Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) is the last man standing in the Republican presidential race besides presumptive victor Mitt Romney, even after a strategy statement misunderstood by many as "dropping out." Since that announcement, Paul has won his second state, Minnesota (Maine was the first), and is on target to end up controlling presidential voting delegations in such states as Iowa, Louisiana, and Missouri. Far from fading as a cultural force, Paul continues to draw huge crowds, sometimes over five thousand students, on campuses as well.
As the presidential field has shaped up to a certain Obama vs. Romney in the major parties, the desire for a challenger championing either the serious right or serious progressive left grows. And Ron Paul—though he continues to deny any third party plans and his political machine has clearly hitched itself to the GOP for now—is strangely a viable candidate for either role, should he choose to accept it.
Paul is in many ways the rightest of right wingers, with his desire to kill the income tax, end government interference in medical care, and get to a balanced budget in three years with no tax hikes. A third party Paul, should he make such a radical choice, would provide a choice for right-wingers dissatisfied with Romney's small-government bonafides.
Yet despite Paul's impeccable Tea Party credentials on tax and spending issues, he would be an even more appealing choice to progressives dissatisfied with President Obama. Even while running for the GOP presidential nod, Ron Paul has presented a political vision in many respects to the left of the Democratic Party.
President Obama wants to continue and expand every aspect of the war on drugs, including the war on state-legal medical marijuana operations. Paul thinks government attempts to arrest people for actions that harm only themselves are inherently illegitimate. Obama's administration has set records in deportations. Paul mocks border walls as un-American in Republican candidate debates.
Obama approves of enormous bailouts to huge financial institutions, and his administration's high-level economic planning is run almost entirely by insiders from such institutions. Ron Paul is opposed to what he (and leftists) calls "crony capitalism." Paul's free-market policies would leave corporations with no more power over the American people than the corporations get by selling people things, things people choose to buy. (Unlike the products of the hated health insurance companies, which ObamaCare mandates that we all purchase.)
Even Paul's stated environmental policies—certainly very far from implementation even in a world where Paul was president—of imposing liability via tort on people and corporations who harm others through pollution, rather than allowing them to do so but "regulating" them—seem more in line with what a progressive who doesn't want the fatcats getting away with harming the innocent should want.
Paul's belief in unfettered free markets is supposed, in the minds of leftists, to mean unbridled corporate power. But America's plutocracy loves activist government—as long as it's helping them, as Obama's programs of giveaways to banks and investment firms does. Paul was thus the only GOP candidate with kind things to say about the Occupy movement, for recognizing the dangers of crony capitalism, and the only candidate whose fans proselytized among them.
Paul's greater appeal to an honest progressive goes even further. Obama has expanded the president's powers to unilaterally imprison and even kill American citizens beyond even George W. Bush's attempts. Paul gets thousands of students who gather to hear him booing any mention of the controversial yet sadly little-known National Defense Authorization Act signed by Obama, giving legal cover to the presidential power of unilateral imprisonment. Obama has started new unauthorized wars, greatly expanded a civilian-killing drone program, and presided over the biggest defense budgets in history. Ron Paul campaigns for peace and withdrawal of the U.S. military from the world. In doing so, he's done more than Noam Chomsky to normalize discussion of U.S. foreign policy as the behavior of a criminal empire, not as the world's great defender of liberty.
On a wide range of issues involving individual autonomy and liberty, and protecting people from oppressive concentrations of power, Paul is clearly more progressive than Obama.
Progressives love income redistribution, though, and Paul does not. Still, while Paul is opposed in principle to things like government funding for NPR and even medical care, he mocks his fellow Republicans who act like such programs are the most important place to start practicing austerity—the former because it's cultural red meat to their base, the latter because it feeds an ugly strain of opposition to "welfare bums" that plays no part in how Paul campaigns.
While Paul is the loudest and most consistent voice for many progressive goals, he rejects their choice of tool to equalize income, which is why progressives' disappointment with Obama hasn't led them to turn to Ron Paul. But Paul and the movement for peace, civil liberties, and ending government's explicit support for corporate power that he leads offers progressives an alternative, and a dilemma: Are those values more important than fealty to the Democratic Party and hugely expensive income redistribution programs?
Senior Editor Brian Doherty is author of Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired (Broadside).