Learning about Ron Paul

I have to admit that I’ve given scant consideration to Ron Paul, in large part because I find his supporters troubling. That they gamed polls was just silly, but that they turn out to include a lot of unsavory, white supremacist types is a red flag — a bright red, Swastika emblazoned red flag.

Interestingly, though, when Paul was on Jay Leno the other day, the audience responded enthusiastically to his every word (and banal words they were too), either because he is speaking to the people, or because his fans had managed to game the show too and gain admission in unusual numbers. And now there’s word that he raised more in a single day than any other candidate. (I’ll remind you, though, that the unlamented Howard Dean once held the record for huge, small-dollar donations, while John Kerry had a huge haul the day he became the Democratic candidate.) Taking all these things together, it struck me that I ought to check out Ron Paul’s own site and see what he has to say for himself.

Because I don’t want to reproduce the whole issues site here, I’ve tried to summarize his core ideas, and then added my comments. If you’d like to see Ron Paul’s issues page in its entirety, you can go here. That way, you can doublecheck whether I accurately represented his conclusions and you can draw your own from seeing all that he has to say. I find myself agreeing with him on many points, disagreeing with him on many points, and finding him maddeningly vague or naive on some points. My assessment after reading his site is the same as it was before I began: He cannot win, he has some good ideas, he has some bad ideas, and his supporters frighten me.

On debt and taxes. Ron Paul is for lower taxes and less government spending. I agree with him entirely, showing that we both fall on the conservative side of the political spectrum, because liberals want to have government do more and need our money to fund each new government initiative. However, short of stating a conservative truism, Paul doesn’t actually explain where he’s going to trim and what he thinks the government ought to do. Instead, the concluding phrase is simply fatuous: “We need a new method to prioritize our spending. It’s called the Constitution of the United States.” Huh? What’s that mean in real terms? I assume he’s trying to say that we want to limit federalism, but it’s really impossible to tell. It’s almost as silly as what’s going on today in Oregon, which will see voters asked to amend the state Constitution to add a sin tax to pay for Oregon’s version of S-CHIP.

On border security and immigration reform. I agree with him entirely, which is scary, because it’s probably his thinking on immigration that’s made him such a welcome figure for the white supremacist crowd. The fact is, though, that Paul is not advocating the end of immigration, a position I could never support. Instead, he’s talking about logical steps to stop illegal immigration: strengthen the borders, stop rewarding illegal immigrants (amnesty, welfare benefits, citizenship for their children, etc.), and enact a single coherent plan aimed at allowing America to regulate the flow of new residents and potential citizens into our country.

By the way, with regard to his belief that we need to return to their point of origin all of the illegal aliens already here, I have a few more thoughts. A lot of people say that it’s impossible to remove millions of people forcibly, and I agree. However, if America ceases to be so hospitable to these people by withholding all the benefits they now receive (welfare, employment, education, child citizenship) many will self select and return to their native homes. If we then discover that we would like to have more immigrants again, because it’s good for our economy, we can then change our laws and invite them back legally. What’s good about that is that the immigration is on our terms, not theirs. As it is, encouraging this kind of black market citizenry is bad for our nation’s soul. I also don’t believe amnesty is the answer, because that too is a reward, and will simply encourage the next generation of illegals to come and wait it out for another amnesty.

On American independence and sovereignty. I agree with Paul that the international organizations with which America is entangled decrease American independence and sovereignty. I think it’s insane for us to hand over taxing and policing power to organizations that are so far away from us, in which the ordinary people have no voting rights, and that are actively hostile to our needs and goals. It would entirely undo the American Revolution and put us right back into 1776 mode. After all, the whole point of the revolution was to separate us from a far away entity that had taxing and policing power over us, that denied us voting rights, and that was often hostile to our needs and goals.

Nevertheless, when Paul goes on about a North American Union that will erase the boundaries between Mexico, Canada and the U.S., the “woo-woo” conspiracy lights start flashing over my head, and I worry both about his grasp of issues and the types of people he’s trying to attract. We don’t need to worry about crazy conspiracies when it comes to sovereignty. Between uncontrolled illegal immigration and the US’s straightforward embrace of international organizations, we’ve got enough to worry about.

On privacy and personal liberty. I part ways with Paul on lots of things here. I’m not thrilled about the fact that there’s a lot of information out there about me, but I think Paul is impractical. For example, he would like to do away with bank’s ability to identify depositors through their social security numbers. However, it’s a fact that the best way to stop criminal organizations, whether they’re the Mafia or Al Qaeda, is to follow the money. During WWII, Switzerland helped fund the war by making its banks available to anybody.

