Ron Paul winnable?

Ron Paul speaks about liberty and safety
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Can Ron Paul win election as President? Will the Republicans even nominate him? Could he win with an independent or write-in campaign? And what would a Ron Paul presidency look like?

Career of Ron Paul

Representative Ron Paul (R-TX-14), ironically, has been in Congress for twenty-four years in three separate terms. He won a special election in 1976, but lost the general election that fall (in the Carter election). Two years later he won a rematch with his opponent in the 1978 midterm. He stayed in Congress until 1985. (He tried to run for the Senate in 1984, but lost the primary to Phil Gramm.) More recently, he ran for Congress again in 1996 (the second Clinton term), won, and returned to Congress in 1997. He has been in Congress ever since, but said earlier this year that he would either run for President, or bow out of public life.

In 1988, he ran for President on the Libertarian Party ticket and lost. In 2008, he ran for President again but lost in the Republican primaries. Now, of course, he is running for President again.

In his years between his terms in Congress, Ron Paul’s investment company, Ron Paul Associates, published a newsletter called the Ron Paul Survival Report. (Don’t confuse this with a blog called “Ron Paul Survival Report” by some of Dr. Paul’s detractors.) The real editor-in-chief of this newsletter was Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. In 2008, Reason magazine investigated this newsletter thoroughly after its incendiary contents drew fire even then. Reason‘s verdict: Lew Rockwell wrote all the wacky stuff that came out under Ron Paul’s name. But Ron Paul has never fully apologized for his monumental carelessness. Quite simply, Rockwell wrote many racist and anti-Jewish screeds, and used Paul’s name to advance his highly dubious ideas. Paul let Rockwell get away with this for years. He repudiates those ideas now, but to this day he has never explained how he could let anyone use his name in such a despicable and ugly way. (For that matter, Rockwell himself has since toned down his own rhetoric.)

The Ron Paul personality

The real liability for Ron Paul might be his personality, or the way he says things, and not so much anything he really says. Many who have heard him speak describe his manner as abrasive and cranky. They wonder whether, as President, he could be effective, either as a political leader or as a diplomat.

One other witness gave CNAV another reason why he won’t vote for Ron Paul: his age, and the witness’ impression that Ron Paul has not aged well.

I’m afraid he won’t make it through his first term!

This might explain why people like his son Rand, the junior Senator from Kentucky, better than they do him. Both men espouse most of the same ideas.

Ron Paul’s domestic policies

Ron Paul, official portrait

Representative Ron Paul (R-TX-14). Photo: US House of Representatives

Ron Paul has some of the most original ideas on domestic policy among anyone running for President today. Some of them might seem odd, but other conservative commentators have sympathized with them at one time or another all his life. The late William F. Buckley of National Review once suggested that the government should legalize all drugs, medicinal or recreational; so does Dr. Paul. Their reasons might be different, but the result is the same.

The issue that has given Ron Paul the most favorable intention is his wish to abolish the Federal Reserve System and restore gold-standard banking. His reason is simple: gold is an objective value, and money should never be political. In fact, Richard M. Nixon’s 1971 decision not to make the US dollar convertible to gold prompted Paul to run for Congress the first time.

Some of Ron Paul’s followers go further: they want to return to full-reserve banking, which America last used in the early nineteenth century. (See also here.) A gold standard would forbid the government to “create” money. Those who favor full-reserve banking say that fractional reserves, at best, contribute to inflation in their own way: they multiply the money supply by the reciprocal of the reserve ratio. That’s fraud, say the full-reservists. (It might or might not be fraud, but a depositor might want a choice in what sort of risk he wants to assume. Furthermore, few depositors understand that any money, once lent, is at risk.) Their opponents counter that loans would be unavailable under full-reserve banking. Loans would be less readily available. But demand deposits (ordinary checking accounts) would not back loans. Only time deposits would. (Anyone could still sell bonds, or take pre-orders on future products, to finance a new business, as businesses often do today.)

Ron Paul has never spoken about full-reserve banking. Most of his followers agree that even fractional-reserve banking would work better with a gold standard than without it.

Ron Paul’s foreign policy

Foreign policy makes Ron Paul most vulnerable, and his old Survival Report makes matters worse in this regard. Today, as Eugene Volokh’s friend David Bernstein points out, support for Israel is today a “litmus test” for conservatives. Twenty years ago, men like Patrick J. Buchanan often legitimized disdain for Israel among conservatives. Ten years ago, the World Trade Center Incident changed conservative minds forever. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and conservatives decided that isolation would no longer serve.

But Ron Paul is the exception. A year and a half ago, Paul made some of the same complaints about Israel that Arabs commonly make. Most of these are false, as CNAV can directly attest. (CNAV has been to Israel; Ron Paul has not, to the best of our knowledge and belief.) To cite only one example, no “concentration camp” would ever have rockets to fire into a defenseless town.

This year, Ron Paul has tried to portray himself as a true friend of Israel. Once he spoke scathingly of Israel; today he speaks of granting that country its full independence from American largesse. But Israel is not his only problem and might not be his biggest. Iran is. So is his apparent desire to avoid war at all costs, or perhaps not to count the cost of avoiding war.

Any libertarian wants to reduce the size and cost of government as much as possible. Most libertarians recognize the three functions of government that Ayn Rand describe: police, military, and courts. Ron Paul understandably wants to eliminate any other function. But he seems also to want to limit the military as much as he can. “War is the health of the State,” said Randolph Bourne, and Paul seems to agree wholeheartedly. But to make such a limit practical, a libertarian (or especially an anarchist, one who wants no government at all) must downplay or even deny the threats with which the military (or even the police) must deal. So Paul insists that George W. Bush’s administration greeted the World Trade Center Incident with “glee.” (His theory: Bush and company saw the attack as an excuse to go, Caesar-like, to war as one would go into a new business.) In last night’s Iowa debate, Paul denied flatly that Iran had any project to develop or produce nuclear weapons. The problem: even if Iran does have such a project, Paul would do nothing in response. Or so he says.

Paul’s problem is so severe that the Republican Jewish Coalition refused to hear him speak, though they invited all his rivals to speak. Perhaps they should not have done that. Had they invited him, the other candidates would have had the chance to challenge him directly, and he would have had the chance to answer. As it is, he leaves people with an impression of him as, at best, naïve, and at worst, willing to excuse mass murder in the United States and especially in Israel. If that’s not true, then he has lost a vital part of his message while trying to translate it. (His most fanatical followers don’t do him any favors. Concerning the World Trade Center Incident, Paul blames past US policies in the Middle East. Some of his followers go further: they accuse the US government itself of destroying that office complex and killing all those people.)

Whither Ron Paul?

Paul has consistently denied that he would “go third party” if the Republicans refuse to nominate him. But several of his followers have said that they will vote for him anyway, even if they have to write him in. The problem: a write-in campaign for Presidential electors would be extremely difficult. (Regulations for selecting such electors vary from State to State.)

If Ron Paul wants to win, then he must clarify his message, especially on foreign policy. His domestic policies will sell easily. (How has fractional-reserve banking under the Federal Reserve System worked out for everyone? Not well.) His foreign policies will not. Not unless he can convince people that Israel will get along better under a President Paul than under four more years of “President” Obama (or eight years of Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, or even Mitt Romney). That will be a tall order.