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Ron Paul and His Enemies

Posted by sverigeidag på februari 3, 2012

After a strong second-place showing in the New Hampshire primary, Ron Paul stood before a young and giddy crowd of supporters. In a near giggle, he spoke of the many detractors who had called his campaign “dangerous.” Paul reveled in their fear. To cheers, he exclaimed, “We are dangerous to the status quo in this country.” The candidate was right about that, if not necessarily in the way he most wanted.

What is it about Paul’s success that frightens his opponents? Not fear that Paul will win the presidency, though polls show him running strongly against Obama. Unlike his rivals, Paul hardly pretends the White House is a goal. On the stump he emphasizes the goal of building the cause of liberty. Libertarian ideas in domestic policy have had a secure place in the GOP for more than a generation, though Paul has widened the channels for their discussion. Yet when Paul began to rise in the pre-caucus Iowa polls—by mid-December, it seemed possible he would win the state—a shudder of panic ran through the neoconservative commentariat. What drove it? The answer had little to do with the cause dearest to Ron Paul.

A week before New Hampshire, after placing third in Iowa, Paul thanked his backers and referred to Nixon’s famous “We are all Keynesians now” statement. He asked whether people would soon be saying, “We are all Austrians now.” What tiny fraction of the national television audience, some seeing Ron Paul for the first time, had any idea what he was talking about?

Ron Paul was a student at Duke University’s medical school when he first read Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, a classic argument for laissez-faire capitalism. The book propelled Paul into study of “the Austrians,” especially the work of Hayek’s mentor Ludwig von Mises. In 1971, after serving as an Air Force surgeon, Paul was practicing obstetrics outside Houston when he drove to hear a lecture by the 80-year-old Mises, who had found refuge here from Nazism in 1940. Shortly thereafter, Richard Nixon closed the gold window and imposed wage and price controls, and Ron Paul decided that someone—himself, actually—needed to bring Mises’s understanding of sound money and free markets to a larger American audience. In his first congressional campaign, a 1974 losing effort, he ran on a platform of “Freedom, Honesty, and Sound Money”; Paul thereafter began his secondary career as an author and publisher of economic newsletters spreading the Austrian message.

Once elected to Congress in 1976, Paul gained renown as an uncompromising “Dr. No” who refused to vote for any federal program not explicitly sanctioned by the Constitution. Admired for his integrity—and in recent years, for his antiwar stands—his passion for sound money was more respected than influential. But the bursting of the housing bubble in 2008 multiplied the audience for systematic critiques of the financial system. Since 2002, Paul had given repeated warnings that Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, by soaking up unsound money injected into the economy by the Federal Reserve, were preparing an economic calamity that would strip homeowners of their savings and ruin banks. His warnings proved prophetic, and as they were replayed on cable news, Paul gained new stature within the GOP. In 2009, The Atlantic called him the Tea Party’s “Marx and Madison,” an exaggeration but far from a falsehood.

Important as Paul’s bubble warnings were, sound-money doctrine by itself would not have enabled him to build the movement he now leads. Virtually alone among prominent Republicans, Paul opposed the Iraq War, and alone among the current presidential candidates, he stands against sanctions and military threats against Iran. He has long opposed all foreign aid, a position with important implications for the special relationship with Israel, in per capita terms by far the most favored recipient of Washington’s largesse.

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