To the surprise of no one who knows the man's name, David "Unpatriotic Conservatives" Frum has, in the wake of Andrew Sullivan's endorsement, delivered a withering anti-endorsement of Ron Paul for president. Sample:
Some see him as a corrective to militaristic nationalism. Or as a principled champion of limited government. Or as a leader who can curb the excessive influence of social conservatives.
Those perceptions are not very realistic, but leave that pass for now. More to the point–even if true, which they are not, these are not the correctives present-day Republicanism most needs. The thing most wrong with present-day Republicanism is its passivity in the face of the economic crisis, its indifference to the economic troubles of the huge majority of the American population, and its blithe insistence that everything was fine for the typical American worker up until Inauguration Day 2009 or (at the outer bound of the thinkable) the financial crisis of the fall 2008.
It is the lack of concern to the travails of middle-class America that "reform Republicans" should most centrally be concerned with.
And no candidate in this race–ok, except maybe the defunct Herman Cain–has been more persistently, aggressively, and forcefully heedless of those travails than Ron Paul.
Everything else that's wrong with Paul–the paranoia, the crank theories–exists as an adjunct to this first prime fault. And the success of Paul in winning a boutique audience for his message has driven the rest of the field to mimic his crank monetary theories. In the midst of the worst crisis since the 1930s, the one thing that all the current and former first-tier candidates have agreed upon (even Mitt Romney!) is the need for tighter money and higher interest rates. That should seem obviously nuts, and not in a theoretical or marginal way that denying evolution is nuts. The press for tighter money and higher interest rates now is the kind of nutty thing that a government can actually do–and that would inflict severe, immediate real-world harm on the US and world economy.
There's much to dislike about Ron Paul's politics, and I dislike every bit of it. (It's maybe remote from current concerns, but at a minimum, I have no patience for a professed libertarian who openly prefers the slaveholding cause in the US Civil War.)
But the Ron Paul problem is bigger than Ron Paul. The real shame is the gravitational pull Paul exerts on exactly those people, like Andrew Sullivan, but many others too, who ought to be leading the fight for a GOP more attuned to the challenges and aspirations of middle-class America–but who have been attracted via Ron Paul to an ideological cure even worse than the right's present political disease.
There is no hyperlink on that "openly prefers the slaveholding cause in the US Civil War." A Google search leads me to this Paul interview with Bill Maher, in which the lifelong anti-war advocate asserts that "the Civil War wasn't fought over slavery," and avers that there were better options for ending the peculiar institution, formulations that he also gave in 2007 on Meet the Press. Here's the relevant part of the Maher interview:
I disagree with Paul's assertion that the Civil War wasn't fought over slavery (read Charles Oliver's classic 2001 Reason piece arguing the contrary), and I think his revisionist counter-proposal to have the North buy up the South's slaves sounds more than a bit naive, but none of that sounds to me like an open preference for "the slaveholding cause." Being against wars does not mean being in favor of the other side. It would be a queer thing indeed to favor the cause of slaveholding in one breath, while denouncing slavery-era Supreme Court justifications for slavery in the next.
Reason on the Civil War here, on Ron Paul here, and on David Frum here, including his supporting role in my recent essay on "The Simpletons: David Brooks, Thomas L. Friedman, and the banal authoritarianism of do-something punditry." Brian Doherty had a relevant piece about "The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Libertarian" back in April 2007.