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Ron Paul, Progressive Utopian

In the Republican Presidential debates, when questions pertinent to economic policy have been put to Ron Paul, I have nearly always thought his answers cogent and well worthy of consideration — so I have tended to presume that his proposals regarding budgetary policy made some sense. Today, however, I learned otherwise.

In an article on The Weekly Standard website, John McCormack details Paul’s proposals regarding entitlements reform, and we learn: he has none. In fact, he is an even fiercer defender of the legacy of the New Deal and the Great Society than Mitt Romney:

All across Iowa this week, Ron Paul, the great libertarian hope, has been promising voters that we’ll have plenty of money to protect the crown jewels of the New Deal and the Great Society–Medicare and Social Security–if we simply cut “overseas spending.”

“I want to take care of the people who become so dependent on government, even though there would have been a better way to take of them,” Paul said at a rally in Des Moines on Wednesday evening. “You take the elderly on Social Security—there was a contract. But we can’t honor that contract if we keep spending this money overseas. So I’m for taking care of those people on Medicaid, Medicare, and anyone on Social Security.”

“Just remember the military budget is different than the defense budget. The military budget is all the weapons the military-industrial complex wants,” Paul said. If we have sound money and a “sensible foreign policy,” he continued, “we don’t have to give up anything. We don’t have to give up our defense.”

“The money we spend overseas should be the easiest money to cut,” he explained at a townhall-style meeting earlier Wednesday in Newton. “We’re spending well over a trillion dollars a year—probably about $1.4 trillion to operate all our activities overseas.”

Leave aside the obvious fact that if we cut 40% of the military budget and took that sum from the budget for personnel, weapons procurement, and weapons systems development, we would be inviting the Chinese to assert their hegemony in Asia and the Iranians to assert theirs over the Middle East; we would be leaving the Europeans entirely to their own devices (which is never wise); and we would be laying the groundwork for another world war — one for which we would be almost entirely unprepared. Leave that small matter aside.

There is another problem. As McCormack points out, Paul’s numbers do not add up: “The entire annual defense budget, including war spending in Iraq and Afghanistan, is less than $700 billion–not $1.4 trillion as Paul claims. More important, by 2025 Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and interest on the debt will consume all federal revenues. In other words, we could eliminate all defense spending and all other federal spending, and we’d still be running a deficit in a little over a decade.”

Paul may not be entirely unaware of this problem. He tells us that he wants to have “an adult conversation” about entitlements — but not right now.

Last week, I laid out the argument for thinking the Congressman from south Texas a scoundrel and a fool, but I underestimated the degree to which he is a fool. In a few days, we will learn what we should think about the Iowans who turn out for the Republican caucuses.

UPDATE: After some reflection, I changed the subtitle from Managerial Progressive to Progressive Utopian. Whatever criticism one may direct at managerial progressives, they are not simply irresponsible. Ron Paul is that — and much, much worse.

  1. Crow

    I don’t think anyone seriously believes that Ron Paul supports the entitlement state in theory—in this sense, John McCormick’s piece can be read as a bit of a hatchet job because I think John does know that Ron Paul would never have supported building the system we have.

    On another level, though, McCormick has done us a service because he has exposed the fact that, unlike what I have heard often asserted, Ron Paul is no more or less serious about pairing back entitlements than many of the other Republicans running in the race or in Congress–he is where the Paul Ryan wing of the GOP is.

    Which is to say: he adopts the very premise (that has been lampooned as RINO) that current senior citizens should be isolated from the very necessary changes to the welfare state coming in the next generation because a social contract was made with them has the force of law. One hastens to observe that there is a moral merit to this argument about the force of law and keeping one’s word, but that it also is not unmixed with practical electoral politics.

  2. Crow

    On yet a third level, however, Prof. Rahe is exactly right about Paul being utopian.

    Whatever one’s position on the Iraq and Afghan wars, the point is that their cost in dollars—even in addition to the roughly 4% of GDP that we spend on defense—is not what is bankrupting the country.

    To paraphrase a point I’ve heard Paul make again and again “we’d have to money to take care of the really important things at home if we weren’t starting all these wars abroad”. The simple truth of the matter is that this assertion is the worst kind of demagoguery. It is as true mathematically as it is politically—which is to say, utterly false. But it plays to a variety of prejudices among a certain voting demographic without seeking to enlarge or refine that perspective.

