Ron Paul. The mere utterance of his name elicits strong responses in so many people. It makes sense, when you think about it. This is a man whose political principles boil down to the easily understood precepts of classical libertarianism. Because it’s easily understood, people can easily discern whether or not they share his belief. Those who do share it will almost universally share it in a deep, visceral way. Similarly, those who do not share it will have a deep, visceral dislike of it, and thus of him.
Ronald Earnest “Ron” Paul is an obstetrics/gynecology physician who became a politician when he heard that the United States was finalizing its severance from the gold standard. The end of the Bretton Woods system so offended his Austrian School sensibilities that he moved to politics to affect future fiscal policy.
Though he lost an election in 1974 in the 22nd Congressional District in Texas, he was subsequently elected to the seat in the April 1976 special election, when the incumbent, Robert R. Casey, was tapped by Gerald Ford to head the Federal Maritime Commission. He held the seat for a mere half-year before being defeated by Democrat Robert Gammage in a photo-finish election. Undeterred, he ran again in 1978 and beat Gammage to retake the seat.
He ran for the United States Senate in 1984, lost to Phil Gramm in the primary, and returned to medicine. His seat was taken by an exterminator who would later become famous, and ultimately infamous: Tom DeLay.
Four years later, Paul briefly reentered politics as the Libertarian Party Presidential candidate. His stated goal was not to become President, but rather to spread the gospel of libertarianism. In the general election, he garnered more votes than any other third-party candidate, though his 0.5% showing is well below the margin of error for the election technology of the time.
He subsequently stayed out of political elections for eight years. The Gingrich takeover of Congress led Paul to run for office representing Texas Congressional District 14, believing that the popular support for the Contract with America was a sign that the public was ready to support more libertarian policy. He didn’t count on being opposed by the Republican Party establishment, whose strategy in the South, including Texas, involved converting Dixiecrat-style Democrats to Republicans. In TX-14, that meant supporting Democrat-turned-Republican Greg Laughlin. Despite having to fight against the party’s leadership, Ron Paul defeated Laughlin in the primary, and then went on to take the seat in a close general election. He has comfortably retained the seat ever since.
Paul has built a reputation of supporting principles over politics, focusing his attention on driving party policy by a combination of Austrian School economic policies and classical libertarianism. The former led him to blame the withdrawal from Bretton Woods for the high inflation rates in the 1970s (he has similar concerns about inflation today). The latter has led him to support drug legalization*, in opposition to the national party platform.
He has long supported term limits…at least in theory. His justification for continuing to run for reëlection is that term limits are meaningful only if they apply to everyone equally. By this logic, self-imposed term limits only serve to remove term limit supporters from Congress. Whether or not this is a form of rationalization is a matter of debate. Unsurprisingly, Paul’s supporters consider it a perfectly legitimate justification.
He has repeatedly supported decreasing Congressional pay, and is one of only two members of Congress who have pledged to refuse to collect his government pension.
Ron Paul is a prolific and Quixotic bill sponsor, regularly introducing legislation to enact term limits, abolish the income tax, abolish the Federal Reserve, defund some government agency, or implement some other libertarian sort of policy. Few have made it out of committee, let alone been passed into law. This is a sign that he intends to affect change not by making it happen directly, but rather by getting others to talk about it, think about it, and eventually come around to his way of thinking.
This is the crux of what Ron Paul means as a candidate for President. In the Republican primary polls, he has consistently shown support in the 7–8% range. And yet, he performs much better in straw poll after straw poll. What accounts for this?
Simply put, Ron Paul is an artisan candidate.
Imagine for a moment that we were talking about the market for cheese. Beecher’s Cheese is considered to be among the best cheddars in the world. The macaroni and cheese made from their cheddar is one of Oprah’s Favorite Things. Yet Beecher’s will never have anywhere near the cheddar market share of Kraft. Anyone who really knows cheese knows Kraft shouldn’t even be spoken in the same sentence as Beecher’s, and cheese enthusiasts will come out in droves to spread that message. But in the daily dairy war at the supermarket, Kraft is the go-to brand.
So it is with elections for President. The winning candidate has to have the generic national appeal of Kraft, even at the expense of being a closer match for those “in the know” who prefer artisan candidates. The artisan candidate will have extraordinarily enthusiastic support from a small segment of the market, while the major brand candidate will typically have lukewarm support from the broad market. This election cycle, Mitt Romney is Kraft, and Ron Paul is Beecher’s.
For Ron Paul supporters, there is good news in the long run. Ben & Jerry’s was an artisan ice cream famous for novelty flavors, and eventually became a minor national player on its own. But, moreover, the interest in artisan ice cream led the major national brands to create more novelty flavors of their own. In a very real sense, Paul isn’t running for President. He’s running to change the long-term platform of the Republican Party, from an increasingly uneasy partnership between big business and religious social conservatives, to one of true fiscal discipline with a light hand on social issues.
In that respect, even as he is losing the race for the nomination, Ron Paul is winning.
*Note: in an earlier version of this article, I erroneously stated that Ron Paul is in favor of legal abortion. In fact, he is adamantly opposed to it. I regret the error.
- Why Ron Paul Matters (lewrockwell.com)
- Ron Paul: “I Want To Legalize Freedom. What’s So Bad About That?” (gunnyg.wordpress.com)
- Republican maverick Ron Paul wins a second straw poll and reminds the critics why he matters (blogs.telegraph.co.uk)
- Muslim newspaper endorses Ron Paul in Michigan (atlasshrugs2000.typepad.com)
- Ron Paul right on health care. It’s not a right, and it’s not a privilege. It’s a good (fauxcapitalist.com)
- Ron Paul Wins SRLC straw poll by landslide! (nyletterpress.wordpress.com)
- Ron Paul wins another straw poll (smacktalkradio.wordpress.com)
- Ron Paul Captures Crucial Ron-Paul’s-Great-Niece Endorsement (slog.thestranger.com)
- Ron Paul CNN New Hampshire Debate Highlights (vortexeffect.net)
- Level Headed Consistency (worthyofthegospel.wordpress.com)
- Tea Party Coalition Endorses Ron Paul !!! (2012patriot.wordpress.com)
- The joke that is the GOP (tjrouill.wordpress.com)
- Ron Paul: Spending Cuts Are Meaningless Without Transparency Into The Shadow U.S. Government Run By The Federal Reserve (xoutsocialism.wordpress.com)
- A Tale of Two Elections (lewrockwell.com)
- Ron Paul has won — The Hill’s Pundits Blog (tomhuff.wordpress.com)
- Ask a Libertarian: “Gary Johnson or Ron Paul?” (reason.com)
- Ron Paul: U.S. should declare ‘bankruptcy’ (via CNN Political Ticker) (richardemanuel.wordpress.com)
- Ron Paul Wants to End Cannabis Prohibition! (thanksilleatithere.wordpress.com)
- Estulin: Elitists Consider Assassinating Ron Paul (via ~ BLOGGER.GUNNY.G.1984 ~ (BLOG & EMAIL)) (gunnyg.wordpress.com)
- The Spectacle of the Republican Primary (nationalirrational.wordpress.com)
- What’s So Hard to Understand About Ron Paul? (gunnyg.wordpress.com)
- Can Ron Paul Really Be Right About Everything? (lewrockwell.com)
- Ron Paul’s big cash goal (via CNN Political Ticker) (techweev.com)