporters either, most notably a zealous Internet fan base that no other Republican candidate can claim.No wonder that Bill Howell, Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, referred to Ron Paul as "a libertarian's libertarian" in a response to a question posed by the Daily Progress' Bob Gibson on last night's broadcast of Evening Edition on WVTF-FM.* * *
As a congressional representative, his steadfast refusal to support government expenditures of nearly any kind has earned him a reputation as a principled economic conservative in a time where political deal-making is the norm. He has been referred to as “Dr. No” for his lengthy history of opposition to bills that would have the government do, well, pretty much anything. On a question about government-cutting at a recent debate, other candidates hemmed and hawed about which programs they might like to cut; Paul responded that he’d get rid of the entire department of education.
Even on issues like global warming, where many Republicans — including staunch government-cutters like Newt Gingrich — have begun to warm to ideas like a carbon tax or an emission-trading system, Paul stands firm. “Nobody has a right to pollute, but I would rather approach the issue through property rights than through regulation,” he says. “Government should be there to protect property, not to divvy it up.” He departed from the free-market line to vote to give the government power to negotiate prices with drug companies, but only because he believes that, as long as the government is buying the drugs, it might as well get a good deal on them. On nearly every issue of note, he’s a small-government absolutist’s dream come true.
Even the center-left is taking note of Ron Paul and his positions. The New Republic had a feature article on Dr. Paul by Michael Crowley in its June 4 edition, with the subhead, "The surprising relevance of Ron Paul."
Referring to the aftermath of Ron Paul's dust-up with Rudy Giuliani in the South Carolina GOP debate, Crowley reports:
When CBS News reprinted Crowley's article on its own web site, it offered a different headline: "Ron Paul, Rising Political Star."
Suddenly, Republicans were taking seriously a quirky 71-year-old Texas libertarian whose national support has hovered in the zero-percent range.
Nor was the attention all negative. Far from it. Paul won several instant polls on the debate, including one at the conservative Newsmax.com and a Fox News text-message poll. Incredibly, Paul's name began beating out "Paris Hilton" as the number-one query on the popular blog-searching website Technorati. (Granted, it's possible that Paul's fervent supporters are manipulating such online metrics.) The incident prompted a feisty exchange among the ladies of ABC's "The View," of all places. And, to top it off, within a day of the debate, Paul's campaign had raised $100,000--about one-sixth of his entire haul for the first three months of 2007. Paul's spokesman says the campaign headquarters has been "inundated with phone calls" ever since--80 percent of them supportive....
As he approached his table [at a Washington restaurant], a man seated nearby extended his hand with a broad smile and a hearty "congratulations." Paul explained that he had received a similar reception among his colleagues in the House. "I've had probably ten people come up to me and compliment me--including people I thought were war hawks," he said. "It was a tremendous boost to the campaign."
That may be overly optimistic. Nearly all of these commentators include some remark in their articles about how Ron Paul has no chance of winning the Republican nomination. They are probably correct in their assessment. The Ron Paul campaign is running far behind Rudy McRomney (in Governor Jim Gilmore's felicitous witticism) in fund raising. Still, as long as sponsors of candidate debates include Paul (as well as third-tier candidates like Mike Huckabee), more and more Americans will hear his message, which resonates precisely because it is candid, deliberate, and plainspoken.
Even though we are both libertarians, Ron Paul and I don't see eye to eye (though the photograph next to this paragraph may suggest otherwise). I am unconvinced, for instance, by his heavy emphasis on returning to the gold standard. I think his views on immigration are closer to Tancredo's than to mine and to most libertarians. I am glad he opposed the so-called Federal Marriage Amendment as an intrusion into what is the proper responsibility of state governments.
What Ron Paul has going for him, more than any other candidate, is that you always know where he stands. He has never been shy about expressing his views. Agree or disagree -- and he will be civil with you even if you disagree -- you can always count on him to have a considered, thoughtful response to your questions or objections.
There are still about eight months left in the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. If Ron Paul can keep his own campaign organization afloat until February 2008, he can still have a significant impact on the debate and discussion that accompanies him and the other candidates across the country.
Addendum: I almost forgot. If there's any sign that Ron Paul has hit the big time, it's that he will be the featured guest on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart next Monday, June 4. (I can't wait for Stephen Colbert to include Texas 14 on his "Better Know a District" segment.)