#Excelsior502 – Presidential hopeful and Texas congressman Ron Paul fascinates me, in much the same way that Gollum from the Lord of the Rings does. Perhaps it’s simply a matter of his undeniably inspirational sense of stick-to-it-iveness, or maybe it’s the romantic notion that even in the depths of utter despair and hopelessness one can still find something noble and human in the deeply-flawed-and-ultimately-doomed tragic figure who manages to achieve some greater good against his original intent.
Ron Paul has performed a public good in that he has asked questions that need to be asked. He has at least begun conversations about certain aspects of American life and government that we, as a people, need to have. Paul has given proof that the GOP is, indeed, the party of the Big Tent, if only because he and the ideas he espouses are tantamount to some form of minor, but acceptable, minor illness and we haven’t ostracized him for it.
The thing is, you see, that you can’t actually disagree with much of what Paul preaches. He’s right when he says that the U.S. government has overstepped the bounds of its Constitutional authority; he’s correct when he speaks against a foreign policy which is little more than a modern-day, neo-Conservative version of the White Man’s Burden; he’s absolutely spot-on when he asserts that the American economic system has become the plaything of a tangled web of special interests and government.
The problem, though, is that he’s Ron Paul, and although it’s a wise man who avoids shooting the messenger who bears unpleasant-but-vital news, that doesn’t change the fact that Paul comes off as some sort of crazy old codger, like your mentally-deranged Uncle Bob -- the one with the steel plate in his head, the early-onset Alzheimer’s, and unresolved post-Iwo Jima PTSD -- that you hide in your attic, and dread seeing at Thanksgiving.
Paul’s real problem, though, is that he mostly preaches to a self-selected choir and this choir mostly consists of people you wouldn’t follow through your own front door, if you spent any appreciable amount of time with them. Nor would you feel secure enough to let them walk your pet Airedale without adult supervision. They call themselves Libertarians, and while the vast majority of Libertarians I’ve encountered in my lifetime can be described as harmless, well-meaning people with a slightly weird set of ideals, I’ve also found a goodly number of them to be stark, raving bonkers.
With Congresscritter Paul obliquely hinting (and by that I mean he denies it, but not convincingly enough) to run as a third-party candidate should he not garner the GOP nomination for president, here are five reasons why I think Ron Paul should shut the fuck up before he does enough damage to the GOP cause as to re-elect Barack Obama by default.
1. Libertarianism, the Political Philosophy, is a Joke:
If you’ve ever read Ayn Rand, you’d agree. I have read Rand, and not just Atlas Shrugged, but many of her lesser-known opuses, especially one entitled Philosophy: Who Needs It (I would recommend it). In fact, though I consider myself to be a reasonably intelligent person (and by that I mean I do not need a government watchdog to ensure that I’m not festooning my private parts with rusty safety pins on a lark), I have had to read much of Rand’s work at least twice just to get a grasp on many of her central points.
Rand, once you get by the Cold-War era political gobbledygook, was apparently slightly insane. Her sexual proclivities would raise a few eyebrows, and her anti-Communist sympathies, while commendable, give one the impression of an obsessive-compulsive disorder spiced with a liberal dose of anal fixation. The resulting political philosophy (if you could call it such), and the people who seem to gravitate towards it, can basically be summed up, thusly:
A Libertarian is an over-educated, effete snob with an over-exaggerated sense of self. He/she is an opportunistic, selfish, fence-straddler who would like to reduce all political and social issues down to a simple formula: If I like it, I want more of it. If I hate it, I want less of it. In no case should government ever be able to dictate it to me, or expect me to pay for it if I don’t want to.
A Libertarian is a strange bird: Fiscally conservative, they hate taxes just like everyone else and believe they should never have to make a financial sacrifice they don’t agree with, even if it is for the common good. Socially liberal, a Libertarian just wants to live in a world where they get to choose which laws and conventions they wish to obey, and most of what they choose to disobey revolves around issues of personal pleasure. The law (whether constructed by consentual government or social convention) should stop, literally, at the tip of their nose when it runs afoul of their own, unfettered enjoyment of life.
This is a rather attractive notion, certainly, but it’s also a cowardly and selfish one. A Libertarian simultaneously holds that governments are constituted to protect civil liberties and social peace, but that the individual should be free to opt out of any law or convention that they find inconvenient. They also reserve the right to change their minds on such questions frequently and as they see fit. A Libertarian then is a shamelessly hypocritical liberal disguised as a republican. He only sides with the GOP because it promises to let him keep more of his money; in other words, economically, it is to his advantage to vote republican, while on most non-economic issues, the Libertarian is often more inclined to adopt the democratic (small “d” intentional) viewpoint.
This is usually reflected in the Libertarian’s propensity to stay home on Election Day when a die-hard social conservative is up for election, and come out of the woodwork when an economic liberal with flexible social views is on the ballot.
