Passing on Paul
And so now it’s Ron Paul’s turn.
Like all those I’m Not Romneys before him, Paul’s quick rise seems further proof that the GOP base wishes to try on every bridesmaid dress in the store before reluctantly agreeing to get the ugly purple one with the puffy shoulders that makes them look fat… because it’s the the one the bride’s family instructed them to get. Honestly, this primary feels less like an election than a committee checklist meeting. Are we finally on Paul? Thank God! Let’s just power though Santorum and Huntsman… I really want to go home.
More and more people are coming out for Paul now that Gingrich is fading. Perhaps most notably, Andrew Sullivan has gone all-in with his endorsement. This will mean at least a dozen pro-Paul posts a day from now until South Carolina over at the Dish. Several tea party organizations have endorsed him as well, which feels right. So has Chuck Norris, which somehow feels even right-er. Paul also has this generation’s voter-subset that Jesse Jackson, Pat Buchanan, and Jerry Brown had before him: legions of young, idealistic foot soldiers who truly believe their hero’s rise is one thing keeping us from the abyss.
Last week, after having viewed all of the dreck that has made up this GOP primary, Erik publicly threw in with Paul. Because the universe seems to have it’s own bizarro-world rules when it comes to E.D. Kain, this invariably meant that those who support Paul savaged him for not going so far as to declare Paul the second coming of Christ. And those anti-Paul campers chose to ignore the reasons he gave (reasons most anti-Paul campers would agree with) and instead simply decided to declare him a racist, fascist or whatever and done with it.
For my own part, I have to say that I found Erik’s argument to be both impassioned and compelling – enough so that I found myself wondering if I might actually vote for Paul. In the end, though, I find that I cannot support the idea of a Paul presidency – and that I worry such an unlikely outcome might actually make things worse.
First off, let me at least state the reasons why I find endorsing Paul tempting:
First and foremost, he is the only candidate in the primary I find remotely principled. And to the huge degree I don’t see this in either Romney or Perry, it truly means something. (I might have said the same thing about Santorum, despite the fact that I despise him, were he not floating the idea of having industries in the state’s he doesn’t need subsidize all taxes for industries in the states he does.) Unlike just about anyone he’s been debating these past few months, he certainly seems unwilling to tickle religious paranoia in exchange for votes – and that gets very high marks in my book. And for all the talk of him being a crackpot, in my mind he in not nearly as bats**t crazy as Gingrich or Bachmann.
Also, like Erik I have no doubt that his anti-Imperialist declarations are sincerely important to him. In as much as it appears we have decided as a country that the comings and goings of our military forces is an “at the pleasure of the President” privilege, I expect he would be allowed to immediately pull all of our troops out of whatever
wars police actions conflict resolutions peacekeeping missions in which we are currently engaged. Similarly, his stand on federal civil liberties issues is fairly in line with my own.
Despite all of this, however, I find that I could not support a serious Paul for Prez bid.
First off, I find that I am much more taken aback by the issue of the newsletters than is either Erik or Andrew. [Note: Just as I am about to hit publish, I notice Erik may be walking his previous newsletter post back a bit.] I realize that they were written 15-20 years ago, but Paul is 76 – which means that the newsletters in question were written in his mid- to late-50s and are therefore harder for me to write off as youthful ignorance. Yes, I also know that it is very unlikely that Paul himself wrote most or any of the newsletters. However, it appears that for some number of years he was willing to have some unknown number of subscribers believe that they were his thoughts; I find arguments that he had no idea what was in them don’t pass my sniff test. Lastly, it is hard not to note that in just about every response to these statements over the years Paul disclaims authorship and notes the passage of time, but never really seems to distance himself from the actual ideas.
But for the sake of argument let’s say that Paul’s supporters are correct: He never wrote those things, never knew they were going out under his name, and doesn’t think enough about their crackpot messages to respond in a more clear and transparent way now. Isn’t that enough? Not really, I would say. First off, it makes me seriously question his ability to make prudent appointments if elected – which is one of the Executive branches largest and most important powers. More importantly, though, is that by both letting these statements be published in his name and refusing to truly condemn them, he is setting himself up as an Us vs. Them president before he even starts. This may or may not be fair, but it is important nonetheless. A United States President is President of all the people; giving gays and people of color enough good reason to believe he is not their president will lead our country farther away from where it needs to be, not closer.
On the issue of civil rights, it is true that my opinions overlap with Paul – on the federal level. But for me, civil rights are important in and of themselves. For example, I believe in the ability for gay people to live their lives free of job, rent or marital discrimination. Period. It’s not a federal vs. state issue for me; I simply do not believe that it’s OK for individual states to decide that allowing such bigotry is acceptable. I am not convinced that Paul agrees with me here; in fact, I’m not entirely convinced that if Texas decided to pass such laws that Paul would not give them a thumbs up from the bully pulpit. (If for no other reason than a “Yea-States-Rights!” shout out.)
I also lack confidence in the the longterm effects of Paul pulling up stakes everywhere in the world. And this has less to do with thinking that we have a roll in policing the world, and more to do with knowing how we Americans tend to respond to extreme positions with opposite extreme positions. It is an odd quirk of the American people that the less engaged we are militarily in the world, the more overboard apes**t we go when responding to the bad things that invariably happen abroad. I know that the hope Erik has is that if we had someone to just get us out it would all be OK; but I think it would just set the hawks up to be given permission for executing greater disasters in the future. This is not to say that Paul’s actions here would not be welcomed by me; just that I don’t see them being successful longterm. In order to have some kind of longterm non-Imperial policy stability, I think we will need a President that can bring both sides together on this issue. I don’t see Paul as being that guy; in fact I see him as being even more divisive than Obama and therefore counter-productive over time. (Is this fair to Paul? Nope. But I still think it’s true.)
Lastly, of course, there are all of the other more radical economic and domestic ideas that make up Paul’s would-be platform: eliminating the fed, moving to the gold standard, ditching safety nets, eliminating the EPA, etc. None of these ideas appeals to me at all. At all. And to vote for a guy that will try to implement them on the basis that he probably won’t be successful when he tries doesn’t make enough sense to me.
What I would love to see, however, is Paul run as a third-party candidate. I can see two potential very, very positive outcomes from him doing so:
I can see him taking a few pet issues – such as anti-Imperialism and real fiscal responsibility – and making them more mainstream. Many here will be to young to remember, but there was a time when national debt wasn’t a big deal to either party. As in no one ever talked or cared about it. It only ever became an issue pols needed to deal with because Ross Perot made people focus on it in his failed 1992 campaign. I think Paul might have similar “issues” success following the same path. In addition, I have high hopes that it would deliver such a crushing blow to the GOP as to make them take a serious step back and consider a future strategy of actually governing rather than just reflexively being against whatever liberals are for. For these two reasons, I am really aching for Paul going the 3rd party route.
As a legitimate contender for the office, however…
Sorry, Ron. I really like you. In fact, after having watched so many of these primary debates, you’re actually the only one in this primary I have grown to like – or respect.
But I don’t want you to be my President.