The strong showing of presidential hopeful Ron Paul is surprising many conservatives, who find his rigid view of the role of government to be narrow, even extreme. They find his former statements and associates to be questionable if not objectionable. They find his plan to cut the military drastically to be reckless. They find his notion that these cuts be executed by associates of George Soros to be dangerous.
What next − Jane Fonda as secretary of Defense? Why not? Where, exactly, does Paul’s foreign policy of “blame America and excuse its enemies” differ from that of the far Left?
Dr. Paul’s view of national defense dates from 1776, when oceans protected us from invading armies that had to travel in sailing ships. Come to think of it, the oceans didn’t protect us even then. We fought − and barely won − the Revolution and the War of 1812 against British troops who did arrive in sailing ships. A defense policy that didn’t work two centuries ago can hardly be called realistic, much less up to date.
Paul’s view of the Constitution is so restricted and narrow that he must never have heard of the eminent Justice Robert Jackson. Before being appointed to the Supreme Court, Jackson had been chief American prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials, where top Nazi leaders were put on trial. So Jackson knew what he was talking about when he observed:
The choice is not between order and liberty. It is between liberty with order and anarchy without either. There is danger that, if the court does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact.
But Ron Paul seems unaware of this danger. He claims that we dealt “rather well” with Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. This claim would be disputed by the 168 people McVeigh killed. Or was it 169? There was an unattached leg that did not belong to any of the known victims. Arresting and punishing terrorists after the fact is not dealing with terrorism “rather well” − it is failing miserably. But Paul, with his narrow, legalistic approach, can’t understand this basic fact. What would he have done after Pearl Harbor? Sworn out an arrest warrant for Admiral Yamamoto?
So conservatives wonder why many Americans find his views attractive. But the problem should be restated. The question is not why many Americans find Ron Paul’s views attractive. The question is why many Americans find the current direction of our government so unattractive, not to say intolerable:
● Ordering us to buy toilets that flush inadequately and cause sewer blockages.
● Pushing us to buy cars that are lighter, and therefore more dangerous to occupants in a crash.
● Planning to control what medicines and treatments our doctors can give us − or not give us.
Are these appropriate functions for a government that cannot perform its legitimate functions properly? Where, exactly, does the Constitution empower the federal government to do these things? And why did asking this vital question evoke a giggle from then-speaker Nancy Pelosi? When did the Constitution become a source of contempt and ridicule for those sworn to uphold it?
John Kennedy remarked that those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. This may be a corollary of Newton’s Third Law: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. For example, those who make the government objectionable to many people by going too far in one direction will surely evoke a reaction in which those people will go too far in the opposite direction.
It does not require an Einstein to understand that when a pendulum is pushed too far one way, it will swing back the other way with greater force. I believe that is the explanation for Ron Paul’s popularity. Surely it is not his movie-star good looks, his youth, his melodious voice, or his smooth speaking style. Rather, it is his embodying the discontent of so many people with the intrusive, micro-managing, meddling, bullying, overbearing, stifling bureaucracy that our government has become. And it is the reluctance of most other candidates to say so clearly.
There is an old French proverb that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed are kings. And in the land of apologists for big government, even a less attractive candidate will become popular if he speaks up. Thus Ron Paul, who is and looks elderly, and who reminds me of a rigid, demanding, self-righteous schoolteacher, can achieve this much popularity and publicity.
So can you imagine how popular a candidate with the looks and charm of Mitt Romney, the brains of Newt Gingrich, or the toughness of Rick Perry would be − if only he articulated clearly many people’s disgust with ever-larger and more intrusive government? Can you imagine how popular he would be if he spoke up for freedom and against the oppressive, smothering, nanny state? He would win the nomination in a landslide, and have an excellent chance of unseating President Obama in November.
But instead, we have Romney speaking smoothly but unclearly. He tries to explain why RomneyCare is a good idea for Massachusetts, but ObamaCare is a bad idea for America. He tries to explain why he was pro-choice and anti-gun, but now he is pro-life and pro-gun. He tries to explain why he was for same-sex marriage, but now he is against it. But even the smoothest of speakers would have difficulty explaining those contradictions.
And we have Gingrich speaking with intelligence but also unclearly. He tries to explain how his myriad of innovative ideas would not lead to an even greater expansion of government. But even the most intelligent of speakers would have difficulty explaining that contradiction.
And we have the other candidates speaking with varying degrees of clarity, but still failing to express opposition to big government as clearly as does Ron Paul. Rick Santorum comes closest but appeared to have little chance, though at present he seems to be coming on strongly. Michele Bachmann is a close second, but appears to have no chance. This leaves Ron Paul as the chief advocate of limited government − or in his case, extremely limited government.
Conservatives recall President Ford’s warning: “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.” They repeat the Dennis Prager Rule: “The bigger the government, the smaller the citizen.” Talk-show hosts and callers on conservative radio, as well as commentators on Fox News, express similar views daily.
What they are saying, in effect, is this: “Tell the government to keep its nose out of our business, its regulators off our backs, and its hands out of our pockets.” What could be clearer, or more conducive to freedom?
But if rank-and-file conservatives have no problem understanding this key point, why do some Republican candidates have trouble articulating the rationale for a limited government? Is it because they just can’t express themselves clearly, or because they really want a big government − to put into effect their notions of the ideal society? In that case, they are not true conservatives. They are right-wing statists, who are no more friendly to freedom than are left-wing statists.
Napoleon remarked that he didn’t steal the crown of France − he found it lying in the gutter, and picked it up with the point of his sword. Ron Paul didn’t steal the mantle of champion of limited government − he found it lying dusty and unused, and picked it up with his mediocre but to-the-point oratory.
Our duty is to find a more rounded, more realistic, less dogmatic advocate of the limited government that our Constitution requires. Our responsibility is to find someone with the wisdom to balance the ideals of the Founders with the realities of the age of nuclear weapons and fanatical terrorists.
Dr. Stolinsky writes on political and social issues. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. You are welcome to publish or post these articles, provided that you cite the author and website.