Since the unfortunate results of the Ames straw poll were announced, a constant mewling and bleating has gone up from several sectors of the political system. Faced with a media that represents (accurately) the top tier of the Republican Presidential Nominating Contest as Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney, with a few idle and unproductive fantasies about Rick Santorum or Jon Huntsman recovering, the partisans of one particularly impotent politician shriek their discontent:
“What about Ron Paul?! He took second! Doesn’t he warrant a mention?”
This meme has been echoed even by the likes of Jon Stewart, whose fanciful quest to ferret out every trace of hypocrisy on the side of his opponents has instead led him down the rabbit hole of self-righteousness and false punditry, always thinly veiled by a layer of badly applied clown makeup. Nevertheless, the question must be asked: What about Ron Paul?
Let me take a crack at answering that. The reason no one wants to discuss Ron Paul as a top tier contender is because most people would rather pretend he were not a contender at all. Why? Because Ron Paul is a joke at the expense of the Right, and his second place showing in the straw poll was the bad punch line. The man tracks with (and may agree with) racist, conspiracy-mongering mongoloids so vile that they would instantly discredit libertarianism if any liberal media outlet more relevant than The New Republic ever bothered to cover them. Those who disagree are invited to explain the chumminess between Ron Paul and the Mises Institute, whose patron Saint Murray Rothbard once made a habit of paling around both with Maoists and with the followers of David Duke, for the simple reason that the responsible Right failed to display a sufficient hatred of America relative to those two groups.
What Paul’s partisans fail to apprehend is that the reason that coverage is not forthcoming for their hero is because Paul has made himself the avatar of a time-tested brand of Republicanism: That is, self-hating Republicanism. The reason disingenuous sniggerers like Stewart sympathize with Paul and Rachel Maddow will fawningly ask him to explain his crackpot theories is that Ron Paul attacks his own party with twice the zeal he ever uses against liberals. He spouts the same nonsense talking points as members of the Pacifist Left (“Iran is only defending themselves!”) and the Socialist Left (“Corporations aren’t people! Only people are people!”) with the ingenious capacity for somehow duping legions of devoted followers into believing these time-tested left wing gobs of spit are somehow true conservatism. It’s time someone explained precisely why this designation is as fantastical as Paul’s chances at election are.
Paul calls himself a Constitutional conservative. Not since Lyndon Larouche’s love affair with the word “fascist” has a political descriptor been so repeatedly abused. Paul is neither Constitutionalist, nor conservative, nor capitalist. His Constitutionalism is revisionist historical fanfiction based on a vision of the Founders so unrealistic it makes John Galt look three-dimensional. His economics are an unfalsifiable, unscientific tangle that would make creationists blush. His conservatism is a mask for a brand of antiwar utopianism that condemns George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Abraham Lincoln while excusing Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler and Jefferson Davis. If William F. Buckley stood athwart the train of history yelling STOP, then Paul has instead ridden it into the tunnels of irrelevance, where the billowing clouds of hot air that spew from his mouth will asphyxiate him and his followers like so many disposable extras in an Ayn Rand novel. Like Rand, it’s best that we leave him to die.
Start with Paul’s utterly inaccurate vision of the Founders. For evidence, one need only look at his speech from this year’s CPAC. Without a trace of irony, Paul managed to go from extolling his followers for leading a “revolution” to condemning neoconservatives as “neo-Jacobins.” Paul would know something about Jacobinism, for he also made the laughable contention that “force has never worked,” and implied that the Founders would not have supported the War on Terror. Ironically, this theory – if not its particulars – puts him in the company of actual historical Jacobins.
If you were to ask a Ron Paul supporter to name a President who had fought an undeclared war on the slogan that America would pay millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute, who had rigidly controlled travel and immigration, and who had imprisoned dissidents on the theory that they could be potential enemy combatants, most would probably say it was George W. Bush. This answer is as predictable as it is wrong. In fact, the descriptors above apply to John Adams, one of the actual Founders who Ron Paul so adores, and the cousin of Samuel Adams – one of Ron Paul’s favorite pages on Wikiquote.
