Don’t Endorse Ron Paul
Andrew Sullivan declares himself for Ron Paul as the GOP presidential nominee, as he did in 2008 as well.
As Andrew himself jokes, the Sullivan endorsement is more likely to hurt Paul than help him. In any event, there is precisely zero likelihood of Paul winning the GOP nomination, although he may well help to stop Gingrich from winning it. Paul is inescapably a boutique candidate, appealing to a very particular fringe within the GOP.
But here’s what does need discussing, in the wake of Andrew’s endorsement of Paul.
Paul has had an outsize appeal to writers and intellectuals dissatisfied with the present state of Republicanism.
Some see him as a corrective to militaristic nationalism. Or as a principled champion of limited government. Or as a leader who can curb the excessive influence of social conservatives.
Those perceptions are not very realistic, but leave that pass for now. More to the point—even if true, which they are not, these are not the correctives present-day Republicanism most needs. The thing most wrong with present-day Republicanism is its passivity in the face of the economic crisis, its indifference to the economic troubles of the huge majority of the American population, and its blithe insistence that everything was fine for the typical American worker up until Inauguration Day 2009 or (at the outer bound of the thinkable) the financial crisis of the fall 2008.
It is the lack of concern to the travails of middle-class America that “reform Republicans” should most centrally be concerned with.
And no candidate in this race—ok, except maybe the defunct Herman Cain—has been more persistently, aggressively, and forcefully heedless of those travails than Ron Paul.
Everything else that’s wrong with Paul—the paranoia, the crank theories—exists as an adjunct to this first prime fault. And the success of Paul in winning a boutique audience for his message has driven the rest of the field to mimic his crank monetary theories. In the midst of the worst crisis since the 1930s, the one thing that all the current and former first-tier candidates have agreed upon (even Mitt Romney!) is the need for tighter money and higher interest rates. That should seem obviously nuts, and not in a theoretical or marginal way that denying evolution is nuts. The press for tighter money and higher interest rates now is the kind of nutty thing that a government can actually do—and that would inflict severe, immediate real-world harm on the US and world economy.
There’s much to dislike about Ron Paul’s politics, and I dislike every bit of it. (It’s maybe remote from current concerns, but at a minimum, I have no patience for a professed libertarian who openly prefers the slaveholding cause in the US Civil War.)
But the Ron Paul problem is bigger than Ron Paul the candidate. The real shame is the gravitational pull Paul exerts on exactly those people, like Andrew Sullivan, but many others too, who ought to be leading the fight for a GOP more attuned to the challenges and aspirations of middle-class America—but who have been attracted via Ron Paul to an ideological cure even worse than the right’s present political disease.