Maybe it’s because I’m a nobody depositor, with nothing anyone would care about, but I can’t get excited about my social security number being tied to my bank account. In any event, because I have to pay the IRS — and even in a Paulian world the government will need some citizen money to function — I have given up any expectation of financial privacy when it comes to the government. I don’t care if they know what I’ve got, I just don’t want them to take so much away.

Paul, who is a physician, is also concerned with privacy about medical records. However, I think he’s way off base here. His concern is that “[u]nder so-called “medical privacy protection” rules, insurance companies and other entities have access to your personal medical information.” What I say is that, sure it’s rotten that your insurance company gets to nose around in your medical records — but it’s paying most of the bills. How can it be an informed consumer (and we, of course, have abdicated our role as informed consumers by buying into the whole private insurance enterprise) if it can’t know what type of care it’s paying for?

And while we all hear across the media horror stories about insurance denied, the fact is that most people with insurance get pretty good coverage, something that would vanish if the insurance companies were asked to write checks without the benefit of any information. As I learned reviewing a long ago round of Legislative history, insurance companies have a simple algorithm — the less information they have, the less ability they have to analyze risks, and the more likely they are to raise premiums.

The bottom line is that, in an information saturated age, Paul sounds to me like an impractical Luddite, rather than a privacy visionary.

On war and foreign policy: I’m reprinting this one in its entirety, along with my comments, because I disagree with him on just about everything:

The war in Iraq was sold to us with false information. The area is more dangerous now than when we entered it. [That’s questionable. It certainly was dangerous for our troops, because it is a war zone. However, it has been spectacularly less dangerous lately, when we decided to fight a real war, aka the Surge, rather than a delicate little engagement that put our troops at greater risk. Also, while the theater of war has been dangerous — almost by definition — we can’t close our eyes to the fact that there has no been a major attack against the US throughout the War’s course, since the War made Iraq, not America, the place of engagement.] We destroyed a regime hated by our direct enemies, the jihadists, and created thousands of new recruits for them. [But again, they’re throwing themselves in the cannons maw in Iraq and Afghanistan, not here. It sometimes seems like whack-a-mole.] This war has cost more than 3,000 American lives, thousands of seriously wounded, and hundreds of billions of dollars. [It’s actually been almost 4,000 American lives, but I’m going to quibble a bit with the numbers, and truly with no disrespect to those who have made the greatest sacrifice to this country. Nevertheless, many of those deaths were from training or accidents, and would have occurred regardless of the war. Thus, last month, the press noted the deaths in Iraq of two soldiers who had signed an op-ed critical of the war. They died, however, not in battle, but in a car accident.] We must have new leadership in the White House to ensure this never happens again.

Both Jefferson and Washington warned us about entangling ourselves in the affairs of other nations. Today, we have troops in 130 countries. We are spread so thin that we have too few troops defending America. [For what eventually does he currently foresee the need for massive numbers of troops in America? This is so conclusory, I’m not sure what to make of it. In any event, aggressive acts against America haven’t been the type that require troops, they’ve required advance intelligence and vigilance.] And now, there are new calls for a draft of our young men and women. [Yeah, but that’s only from the anti-War Left to make a political point. There haven’t been any serious draft calls, so this is a straw man argument.]

We can continue to fund and fight no-win police actions around the globe, or we can refocus on securing America and bring the troops home. No war should ever be fought without a declaration of war voted upon by the Congress, as required by the Constitution.

Under no circumstances should the U.S. again go to war as the result of a resolution that comes from an unelected, foreign body, such as the United Nations. [I’m entirely hostile to the UN. This statement, though, is disingenuous, because it was the US that drove the train that finally got the UN to sign on to invading Iraq, and the US did it so it would then have the appearance of a world consensus. I think one of the things that drives the Left mad is that the US manipulated the UN, rather than vice versa. More frightening would be if the UN, in fact, did go to war in the way Paul describes, and that could certainly happen under a Democratic administration.]

Too often we give foreign aid and intervene on behalf of governments that are despised. Then, we become despised. Too often we have supported those who turn on us, like the Kosovars who aid Islamic terrorists, or the Afghan jihadists themselves, and their friend Osama bin Laden. We armed and trained them, and now we’re paying the price. [True, but naive. As I noted yesterday, you have to deal with the situation in the present, and often are forced, as the most powerful sovereign nation in the world, to pick between two evils. You don’t have the choice of either abstaining or finding a good horse to back.]

At the same time, we must not isolate ourselves. The generosity of the American people has been felt around the globe. Many have thanked God for it, in many languages. Let us have a strong America, conducting open trade, travel, communication, and diplomacy with other nations.