Adams’ opponents in his undeclared war happened to be the post-Jacobin Directory of France, who had taken to authorizing piracy against the United States over a trade dispute. Adams tried negotiation, but when one of the French diplomats asked Adams’ agents for a bribe, he called the entire thing off and went to war without the approval of Congress. He got away with it partially because the public relations fallout from these negotiations was so severe that every pro-French American politician (including Thomas Jefferson) was branded a closeted Jacobin. Certainly, the actual Jacobins sounded similar notes.
So despite his constant claims to be speaking for the Founders, one imagines that Paul would side with the Jacobins over one of the actual Founders in viewing this act of war as a mistake. No doubt he would have paid the bribe and “peacefully” settled the whole thing, turning the United States into a victim of extortion in the process. After all, the one thing a Paulite will die for is the idea that everything should be for sale, even one’s dignity. Which may explain why their hero has none left.
And what of the things that are and aren’t for sale? Certainly no Congressman has been so seemingly economics-minded as Paul. Do his economics hold water?
Not at all. Consider the following: Along with maintaining one of the most openly cranky blogs on the internet, Paul’s old Chief of Staff, Lew Rockwell, fancies himself an economist of the Rothbardian school. Never mind that Rockwell is actually a former English major, for that is the least of his worries. Consider instead that Rockwell’s (and Paul’s) professed idol, Rothbard, was such a radical even for the Austrian school that he outright denied the usefulness of empirical evidence at all. No mathematical models for Rothbard, either – for him, it was enough to purely take it on faith that one could find answers to all the great questions in economics through poorly derived, logically fallacious extrapolations from the General Equilibrium Theory of Supply and Demand.
And what did Rothbard derive from that theory? Nothing less than a moral and political mandate for absolute anarchy. Capitalist anarchy, mind you, in that Rothbard and Rockwell would rather have private defense contractors—for those of you not familiar with the jargon, that means institutions like the Italian Mafia and the Russian Mob—handle the defense of citizens. In formulating this morally, economically and politically insane fever dream, Rothbard and his heirs (Rockwell and Paul included) claimed to be carrying on the Austrian tradition started by the likes of Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek. But Mises’ own 1000 page tract of semi-autistic dogmatism, Human Action, failed to come out in favor of anarchy, and Hayek favored a minimal welfare state, so long as it conformed to the rule of law. Hardly the sort of ringing endorsement one needs for a theory that views competition among the Russian and Italian mobs as superior to the enlightened rule of law propagated by the contemporary American state.
Paul, of course, studiously claims not to be an anarchist. But he is on record praising Rothbard, and his former Chief of Staff runs a think tank devoted to propagating Rothbard’s insane legacy. And while we’re on the subject of that think tank – the aforementioned and insultingly named Mises Institute – what else do you think they produce under the auspices of Paul’s former right hand man? Nothing less than full throated defenses of absolute monarchy, as well as bribery, blackmail, whoredom and graft. This last book comes with an endorsement from (who else) Rothbard himself, and may explain at least somewhat the infatuation of teenage males with the Rothbard sympathizer Ron Paul. Legalized prostitution, whatever its economic merits, cannot fail to appeal to the pimply perpetual virgins who staff Paul’s volunteer armies. And as for defenses of absolute monarchy, most of those virgins fancy themselves the returning King Aragorns made flesh anyway.
Leave aside the moral ridiculousness (to say nothing of the anti-American character) of these arguments, though, and look at the economics underlying them. There is not a scrap of mathematical analysis, and none of the hypotheses are falsifiable. If Paul’s supporters fancy this economic science, one presumes they also think the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is practicing theology. This brand of Austrianism is to Economics what Young Earth Creationism is to Science generally. Keynesians, at least, have the good taste to be economic Intelligent Design theorists and trust their economic fate to the blind watchmaker that is the Federal Government. And by the way, they’re half right about that description – the Federal Government is almost always blind.
