Ignore Ron Paul at your peril.
In fact, even if you take full notice of the Texas congressman yet commit the heresy of concluding that he will not be elected president of the United States, you are still asking for a little bit of peril.
As a commentator on the slight right, one becomes inured to blowback and hate mail. A number of us earned our stripes during the 2008 presidential campaign when we learned, to our great surprise, that opposing Barack Obama made us horrible, horrible racists.
But something that started with the 2008 Paul campaign has become a notable feature of this cycle — that is, the Texas-sized chip Paul’s supporters carry on their shoulders. Sincere and energetic, perhaps even well-meaning, these people are perpetually poised to get honked off.
If you follow politics and political reporting, you have probably seen some of this. They flood websites, send angry emails, shout at newscasters shooting in public, and demand that the media “Stop ignoring Ron Paul!”
You may also have seen some pre-emptive apologies from broadcasters and commentators, cognizant of the disproportionate response they will get from Paul’s supporters if they do not show him adequate deference, regardless of his chances of victory.
I do not blame Rep. Paul personally for this. Indeed, I have met and talked with him, and found him to be a nice enough man. Even so, I do not believe he will ever be president of the United States. That’s not a personal slight, or a function of corporate interests supposedly pulling my strings. Lots of people won’t be president (Jon Huntsman, a word, please?). It’s not a dig to say so.
The commitment of Paul’s supporters, including and especially younger people whom you might not expect to see at political events, particularly Republican ones, is fascinating. Their demeanor, versus that of the man they purport to represent, as well as the age gap between them and him, make for a compelling picture. How is it that this unassuming man can motivate folks in this way? There’s an anthropology thesis in there somewhere.
Paul is an accomplished person who has garnered a profoundly committed political following. He can claim a number of other achievements that I and many others could never match: For example, he has earned a medical degree and got himself elected to Congress.
But all things being equal, even including his recent second-place showing in New Hampshire primary polls, the chances of America electing a 76-year-old, isolationist congressman to be only the second person in history to go straight from the House of Representatives to the presidency are remote.
The truth is, no one ignores Paul. Everyone reading this column knows precisely who he is, what he has said, and the things he represents. On some issues, he is sage; on others, he is out where the buses don’t run. For all his strengths and imperfections, he has attained clear fame.
But let us suppose that, not for the first time, I am dead wrong and Paul has a chance. I was wrong in 2008 when I thought a radical-snuggling lightweight like Barack Obama could not wrest the Democratic nomination from Hillary Clinton and go on to win the White House (I underestimated the awesome and destructive power of white liberal guilt). In 2012, I hope I am even more wrong.
For example, in a recent column, I casually remarked that Herman Cain wouldn’t win, and boy howdy would I like to be wrong about that. Not long after I cast my judgment, Cain won the Florida 5 Straw Poll in a landslide, and Zogby shows him with an outright lead in national polls. His 9-9-9 plan, representing nine percent tax rates on corporations, personal income, and sales, is the boldest and most invigorating proposal of any GOP candidate. If a President Cain could actually enact such a system, America would be restored to global economic supremacy in a jiffy.
But back to the congressman from Texas. We could do a lot worse than a President Paul, and have done (see: “Obama, Barack”). There are a number of domestic policy areas in which Paul is strong, even visionary. As two quick examples, if he could actually audit the Federal Reserve and abolish the Department of Homeland Security, I would be eager and glad to thank him.
Paul was unfairly ridiculed when he spoke of “capital flight,” which he extrapolated to suggest that the proposed fence on the southern border could be used to keep Americans in, rather than to keep Mexicans out. While actual physical impediments to leaving may or may not be in America’s future, from a taxation and capital perspective, Paul is correct. For example, as this column recently noted, the IRS claims authority over the income and assets of U.S. citizens, no matter where they live in the world. If a law-abiding, non-resident American, all paid up on his taxes, decides he would prefer to be free of this obligation and renounce his U.S. citizenship, the IRS may simply refuse to let him go. If a person’s income is above a certain amount, or if his net worth exceeds two million dollars, the IRS will require tax filings from that person for another decade at least, after which they will review the case. Even Russia does not do this, nor does China. America sure does.
In this way, America is easier to get into than to leave. This was Paul’s point, and such a system is anathema to the “Land of the Free.”
But it is on foreign policy that Paul falls down. His instincts are correct, inasmuch as in overseas matters, particularly the Middle East, America is constantly picking the wrong friends, arming the wrong people, and jamming its thumbs into complex problems it has neither the capacity nor the humility to understand.
Even so, to expect or advocate America’s withdrawal from international defense obligations is unrealistic. Moreover, Paul’s assertion that 9/11 was brought about by U.S. “occupation,” apart from its deal-breaking offensiveness, neglects the fanatical and murderous nature of Islamist terrorism.
The economy may be the most important issue of this campaign — and on some economic issues, Paul is very good. But when discussion turns to foreign policy and Paul posits that Iran’s jihadist maniacs will be circumscribed by the notion of Mutually Assured Destruction, as the Soviets were, so why shouldn’t they have a nuclear bomb, then he is just too far wrong to lead America.
One more thought on angry supporters, please. Paul is not the only politician whose backers are getting their backs up of late. It seems some fans of Sarah Palin have gone feral. Even Ann Coulter, for years one of Palin’s most vocal defenders, has remarked that it’s no longer worth discussing the former Alaska governor on TV, lest she put a foot wrong and get an earful for it.
The insistence that Palin is suited to the Oval Office is somewhat akin to liberal demands that we all concur Obama is brilliant. Proponents’ only recourse is to attack those who disagree. I reject these shibboleths, but remain curious about just what’s gotten under the Palin people’s saddles.
This is, indeed, a new phenomenon, to see such furious behavior from supposed conservatives. Supercilious as it may sound, we simply don’t do that sort of thing. I wonder how many other rightist commentators have perused the day’s batch of electronic ire and, upon squinting, realized that an angry, misspelled, ALL CAPS, insulting diatribe is, for once, not from an outraged Obama hopey-changer, or a Moveon.org maven, or from Teresa Heinz-Kerry — but from one of ours!
Fair enough, though. Let’s have some fun with it.
Inviting a perfect storm of Republican hate mail (and, to be clear, such a thing should not exist — you’re better than that), I will say that if I had to choose between Sarah Palin and Ron Paul for president of the United States, I’d take Paul every day of the week and twice on Sundays.
Theo Caldwell, an international investor and broadcaster, has been a member of the New York Stock Exchange, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, the American Stock Exchange, and the Kansas City Board of Trade. He can be reached at email@example.com