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Dec 27 2011

The Ron Paul conundrum

The Republican primary race is getting truly bizarre. Under normal circumstances, someone with Mitt Romney’s money, credentials, and establishment support should have by now been able to take a solid lead in the race, given the absence of any other major establishment challenger. And yet his levels of support have stayed at a mediocre 25% while successive opponents have been pecking at his heels, sometimes even overtaking him in the polls for short periods. It is clear that while the party establishment has gone one way, the party faithful is not happy with their choice.

The party establishment did not have any serious concerns about Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum winning, rightly seeing them as fringe candidates who were going nowhere. They seemed to get more concerned about the rise of Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich, clearly seeing them as people who could conceivably win the nomination but would flame out in the general election against an incumbent president. The attacks on Cain and Gingrich that sank the candidacy of the former and stalled and, according to some polls, reversed the rise of Gingrich have been to my mind clearly orchestrated by the Republican party establishment. This, along with the slow but steady rate of endorsements of Romney by party leaders, seem designed to send to the party’s base the signal that the time for entertaining romantic notions of finding another suitor is over and they should settle down and go with the judgment of their elders.

But it is the curious candidacy of Ron Paul that is causing the party leadership to totally freak out. The problem with Paul is that he is not a loyal servant of the oligarchy. While some of his policies, such as the desire to dismantle large segments of the government, would benefit the oligarchy by ridding them of some of the oversight and regulations that get in the way of their search for unfettered profits, his articulated philosophy is not based on oligarchic subservience and this makes him an unreliable ally. What is worse, his foreign policy is totally at odds with the other leg of oligarchic interests which is to treat the world as their private property and to use the US military to bring to heel troublesome nations that seek independence of US control. And finally, his attitude that Israel is just another country that should have no special claim to US support, and that the current US policy of unwavering allegiance to it is wrong, has sent the neoconservative elements in the Republican leadership into a tizzy.

By all reasonable measures, the results of the Iowa caucuses next Tuesday should be relatively insignificant, apart from being the first official delegate-selecting process. It is an odd process in a state that is not a good mirror of the country as a whole, and in past years the winners have often not gone on to clinch the nomination. Mike Huckabee won in 2008 and faded soon after. Romney did not do well here in 2008 and initially did not put much effort into it this year. But the media has built it into this huge bellwether of public opinion and now that Gingrich is the latest anti-Romney to falter, there is a real chance the Ron Paul might win it, a possibility that is clearly giving the party leadership nightmares. His involvement with some racist newsletters in the past and the support his policies have received from extremist fringe groups are now being unearthed and publicized and you have to suspect that this is coming from sources within the Republican party who are seeking to sink his candidacy.

In case that effort fails, the message now being promulgated by some is that if Paul wins, all it would signify is that the Iowa caucuses are irrelevant. Meanwhile, others are panicking and suggesting that a Paul surge in Iowa and New Hampshire would indicate the need for the party to find a new dark horse candidate, though it is not clear who would fit the bill.

I have thought from the beginning, and still do, that Romney will be the eventual nominee. I have found that in American politics, a reliable rule of thumb is that the candidate with the most money wins. Romney has the resources to last the pace and grind out a win by steadily accumulating delegates until each of his opponents throw in the towel. Only Paul seems to have the organization to stay with him until the end. It will be an ugly win, like a football game that is decided by defense and penalties, but still a win.

The Paul candidacy raises some important general issues for those who are not partisans. When one is confronted with a politician who has a strict adherence to a particular ideology, and one does not buy into that ideology completely, one finds oneself supporting some policies and opposing others. This is the case with Ron Paul’s brand of libertarianism. Broadly speaking, I like his stances on foreign policy and his libertarian attitudes towards personal rights and freedoms, laud his demands for transparency in the financial sector and the Federal Reserve, but oppose a lot of his other economic and social policies. Unlike Paul, I do not think that the elimination of government is a good thing. The government and the legal system are the only entities that are big enough to act as a counterbalance to the massive power of business over individuals, which is why we should zealously seek to make them independent agencies working for the general welfare and the rule of law.

But how does one weigh the balance and decide if one should vote for such a candidate or not? Conor Friedersdorf looks at the specific issue of the Paul newsletters and the more general issue of how to weigh the good and bad of candidates in making political choices.

It is a long and thoughtful piece.

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