Except, that is, when it comes to foreign policy. And here, at last, is the true rub where Ron Paul is concerned. Many conservatives have attacked Paul for being overly friendly to drugs, but this is hardly a new development on the Right. National Review has (correctly, in my opinion) remained in support of ending the drug war since Bill Buckley ran for mayor of New York. And as any Paulite who’s been paying attention will tell you, Ron Paul is just as much a social conservative and deficit hawk as any other Republican (in fact, he is the latter arguably more than any Republican, except when it comes to earmarks). No, the only fight that really exists between the mainstream Right and Ron Paul at the level of serious policy is over foreign policy.
I have already dispatched with the idiotic talking point that our current strategy of pre-emptive or undeclared war is somehow unprecedented or contrary to the intent of the Founders (John Adams begs to differ). Unfortunately, this is the most serious thing Paul will say when you sit him down and make him talk about foreign policy. Those who watched last week’s debate will remember the spectacle of Paul claiming (with a straight face) that Iran was not a threat and only wanted nuclear power because it was frightened of its big, scary neighbors who had nuclear power. And let’s not forget his mind-numbing chant about “blowback,” a talking point which was dismissed by Christopher Hitchens against a more honest America hater than Ron Paul as the contention that the terrorists “wouldn’t be this way if we weren’t so mean to them.”
One could go on for ages about the magical thinking and fallacies inherent in Ron Paul’s vision of foreign policy, but these would all be symptoms of a larger disease: Ron Paul is simply incapable of accepting that there are people in the world who do not conform to the rigid and simplistic mental model known as Homo Economicus. That model is predicated on the possession of perfect information (something no one has in the realm of foreign policy thanks to the everpresent fog of war), and more importantly, perfect rationality. This latter quality is not only not universal – it is unheard of, in world leaders as in anyone else, and especially in the case of Iran’s current leaders.
Moreover, the true lunacy of the Paulite vision on foreign policy cannot be comprehended simply by discussing isolated policy positions. There is probably a universe where one could argue against direct military action, or even indirect economic action against Iran using prudential concerns native to realpolitik. However unpersuasive that argument might be, it would at least be made on the grounds of what is in the United States’ interests, or in the interests of global stability. Also, in framing the issue prudentially, such a hypothetical dovish argument would at least acknowledge the possibility that circumstances might change and the hypothesis could be proven wrong.
Not so with Paul’s vision, which takes non-interventionism (read: crypto-pacifism) as an axiom. Under Paul’s vision, America would be constantly constrained to wait until shots had actually been fired against our troops, or bombs dropped on our cities, or planes flown into our buildings, before we ever did anything against anyone. Leave pre-emptive war out of it – this forecloses even basic intelligence operations. Is it not enough that the Federal Government is blind to reality domestically? Must Ron Paul also root out its rather unique capacity to assess the world stage and take action to secure its citizens?
And if so, why? For LIBERTY, the constant hue and cry goes. But as the old adage says, freedom is not free – a fact that Paulites should be quite aware of, given their hatred of unpriced goods. It is the case, as Colonel Nathan R. Jessep famously opined in A Few Good Men, that we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be defended by men with guns. It is to the advantage of this great country that our political process is not also settled by men with guns, but instead through a Constitutional process fenced in by the rule of law. Still, it is to the good of all that the self-appointed guardians of our political process – the media – have conspired to keep Ron Paul firmly outside the gates to relevance.
I would say that I come to bury Rep. Paul, not to praise him, but it is unnecessary. Despite the constant Kruschev-esque protests of Paul’s crazed followers that whether conservatives like it or not, history is on the side of the Paulites and they will bury us, the facts tell a different and far more uncharitable story. In the battle for conservatism, history is not only against the Paulites, but when it comes to the flaws of their champion, they have buried themselves – headfirst – in the sand.
* This article has been updated.