For the first time in his 2012 presidential campaign, and the third time ever, Ron Paul visited The Daily Show on Sept. 26 where host Jon Stewart—who certainly leans left and tends to mock right—was endearingly respectful of the Texas Congressman; so much so that Stewart spent several minutes of the interview sarcastically urging Paul to advocate war with Iran and start flip-flopping on issues in order to get more media attention.
Certainly a little credit for Ron Paul's recent press goes to Stewart, who has mocked Paul, but earlier in August took some time to brilliantly rant that Paul was being treated like "the 13th floor in a hotel," even after he came in a close second in the Ames, Iowa straw poll. (Paul himself later hat-tipped Stewart.)
In the Monday interview Paul was genial—as was Stewart—and was his usual, earnest, mostly on-point self. It was nice to see him get more time and more relaxed format than having to cram lectures on sound money into seconds of debate time.
Paul said some overtly libertarian things such as "I fear the wars on drugs a lot more than I fear the drugs themselves." And Stewart pushed Paul on legalizing heroin (in a less contemptuous version of the GOP debate moderator's standby of "really, you believe that?") and his defense of pure capitalism.
One of Stewart's final questions, "So oppression is not okay for the federal level, but when your state wants to oppress you –?" was a good one because it showed Stewart not just interviewing in incredulous circles, and because it highlighted something even libertarians and mixed Paul sympathizers have worried over.
Around the internet, the third meeting of everyone's favorite liberal moderate populist and everyone's favorite libertarian Republican provoked different responses than Stewart's genuine respect for Paul's consistency. Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic somewhat sympathetically said the too-principled Paul can't get the nomination and wrote, (with some implied fears of a small government dystopia, or at least a mess):
One reason I'd be more comfortable voting for President Gary Johnson than President Ron Paul is that I've studied how he governed. In New Mexico, Gov. Johnson inherited a state that looked dramatically different than the one he'd have created if he was inventing things from scratch. But his principled skepticism of certain state agencies didn't result in a dysfunctional bureaucracy or a citizenry suddenly faced with pothole filled streets and garbage collecting on the sidewalks.
Not all commentators were so delicate. The American Prospect's Paul Waldman is offended by the left's occasional Paul sympathies on issues like the Middle East or the drug war. So he got right down to it with the headline "Ron Paul, Crazy Person." Waldman's core objections are illustrated with this Paul quote from the The Daily Show interview:
The regulations are much tougher in a free market, because you cannot commit fraud, you cannot steal, you cannot hurt people, and the failure has come that government wouldn't enforce this. In the Industrial Revolution there was a collusion and you could pollute and they got away with it. But in a true free market in a libertarian society you can't do that. You have to be responsible. So the regulations would be tougher.
Except that Paul also said in the interview:
I think the environment would be better protected by strict property rights…All you have to say is you have no right to pollute your neighbor's property, water, air, or anything and you wouldn't have the politicians writing the laws and exempting certain companies. They come, they write the laws, then they exempt themselves and then they trade permits to pollute the air.
You could get into some good libertarian debates about environmentalism (go ahead, commenters), but Paul was trying to define cronyism and did fairly well there, in a way that could potentially appeal to the more leftish. But Waldman preferred the previous quote which better fit his interpretation of Paul—who was obviously saying a world of low-to-no government would be a utopia.
Paul is generally treated like the eccentric but cute uncle in the presidential race, and liberals favorably inclined toward Paul's views on defense and foreign policy are less likely to criticize him than they are some other Republican candidates. But we don't say often enough that his views about economics are every bit as bizarre and extreme as Michele Bachmann's views on the Rapture or Rick Perry's views on Social Security.
Finally, a September 27 Los Angeles Times post points to a new CNN poll and sums up just how baffled some people are by this Paul-is-serious-stuff:
If you are looking for signs of President Obama's vulnerability, there are plenty to be found in the latest CNN poll. But one number stands out: If that hypothetical election were held tomorrow, Obama would beat Ron Paul—yeah, that Ron Paul—by just four points.