When I initially sat down to write this letter, I tried to focus on the issues. I took each issue one by one, and passionately described how Ron Paul has it right. I talked about how as an Army ROTC Cadet, I feel his foreign policy is the strongest and safest path for America, how’s he’s anything but anti-military and anything but isolationist. Then I talked about the constitution, about free minds and free markets, and the dangers of activist monetary policy and the Federal Reserve. I tried to defend him against the absurd slander about racism, and did my best to shield him from all the other mud being flung his way. I promoted civil liberties, equality under the law, and individual rights.
But when I was finished, I realized what I had written was merely an eloquent endorsement of Ron Paul’s platform. It was well written and informative, and if you already liked Ron Paul it would probably have fired you up. But if you care enough about politics to still be reading this, chances are you’ve already developed your opinions on all those issues, and those opinions probably won’t change because some college kid convinced you otherwise. So I scrapped it. Instead of trying to tell you what to believe, I’d like to try to place what you know already in context. I’d like to provide perspective, rather than just opinion. To do that we need to begin with a miniature history lesson.
“Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice...moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” – Barry Goldwater
Barry Goldwater was another freedom-loving Republican with a propensity for speaking his mind. His beliefs were certainly not analogous to Paul’s, especially on foreign policy, but his platform was socially and economically very similar. More importantly, he saw the direction that big government was taking the country, and dedicated his life to trying to change that direction. In 1964 he ran for president against incumbent Lyndon Baines Johnson, the year after John F. Kennedy was assassinated. After winning a bitterly contested primary (in which a young Newt Gingrich endorsed his competitor) he was attacked by Johnson for being radical and dangerous. In one famous television ad (found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDTBnsqxZ3k ), the Johnson campaign suggested that Goldwater’s policies would lead to a nuclear bomb detonating in the United States. It was devastatingly effective, and sympathy for JFK’s recent assassination also helped Johnson’s campaign. Despite an impassioned endorsement of Goldwater by a young Ronald Reagan (found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qXBswFfh6AY), Johnson won in a landslide.
The short term result was the disastrous Great Society, more burdensome and unsustainable entitlements, the creation of new and unnecessary executive departments, a drastic expansion of the bureaucracy, the Vietnam War, finalizing the break from the Gold Standard and allowing for perpetual manipulation of the money supply.
But more importantly, the 1964 election sent both parties the message that extremism in the defense of liberty was a politically unwise experiment, and that moderation in the pursuit of justice was much safer. Telling the “mainstream” what it wanted to hear could help them get elected much more easily than ideals or principles could, because most Americans didn’t think about those principles in practice very much. Sticking to principle required explaining how your principles applied to the issues; that could get confusing and wasn’t a very catchy campaign slogan. Plus, standing your ground meant that some people might disagree, and without the flexibility to move your position, you’d have no chance to get their vote. So for decades, political parties have focused more on assembling a winning “coalition” than on defending cohesive ideologies. The idea is that if they can give targeted groups of people whatever they want, and can add up enough of those groups to create a majority, they will win the election, which is all that matters to them. The larger, wealthier and more powerful the interest group, the better, because the more that group will help them get reelected.
It’s not that Democrats and Republicans don’t have ideological differences, because they usually do. It’s just that when those beliefs are pitted against what is politically convenient for the furthering of their career, both sides generally choose the latter. When you put so many congressmen with such different beliefs in a room together and ask them to work things out, oftentimes the only things they can agree on are the things which are in their mutual best interests: namely, getting reelected. And they’ve both discovered that the best way to get reelected is to increase their own power, so that they may sell favors to powerful interests in exchange for support. They’ve discovered that the best way to get reelected is to change their positions to whatever’s popular at the time, rather than saying what they believe is best for the country. They’ve discovered that the best way to get reelected is to pander to that mainstream by refusing say anything controversial that might alienate some people, by refusing to stand by what they believe in and instead standing where they believe the electorate will view them most favorably.
The result is that we voters are rarely given a choice between two competing ideologies and asked to pass judgment on which we prefer. Rather, we are given a choice between two ever-evolving parties that continually aim to tell their traditional supporters what they want to hear, and to give their powerful interests what they want. Both are obsessed with poll numbers, perpetually jostling for the “mainstream” middle ground that will grant them enough independents to assemble a majority. No politician dares to say anything that might engender opposition, and none dare to go against what the most powerful interests want.
