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Who is Ron Paul?

December 9, 2011

In November next year, Barack Obama will go up against a Republican candidate for the Presidency of the United States, and defacto leader of planet earth. But before then, the Grand Old Party (GOP) of the Republicans will need to pick their candidate, which involves an eight month marathon of rolling mini-elections in 55 States and territories (including Guam and American Samoa) starting in Iowa on 3 January 2012.

While sane people have been ignoring the political circus, election junkies have been closely watching the long campaign as various candidates have come and gone. At the beginning of the year the pundits pontificated as a string of potential candidates — Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, Chris Christie, Rudy Giuliani, Jeb Bush, Paul Ryan, Mitch Daniels, Haley Barbour, and Mike Huckabee — all opted out of the race. Tim Pawlenty said “yes” then “no”. Tease.

And so when debate season rolled around, the field had been narrowed to a rag-tag bunch of about a dozen, with the most prominent being the millionaire Mormon ex-Governor of Massachusetts — Mitt Romney. From the start, Romney has consistently been 1st or 2nd in national polls among GOP voters with about 20-30% support, and he has been seen as the frontrunner due to his decent polling, wealthy friends, establishment support, and high media profile. The race has then been seen as a contest between Romney and “anti-Romney”, a mythical creature who has so far taken four human forms — Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain and now Newt Gingrich. Cain has since dropped out of the race.

(Sadly, the self-described vampire Jonathon Sharkey has also dropped out… and the “rent-is-too-damn-high” candidate Jimmy McMillan has failed to get into the early primaries.)

Now that we’re getting close to voting, the Australian mainstream media (MSM) is starting to pay attention. If you look at news.com.au or the ABC or the SMH or The Australian or the Herald Sun you will see them talking about Gingrich and Romney. Occasionally the chatterati will mention Bachmann or Perry or even Jon Huntsman. But in Australia, just like in the USA, the MSM is strangely silent about the man coming third.

Who is Ron Paul?

Ironically, Ron Paul is perhaps most famous for being the guy that the MSM loves to ignore. Comedian Jon Stewart brilliantly roasted the mainstream media for their blind spot, and see if you can guess who is missing in this headline: “Poll: Romney leads New Hampshire, Huntsman in third, Perry in fourth“. Back in August the Pew Research Centre showed that Ron Paul was only the 10th highest election news-maker, behind many candidates who at the time trailed him in the polls (Pawlenty, Huntsman, Gingrich) and behind people who weren’t even running (Donald Trump, Sarah Palin).

In Australia, there have only been a handful of MSM mentions of Ron Paul — a dismissive reference in The Australian and being called a “kook” by a Young Liberal. Tom Switzer names eight other options, but neglects Ron Paul. The SMH has done marginally better, noting that Ron Paul does well in the twittersphere “even though he’s received relatively little press coverage”, and writing Australia’s only MSM article about the man and his views on banking. Even then, the SMH felt the need to refer to Paul as a “minor candidate”.

If Ron Paul was polling at near 0% (Gary Johnson) or 2% (Jon Huntsman) or 3% (Rick Santorum) then this would be understandable.

If Ron Paul was polling at around 6% (Michele Bachmann) or 7% (Rick Perry) it would be a bit strange, but forgivable.

But Ron Paul is polling at about 10% nationally, and closer to 20% in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire, he wins many straw polls, and has raised the 3rd most in donations (more than Gingrich). There is now a very real possibility that Ron Paul could win in Iowa, given that the state uses the caucus system that rewards candidates with passionate followers (and Ron Paul supporters are by far the most passionate). While Gingrich (~35%) and Romney (~22%) are leading in the national polls, after Iowa and New Hampshire it is possible that Ron Paul will be leading the pack in terms of delegates, and still have money in the bank. And then it’s anybody’s game.

So who is this strange invisible candidate?

Ron Paul is an easy to like at a personal level due to his obvious sincerity and his unwillingness to change his message to suit his audience. However, his consistent libertarianism means that most people can find an area of strong disagreement. If he was a real politician, he’d learn to sell-out more and use buzz words like “moving forward with real action for working families — yes we can”.

