Congressman Ron Paul appears to be picking up speed in Iowa. Leading or holding second place in several recent polls, he now is even flipping supporters of his fellow candidates. (Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s state chair Iowa state Senator Kent Sorenson dramatically announced on Wednesday he would be switching his allegiance to Paul.) Believe it or not, Paul has a shot to win the Iowa Caucuses on January 3. As Paul gathers steam, however, it is important to pause and examine his record. Only a brief look will reveal how incompatible his political positions are with those of the great majority of Americans. Any chance Paul has of winning the Republican nomination and the presidency will certainly be extinguished as the public familiarizes itself with his beliefs.
Right off the bat, his belief that Social Security is unconstitutional and should become optional for young people conflicts with nearly universal public recognition of its importance as a government program and the over 60% of Americans who believe the government should not break its commitment in providing benefits. In a January 2011 Gallup poll, Republicans and Democrats were equally as likely to oppose cuts to Social Security. Paul’s views on changing Social Security will not be an asset in Republican primaries, let alone the general election. Republicans lost big in a New York State special election when Congressman Paul Ryan’s Medicare-altering budget became a campaign issue. Imagine the evisceration Paul would face as a presidential candidate given his views on Social Security.
Next, consider his views on civil rights legislation. Paul opposes the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Paul has made clear his opposition to the law is based on what he believes is its unconstitutionality and not its goal of ending racial discrimination. (Although his views on race have been called into question recently given the publication of racist newsletters under his name.) Even if we solely analyze Paul’s claim that the Civil Rights Act violates the Constitution, we can see how out of touch his legal views are. The Supreme Court ruled the Civil Rights Act was indeed constitutional and could regulate the private sector’s accommodation and hiring practices under the interstate commerce clause. This unanimous decision has held for nearly fifty years. Paul’s dissent is clearly outside the mainstream legally in addition to being considered by some as offensive to minorities. A President Paul would have little say over this law or its constitutionality, but his opinions on this issue provide a glimpse into his worldview – a worldview wide-open to criticism from both Democrats and Republicans.
Paul’s foreign policy is highly unconventional as well, as his Republican primary opponents love to highlight. He has advocated for a withdrawal of US troops not only from the Middle East, but also from bases in Germany, South Korea, and Japan. He wants to eliminate foreign aid, even for Israel – a non-starter for most Republicans. He does not believe in intervening in Iran’s pursuit for a nuclear weapon. With these stances, he may appeal to dovish liberals and libertarians, but his positions are at odds with the majority of his own party and the majority of the American people.
HPR World Editor Josh Lipson recently wrote an article asking readers to “give Paul a chance.” This is an understandable position. Why not pay attention to the man on the Republican debate stage who seems genuine and rarely panders for votes? As much as one may try, however, Paul’s policy prescriptions are too extreme to ignore. Maybe ardent libertarians can support him, but the country cannot.