Ron Paul and the Renewal of True Conservatism

I am a big Ron Paul fan.  But that hasn’t always been the case.  I honestly didn’t pay much attention to the guy until somewhat recently when some friends of mine began to open up about their political views.  I knew I was fed up with Washington but couldn’t put my finger on why…  At least not until I began to study the views of Senator Ron Paul.

Increasingly discouraged

I have been increasingly discouraged by the partisan politicking that has characterized our government for too long now; constant blaming, name calling, and demagoguery.  The two parties pit themselves against one another as two boxers in a ring.  For example, Obama told Hispanic voters that Republicans are his “enemies,” and that Hispanics should join him to “punish our enemies.”[1]  Really?  Enemies?  And you see similar stuff coming from the right too.

I have often wondered if our governmental system is flawed altogether.  What I have learned is that our leaders have been steering the ship off its intended course; it’s not that we have a different ship, but that we are taking that ship down a canal of very dangerous waters and one that is, as I see it, destined to end up like the Titanic.

Many of the ships passengers have begun to wake up and realize that our captains from both parties have fallen asleep at the wheel or had one too many drinks.  I agree with Sarah Palin who says that “There’s plenty of blame to go around for how we got here.  Americans know in their hearts both parties are at fault.  Both parties contributed to the overspending and government growth that is robbing our children [and us] of their future… No wonder millions of Americans are up in arms…”[2]  The Tea Party movement is a manifestation of “voter rage against corruption and ineffectiveness in both parties.”[3]

Many of these outraged people have found a measure of hope in Ron Paul’s message and a literal revolution is taking place across the nation, especially on college campuses (this revolution is even impacting the Republican Party).  Many of these enthusiastic followers, including myself, do not agree with every point of Paul’s ideology.  There is some controversy swirling around about some of his decisions, especially his earmarking (though he defends himself, adequately, I think, here).  But even some of those who criticize him say “I’m sure many of these earmarks have a logical rationale behind them” (so basically, it’s nit-picking).[4]

His position on various social issues like abortion and gay marriage are not popular with many young folk (he is pro-life and has a traditional view of marriage), but because of his deep commitment to liberty, many of those same young people are willing and able to vote for him.  Here’s a short clip, and here’s another, where he talks a little about “voluntary” contracts that shows why both social conservatives like myself and social liberals can happily vote for him without any compromise and without going against conscience.  In fact, in some of the most “liberal” states, like Washington, Paul has received a great deal of support.  Supporters of Paul see the beauty of his views on personal liberty in a way that other candidates seem not to.  Both parties are undeniably guilty of growing government power and intruding on personal liberty.  Under Paul as President, this trend would be greatly hindered, and maybe in time, reversed altogether.

Conservatism is not what it was

Many are unaware, as I was for a long time, that the meaning of “conservative” has morphed quite a bit in the last few decades.  Christians especially are amiss on this.  Most of my Christians friends call themselves “conservatives.”  What they mean by this, usually, is that they are pro-life and have a traditional view of marriage.  Most of them are against a large welfare state and are supportive of the foreign wars we are currently involved in.  What most of them do not realize is that the term “conservative” has not traditionally meant those things.

D. G. Hart would in fact go as far as to say that the idea of what most evangelicals today call “conservatism” is in fact incompatible with political conservatism.  This is because evangelical ideas about conservatism is really more like “moral idealism.”  He explains in his wonderful work From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin: Evangelicals and the Betrayal of American Conservatism:

The faith and piety of evangelical Protestantism have no direct or obvious tie to political conservatism.  To insist upon a conversion experience or new birth, to regard the Bible as the sole source of truth, [etc.]… these evangelical attributes are hardly foundational for an account of a good, ordered, and free society.  Actually, political historians from the ethno-cultural school have detected parallels between the revivals and reforms of the Second Great Awakening (1810-1850) and the understanding of the U.S. that first the Whig and then the Republican parties embraced.  Unlike Democrats of the time, who advocated a limited, populist government that did not legislate social behavior but rather gave room for the expression of self-interest and local autonomy, Republicans trusted government to enact laws based on eternal truths that would nurture virtuous citizens and build a righteous society.  Generally speaking, since 1830 Anglo-American Protestants who supported revivals have been more comfortable with a state that promotes Christian norms as national standards than with a political order that cultivates religious diversity and the integrity of mediation institutions.

In fact, at bottom, evangelical moral idealism may actually be at odds with political conservatism, as odd as that may sound.  If conservatism were simply about public morality and virtues, then the habit of pundits and scholars referring to born-again Protestants as “social conservatives” would make sense.[5]

So… what’s the problem with that?  D.G. Hart says it well:

Evangelicals’ moral idealism was alien to American conservatism.  In fact, a moral idealism divorced from prior political or philosophical considerations leads inevitably to the kind of radicalism and social engineering that conservatives have historically opposed.[6]

In other words, what many “conservatives” today mean when they call themselves conservative actually has little or nothing to do with the traditional ideas of political conservatism, and, what is worse, actually militates against the principles this nation was founded upon.  That’s a big deal, and few people, in my circles, are aware of this crucial distinction.

