October 26, 2007

In spite of his honesty, Paul is wrong for President

Don’t Google Ron Paul. Despite what the obnoxious student campaign insists (with its ubiquitous “Google Ron Paul” posters and chalkings that, to me at least, imply something fantastic is going to happen when you perform said Googling), your Google time is much better spent finding out if anyone with your name is more famous than you. (Incidentally, I am still being handily defeated by a woefully unfunny daily comic strip entitled “Zack Hill,” as well as a fellow in Houston who is serving jail time for e-mail fraud.) Ron Paul, on the other hand, is unworthy. Despite his admirable idealism, he would make a terrible president and is not deserving of our money, attention, or web-browser time.

The first thing to note about Ron Paul is that he is almost comically principled. A Republican Congressman from Texas and former doctor who is now running for president, Paul shockingly votes for what he believes in. Adamantly pro–free trade, he frequently opposes farm subsidies, despite representing a large number of farmers in his Texas district. Also against just about any type of “big government,” he voted against sending FEMA hurricane relief to his own district in the wake of Katrina. A strict non-interventionist, Paul has twice been the sole congressman opposing resolutions condemning the genocide in Darfur.

Furthermore, unlike people who identify as libertarians because they like using a big word to describe themselves, Paul is a sincere supporter of limited government. Looking at the list of government agencies he wishes to disband, it takes a few seconds to think of any he would actually leave in place. (Paul would like to end the reigns of terror of the IRS, the Department of Education, the Department of Energy, the Department of Homeland Security, FEMA, the Interstate Commerce Commission, and the Federal Reserve.)

Paul’s problem, however, is that he is too principled. In a country where politicians like Mitt Romney seem willing to say or do anything to get elected, it is refreshing that someone like Ron Paul refuses to compromise his beliefs whatsoever, even at the cost of becoming a credible presidential candidate. And yet, what Paul fails to grasp is that politics has to involve a heavy dose of compromise if government is to be effective. In a democracy, policies and ideas can almost never be implemented by decree. As Hillary Clinton learned from her health care debacle in 1994, even people who agree with you can be turned off by rigid steadfastness.

It is hard to be excited at the prospect of a scheming cynic like Romney or Clinton taking the White House. Both, however, have proven themselves to be effective at getting legislation created and passed because both are willing to sit down with their opponents and give up some of what they want to produce unexciting, watered-down change. Such results are indeed modest, but they are the best that can be created by a democratic government. It is great that Ron Paul is so avidly pro–free trade that he wants to pull the U.S. out of the WTO and NAFTA (which he sees as promoting “managed trade,” not pure free trade), but is there any doubt that such steadfast beliefs would actually set back free trade by years, if not decades? It’s not surprising that Ron Paul attracts support from U of C students, as both need to learn how to make the transition from theory to reality.

Of course, there is the possibility that Ron Paul is running for president in a deliberate attempt to push the Republican Party toward libertarianism. On the one hand, this is an admirable goal. It is good to have at least a few uncompromising idealists around, if only to ensure that the political hacks don’t come completely unmoored. And yet, I have trouble believing that Ron Paul is running for president in order to subtly affect the policies of whoever wins the nomination. For someone whose rallying cry is that he, above all others, is honest—so honest he refuses to condemn genocide in Congress because it conflicts with his beliefs about the role of the U.S. government in the world—it would be starkly out of character to orchestrate an entire presidential run as part of a political ploy.

And so, Googling Ron Paul is not a good idea. Ron Paul should not be our next president, and U of C students who find Paul worth supporting should try a more honest slogan. Perhaps “Give Ron Paul money, but don’t research him or his positions because he’s scary and uncompromising and from Texas.”

Zack Hill is a fourth-year in the College majoring in NELC. His column appears every other Friday.