A few days ago I was a guest on RTtv’s CrossTalk, a political debate show. The topic was the GOP nominees for president, the race and how they would fare against Obama in November. During the show, no one spoke about Ron Paul since he is trailing a very distant fourth (depending on who you ask) and does not appear to be a viable candidate. After the show was posted on YouTube, the comments started pouring in from Ron Paul supporters, some of which were extremely(!) passionate. You would think the man could walk on water—in fact one commenter compared Paul to Jesus Christ in how he is apparently being persecuted and denied by the powers that be. Since Paul is, according to these supporters, the Great Hope for our nation, I wanted to take a moment to explore what a Ron Paul presidency could look like.
The main feature of a Paul presidency would be gridlock at a level never before seen in Washington. If you think it is bad now, you ain’t seen nothing! Ron Paul has made a career out of refusing to compromise on what he believes is right according to the Constitution. According to the Constitution, Paul cannot unilaterally pass a law, let alone dismantle government, repeal laws, implement tax cuts, slash budgets or add new amendments to the Constitution. Only Congress can pass these types of initiatives, in cooperation with him. Congress contains members who will disagree with his initiatives out of principle and a belief that they are wrong, as well as others who will fight his initiatives out of sheer self-interest. So unless Paul is willing to compromise and find a way to work with these members, his initiatives will go down in flames, he will achieve nothing and spend the next four years as a lame duck president. Nothing in Paul’s career shows that he will make these necessary compromises—even though as President for the entire United States he must govern according to the wishes of all, not just those that agree with him. There goes that $1 trillion in savings that will pay for all the tax credits and cuts he plans to offer along with the abolition of the gasoline, income, capital gains and death taxes!
If you waved a magic wand and placed all of Congress on the same page as Paul, willing to give him whatever he wants, how would such a stripped down version of everything work? Is it even feasible or practical? After you eliminate the Departments of the Interior, Commerce, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, and Education, along with the Environmental Protection Agency, who would administer the FHA loan program, ensure that lenders follow fair housing and lending laws, oversee the national park system, monitor that drilling and mining is being done safely, and that corporations are following laws safeguarding the environment? Without the EPA, do you, as a private citizen, have the ability to build and pursue a case against a corporation that has polluted public waterways that do not belong to you? Will you be able, as a private citizen, be able to perform and oversee the tests on offshore drilling equipment to ensure that another spill like the BP spill does not happen again—or monitor the ones hired to do it? What would the long-term costs and possibly irreversible damage be if the worst happens? If states are left to handle educational decisions without any input on a federal level, would there be any minimal standards in place across the country? What about educational consistency between states in a nation that is increasingly mobile? These are just a few of the many issues that would come up with a stripped down version of government Paul advocates.
The other main question is if the majority of Americans truly want a smaller government and all that would entail? If how Americans have voted on ballot initiatives limiting the size of government is any indication, the answer is no. In the last 7 years, voters have routinely rejected Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) initiatives beyond the local level that would require government to ask voters for increases in spending over defined, set levels and keep the size of government in check. In 2005, voters in Colorado even voted to put a 5-year hold on a TABOR they approved in 1992 because they felt it was restricting governmental effectiveness. Americans like having their favorite programs in place to provide or guarantee the quality of life they desire; they just don’t like paying for them. According to Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, there is “a fundamental mismatch between the benefits Americans expect to receive from the government and the revenues government collects.” Once Americans got a good look at what protections and services they were no longer receiving, along with the consequences of their disappearance, many Americans would be highly upset. We, as a nation, have not lived with a truly limited government system for over 100 years and rely on our federal government to keep our food, money, environment and property safe—a state which did not exist 100 years ago and required the establishment of many of these protections. That’s not to say that Americans do not want governmental reform or that it is not necessary, because they do and it is. But instead of a bare bones version of government, Americans want a more efficient, more effective version of the government they already have and rely on. For Paul, this is unacceptable.
Personally, I don’t think Ron Paul really wants to be president. I think he likes being able to dissent and pursue his personal philosophy without running the risk of causing damage or gumming up the works as a member of the House. I believe his plank is more “what I would do if I were president” more than “what I will cause to be when I become president.” This puts it more in the neighborhood of wishful thinking, which does not have to be practical, feasible or reflective of possible consequences. In dreams, anything can happen– including world peace, the elimination of hunger and an instant D-cup bust line for every woman in America. By staying in the race and fueling his cadre of rabid supporters, Paul keeps fiscal responsibility in the forefront rather than in the rear view mirror and has the ability to influence the agendas of his more viable competition. For this reason, while Ron Paul should not be ignored, he should not be put up on a pedestal to the point where no other candidate can receive the support of his devoted fans. He cannot walk on water nor would he be allowed to if he could, so the Paul crowd needs to seriously consider the nominees who could get enough support from Congress and the rest of America to make some real change happen.