Unfortunately for us, not everybody can have what they want. We’ve tried that for decades, and look where it’s gotten us? We’ve tried passing “compromises” that feed the most powerful interests on both sides; we’ve AARP massive, ever-growing entitlement programs, the military-industrial complex an ever-growing defense budget, the taxpayers tax cuts, the farm industry subsidies, the auto industry’s a bailout, big companies a favorable regulatory climate, and subprime applicants a cheap loan. Before we know it, we’re 15 trillion dollars in debt. Nobody on either side asks whether these are a good idea, unless it’s politically wise to do so in a grandiose campaign ad. If nobody sees them do the good, they reckon it’s not worth doing; if nobody sees them do the bad, they figure they will be able to get away with it.
If you’re still reading this, chances are I’m preaching to the choir. It’s a pretty big choir! Most people are fed up with this crap, and have been for several years. They see where this “mainstream” politics has taken us, and they want a change from that status quo. They were promised that change four years ago, and they didn’t get it. They are now even more disillusioned now than they were in 2008, but it doesn’t seem to be making any difference. Despite congressional approval ratings consistently below 15% and one of the greatest changeovers in American electoral history, about 86% of congressional incumbents retained their seat in 2010. The most depressing part about this selfishness, greed and dishonesty is that it works. The “public servants” who serve only themselves have a stranglehold on power that seems unbreakable, eternally reminding us of the system’s inherent brokenness. Even politicians who start out with good intentions seem corrupted by power and the desire to keep it, and soon advocate whatever will help them at the polls, whatever will give them popular talking points. All across the country, politicians tell voters whatever they want to hear, and get rewarded for it.
Except, that is, for one. One man has held out. Out of the 536 people who make up Congress and the Presidency, and the thousands who have held those offices for the past four decades, exactly one has consistently resisted this temptation. The Congressman from Texas’ 14th district does not change his stances for political convenience. He never has. He has preached the same message of freedom and constitutionally limited government for his entire 35-year career. He has voted no for every single tax hike. He has voted no for every single pork-barrel spending project. He has voted no for every single proposal that is not within the Federal government’s enumerated constitutional powers, no matter how good that proposal would make him look to mainstream voters. Many times, he has been the only member of either house to do so.
Sometimes, he’s lost winnable elections because of it. But mostly, he’s been ostracized for it. He’s been relegated to the fringe by people who share his core beliefs, just because it was politically dangerous to present those beliefs in such an uncompromising manner. Both parties have distanced themselves from him because they’re afraid of what he’s going to say next. This fear is magnified because they KNOW what he’s going to say next. They know he will say the same thing tomorrow that he said yesterday, and the day before that, and the year before that, and the election cycle before that, and the decade before that. They’re afraid that each time he repeats the same set of beliefs will provide yet another testament to his outright refusal to toe the party line. They’re afraid that each time he opens his mouth, he might be able to convey the conviction that drives him, to portray the principles that guide his every vote and every speech. And mostly, they’re afraid that this will illuminate a distinction between what drives him and what drives them. It is the distinction between one who seeks the preservation of one’s own power, and one who seeks the betterment of the country. It is the distinction between self-service and public service. Politicians on both sides, and the powerful interest groups who depend on their assistance, are afraid of what might happen to their power if enough Americans get that message.
Consequentially, he’s been ignored every time he takes the floor. He’s been given less time at the debates than his competitors. He’s ridiculed as cooky, loony, out-of-touch, unrealistic and impractical, nicknamed “Crazy Uncle Ron” and “Dr. No”. He’s been shunned from the mainstream media and glossed over in reporting on the polls, unmentionable unless followed by the phrase “but there’s no way he could win”. He’s been the butt of every political talk show joke in the books, had his name defiled, been called a racist and a sexist and an Anti-Semite and a homophobe and a lunatic and everything else. In the dirty game of politics he’s had more mud flung at him than just about anybody, yet he trudges on unfazed. Alone and ostracized and insulted and ridiculed, he has fought against the tide for 35 years, guided only by what he believes in his core to be right.
What he believes to be right is freedom, and he has dedicated his entire life to advancing it. In December of 2007, he tried to advance that message by using a historical reference to another group of people who fought for freedom by creating the world’s first ever Tea Party Moneybomb. Many political scholars claim the Tea Party movement, designed to “take back our country” from the self-serving tyrants who dominate it, developed from the surprising success of that event.