Property rights and eminent domain: This is simply too vague. As noted above, Paul styles himself a Constitutionalist, and the Constitution specifically allows for eminent domain. The problem lately is one of balance, and that’s always going to be a fight, with activists judges constantly expanding the meaning of “public use” (with public use being the only reason the government can force citizens to sell property). Interestingly, Paul says nothing about the federal judiciary on his issues page. The bottom line is that, while I’m all for property rights and ensuring that the government does not overreach in its right to take property from its citizens, I don’t think Paul has said anything that anyone else wouldn’t say.

Life and liberty: Paul is unshakably pro-Life, and has the Legislative track record to prove it.

Health freedom: Again, I have several points of disagreement, so I’ll print this bit in full:

Americans are justifiably concerned over the government’s escalating intervention into their freedom to choose what they eat and how they take care of their health.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in order to comply with standards dictated by supra-national organizations such as the UN‘s World Food Code (CODEX), NAFTA, and CAFTA, has been assuming greater control over nutrients, vitamins and natural health care providers to restrict your right to choose the manner in which you manage your health and nutritional needs. [As I noted above, I also oppose having international entities have control over American affairs, and this extends to alternative medicine. I’d like the marketplace of ideas to control here. I live in a part of America where people are gaga over “all natural,” but they have very little information about these things, and rely mostly on rumor and false belief systems. As I always says, arsenic is also a natural substance. Natural doesn’t mean safe, and I’d love to have the marketplace correct this illusion. That’s what I say. I’m not sure what Paul is saying.]

I have been the national leader in preserving Health Freedom.

I have introduced the Health Freedom Protection Act, HR 2117, to ensure Americans can receive truthful health information about supplements and natural remedies. [I don’t know what this bill is and I’m too lazy to check. I hope it’s a bill that simply forces producers of supplements and natural remedies to provide full information about risks and benefits. Considering how little information is out there, though, I’m not sure what good this does. That’s a marketplace problem, though, not a government one.]

I support the Access to Medical Treatment Act, H.R. 2717, which expands the ability of Americans to use alternative medicine and new treatments. [See my comment above, which applies equally well here.]
I oppose legislation that increases the FDA‘s legal powers. FDA has consistently failed to protect the public from dangerous drugs, genetically modified foods, dangerous pesticides and other chemicals in the food supply. Meanwhile they waste public funds attacking safe, healthy foods and dietary supplements. [The FDA started very sensibly after a pharmacist decided to sweeten up a cough medicine with antifreeze (not knowing it was poisonous) and killed dozens of children. There has to be some form of policing, but what I would change is the FDA’s perception of risk. The FDA wants things to be 100% risk free before they can be brought to market. What I would want, again, is information. “We’ve tested the drug and these are the risks and benefits. The risks are real, but so are the benefits.” Information, not bureaucratization. On this point, I highly recommend reading John Stossel’s Give Me A Break.]

I also opposed the Homeland Security Bill, H.R. 5005, which, in section 304, authorizes the forced vaccination of American citizens against small pox. The government should never have the power to require immunizations or vaccinations. [Now there I disagree strongly. It has always been government’s responsibility to control major public health risks — and small pox has been one of the most devastating scourges in history. Only a strong government can act with the speed and strength to protect the citizenry from an epidemic. It’s simply not something that can be handled at a libertarian, local level. And with something like an epidemic disease, it’s also not enough to have people just volunteer for vaccinations. To prevent the disease’s spread, you need the type of herd immunity that only comes with a large government program. America’s problem is that the current voting generation has never seen epidemic disease. Those who experienced the Spanish Influenza or the polio epidemics that periodically decimated American children probably have a very different view about this.]

On the Second Amendment. Paul supports it. I do too, which continues to surprise me, as I was always a true liberal in terms of being anti-gun. I understand now, though, that the Constitution means what it says and says what it means; that the Founders wanted to ensure that citizens were protected from their government, even more than from each other; and that events such as Katrina demonstrate that, even when we want the government to protect us, it may not be there, and we have to save ourselves.

On home schooling. Paul supports it and so do I. I wouldn’t do it, but I support it.

On Social security: Paul points out, as everyone knows, that the system is broken. He wants to keep it though, and seems to advocate only quick fixes. He announced on Leno that he’d fix the system, but I don’t see that any of his ideas here would really fix it; they just stem the hemorrhage for a little while longer.

UPDATE: What is it about Ron Paul that has him attracting this kind of devious person? As for me, I’m going to assume it’s mere coincidence that, within hours of putting up this post, I got more spam in a single hour than I usually get in several days, including one spam comment that wiped out all of my November posts until I was able to delete it.

(For some reason, Patrick Ruffini’s Presidential Wire completely bypassed my post on my own blog, but it picked it up as republished at the wonderful Webloggin.  If you think this is a post worth of greater consideration, feel free to click here, which will give it a Ruffini hit.)