In the midst of a relatively unpredictable and discouraging selection of Republican nominees, Ron Paul stands out. For some, he represents a shining beacon of true American values. For others, he’s merely a distraction from the true candidates. Either way, Paul has inspired a significant amount of debate about the nature of elections, the need for uncompromising truth in the midst of pandering candidates, and the Christian’s duty to vote with wisdom and discernment. Unfortunately, like most political arguments, this discussion has been plagued with hyperbolic and unfair rhetoric from both sides. We gave two of our writers a chance to plead their case with humility and integrity.
A Consistent, Uncompromising Voice by Luke Larsen
Whether or not Ron Paul is electable or philosophically viable as the President of the United States has been a prominent question for a while now and is a particularly important question to consider right now as GOP primaries linger just around the corner. My argument defending his worthiness boils down to two things: his unwavering political convictions and his refusal to use his religion for political gain. These two attributes make him not only an interesting political icon, but a viable candidate for the President of the United States.
The libertarian-oriented congressman has been around for over 30 years now and has been proclaiming the same message we hear at debates today. There are some astounding videos on YouTube from the early 1980s where you hear a younger Paul making the same arguments about the unconstitutional and immoral nature of undeclared war, the entitlement system, the Federal Reserve, and excessive government spending. This is the guy who refused to award both Mother Teresa and Rosa Parks the $30,000 and Congressional Medals of Honor based on the fact that he believed the prize money was unconstitutional as it was taken from taxpayers. Instead, Paul suggested instead that all the members of Congress donate $500 each to pay the award (of whom Paul was the only one who ever committed). Whether or not you agree with all his beliefs, in a sea of talking heads and politicians who’ve bounced between political parties and positions, Paul is remarkably faithful to his political beliefs. That alone makes him a viable candidate. You can know exactly what Paul will do or attempt to do when he gets into office.
Secondly, I would argue that for the Christian who has become jaded or apathetic toward the dogma of the polarizing political spectrum, Ron Paul’s treatment of religion in the public sphere alone makes him somebody worthy of consideration. Because of the extreme acts of pandering the Republican party enacted toward conservative Christians in the 1990s and early 2000s, many Christians have been left disenchanted by all things political. Many Christian voters are becoming increasingly skeptical of politicians’ use of religious imagery for political purposes. For those who claim Jesus is the Lord of all things, government and politics included, apathy seems like a rather strange position to take.
Many have argued that although Paul’s ideas might be philosophically interesting, due to their extreme nature they have no practical place in the real world of American politics. The truth is that very, very few governments have ever attempted to employ such ideas. As even Paul admits, the first one hundred and thirty or forty years of American history is really the only place to turn to see such ideas in practice. However, looking back through the bloodshed and tyranny of human history, I can’t say I have much of a problem with that. The struggle for power is at the core of almost every political debate, every human rights abuse, and every war. A government that is self-controlled or humble in its use of power is practically unseen and that is for a particularly good reason: lust for power is at the center of the broken human heart. After all, when is the last time you heard a Presidential contender say he promised to do less once he got into office?
Paul recently posted a video on his website that defended his non-interventionist foreign policy and why unnecessary and undeclared wars not only waste life and money needlessly, but also actually make us less safe as a country. The video summed up many of his familiar talking points, but also included one particularly relevant point of reference. In opposition to the foreign policy of “mutually assured destruction” that the US and the Soviet Union followed throughout the Cold War, Paul suggested a new one that he called “mutually assured respect”. Paul says this kind of a non-interventionist policy rejects the use of religion to prop up violent governments and ideological wars and follows The Golden Rule of treating others as we’d like to be treated. For a politician who has refused to use his personal Christian religion to win votes, this is a pretty provocative statement about faith and politics that should get Christians on all sides of the political spectrum thinking.
Lastly, I’d like to touch on the issue of Ron Paul’s electability. If you’ve seen Jon Stewart’s mention of the issue, you know that many supporters and observers find that the mainstream media has stacked him up unfairly in the race for the White House. In 2008, Paul was belittled as a “fringe” candidate, while this election season the media has turned to often ignoring him completely. However, it’s hard to argue with a second place finish at the Iowa Straw poll and Rasmussen polls pointing to him being the strongest Republican candidate against Barack Obama in a general election. Purely numbers-wise, he seems to be just as electable as Michelle Bachmann, Ricky Perry, or Mitt Romney.
Let me be clear: if by “viable candidate”, we mean that he will more or less be doing many of the same things our government has been doing for quite some time now, I would say definitely no. However, its a great loss to our freedom and prosperity as a nation if we are unable to at least consider the policies of a politician who is offering alternatives to the status quo, especially when so many of those policies come from the Founders themselves.