And then, a curious thing happened. The theories that his opponents had ridiculed for so long turned into actual events. The predictions he made in 2002, 2006 and 2007 about the collapse of the housing and lending industries came to pass. The economy crashed, and the government used it as justification to increase spending and increase credit and bailout big business and increase its own power: just as this one man had predicted. The war’s overseas escalated and we lost thousands of lives and trillions of dollars in longer-than-expected engagements: just as this one man had predicted. And as the Tea Party movement grew, suddenly the message of a constitutionally limited government didn’t seem so radical. Suddenly other politicians, in their eternal quest for electoral support, began saying the same things that this man had been saying for decades. Instead of changing his beliefs to fit the mainstream, this man waited for the mainstream to come around to his beliefs. At 76, in his last ever political go-round, it finally happened.
That man is Ron Paul, and he is not a perfect candidate. But there is no perfect candidate in this race, and Ron Paul just so happens to be right most of the time. His ideology provides a cohesive, conservative approach to politics that I truly believe is what’s best for this country on nearly all fronts, but the contents of that ideology are almost secondary. What’s more important, what makes him different than nearly everyone else, is that he HAS an ideology! He actually MEANS what he says, and he WILL follow through with it. We know this because he’s been saying it and doing it for the past three and a half decades. We know it because people have gone through hell and high water trying to get him to say otherwise, or at least to just shut up, and each time he simply refuses to do so.
There is no other candidate in recent memory, certainly not in this election, who comes with that guarantee. In four years when 2012’s victor is up for reelection, we don’t know what the economy will be like. We don’t know what the mood of the country will be, or what rhetoric will be received most favorably by the middle ground. We can’t know what will be convenient for other politicians to do, and for that reason we can’t know what they will do. But we can be absolutely certain of what Ron Paul will do, or at least of what he will try to do. Ron Paul will cut a trillion dollars year one. He will decrease the debt, decrease regulation, end crony capitalism, level the playing field and drain the bureaucratic swamp. He will bring the troops home, preserve civil liberties and protect our freedoms from both foreign governments and our own. He will heed the constitution instead of trampling on it, and transform the suddenly mainstream desire to shrink the power of government into actuality.
These are important issues, but there are important issues in every election. Petty squabbles over trivial distractions like the payroll tax or the debt ceiling do not make this year unique. What makes this year unique is that this year, an honest patriot is in the running. The t-shirts his supporters wear don’t say “join the campaign!” because it’s not a campaign; they say “join the Revolution!” Campaigns are movements organized for the primary purpose of winning the election. Ron Paul would like to win the election and he certainly can, but that is not his primary purpose. His primary purpose is to change the way we view politics, to orchestrate a fundamental shift from the maintenance of the establishment to the preservation of liberty. That is a truly revolutionary change, and it’s the same revolution that the protestors at the Boston Tea Party were waging.
If you disagree with some the details of Paul’s policy stances, that’s more than okay. So do I! However, as a former Republican who’s now a libertarian, I do feel you’ll be surprised by how much sense he makes if you give him a chance. There are 11 months left in this campaign, and it’s gonna be a long haul; there’s plenty of time left for him to work you over like he did me! And even if you reject certain elements of his platform outright, recognize that his winning the election would not automatically make the whole country his libertarian playground. The beauty of the constitution he holds so dear is that it has a system of checks and balances, and no one man can get his way on everything. Besides, there is no such thing as a libertarian tyrant, because once in power libertarians only want to leave you alone!
2012 is a chance to make a statement that lasts long beyond the next four years. A Ron Paul nomination would produce a realigning election that shocked the political status quo and significantly furthered the debate on the proper size of government. The only thing preventing Ron Paul from winning that election is the political talking heads who say he can’t win; the beauty of democracy is that we can decide that for ourselves! Polls show that Paul actually has the best chance against Obama in a head to head, because he is much more likely to convince foreign policy doves, minorities, young people, and disillusioned independents to vote Republican than any other candidate. And while he might anger some traditional Republicans, he wouldn’t anger them enough to vote for Obama!
But even if he doesn’t win, a Paul ticket would help others follow in his footsteps. The more the country flounders over big government policies, the more support is drawn to the ideas of limited government, which is ultimately more important to the historical direction of our country than the economy over the next 4 years. A Paul ticket would attract legions of young people into the Republican party and perhaps even erase the Democratic party’s advantage in that demographic, securing an idealistic core of Republican supporters for decades to come. It would give the party an ideological direction for the future, whereas defeat by any other Republican candidate would simply throw the party back into the confusion and disarray of 2008. And it would pave the way for similarly dedicated freedom fighters to take up the fight, just as Reagan followed Goldwater. In short, voting for Ron Paul sends the message that the principled defense of liberty is no vice, and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue. There is no more patriotic a vote than that.