  • The most contentious issue for Republicans is Ron Paul’s views on foreign policy and civil liberties. He voted against the Iraq war, he voted against the Patriot Act, he wants to stop the current wars, bring American troops home from their bases in ~150 countries around the world, close Guantanamo Bay, end government torture, and stop the war-mongering against Iran (see his 3 minute “what if” speech here). His opponents accuse him of “isolationism”, to which Paul responds that he believes in friendship and trade with the world, but a non-interventionist foreign policy, with the obvious hat-tip to Thomas Jefferson. And then he hits the Republicans where it hurts — and points out that America simply can’t afford to maintain it’s current empire.
  • The reason Ron Paul is most liked by conservatives is the reason why lefties object — his belief in small government. While nearly all Republicans talk about “small government” the facts are that nearly all Republicans (and Liberals & Nationals in Australia) vote to increase the size of government. George “Dubya” Bush increased real government spending, even when you remove the absurd trillions wasted on perpetual war. Ron Paul is the only congressman in America who has voted against every tax increase and unconstitutional spending bill. He represents a district with >1000km of coastline, but is against federal-funded flood insurance. He represents a district with many farms, but is against farm subsidies. In response, his district has elected him 12 times since 1976. While other candidates offer catchy slogans and empty promises of unfunded tax cuts, Ron Paul released an economic plan that is honest enough to clearly outline unpopular spending cuts to get the budget out of deficit. Lefties and crony-capitalists won’t like his plan of cutting federal spending on housing, bureaucracy, energy, militarism, foreign aid (including Israel), education, and commerce… but for those worried about US debt and deficits it is the best (only?) solution available.
  • Besides being anti-war, Ron Paul is perhaps best known for his views on monetary policy. This is often shortened to something catchy like “sound money”, or “gold standard”, or “audit the fed” or “end the fed” (where “fed” = Federal Reserve, the US equivalent of the Reserve Bank of Australia), but the important point about Ron Paul’s monetary policy is that he believes that the government has printed too much money which is devaluing the currency and driving up prices. Paul’s concern is that printing too much money (artificially low interest rates and quantitative easing) will result in a “boom” of bad investments that will ultimately lead to a “bust” such as the recession of recent years. Still confused? It’s all explained in this “Hayek v Keynes” rap battle. This is a debate that is entirely lacking in Australia since effectively all economic writers in the Australian MSM are Keynesians, and most have never heard of Austrian economics.
  • One consequence from Paul’s belief in small government and sound money is that he was opposed to the government bail-outs of the banks. He has been a vocal critic of the current policy (supported by Dubya, Obama, Romney & Gringrich) where banks keep their profits, but taxpayers subsidise their loses. This is the reason you can see Ron Paul posters both at Tea Party rallies and also at Occupy Wall Street rallies, where people are protesting (in very different ways) against crony-capitalism.
  • Like most Republicans, Ron Paul is a committed christian, personally very conservative, and anti-abortion. But this doesn’t prevent his libertarian and constitutional positions on civil liberties. Paul opposes the “war on drugs” as an unconstitutional, failed, massively expensive, and intrusive violation of civil liberties and State rights. He also rejects the idea that the federal government should define marriage. On both issues Paul allows that US States should be allowed to make their own laws, and he insists that the federal government should have no role. This makes him the second most progressive candidate running for President (behind Gary Johnson who openly campaigns on marijuana legalisation and gay marriage, but more progressive that Obama).

People who have never heard of “libertarians” (or “classical liberals”) are sometimes confused by the above list of policies. How can somebody want to cut tax and legalise drugs? How can somebody fight against government money manipulation and also be against war? How can somebody be against hand-outs for the poor and also against hand-outs for the rich? Of course, the consistent thread through all of Ron Paul’s policies is that the government should get out of the way, and leave people to interact with each other however we like, so long as it is voluntary. This is a philosophy with a long and strong tradition going back to the dawn of the enlightenment, but it has little popular or media support in the western world today.

Despite occasional rhetoric to the contrary, the last century has seen the western world steadily move towards more tax and spending, more bureaucracy, more regulation, more nanny-state rules, more police-state controls, and generally a much bigger and more intrusive government. The classical liberal ideas of “free markets, peace and civil liberties” are now so alien to our political discussion that even a supposedly free-market commentator calls them “kooky”, and no Australian politician will stand up for the principles.

This is why the rise of Ron Paul is both important and newsworthy.

Even if Ron Paul does not win the nomination and go on to become the 45th President of the United States, he is changing the discussion, and that may be more important. There are now dozens of libertarians elected around the USA, including Ron’s son Senator Rand Paul. While not mainstream, the libertarian position is now part of the policy debate and people are paying attention. There is a growing, young, and passionate voting block out there who are changing the debate in the USA, and perhaps around the world. It’s about time the MSM started to pay attention.

