Politics & Policy

Paul, the Fringe Frontrunner

An Iowa that would select Ron Paul is an Iowa that deserves to be taken less seriously.

Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul is in a bid to make history in Iowa. Can he become the first marginal, conspiracy-minded congressman with an embarrassing catalog of racist material published under his name to win the caucuses?

In 2008, the surest way to get applause in the Republican primary debates was to excoriate Ron Paul. This year, the Texas libertarian stands much closer to the emotional center of gravity of the party in his condemnations of government spending, crony capitalism, the Federal Reserve, and foreign intervention. He brings 100-proof moonshine to the GOP cocktail party. It can be invigorating and fun, if you ignore the nasty adulterants.

#ad#The fight over Ron Paul isn’t a battle for the soul of the Republican Party so much as for its standards. Throughout his career, Paul hasn’t been able to distinguish between fringy cranks and aboveboard purists. He has taken a principled anti-government position and associated it with loons and bigots. It may be the ultimate commentary on the weakness of this Republican field that it hasn’t even been able to produce a respectable out-there libertarian.

Paul can be a winsome figure in his irritable, absent-minded-professor way. Invariably wearing a suit jacket that looks a size or two too big, he has stood out in the debates for his knowledge and for his entirely consistent worldview applied to any problem, politics be damned. He gives listeners reason to smile or nod a couple of times every debate, and reason to wonder if he has been reading too much Noam Chomsky.

He tends to bring any conversation back to the malignancy of U.S. foreign policy. In the final debate in Iowa, he rambled on about how worries about the Iranian nuclear program are “war propaganda,” but if the Iranians get the bomb that they’re not developing, that’s entirely understandable, since we’re “promoting their desire to have it.” Jeane Kirkpatrick famously condemned the “Blame America First” Democrats; would that she had lived long enough to condemn the “Blame America First” libertarians.

In the debate, Paul went on to warn against a push “to declare war on 1.2 billion Muslims,” as if a country that has resorted to force of arms to save Muslims from starvation (Somalia), from ethnic cleansing (Bosnia, Kosovo), and from brutal dictators (Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya) is bristling with an undifferentiated hostility toward all Muslims. This isn’t an expression of an anti-interventionism so much as a smear. It goes beyond opposition to American foreign policy to a poisonous view of America itself.

Paul never knows when to stop. He lets his suspicion of centralized power slip into paranoia worthy of a second-rate Hollywood thriller about government malevolence. In January 2010, he declared: “There’s been a coup, have you heard? It’s the CIA coup. The CIA runs everything, they run the military.” On his latest appearance on the radio show of the conspiracy-mongering host Alex Jones, he opined that the alleged Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador on U.S. soil was “another propaganda stunt.” He exclaimed that the latest defense bill authorizing the indefinite detention of enemy combatants will “literally legalize martial law” (yes, “literally”).

Paul’s promiscuousness with his ideological bedfellows — he hails members of the John Birch Society for their fine educations and respect for the Constitution — accounts for the disgrace he brought on himself with his newsletters in the 1980s and 1990s. As journalist James Kirchick exposed, they were full of race-baiting and rancid Israel-bashing. Paul maintains he didn’t know what was being written in the first person under his name. To this day, he says he doesn’t know who wrote the copy. Has he asked? During some dozen Republican debates, not one journalist thought to query Paul about the newsletters that would be disqualifying for anyone else.

Iowa caucus-goers are protective of their preeminent place in the nominating process. If they deliver victory to a history-making Ron Paul, no one should take them as seriously again.

— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He may be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com.

Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. 

Most Popular

U.S.

How to Bend the News

This, from ABC, is a nice example of a news organization deliberately bending the truth in order to advance a narrative that it wishes were true but is not: Venerable gun manufacturer Colt says it will stop producing the AR-15, among other rifles, for the consumer market in the wake of many recent mass ... Read More
U.S.

Trump’s Total Culture War

 Donald Trump is waging a nonstop, all-encompassing war against progressive culture, in magnitude analogous to what 19th-century Germans once called a Kulturkampf. As a result, not even former president George W. Bush has incurred the degree of hatred from the left that is now directed at Trump. For most of ... Read More
Education

George Packer Gets Mugged by Reality

Few journalists are as respected by, and respectable to, liberals as The Atlantic’s George Packer. The author of The Assassin's Gate (2005), The Unwinding (2013), and a recently published biography of Richard Holbrooke, Our Man, Packer has written for bastions of liberal thought from the New York Times Magazine ... Read More
World

Iran’s Act of War

Last weekend’s drone raid on the Saudi oil fields, along with the Israeli elections, opens a new chapter in Middle Eastern relations. Whether the attack on Saudi oil production, which has temporarily stopped more than half of it, was launched by Iranian-sponsored Yemeni Houthis or by the Iranians themselves is ... Read More