Ron Paul may have warned in 2008 of the coming big government Trojan Horse, but his claim to the conservative mantle is just as hollow.
Rather than focus on spending or debt, Paul supporters stake their claim to true conservatism on a dogmatic opposition not only to war, but to the entirety of modern statecraft in the realm of international affairs, from intelligence gathering to diplomacy. They want to bamboozle young people into thinking this is somehow conservative, and they’ve made a point of trying to namedrop every conservative giant to make their point, including Russell Kirk, Barry Goldwater, William F. Buckley and even Ronald Reagan.
Nearly every single one of these men would have been horrified, or at least skeptical, of Paul’s ideas. But even Ron Paul’s most significant intellectual influence wouldn’t have liked being lumped in with them either. I refer to Murray Rothbard – an influence so important in Paul’s intellectual maturation that Paul wrote the following in his obituary for him:
“Murray was a world-class Austrian economist, and he influenced thousands of students. I was one of them, for he taught me about economics and liberty, and encouraged my political work against war, inflation and big government.”
Paul went further, calling Rothbard “the founder of modern libertarianism and an economist, historian, and political philosopher of extravagant accomplishments.”
I mention this connection, because it shows just how absurd the idea of Ron Paul as the only “true conservative” in the race actually is. No self-respecting disciple of Murray Rothbard should want such a label attached to them – Rothbard disdained conservatives, including and especially Bill Buckley and Russell Kirk, as being disciples of “Torquemada and Burke and Metternich.”
Paul supporters attempt to claim – in willful defiance of history – both Kirk and Buckley would be supporters, using a selective quotation of their sentiments on foreign intervention.
Yet both Kirk and Buckley were firm Cold Warriors, and to the extent they criticized American interventionism, they did it largely on prudential grounds, not because of a principled opposition to the idea.
For instance, Kirk opposed the idea of an American Empire because he was worried it would fall, and Buckley came out against the Iraq war because he thought it had been too mismanaged to be salvageable. Even while admitting sympathy with Paul’s aims, Buckley still rejected his rigid, all-or-nothing stances when he went toe-to-toe with Paul in a devastating interview from the 1980s.
The claim to Reagan and Goldwater is even sillier. Given that Paul unceremoniously quit the GOP in a petulant letter sounding eerily similar to Murray Rothbard’s scathingly anti-Reagan opinions, it’s safe to say Reagan likely would have quit a Republican Party headed by Ron Paul. As for Goldwater, it’s hard to believe the Arizona Senator would support a man whose campaign increasingly sounds like an endless loop of the “Daisy” ad, with his opponents as the target.
Moreover, the title of Goldwater’s book on the Cold War was “Why Not Victory,” whereas Ron Paul’s attitude toward nearly every foreign conflict is “Why Not Quit?” Only, Ron Paul isn’t interested in a serious answer to that question. Paul claims, with some justice, that wars cost too much and that some of the conflicts we’ve entered into recently have been gratuitous.
He may be correct on the last point, but to suggest that these ideas should lead one to a Paulite foreign policy is like suggesting one should join the Church of Scientology because of a belief that psychiatry has gotten too prescription-happy.
A reasonable disagreement over war is a far cry from a utopian fantasy that dismisses the entire enterprise as worthless. Conflict is inevitable, and the cost of war is a prudential judgment involving not simply dollars and cents, but human costs, including morale, international prestige and the danger of errant loss of life.
Yet Ron Paul’s vacuum-sealed realm of theory allows no room for prudence, because its airtightness would suffocate any breathing human being. It is time conservative young people came up for air.