Esquire Gives Ron Paul Some Guarded Love, But Still Love


In a very well done long feature story on Ron Paul by John Richardson, Esquire close-focuses in its May issue on the recent CPAC gathering, where Paul won the straw poll of young conservative-ish activists for the second year in a row, to paint a full and compelling picture of the controversial libertarian Republican congressmen, and likely 2012 presidential candidate.

Though Esquire has loved Ron Paul for a long time, in the end the story concludes, rather sadly, that despite his bright and spiritual political idealism, that a Ron Paul world would alas be one with lots of folk starving in the streets. (That's what libertarianism is all about: the philosophy of street starvation, good and hard. This is a widely believed bit of American lore, despite "keeping the poor from starving" being about the least of actual government's concerns.)

Despite how much you might think a mainstream men's mag would have to hate on someone who they believe that of, they manage to be elegaically kind throughout the piece.

It is worth noting, as I have before, that mags like Esquire are almost genetically inclined to be very respectful of every politician they look at closely. Still, that Ron Paul can be Ron Paul and still get this kind of press means we are living in a very different America than we were three years ago.

Random highlights or points of interest. (Note the online version is not the complete story, lacking among other things the "shame it would all lead to starving in the street" conclusion):

See, it's not about him. Ron Paul doesn't think that way. It's about this neat idea, principles versus incrementalism. That's why he's taken more lonely stands than any other politician in American history: against the Iraq war even though he's a Republican, against the Defense of Marriage Act even though he's a conservative Christian, against farm subsidies even though he represents a rural district, against the Texas Medical Center even though he's from Texas — the list goes on and on. He refused to award congressional medals to Rosa Parks, Ronald Reagan, the Pope, and Mother Teresa. After Hurricane Katrina, he voted against sending federal help to Louisiana.

"Once you say, 'Well, you know, we live in the real world and sometimes you have to give in a little bit,' then you're never yourself, you're never your own person, and they'll badger you to death. So it's much easier for me to follow a set of principles than fussin' and fumin' on knowing exactly when you're supposed to throw in the towel."….

The kids love him:

To the people who say this is wildly impractical, that the whole point of democracy is to make compromises, that you can measure his irrelevance in his long record of lonely votes, the congressman has an irrefutable answer. "It depends on how you measure effectiveness. If you want to pass a law just to say you can pass a law and say, 'I passed ten bills last year,' that's one way to measure effectiveness. The other way is to establish a record and send the message and get people to join you and maybe change people's thinking in the long term. I would say I'm more long term. The next election has never been of much interest to me — it was the next generation that I cared about."

The next generation is on the other side of the blue curtain [cheering for him at CPAC]. RON PAUL! RON PAUL! RON PAUL!…….

His relevance is undeniable:

The Republican leaders who are putting on this show have been as startled as the rest of the country at the sudden potency of once marginal ideas. But to the kids, it's obvious. This is Ron Paul's moment. He's been warning for forty years that easy money would lead to economic collapse, then easy money led to economic collapse. He warned that the Iraq war would be an expensive and bloody mistake, and the Iraq war was an expensive and bloody mistake. He spent forty years asking Congress to follow a strict interpretation of the Constitution and investigate the Federal Reserve, and now there's a powerful freshman class of Republicans pushing a strict interpretation of the Constitution and an investigation of the Federal Reserve. In 2009, he slipped an amendment into the Wall Street — reform legislation that forced the Federal Reserve to release the details of thousands of secret loans it made during the 2008 financial crisis — the Korea Development Bank? Caterpillar? — and suddenly polls started showing that Americans disliked the Fed even more than the IRS. …..He's been called the "Tea Party's brain," and his son Rand is called the "senator from the Tea Party," and all day long the speakers seemed to have been participating in a Ron Paul soundalike competition…..To a movement that fetishizes the Founders' act of rebellion over a tea tax, Ron Paul is the founding father.

He's inspiring and all, but he would strike a blow at American greatness!

Words that other politicians used like screeches of chimpanzee code, Paul actually meant and could explain so that everything from the economic collapse to marijuana legalization to terrorism actually connected and made sense. Like the words on everyone's lips these days, small government. The way Ron Paul explains it, the U. S. Constitution was all about setting up a balance of powers in order to prevent a recurrence of government tyranny, a purpose emphasized by the Bill of Rights. The underlying principle was freedom. But there was a birth defect, in Paul's view, and that was Alexander Hamilton's success at pushing the other Founders down the path of centralized federal control. He doesn't care that it was a powerful American government, based in Washington and willing to invest in its people, that ultimately made the United States into the world-historic power that it is today, with a huge economy and a vast middle class. Nor does he care that it was that strong central government that ensured the survival of the young country, which was on the brink of failure without it. Nor does he care that the U. S. Constitution actually came into existence to take power away from the states, leaving them but the scraps in the vestigial Tenth Amendment. And he doesn't care that it was actually the sainted Jefferson who executed the Louisiana Purchase (unconstitutional in Paul's view), which doubled the size of the country. If we had stuck to what Congressman Paul views as our founding principles, we would have undoubtedly been a smaller and poorer and less consequential country, but also purer and freer and more peaceful. It's a trade he is willing to make.

The heart of why this is the Ron Paul Revolutionary Moment:

Any observer of the news can see how many of Paul's preoccupations have become central themes to the public debate — the Jeffersonian view of the Constitution, the revisionist claim that liberals made the Depression worse, the hostility toward bankers awkwardly stitched to a celebration of capitalism, the idea that there is something both impractical and immoral about taxing the "producers" — impractical because it only stifles them, and immoral because it is theft. The government has no legitimate claim on any citizen's money.

Common as these tropes have become, these are truly revolutionary ideas, which have taken root so firmly that it has become essential conservative thought that any taxation is theft, and that any spending of the public coin is socialism.

The difference is that a lot of conservatives just say this stuff without meaning it. It was conservatives, after all, who said that you can have small government along with two wars and seven hundred overseas military bases. But Ron Paul goes the other way. Philosophical and systematic and pure in a way that young people may be best qualified to understand, he lays bare the contradictions. That is the reason his ideas have spread like hidden veins throughout our culture, the reason he has become such a stunning challenge to the existing order. He means the words that everyone else just uses. He's flinty as a Founder and solid as the gold standard — not just the messenger but also the message.

This is how one of his CPAC fans puts it: "He makes you study economics, history, philosophy — when that light goes off, it lights up everything."

I wrote a Reason cover story at the beginnings of the modern Ron Paul movement back in February 2008.