That question came up again while I was watching the last presidential primary debate. I was surrounded by friends of numerous political varieties, and we went around a circle explaining our candidate of choice. I turned some eyebrows with my selection: Rep. Ron Paul.
Surely not Paul! After all, he made some pretty bold statements that night: he feared a border fence could possibly keep us in as much as keep illegal immigrants out and spoke of the ability to buy a gallon of gas for a dime (a silver one, not the current variety). Every debate Paul has something provocative to say, producing typically snarky articles like this one. He has speculated about legalizing drugs and prostitution, declined to rattle the saber at Iran, and likes to ramble on about monetary policy.
Let me be clear: (I apologize for channeling the language of President Obama) I don't agree with every single thing Dr. Paul has proposed. If someone were interested, I could go line by line through my quibbles with his platform. However, I am not focusing on these details. Instead, it is time to take a bigger view of the election.
So, why support Ron Paul?
#1) Electibility. What? From Ron Paul? Consider this: when Paul started running in 2007, nobody knew his name. He registered under 1% in polls. In 2008 he managed to pull a respectable 10% in Iowa and 8% in New Hampshire, not to mention break fundraising records and inspire thousands of grassroots activists to become active in politics. True, Paul had some major weaknesses; the money came in too late to organize a proper campaign. However, a spark was lit.
Now, the Ron Paul campaign is back like never before. Much has changed. For starters, his supporters are winning elections: from State Rep. Glen Bradley down in North Carolina to Congressman Justin Amash of Michigan, Paul supporters are becoming active and winning elections nationwide. Of course, we all know his most famous supporter in office: Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, his son. It was the election of this figure which professionalized the dedicated cadre of staff and volunteers who have hung around Dr. Paul for a decade. The Republican machine of Senator McConnell met the enthusiasm of Paul's supporters, and the result was potent. Today, Dr. Paul regularly polls in the double-digits in primaries throughout the nation, including the ever-important Iowa and New Hampshire. He is running professional ads in these critical states (no more "He's Catching On") and building a campaign organization on the ground to compete with the well-greased staff of the other candidates. If he is selected as the Republican nominee, Dr. Paul can carry this synthesis of party machine and grassroots activism to success in the general election (some polls agree). If there was ever a time for a libertarian-leaning politician like Ron Paul to take the national scene by storm, it is now.
2)The rest of the field. I want a choice, not an echo. Looking at the 'frontrunners', I just do not feel satisfied. Governor Romney's flip-flops are infamous, and Romneycare is a problem that is not going to go away. Meanwhile, Governor Perry has a record of secrecy from his tenure in Texas and his own flip-flops to account for. He supported Al Gore back in the day, endorsed Hillarycare in the 90s, and has tried to backpedal on his record of forced vaccinations in the Lonestar State. Like President Obama, neither has shown the consistency that makes Dr. Paul so appealing.
3) It's not the end of the world Consider a quote from this thought-provoking article by Conor Friesdorf at The Atlantic:
Every presidential candidate inspires voters to ask themselves, "If this person is elected, what's the worst that could plausibly happen?" Since we're risk averse, the imagined answers that take hold are huge factors in campaigns. In 1964, when Barry Goldwater ran, the worst case scenario in the minds of the electorate was that if he won, there would be nuclear war with the USSR. Four years ago, Hillary Clinton tried and failed to persuade voters that if Barack Obama was elected, the worst case scenario was a 3 a.m. phone call that he was too inexperienced to handle. Evaluating John McCain, a lot of voters, myself included, thought the worst case scenario was that he'd die, making Sarah Palin into the world's most powerful person.
So I got to thinking. What's the worst thing that could plausibly happen if Ron Paul wins?
Of course I had my own problems with this article; I do not have such a reflexive fear of Sarah Palin, for example. However, it is worth looking at the issue through this lens. Dr. Paul as President will have to work with a Congress still filled with either rank and file Republicans or liberal Democrats, not to mention a Supreme Court that is often at odds with his own vision of the Constitution. Either way, a President Paul is going to have to find common ground and, perhaps, compromise. That means we will probably not be back on the gold standard anytime soon, defund every entitlement and social welfare program, or dismantle every federal agency in existence. On the other hand, we would probably have the most restrained foreign policy since Grover Cleveland and encounter an unprecedented respect for civil liberties from the White House, not to mention a President who will drive a hard bargain on our soaring deficits and budgets. Which brings me to #4...
4) Liberty. Yes, it sounds so easy. I don't have to agree with everything my Representative (proud constituent from TX-14!) says to acknowledge that Dr. Paul recognizes the value of something that hardly anybody notices in Washington DC: liberty. With all of the massive spending, foreign wars, and increasing regulations emanating out of our capitol, it is easy to see the world of difference between Ron Paul and the rest of the Congress-critters we deal with on a day to day basis. Our country is facing myriad problems, but Dr. Paul offers a consistent and simple prescription: freedom. Do we have enough hope left to believe in it?
I hope you do. Please join me in voting for Congressman Ron Paul as the Republican nominee for President.
Daniel Surman is an editor of the electoral politics blog Red Racing Horses. He is a student at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where he studies political science and is a Co-Chairman of the campus College Republican organization. The opinions contained within this piece are his own.