The Trouble with Prophets by Ben Bartlett
Ron Paul is a good man and a good congressman. By all accounts his life is consistent, his background clean, and his integrity unquestioned. He has strong perspectives that present appealing alternatives to much of the frustrating bureaucratic silliness we see in Washington D.C. And his following among certain conservatives is strong and aggressive.
So why would I even bother to take the side of the argument suggesting he shouldn’t be regarded as a serious candidate? Simply put, I believe Ron Paul is a political prophet. I believe that we as Americans do a poor job of understanding those who hold that role. And I believe that we too often miss the great service these people do us, while supporters of these figures too often ignore the implications if their guy actually were propelled to higher office.
The political prophet is a public figure who uses their role to articulate a political vision that is a significant departure from the status quo. They highlight the negative features of current governance and compare it to the more excellent government that exists in their minds. And they proclaim hope for a world in which better administration of the government leads to better lives for all.
Ron Paul clearly displays the major strengths and weaknesses of the political prophet. These include:
An Uncompromising Vision: The political prophet tends to have an entirely new system of governance worked out in their minds. One solution or change is dependent on other solutions or change, resulting in a need for wholesale governmental change if any of the solutions are to work. Many of Paul’s ideas, from fiscal policy to defense policy, require other changes as well, such as changes in tax policy and international relations.
The Message is the Goal: When the political prophet speaks, they don’t actually think you are going to buy their words wholesale. They are trying to slowly alter the stream of your personal philosophy to be more like theirs. Ron Paul does not think he has a shot at the presidency. He can count votes and test the temperature of the voters as well as the next guy. Instead, he runs because he has a long-term goal of altering the party conversation to lean more in his direction. He doesn’t want victory… he wants you to think about the things he’s said long after the next president has been elected, even though he knows that won’t be him.
They Represent Increased Polarization: Politics are rightly referred to as a spectrum, and the political prophet is one who stands a long ways to one edge or the other of that spectrum. In the real world, this means someone gaining power from one edge would bring a powerful reaction from the other edge. Any gains Ron Paul could make by being nominated by a major party would likely anger and energize his most extreme opponents, leading to significant defeat at election time. Again, he knows this.
They Call for a Different View of the Individual: All political philosophy, at its heart, asks the question, “What is the individual?” In other words, your governmental theory flows from your belief about whether we are basically good or basically bad, whether government flows from a need for protection or for increased efficiency, and whether humans can share or whether humans must dominate. Ron Paul and other political prophets try to convince us that the individual is something different than we’ve been assuming for quite some time. Once that is in place, closer agreement on political policy will soon follow. Paul’s view of the individual is a mishmash of conservative Christianity and Ayn Randian philosophy. Most of his ideas relate to how he believes responsible individuals can and should interact with government.
The prophet doesn’t want to win. The prophet wants to be heard. He or she sees the world as they think it could be if everyone bought in, but it is extremely rare to gain that type of popular support before a diverse national audience. And so the best case scenario for the political prophet is to use their position and their unique vision to highlight the problems we face as a nation, so that those who are in power are forced to respond.
There are some fascinating names, both for good and ill, that come to mind once you accept the concept of the political prophet. These include Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich, Michael Moore, and Ann Coulter. Historical names include everyone from Father Coughlin to Martin Luther King Jr. All of them powerful in their own way, all of them influential in the ebb and flow of American politics. But none of them are serious candidates to be leaders for all the people.
That’s the trouble with prophets. The political prophet is no shepherd, is no executive, and is no administrator. They do not listen to all sides, they do not negotiate compromise, they do not give so that they may receive. They are voices in the wilderness, and they are comfortable being voices in the wilderness.
Paul articulates a political philosophy steeped in an overly optimistic, self-reliant idea of the human individual. His policy stances, if implemented, might be beneficial for the objectivists among us, but perhaps not for those struggling to overcome decades of systemic cultural poverty. They get us excited about visions of freedom and self-determination, but they are untested in areas of justice and the general welfare. They seem to solve the problems of overextending our military, but they do not address the possibilities of international instability that would likely result.
Ron Paul is a prophet. As Christians and as Americans, we can value him as such, and we can allow him to make us more thoughtful about the policies we support and the assumptions we hold. But we are also people who appreciate the need for realistic solutions, compassionate governance, and a healthy appreciation for the human sin nature. Those things should make us hesitant about giving him our vote.
I appreciate and honor Ron Paul the Political Prophet. I listen to his ideas and I think about the ways in which I do or do not agree with them. But I do not take him seriously as a candidate for President of the United States. And neither should you.
Illustration courtesy of Seth T. Hahne.