  1. Sjholmes
    December 9, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    I enjoyed your article with some great links (especially the Keynes Hayek rap). It is interesting to watch how much global recognition Ron Paul is getting through the Internet and how US media tries to ignore him. Luckily he is waking up a lot of people all over the world. I had never heard of the Austrian School of Economics until I started to become interested in Ron Paul at the beginning of this year and it is opening up my mind in such a way that for the first time in years I have hope that we the people might find a peaceful way to push back the oppressive ways of big government.

  2. Tyson
    December 10, 2011 at 1:42 am

    Fyi: America has 900 plus bases, and he wants to close them all and end the budget-killing quest for empire.

    [JOHN: Thanks Tyson. I’ve fixed it now to read “bases in ~150 countries”]

  3. TerjeP
    December 10, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    I’m not sure why so many feel at ease dismissing him as a kook without so much as explaining what it is that leads them to that assessment. It seems very intellectually lazy. I have yet to find an issue on which I regard him as a kook. On some issues I wish he would give more information regarding his position, and on some issues I simply disagree with his position. However I don’t see any issue on which he is a kook. He always has well reasoned arguments and principles backing up his positions.

  4. Dingo_aus
    December 11, 2011 at 5:00 am

    Nice write up, good work

  5. Shem Bennett
    December 12, 2011 at 1:50 am

    I think Ron Paul is unelectable, but paving the way for Rand Paul.

    I was disappointed that James didn’t mention Rand in the list of “promising 2016 candidates”. IMO Rand Paul has a strong chance in the future.

  6. Boomer
    December 12, 2011 at 6:33 am

    Terje,

    It has been claimed, though based on what I don’t know, that he is a 911 conspiracy nutter. There have also been allegations of racism.

  7. December 13, 2011 at 4:35 am

    Both claims are false. The 911 claim is based on the fact that some Ron Paul supporters were 911 conspiracy nuts. But then… some of his supporters are also women, and that doesn’t make Ron Paul a woman.

    The racism claim comes from a newsletter that was put out in his name, but written by Lew Rockwell and various other back in the 1980s. Some of the articles in that newsletter included racist sentiments. Ron Paul has explicitly and repeatedly said that he didn’t write or read those articles, he didn’t agree with those articles, and that he simply doesn’t speak/write like that. Anybody who has checked those articles next to what Ron Paul has said have believed him.

  8. December 14, 2011 at 10:28 am

    A well written, thorough introduction to Ron Paul.

    It will be interesting to watch the next few weeks. I’m quietly anticipating an outsize win in Iowa – over 30% – and a solid second in New Hampshire.

    Interestingly, I think the primary characteristic of a Paul Presidency won’t be what he does, but what he prevents Congress from doing.

  9. Zeci
    December 14, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    Thank you John.
    Keep up the good work.

  10. Pia
    December 14, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    I’m an Australian supporter of Ron Paul. And I’m not alone.

    I only wish some of his sanity would rub off on the politicians here. Paul is an exceptional man. Honest. Thoughtful. Principled. Very Electable. With what I know about him, it begs belief people would consider anyone else.

    I don’t know when we will ever see another man or woman running for top office who deserves it more than Ron Paul.

    Not only does America need Paul, Australia needs him. The world does.

    By sound example and by virtue of adherence to the constitution, Paul can restore some dignity and rule of law to a very out of control and tyrannical nation.

    If you have the time check out some Ron Paul speeches or supporter videos on youtube.
    He is truly a man to be very much admired.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8NhRPo0WAo&feature=youtu.be

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BoP0ItndrAk&feature=related

  11. Hal Walter
    December 14, 2011 at 4:57 pm

    Nice article John.

    I am sure there are many in your country that follow the logic of Ron Paul. I had the pleasure of conversing with Dr. Steve Kates at the Austrian Scholars Conference in 2010 at the Mises Institute. Without a doubt he is the leading expert on J.B. Say and would be a great resource for the Libertarian minded in Australia.

    Hal Walter
    Clarkridge, Arkansas USA

    [JOHN: Thanks Hal — I know Steve and he spoke recently at Australia’s first “Mises Seminar”. A good man.]

  12. December 17, 2011 at 12:15 am

    Good article answer a questions I wanted the answer to but was too lazy to find out. Good Work!

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