John Derbyshire is wrong to resist the Ron Paul Temptation. Embrace it. Embrace it: conservatives, libertarians, pro-lifers…Right-minded Americans, all.
Sure, Paul, currently hovering in the single digits in polls, looks at first glance like a textbook case of a fringe candidate. And that’s unfortunate, because he ought instead to be our next president — and would be if he made it to the general election, since in a one-on-one match-up with likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, he could fare remarkably well.
That means Paul’s greatest obstacle is the Republican primary process. Since he wants to do virtually everything conservatives have long dreamed of with the office of the presidency, what’s stalling his chances is a herd-like desire to vote for the candidate who already seems likely to win the primaries. Democrats won’t keep him from the White House; it would be tragic, then, if Republicans stopped him themselves.
Recall, first, the big issue that likely cost the Republicans control of Congress in 2006 and turned George Bush into a lame duck: the Iraq War. Now, thanks largely to testy comments from his fellow candidate Rudy Giuliani, Paul is known as the sole antiwar Republican candidate. I realize how strongly many of his fellow Republicans disagree with him on that issue — I’m not as isolationist on military matters as Paul either (almost no one is) and have long hoped that the Iraq effort will turn out better than expected.
But it now appears that even the unambitious goal of stopping frequent bombings in Baghdad is proving to be, shall we all admit, tricky. And since the pro-war position is widely regarded as the thing dragging Republican congressional candidates down in ’06 and prospective Republican presidential candidates down in the polls for ’08, it would be a delightful turn if antiwar sentiment ended up redounding to the advantage of conservatives, in the form of Ron Paul’s election.
And think of the undeserved riches that would then be ours: Paul is an across-the-board libertarian on economic issues. He wants to abolish most Cabinet agencies (aside from State, Justice, and a radically whittled-down Defense). He has tried (unsuccessfully) to return the U.S. to the gold standard and has made clear his desire to dismantle the IRS immediately
And for those who say it can’t happen, here’s the beauty part: Get Paul through the primaries, to the Republican nomination, and he has the tools to take on Hillary. He plainly gets the libertarian swing voters that the Republicans lost in 2006, he should garner most conservative votes when contrasted with Hillary, and — here’s the clincher — he gets a huge share of the bourgeoning antiwar vote to boot. Think about it: Clinton has already alienated the substantial antiwar faction of the Democratic party, while Ron Paul has inspired a supportive banner even at an anarchist rally full of hippies and punks, urging people to join the Ron Paul “love revolution.”
But don’t let that fool you into thinking he’s some flower-child. A seventy-two-year-old conservative Texan, Ron Paul is also one of the most pro-life members of Congress, wants better border enforcement, and, as a doctor, prefers to allow the states to manage the war on drugs, rather than praising drugs, as some less cautious libertarians are prone to do.
Presto! The much-lamented divide between social conservatives and fiscal conservatives, which has seemed to be widening lately, is eliminated. As has oft been said, Republicans tend to fare best when they pursue the program (pioneered by National Review and praised last year by Ryan Sager in his book Elephant in the Room) called “fusionism,” yoking together social conservatism and the libertarian desire to shrink government. Both Giuliani and McCain, for example, have some fusionist qualities, sounding tough on military matters and fiscal matters — but no one’s more fusionist than a pro-lifer who genuinely wants to dismantle the entire welfare state. And if you’re nervous about Paul’s “going too far,” keep in mind the president only executes the laws — he doesn’t make them. There are limits to what even a president can do, but it’d sure be nice to have one pushing in a small-government conservative direction for the first time since Reagan, and arguably the first time since Coolidge.
Continuing conservative support for the Iraq war is certainly an issue (note that Paul voted for the Afghan war, so he’s not a complete pacifist), but surely it’s not the be-all and end-all of conservatism. As popular support for the war fades, and if we do not meet with the successes forecast by the architects of the “surge,” might not even the most pro-war conservatives be willing to budge a bit on that possibly doomed and politically damning issue? Hawks may be reluctant to shift, but for many conservatives it may well be worth it to have a president with true conservative values.
Do conservatives not really want all the things Paul has to offer? Then why do we fight at all? If it’s merely for power and mainstream acceptance, one might as well support Hillary Clinton or wait until after November 2008 and support whoever comes out on top. But if we want a radically smaller government — precisely that thing that a Republican Congress neglected to do for the last twelve years, which has created the current mood of conservative frustration — we must support Ron Paul. Remember how small government was at the nation’s founding and consider how perhaps even conservatives have since then become de facto socialists, accepting the leviathan state as inevitable. But it’s not inevitable if they vote against it when history hands them that chance.
— Todd Seavey lives in New York City and blogs at ToddSeavey.com.