Thankfully, however, there are many out there who are beginning to wake up to the idea of personal liberty and stop choking the world around them on their ideas about how someone’s life should be lived.  They realize it’s not right (in a free society) for the government to force you to spend your money a certain way, or to marry certain people, or to regulate what you put in your body.  To do so is contrary to personal liberty.  What is ironic is that many of these conservatives despise Islamic regimes in the Middle East who insist that women wear the hijab, kill their citizens for committing adultery, prohibit the use of radio and satellites, and enforce curfews.  But how is that any different in principle, from some of the regulations that both liberals and conservatives are pushing for here in America?  It is terribly inconsistent of us to be critical of the oppression we see overseas when many of us are pushing for similar kinds of legislation which go against the consciences of millions of Americans?  We will look at this more in a later entry.

Something has to change or our country will look very much like the cruel and oppressive regimes we see in other parts of the worlds.

And something is changing.  There is a revolution taking place here in America.

This explains why Ron Paul chose the title The Revolution (2008) for his recent book; a philosophical revolution is taking place about what the role of government should be.

I gladly welcome it.

Many say, Paul can’t win.  Bologna (see 4:20).  The media continues to perpetuate this fallacy.  Polls show that Paul in fact does better against Obama than any other candidate.

Some have complained to me that if Ron Paul is elected President he won’t be able to get anything done.  This is a legitimate concern, but one that I think is a bit presumptuous, for this reason: Very few new political ideas originate within Congress.  Most political change is spawned at the grassroots level.  The reason Ron Paul is so popular right now is because of a grassroots movement.  The attitudes of people are changing about the role of government, and eventually that will be reflected in the Congress—it’s already received a great deal of attention.  Paul explains more here (3:00).

Paul is not the ultimate answer

Let me say up front that I emphatically do not believe Ron Paul can solve all of our nation’s problems—no politics or politician could ever hope to achieve such a grandiose task.  I appreciate Voddie Baucham’s article in which he defends his reasons for supporting Ron Paul.  He opens this way:

Let me say ahead of time that I do not believe that politics will save America. Nor do I believe there are any perfect candidates. There never have been, and there never will be. Moreover, it is not my goal to answer every objection to the Paul candidacy as I know that there are those who, for various reasons, will not be persuaded, and more importantly, that’s not my job. My goal here is to offer insight in to my own reasoning as I wade through another political season and make a personal choice.[7]

That is the point of this article.  I am defending a personal choice as it specifically relates to foreign policy.  There are a number of issues that I think run through people’s minds when they think of this issue, so I have tried to address them below.  Of course, as Baucham pointed out, not everything can be addressed.  I may choose to do additional entries later on depending on people’s comments, objections, etc.

Above all, please know that I am attempting to be irenic.  Politics is a touchy subject.  If you are in any way offended by what I say, I hope that is a result of the material itself and not the way it was presented.  I am fallible and will not likely do justice to the value of the content.  I do not claim to be a political expert.  I am a student, willing to learn and willing to be corrected.  Writing helps me think through things, that is a part of why I blog.

I don’t believe you have to be an expert in order for your opinion to be relevant and helpful.  That is the beauty of the freedoms of speech we enjoy in this country.  Of course, one of my concerns is that those very freedoms are in serious danger.

My humble desire and the main goal of these posts is that it might help a few people see that Ron Paul’s foreign policy is not nearly as “crazy” as so many out there seem to think.

INTRODUCTION

For those of you who are new to Ron Paul, here is a video of one of his speeches that captures the heart of his policies and philosophy.  Or, you can just go to his campaign website, or to his official government site.

My mentor and friend Bob Thompson, a pastor in Hickory, NC, recently commented in a sermon on what the promises of the average American politician sound like today:

Somewhere between amusing and annoying is the unspoken message that a human candidate and his party can lead us to Utopia in four years while his opponents are sure to lead us straight to a national hell.[8]

One aspect I have greatly appreciated about Ron Paul is that he has not made such politically charged promises to the people.  He has openly admitted that the results of his policies will be painful at first.  He compares it to a drug addict in withdrawal.  Ending the Fed, bringing our troops home, eliminating various bureaucracies in the government, severe tax reform and other issues will likely hit most of us hard at first.  But either way, he says, “it’s going to get a lot worse” (7:40).  The American people have been drugged up on a system of government that is doomed to fail sooner or later, so bringing people off of this “drug” will not be easy at first.

At the same time, however, Paul has been quite bold in admitting that if something is not done about the direction of our government, especially as it pertains to our overseas and economic policies, we are headed for disaster.  The scariest prospect of all is that our economy will collapse and we will have total government take over.

