Tuesday, March 06, 2012


Ron Paul – Eurosceptic?

Tonight is “Super Tuesday” – when Republican voters have their uninspiring choice of Presidential candidate in more states than on any other day of the long and tortuous primary process. Several of the worst candidates have already dropped out. The rest of the worst candidates remain, along with one interesting one.

There’s Mitt Romney, the robocandidate backed by big money and the establishment, but for whom no-one on Earth has enthusiasm, a former moderate mechanically outflanking his opponents to the right on every issue to try and prove the impossible to the red-meat Republican faithful: that he really means it. There’s Newt Gingrich, disgraced former Speaker, bruiser, self-styled big thinker, for whom curiously next to zero of his former followers in Congress are willing to touch him with yours. There’s Rick Santorum, loathsome theocratic woman-gay-and-modernity-hating extremist from another age who last lost re-election by the largest margin on record for a sitting Senator, who’s spent the last week declaring how he’d like to be the second Catholic President because the first, JFK, made him vomit. Unbelievably, after Mitt’s money nuked all his other opponents into the ground, Santorum has been surging because there’s no other conservative left standing.

And then there’s Ron Paul.

Congressman Paul is old, small, a bit shabbily dressed and dismissive of almost all the Republican faithful’s hot-button topics. He’s the only one of the candidates not to have had a ‘surge’ for being not-Mitt – because on most issues he’s a recognisable libertarian conservative from most of the Twentieth Century, not the Republicans’ new taste for raging theocracy from the Thirteenth. Ironically, he’s the candidate with the most racist past – with hideously racist and homophobic newsletters having gone out in his name barely twenty years ago, for which he’s grumpily only half-apologised, and as he was then in his fifties, hardly a youthful indiscretion – and yet the only one who’s not been whipping up bigotry in this election, including even addressing the racial effect of the USA’s utter failure of a ‘war on drugs’. And the candidate in his late 70s is the only one who’s been gaining significant support among young people, independents and most of the other people that the rest of the Republicans are bordering-on-literally telling to go to Hell.

Not My Kind of Libertarian

Because Ron Paul declares himself a libertarian, quite a few Liberals are drawn to him. It’s understandable. He’s not a warmonger; he wants to rethink drug policy; he’s not batshit crazy about the gays. His rhetoric seems sane next to the other three, and his policies relatively so. And if I had no choice but one of those four as President, obviously he’s not as bad as the rest. Fortunately, the Republicans are not the only show in town. Their economic policies are insanity that would drive up the deficit while massively redistributing from poor to rich; his look like they would simply tank the economy completely. And he’s less a peacemonger than an isolationist. But still.

For anyone who thinks Congressman Paul is a libertarian by UK standards, well, I think he’d fit right into one of the relatively libertarian tribes, but not one I’d vote for. Because the simplest way to understand Ron Paul is that he’s a Eurosceptic. Except that, rather than targeting his scepticism against an imaginary federal United States of Europe, his is against the existing federal United States of America. The libertarians I have some sympathy for would devolve power down to the individual, and let everyone make all their own choices. That’s rarely Congressman Paul’s approach. He simply wants to pass all power down to the individual states on most issues. So they can be as authoritarian as they like – as long as it’s not the federal government doing it.

If you’ve ever heard a British Eurosceptic arguing for all power to the nation state, dragging decisions not just down from Europe but up from regions and councils and Britain’s constituent nations, you may find this awfully familiar.

I’m a Liberal, and I start with the individual. I don’t have hang-ups about which is the best level for individuals to combine to make decisions. For some issues, it’s best at the local, or regional, or national, or British, or European, or even UN level, depending on how big the decision, how many people it affects and how practical the effect will be. And I’d like a hell of a lot more decisions made by the individual, thank you very much, too.

What Ron Paul and Eurosceptics have in common that appeals is that, yes, the level they criticise is often too centralised, too bureaucratic, too unresponsive, and meddles in things that could really be sorted out much better at a more local level. What they have in common that repels is that they fetishise one level that should have all the power instead, rather than power being dispersed to many levels depending on what best suits the individuals they’re supposed to serve.

And, ironically, while a great many Eurosceptics are Atlanticists, and many of those are likely to be fans of Ron Paul, he’s an isolationist who’d rather America got out of as much of international politics as it possibly can. So the Atlanticists’ favourite candidate is the one most likely not even to leave flowers when he dumps the special relationship.

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