Mises Daily Articles
Ron Paul's Campaign of Ideas
Kevin D. Williamson doesn't quite know what to make of Dr. Ron Paul. Mr. Williamson is deputy managing editor of National Review magazine and noted columnist therewith. In addition, he is the author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism, which did point by point to socialism what the Romans did to Carthage. In his recent NR cover essay "Ron Paul's Last Crusade," Mr. Williamson writes, "I doubt that there's anybody at National Review who is closer to Ron Paul politically than I am." Nevertheless, he finds much that bothers him about some of the Ron Paul supporters and even Ron himself — what he calls "Ron's Ronness."
I believe that Mr. Williamson's concern over the background and fervor of some of Dr. Paul's supporters can be dismissed as not of Dr. Paul's making or concern. What politician can spurn the support of those who agree with him on important campaign issues because they also hold somewhat out-of-the-mainstream or even odious views about noncampaign topics? Dr. Paul graciously accepts the support of the John Birch Society, for instance, but that in no way obligates him to endorse their conspiracy theories about plots to replace American sovereignty with a one-world government. I've heard this concern from many people who have never heard of the John Birch Society, and I would be surprised if Mr. Williamson has not heard the same. There is no doubt that many of Dr. Paul's campaign workers are young, idealistic, and perhaps dogmatic — as is often the case with the young. For instance, Mr. Williamson relates a conversation with a "well-spoken young woman" who did not handle very well his question of why Dr. Paul's ideas were not all that popular. Is this really something for which Dr. Paul should be criticized? I think not.
So what about "Ron's Ronness"? Mr. Williamson admires many of Dr Paul's personal campaign traits; for example, that Dr. Paul almost never talks about himself or uses his family as props. His main beef is that Dr. Paul works any question around to the evils of fiat money and the unsustainable American military empire, which he is convinced will be the death of our liberty if not the death of the nation itself. But why is this a problem? Frankly, I see it as an indictment of our modern personality-centered campaigns of appearance over substance. American politics has been plagued by this phenomenon since 1928 when that new gadget the radio caused the electorate to be repelled by the Bronx accent of New York governor and Democratic candidate Al Smith. Then it became enshrined as gospel following the first-ever presidential TV debates, when Nixon's five o'clock shadow and JFK's Hollywood good looks might have tilted the 1960 election to JFK.
By contrast Dr. Paul harkens back to the days of the front-porch campaigns of the late 19th to the early 20th centuries and even further back to the noncampaigning of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. The front-porch campaign was inaugurated in 1880 when candidate and later president James Garfield sat on his front porch and answered reporters' questions. The last such campaign was by candidate and later president Warren Harding in 1920. Abraham Lincoln didn't even go that far. He refused all interview requests during the dangerous 1860 campaign out of fear that he would say something not quite as he wished, which could then be used against him. He advised all those requesting interviews to study his many published speeches and position papers on all important campaign subjects. Dr. Paul has assembled such a campaign document in his recently released book Liberty Defined: Fifty Essential Issues That Affect Our Freedom. One could decide whether or not to vote for Dr. Paul simply by reading this book. Every topic that one could imagine is there — in simple, clear, unambiguous yet subtle writing. Dr. Paul himself explains that decades of thought went into this book. Do we really need anything else? How important, really, is the candidate's looks, speaking style, wit, or charm to the great issues that he will face? I say, not important at all.
Every interview with Dr. Paul eventually concludes with an attack on our monetary system for the simple reason that that is what is likely to destroy our liberties and possibly the nation itself, not al Qaeda nor the Iranians nor the North Koreans. Dr. Paul is a highly respected and much-published Austrian economist. He has warned the nation about the dangers of fiat money and fractional-reserve banking since he entered politics after Nixon took the nation off the last tenuous ties to the gold standard. His presidential campaign is a campaign of ideas. It is a true intellectual crusade, not because he calculated that that might get him elected but because an intellectual campaign is the only kind of campaign that can save us.
It is an honest campaign, too. Unlike that of the typical politician who carefully tailors his speeches to match the prejudices or vested interests of his audience, Dr. Paul's message is always the same: fractional-reserve banking and fiat money are violations of historic legal principles. Their inherent fraud is revealed in frequent boom-and-bust business cycles, which wipe out the honest savings of the people. Rather than prosecute such practices as fraud, the government allowed bankers and businessmen to conspire to create an institution that would shield them from the consequences of their fraud. That institution is the central bank; here in America it is called the Federal Reserve Bank. Although the central bank can protect the bankers and their politically connected businessmen by becoming a lender of last resort, the central bank cannot stop the workings of economic law, which demands that someone, somewhere bear the loss of its wealth-redistribution effects and capital destruction. That loss is borne by the rest of us.
Dr. Paul is like a passenger on the Titanic who understands that proceeding full steam ahead through iceberg-infested waters is fraught with danger, while the captain and crew are engaged in schmoozing passengers about the ship's finery and promising that they are part of a record-setting trans-Atlantic voyage. All is going well. The ship is making great progress. She is the finest product of modern engineering. She is unsinkable! Wait — what is that big, white thing up ahead? Too late. Too late.