History is as close to an infallible source of knowledge in this respect as we will get.  It has happened before and if something doesn’t change it will happen here.  Hedges writes: “Democratic states and republics, including ancient Athens and Rome, that refuse to curb imperial expansion eviscerate their political systems.”[9]  Wolin writes: “Imperial politics represents the conquest of domestic politics and the latter’s conversion into a crucial element of inverted totalitarianism.”  Inverted totalitarianism, is basically when the government becomes the servant of large corporations and special interests: “First, whereas in Nazi Germany the state dominated economic actors, in inverted totalitarianism, corporations through political contributions and lobbying, dominate the Superpower, with the government acting as the servant of large corporations. This isn’t considered corruption, but ‘normal’.”[10]

In fact, we are already seeing it (more on this later).  If it comes to that personal liberties will be a remnant of the past…

In such a confusing, veiled, and corrupt political environment as we have here in America today, Paul’s humble, yet bold attitude about his positions and our nation’s problems have been a breath of fresh air for many.  Sometimes Paul’s conduct is so honest and straightforward he stands out like a sore thumb.  He is the only unscripted candidate.  Many politicians in the current run for the nomination have exposed their questionable motives and intentions because they are not speaking from the heart.  Here’s one good example.

Ron Paul supporters are undoubtedly the most passionate of all the current candidates running for President this year.  The reasons for this are many, but most uniformly, his supporters stand with Ron Paul so passionately because he is a man of principle who has predicted many of the problems we are dealing with right now and stood firmly by his convictions for the last 30 years.  Check out this, this, this or this video for a taste of the enthusiasm of his followers.  The enthusiasm of his following is unlike any other candidate out there.  Chris Matthews has pointed out the contrast between the Romney, Santorum, and Gingrich campaigns in contrast to that of Ron Paul.  The enthusiasm is contagious and palpable because Ron Paul is “the only one who is saying what he actually believes.”

Okay, that being said, moving on to Paul’s foreign policy.

If you are not familiar with Ron Paul’s position on national defense and foreign policy, click here for a quick rundown for the basics of his stance.

The typical retort I hear from those I talk about these matters with is that electing Ron Paul would endanger America.  Glenn Beck is a good example.  While he endorses Ron Paul he takes a strong stance against his foreign policy, claiming that it would “endanger America.”  This is a standard argument that I’ve heard over and over again.  Many have portrayed Paul as “isolationist” and anti-military, and anti-Israel.  For some, such accusations are nothing more than pejorative statements that do not take into account the whole of Paul’s political views.    Click here for a transcription of a short interview in which Ron Paul deals with some of these accusations.  Part of the problem is that few people understand the distinction between military spending and defense spending.  Here and here are good places to go for a quick blurb on that.

I suspect the main reason for these comments (coming from “conservatives”) is that it is virtually unheard of these days to find a “conservative” who wants to stop going to war; it doesn’t line up with the status quo.

In today’s America, conservatives love to invade countries and flex our muscles, even at the expense of our economy, our lives, and in total violation of the very principles of liberty our nation was founded on.  In this regard, most Republicans have turned out to be largely inconsistent.  Paul exposes the massive shift in Republican thinking in his response to one of the questions in a debate last year.  They push a political package that says small government on the label, but once you open it up, big, intrusive government is what you find (one thinks of the war on drugs, regulation of marriage, aggressive foreign policy, etc.).  No wonder Ron Paul looks foolish to so many—he’s the only one standing up for our constitution’s idea of foreign war.  In 2008 he was the only candidate in the Presidential race who voted against the Iraq Resolution (2002).  You can read his address to Congress on the matter here.

No other candidate wanted to end the Iraq war and as far as I can tell, all of them want a war with Iran (which would be absolutely disastrous, but I’ll get to that in a later section).

One interesting point, in closing this section, is how many across the globe do not have the same fears as some Americans regarding Ron Paul’s foreign policy.  Many, in fact, are ardent supports of his.  This video captures some of this.  You would think that if the nuclear threat was as real as many American politicians would like you to believe, or if our missions were as legitimate as they claim, other nations would reflect those fears… But, by and large, you don’t.  In fact, those of our own who are actually in (or have been in) foreign nations, support Paul far and above any other candidate, including Barak Obama!

That speaks volumes.


[1] Ken Blackwell and Ken Klukowski, Resurgent: How Constitutional Conservatism Can Save America (New York: Threshold, 2011), 32.

[2] Sarah Palin, “Commonsense Constitutional Conservatism,” in America by Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith and Flag (New York: HarperCollins, 2010), 261.

[3] Blackwell and Klukowski, Resurgent, 25.

[5] D.G. Hart, From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin: Evangelicals and the Betrayal of American Conservatism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011), 15.

[6] Hart, From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin, 15-16.

[8] Robert M. Thompson, “Kingdom Stories.”  Preached on February 5th, 2012 at Corinth Reformed Church in Hickory, North Carolina.

[9] Chris Hedges, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle (New York: Nation Books, 2009), 147.

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