We already have enough people like this in America today, and they vote for the party of the donkey. In short, a Libertarian is someone who wishes to be left alone to get stupid rich under a system of laissez-faire capitalism, avoiding taxes and responsibility, whilst ignoring his fellow men, to smoke legalized hash to his tiny heart’s content. As a political philosophy, it’s not much to hang your hat upon. As the basis for a system of government, the contractual society that Libertarians espouse (all government functions, where possible, should be privatized, and Private Enterprise and Individuals should be able compete to provide those services, or opt out of them as they see fit) leaves much to be desired.
2. Libertarians are a Joke:
As discussed earlier, a Libertarian is simply a fiscal conservative with expansive, transmutable, socially-liberal viewpoints, presuming to reserve to themselves the right to decide what they will and will not do, as it suits their immediate need or desire
The hardcore Libertarian engages in the same sort of confidence trick that is usually practiced by most established religions, only in their case, the stay-one-step-ahead-of-logic-do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do dialectic is couched in political, rather than ecumenical, terms. For example: many Libertarians are bitterly opposed to anti-drug and anti-drunk-driving laws, seeing such things as drug or alcohol use as extremely personal matters that fall outside the realm of Constitutional government’s purview. At the same time, the Libertarian is not oblivious to the often-dire consequences that substance abuse has upon the greater society.
The Libertarian makes a great show of insisting that such things are simply matters of people exercising some mystic level of personal responsibility, setting up the idea that while Mr. X may be a deadly weapon behind the wheel because his booze is cheap and no one has the right to keep out of his SUV after a bender, the Libertarian is a paragon of judicious virtue. The result is that while Mr. X might have just killed a family of six on the interstate because he drove against traffic in an alcoholic stupor, it doesn’t necessarily follow that everyone who gets drunk is a threat to society. When tragedy befalls, as it almost must under such conditions, it’s not because government did too much or not enough, it’s always because Mr. X was an irresponsible douchebag. Why should they (Libertarians) have to suffer just because Mr. X can’t hold his Wild Turkey?
A Libertarian, then, would prefer to live in a world where consequences don’t matter. This makes them almost indistinguishable, in many respects, from your typical Leftard; it’s all about the Libertarian getting to enjoy his buzz, and fuck everyone else.
3. Ron Paul is (somewhat) a Joke:
Give Congressman Paul full marks for intellect; he is a brilliant man, and he can be a persuasive one, too, but he’s also the sort that hardly inspires confidence in his competence. For all of Ron Paul’s supposed Libertarian virtues and his near-constant drumbeat about an out-of-control government that does too much, too expensively, and in a non-transparent fashion, he’s somehow managed to stay a part of the very system he claims to despise so much.
His supporters would chalk this up as a man willing to fight the good fight, even against titanic odds, and there is some truth to this formulation. One can never say that Paul hasn’t at least tried to practice what he preaches, but it’s also apparent that whatever it is that he preaches falls upon mostly-deaf ears, and that when push came to shove, Paul has probably thrown his lot in with the rank-and-file GOP more often than he has stood firmly on Libertarian principles.
People don’t get to stay in government as long as he has without compromising their core beliefs at least some of the time. Paul may rail against US military adventurism in Afghanistan, but if you looked into the Congressional record I doubt you’d find many times when he voted against a use of force or appropriation of funds to continue it. Doing so would probably put him in a bad electoral position, and so it is easier to perhaps rationalize those positions and votes away rather than to admit that he has done anything against principle.
This makes Paul exactly what most of the mouth-breathing idiots we send to Washington, D.C. are: a politician, only one who comes out every four years to beat the drum for a political philosophy which is detached from reality, and mostly drawn from the political novels of a sex maniac. Ron Paul, in the grand scheme of things, is nothing special. He’s simply as opportunistic, as ethically-challenged, as self-interested, as the next man, only he wraps himself in the flag of constitutionality and personal rights every so often as a means of disguising it.
A President Ron Paul would be reminiscent of a slightly-more-right-wing Barack Obama. There is no ‘There’ there; only a confused mish-mash of convoluted expediencies and philosophies flung together haphazardly, this or that convention drawn out of the resulting soup as needed, and as seems sufficient to achieve the barest minimum with the least amount of fuss. A Paul administration could be horribly pacifist one day, rabidly hawkish the next; playing to this constituency to gain some temporary advantage, only to shun it when the advantage is gone. A President Paul may rail against the excesses of Barack Obama and Wall Street bankers, but he is, in many ways, cut from the same cloth as they are: ethics are fungible, responsibility is never a shared burden, government exists to collect the trash and defend the country, but not to govern some of the worst excesses of men.
When Ron Paul stands up and fights against something that matters, rather than merely suggesting that “something be done about…” while sitting on the sidelines, I’ll begin to take him seriously.
