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November 2007
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Ron Paul (updated)

There’s a lot being written about this “fringe” candidate recently, and in some pretty high places. And it’s not just about him, but about the movement his candidacy has spawned. Witness the mostly excellent article by Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie in the Washington Post (and also picked up by other papers)

…it’s clear that a new and potentially transformative force is growing in American politics.
That force is less about Paul than about the movement that has erupted around him — and the much larger subset of Americans who are increasingly disillusioned with the two major political parties’ soft consensus on making government ever more intrusive at all levels, whether it’s listening to phone calls without a warrant, imposing fines of half a million dollars for broadcast “obscenities” or jailing grandmothers for buying prescribed marijuana from legal dispensaries.

Of course, here at Drug WarRant, we’ve been very interested in Paul, if for no other reason than the fact that he is head and shoulders above every other candidate when it comes to drug policy. Yes, there are other good candidates for drug policy reform — most notably Kucinich and Gravel — and the entire Democratic pack has, though not without some caveats, indicated their support for ending federal medical marijuana raids. But nobody else has come out with Paul’s firm resolve and historical consistency for ending the drug war.
Paul has also attracted some strong support from thoughtful sources who don’t agree with many of his views, with articles like this one from the outstanding Glenn Greenwald.

There are, relatively speaking, very few people who agree with most of Paul’s policy positions. In fact, a large portion of Americans — perhaps most — will find something in his litany of beliefs with which they not only disagree, but vehemently so. Paul has a coherent political world-view and states his positions clearly and unapologetically, without hedges, and that approach naturally ensures greater disagreement than the form of please-everyone obfuscation which drives most candidates. […]
Yet that apparent political liability is really what accounts for the passion his campaign is generating: it is a campaign that defies and despises conventional and deeply entrenched Beltway assumptions about our political discourse and about what kind of country this is supposed to be. […]
Regardless of one’s ideology, there is simply no denying certain attributes of Paul’s campaign which are highly laudable. There have been few serious campaigns that are more substantive — just purely focused on analyzing and solving the most vital political issues. There have been few candidates who more steadfastly avoid superficial gimmicks, cynical stunts, and manipulative tactics. There have been few candidates who espouse a more coherent, thoughtful, consistent ideology of politics, grounded in genuine convictions and crystal clear political values. Here is what Jon Stewart said to Paul on The Daily Show:

You appear to have consistent principled integrity. Americans don’t usually go for that.

And yes, there has been vehement disagreement. Some of it is legitimate disagreement with Paul’s viewpoints on immigration, foreign affairs, abortion, etc. Some is disagreement based on the intellectually dishonest tactic of taking a principled position against federal government intrusion and calling it a hatred of education, the environment, etc. without looking at the entire picture of a balanced libertarian argument. And some is character assassination through attempting illegitimate smears and the politics of association with unsavory supporters (something that I understand a little too well, having been an “unsavory supporter” of a candidate in the past). Glenn Greenwald has also addressed some of the smears in this post.
But what about the legitimate differences you may have with some of Paul’s positions. Are these not sufficient reasons to dismiss him? In my view, no.
First of all, in the reality of politics, his candidacy still has no realistic chance of succeeding. Which means that fears over whether President Paul will somehow overturn Roe v. Wade are premature. Even in some fantasy-based alternate universe, where Ron Paul becomes President, the notion that Congress would bend down and drop their pants for him like they have for Bush is beyond the realm of Sci-Fi. A Ron Paul presidency would probably be four years of vetoing Congress, which would mean that our law-happy representatives would need a 2/3 majority to pass any more laws subjugating us. Doesn’t sound bad to me. Even Ron Paul has often stated that many of his positions are idealistic and couldn’t happen overnight. No President, for example, has the power (yet) to walk into office and abolish the IRS. But a President with Paul’s views, while being unable to single-handedly end the drug war, would be able to force the nation to start talking seriously about reform (and could certainly directly affect how the drug war is prosecuted by the federal government).
Supporting Ron Paul, even knowing he has little chance of winning the Presidency, also insures that important topics are debated in this election cycle. Without Paul, we’re likely to have nothing but poll-driven pablum and politically crafted ambushes. (And unlike Kucinich and Gravel, Paul has been able to get noticed, partly due to his fervent supporters, and partly due to the fact that he is a Republican so clearly at odds with where the Republican Party has gone.)
But there’s one additional reason to support Ron Paul.
In recent years, the United States has undergone a very frightening lurch toward authoritarianism. Checks and balances have been weakened drastically. The concept of government of/by/for the people is considered quaint. And now there is no major party even pretending to care about reigning in the power and size of the federal government.
These are reasons why Ron Paul must and cannot win.
Sure, there are a couple of candidates saying some of the right things. Chris Dodd’s Restoring the Constitution Act is an important baby step. But Ron Paul really believes in the Constitution. And without that, we the people don’t even get a chance to insure that our voices are heard on other important issues, such as foreign policy, immigration, and abortion.
Update: Peripherally related: See Matt Simon’s article today Kucinich ‘Admires’ Paul, Says Drug Problem Requires ‘Compassion and Wisdom’.
Further update: Speaks for itself

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