Once in a generation, America encounters a non-traditional politician like Ron Paul.
As a presidential candidate, Ron Paul was principled, but unelectable. Most of his ideas involved taking a sledgehammer to voters’ most cherished assumptions. Most of his political proposals, such as shuttering the Department of Education, were too radical for the average voter to contemplate. He offered a vision that was abstract, futuristic, and conditional on America pursuing a path far different from the one it has pursued for the past four decades.
Ron Paul didn’t have the tools to appeal to most voters. Most voters do not have the inclination to develop complex or unorthodox political opinions, which require significant investments of time, energy, and intellectual effort. Rather, most people base their votes on instinct or emotion. In the process, they usually treat voting as an act of consumption—a way to signal one’s tastes, preferences, and identities.
This is why most voters are susceptible to sound bites, smears, and 30 second ads. This is also why most voters gravitate towards politicians who exude optimism, charm, dynamism, and youthful energy.
But Ron Paul was not an optimist. Indeed, it didn’t help that he often spoke of economic catastrophe and systemic collapse.
“Our present monetary system is failing. The time is ripe for fundamental monetary reform,” Ron Paul wrote in his 1982 book, The Case for Gold.
But Ron Paul had spoken too soon. In the years that have followed, America experienced booms under Reagan, Clinton, and Bush II. The Dow soared from 1,000 points in 1982 to 14,000 in 2007. And for decades, Ron Paul has been dismissed as a crank by most voters, pundits, and the mainstream media.
That being said, Ron Paul’s ideas still contain a grain of truth. Basically, he thinks that the Fed prints too much currency, and that because of the resulting inflationary effect, the U.S. dollar is beginning to resemble Monopoly money.
That’s not crazy. It’s a defensible economic argument.
This does not mean that America should abolish the Fed. But it should be said that Ron Paul, a man who kept most of his investments in gold and silver mining stocks, has prospered by sticking to his principles. Seven years ago, you could buy gold for $420 an ounce and silver for $7. But today, gold has soared over $1,600, and silver over $32. That’s an annual rate of return exceeding 20 percent for both metals for the past seven years. How many stocks, bonds, or bank accounts pay that sort of rate?
No doubt some of Ron Paul’s ideas are impractical, like his suggestion that America leave the United Nations and NATO. However, a number of his basic points are based on defensible premises. For instance, he thinks that too many Americans have died fighting other people’s wars—a perfectly respectable anti-war position. He also thinks that the government wastes too much money—a perfectly respectable anti-debt position.
Ron Paul was not destined to become president because he lacked the pragmatism to build a winning political coalition. However, he is a principled politician who has thought deeply about America’s future, and some of his ideas could be integrated into a credible platform for future national elections. And even as Ron Paul steps into retirement, he leaves behind a comprehensive philosophical legacy and millions of energetic followers.
Plus, his son Rand is in the Senate. Apples don’t fall far from trees.
Chris Seck is a 3L. His column runs on Wednesdays
The views in opinion editorials, columns, and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Record.