4. There’s No Incrementalism in Paul’s platform:
One of the most astonishing features of American Life is that we almost never take any great action all in one leap. Every aspect of our lives is an exercise in compromise and tolerance, of incorporation of incremental change. We examine most subjects in exacting detail; we audit those who are supposed to be responsible for things; we investigate, evaluate, think and re-think, and replay the consequences of our collective actions. We’re certain that we’re not perfect and that no one has all the answers, and that there is no such thing as a One-size-fits-all approach to most things in our daily lives.
Although one would be hard-pressed to find this virtue present in many of our recent decisions; the American Public ran to the polls to elect a complete dingbat with an interesting (mostly-self-constructed) biography to the highest office in the land, and in the aftermath of that election we have seen the nationalization (or near nationalization) of our industry, banks and financial services, and the looming nationalization of our healthcare system. We’ve seen a Balkanization of our national politics, the collusion of government and business which have led us to bankruptcy, wars seemingly without end.
It’s time that the process by which such sweeping changes were implemented was halted. Ron Paul’s platform, however, promises much the same. In his own way, he’s as dangerously ‘transformative’ in terms of approach as Barack Obama is.
Paul would eliminate the Federal Reserve Bank, the very day he was sworn in, if he could. Now, as to whether this is a good idea or not, I’m not qualified to say, but it would seem to me that in so doing it’s quite possible that without a longer-term (and slower) reform of the overall financial system, simply knocking out one of the current pillars upon which it rests is exceedingly radical and potentially dangerous. Why not opt for a slower, more controlled transition? Paul insists the Fed is at the root of all of our economic evils and should be abolished, forthwith.
The same could be said of much of Paul’s foreign policy initiatives, as well. I personally would like to see the US military turn much of the Middle East into a glass-topped, self-lighting parking lot and bring the boys home A.S.A.P., but that would have been the best strategy at the beginning of the conflict, rather the most effective solution at this point in time. To simply pull out precipitously, as Obama is doing, and as Paul suggests, might do more harm than good. A staged withdrawal is probably a better strategy, overall. As for Iran getting nuclear weapons, since three previous administrations (Clinton, GWB and Obama) didn’t seem to give a shit about a nuclear Iran (covering this indifference with a façade of diplomacy), what Paul suggests – leaving Iran alone to build all the damned bombs they like – is simply more of the same, with the added disadvantage of openly admitting that we’re powerless, or don’t care enough, to stop them.
Paul would probably abandon Israel, or any other American ally, if it seemed the most expedient solution to him, despite any protest to the contrary. Paul would allow unfettered access across America’s borders if there was a sudden shortage of pool cleaners and hotel chambermaids, if only because stopping them would necessarily involve granting government expanded police powers and cost money, even if doing so prevents the government from doing that which it is specifically empowered to do.
The one advantage to a Ron Paul presidency, though, might be a cultural change in the direction towards more federalism and less centralization. This is a core republican belief, in any case.
5. We DO have other choices, you know:
I won’t say that Ron Paul is the worst presidential candidate the GOP could vomit up for 2012 (after all, it selected John McCain last time around, and a wholly ineffectual and totally lost and confused Bob Dole once upon a time), but he’s certainly not the best of the current crop.
While I can see the appeal of an outspoken champion of a political philosophy that most people would find amenable -- at least until they delved deeper into it and made an effort to understand it. I’m not even certain I totally understand all of its nuances – there is simply little appeal to Ron Paul, the Man. He’s interesting, he’s entertaining, but after a short while this spell wears off as he tries to explain his point of view and you get lost in the On-the-one-hand-and-then-on-the-other-and-then-please-allow-me-a-third-hand-for-rhetorical-purposes explanation of it all. One gets the distinct impression that Ron Paul could certainly win a campus debating society bout, but not a national election.
The great mystery of Ron Paul is how it is that he continues to win election to Congress as things now stand. Then again, a number of Libertarians I know happen to, coincidentally, come from Texas. Maybe it’s just a Texas thing, or maybe it’s a matter of intellectual snobs (and you know you are one, Tucker Carlson!) banding together to look down their noses, figuratively, at all us drooling doofuses, but he manages to hang in there, and that’s a wonder.
But, is it a reason to vote the man into the White House? I think not. Especially not if Paul follows through on his subtly-delivered and conveniently-evaded threat to split the GOP with a third-party run. Ross Perot tried that crap with fiscal conservatives and brought us eight years of Billy Jeff Clinton and his pale imitation of the Benny Hill Show. Nothing haunts me more than the memory of a smugly arrogant and triumphant Paul Begala, after all. For this reason alone, Ron Paul is probably just as dangerous to America’s political system, economy, sanity, and world standing as Barack Obama is.
But bless him for asking some pointed questions and for opening a few eyes. He has served his purpose, now he should simply exit stage right…
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