Ron Paul's Appeal

Friday, January 11, 2008

NEW HAMPSHIRE did not produce a breakthrough for Republican presidential aspirant Ron Paul. The libertarian congressman from Texas got only 8 percent of the vote in the Granite State, despite its "live free or die" tradition. This was slightly worse than his showing in the Iowa caucuses. Still, the enthusiasm of Mr. Paul's supporters -- one of the more remarkable phenomena of the campaign -- seemed undiminished. There they were Tuesday night, cheering as he promised to continue his long-shot bid and his demand for immediate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Having raised $28 million, mostly on the Internet, Mr. Paul can afford to soldier on -- possibly on a third-party ticket in November.

Mr. Paul's campaign illustrates the political power of new technology, and some are inclined to stand back and admire it. Jay Leno, for example, hosted Mr. Paul on his show, using the time to commiserate about his exclusion from a recent Republican debate on the Fox News network. But when journalists take Mr. Paul seriously enough to actually probe his ideas, what they find is pretty strange. On Dec. 23, Tim Russert of "Meet the Press" elicited Mr. Paul's view that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was an affront to private property rights, and that Abraham Lincoln started the Civil War to "get rid of the original intent of the republic." The New Republic recently reviewed back issues of newsletters published under Mr. Paul's name during the 1980s and '90s; it discovered crude attacks on gays, blacks and Jews, including the observation that the 1992 Los Angeles riot ended because "it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks." Mr. Paul has said that the newsletters do not represent his beliefs, because they were ghost-written products he "did not edit."

Though his campaign may owe its energy to 21st-century technology, Ron Paul is no innovator. To all the difficult questions of a complicated, interdependent world, he offers pretty much the same prescription that such right-wing American isolationists as Patrick J. Buchanan have offered in the past: The nation must disengage from international affairs so as to concentrate on the real enemies at home. To be sure, Mr. Paul, who would end the war on drugs, does not seem to want a Buchanan-style culture war. His demonology, inspired by idiosyncratic economic theories, centers on the Federal Reserve Board, as well as "elites" who might be plotting something he calls "the NAFTA superhighway" across Texas. Mr. Paul proposes a "golden rule" for foreign policy -- treat other countries as we would have them treat us. But as Mr. Russert forced him to admit, this bromide offers no help in such real-world scenarios as a North Korean invasion of South Korea, a democratic country with which we trade $72 billion worth of goods each year. Mr. Paul implied that it would be none of our business.

Mr. Paul goes so far as to express understanding of Osama bin Laden's antipathy toward U.S. military bases in Saudi Arabia, which, Mr. Paul says, created the "incentive" for the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. "It's sort of like if you step in a snake pit and you get bit," he told Mr. Russert. "Who caused the trouble?" During the Cold War, the late Jeane Kirkpatrick chided Democrats for "blaming America first" in foreign policy. That may or may not have been apt. But in 2008, there is one candidate to whom her words definitely apply: Republican Ron Paul.

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