Ron Paul's Role [Bruce]

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I've enjoyed reading Andrew's supportive comments about Ron Paul. Working on Ron's congressional staff was the first "real" job I had after giving up on an academic career and leaving graduate school in 1976. He had just been elected the first time in a special election in April of that year and I went to work for him a month later. I applied for a job with him after reading a story about him in the Washington Post in which his opponent accused Ron of being to the right of Barry Goldwater. That sounded good to me. I think I was hired because I had published a couple of articles in The Freeman, a little magazine published by the Foundation for Economic Education that Ron read religiously.

Ron and I haven't seen too much of each other over the years, but I did interview him earlier this year. I couldn't see any real difference between the Ron Paul of today and the one I worked for more than 30 years ago. He's a little grayer, of course, but he still comes across as a regular guy who just happens to be a congressman. I couldn't help thinking how similar he is to Jefferson Smith, the Jimmy Stewart character in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." Like Smith, Ron views his position as an enormous priviledge and he gives thanks every day for the ability to say what he thinks, meet interesting people, and maybe have a little bit of impact on policy.

I think this attitude comes across to every person who sees him in person or hears Ron talk. His sincerity and earnestness are so heartfelt that it is impossible not to like and respect him even when he is talking about stuff like the evils of fiat money that make the eyes of all but a few true believers glaze over. But that is all part of his charm. It is proof positive that Ron is not giving a speech that has been polled, focus-tested and approved by a bunch of inside-the-beltway political consultants. And it's why we know that when Ron denounces the war in Iraq it is not because he is trying to curry favor with the antiwar crowd, but because it is part of a comprehensive philosophy that is logically consistent to a fault.

In spite of our history, however, I have had trouble getting behind Ron's campaign. Part of it is that I am deeply alienated from the Republican Party these days and don't really care who it nominates. But it's also because I have always seen Ron as a modern day Don Quixote--someone who would rather tilt at windmills like the Federal Reserve than try to really enact legislation that would actually change public policy. I have always felt that Ron would rather die for principle than win any day of the week. But, like I said, that's part of his charm and why those of an idealistic nature can't help but be drawn to him.

I am starting to change my mind a little bit, however. As it becomes more and more certain that the Republican candidate has just about zero chance of winning next year, there's at least a chance that some significant portion of the base may decide that if they are going to lose anyway, it might as well be with a candidate who they admire and respect. I think this a part of what powered Barry Goldwater to the Republican nomination in 1964. Everyone knew he was going to lose, including Goldwater, so it didn't really matter. Something like that might make Ron Paul semi-viable as well.

The odds of this scenario developing are pretty long, I admit. Republicans' capacity for self-delusion is strong and most of them probably won't allow themselves to consider the possibility of a Democratic victory no matter what the polls and experts say. They will delude themselves that they can pull off a Truman-like 1948 miracle right up until the last vote is counted. In my opinion, they would be better off writing off 2008 and thinking about how to make a comeback in the 2010 congressional elections and retake the White House in 2012. But that's just me.

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