  3. Crow

    Enlarge and refine. That vaguely reminds me of something. I think it was this eminent progressive’s view of representation and statesmanship:

    “the effect of the first difference is, on the one hand, to refine and enlarge the public views by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country and whose patriotism and love of justice will be the least likely to sacrifice it to  a temporal and partial considerations.”

    Who was this eminent progressive, you ask, who had such a dour view of the voting public? Who was this grim soul that recognized that voters often had their own interests at heart but often failed to see the common interest, and who argued that public leaders must take seriously the dual role expressed by that traditional Latin term “magistrate”? Who was this oppressor who said that statesman must occasionally weave and harmonize these views by appeals to broader tasks, and therefore recognized in part that voters were not pure oracles of unadulterated wisdom?

    James Madison. 

  4. Mel Foil

    Paul is a bit like Obama in that way–plenty of platitudes and plenty of zeal, but no spreadsheets.

  5. Whiskey Sam

    The budget problems begin and end with entitlement spending.  Any candidate that doesn’t begin from the position of ending or curbing that spending is fundamentally unserious about fixing the problem.

  6. David Williamson
    Paul A. Rahe In a few days, we will learn what we should think about the Iowans who turn out for the Republican caucuses. ·

    It is more a case of what we learn about the Republican party, whose best members are not running – we can be glad they are not opportunists. Dr Paul is a symptom, not the problem.

    There is no problem with the Iowans.

  7. Mel Foil
    David Williamson

    Paul A. Rahe In a few days, we will learn what we should think about the Iowans who turn out for the Republican caucuses. ·

    It is more a case of what we learn about the Republican party, whose best members are not running – we can be glad they are not opportunists. Dr Paul is a symptom, not the problem.

    There is no problem with the Iowans. · Jan 1 at 2:52pm

    Edited on Jan 01 at 02:55 pm

    The very best may not be running, but Paul’s not even on the just adequate list as far as I’m concerned. What ever is happening outside our borders, he’s not interested. That’s not security–that’s lunacy.

  8. michael kelley

    Broker the Convention.

  9. James Of England

    We’ve tried to cut spending by cutting defense, without expensive foreign wars (occasional bombing raids are pretty cheap). I have a member feed post on Newt’s attempt. Turned out, it wasn’t enough.

    On the plus side, although, like Reagan, he’s promising to keep the welfare state, unlike Reagan he wouldn’t launch a record breaking expansion to it (Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act), or add supporting mandates to hospital care (Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act), and he promises to do better on immigration. I don’t see the last as being as big a welfare issue as some, but it seems like something.

  10. James Of England

    Just to be clear, I don’t mean to knock the sainted Reagan; I mean the “sainted” in a pretty unironic way. I just don’t think that “progressive” is the right term to apply to someone just because they share some of his views (on other topics, of course, Reagan and Paul are considerably more conservative). Indeed, Progressives have often been strongly in favor of a robust defense; other than Hoover, I think all of our past progressive Presidents were. In at least a couple of ways (free trade and a strong international military presence) I’d prefer a traditional progressive Democrat to Paul.

    But, then, I’m a keen supporter of the Henry Jackson Society, and am regularly reminded of the strength and decency of the Cold Warrior Democrat community on those fronts (and less frequently reminded of their awfulness on other fronts).

  11. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    James Of England: Just to be clear, I don’t mean to knock the sainted Reagan; I mean the “sainted” in a pretty unironic way. I just don’t think that “progressive” is the right term to apply to someone just because they share some of his views (on other topics, of course, Reagan and Paul are considerably more conservative). Indeed, Progressives have often been strongly in favor of a robust defense; other than Hoover, I think all of our past progressive Presidents were. In at least a couple of ways (free trade and a strong international military presence) I’d prefer a traditional progressive Democrat to Paul.

    But, then, I’m a keen supporter of the Henry Jackson Society, and am regularly reminded of the strength and decency of the Cold Warrior Democrat community on those fronts (and less frequently reminded of their awfulness on other fronts). · Jan 1 at 4:45pm

    Yes, the old Progressives — and Jackson was quite prominent among them — were good on foreign policy. That is, alas, past.

  12. Good Berean

    I doubt that Paul would not attempt to scale back entitllements after he is elected. He is wise to leave the “adult conversation” about entitlements until then. Many who would otherwise consider themselves “conservative” have bought in to the status quo: It is these he is probably playing to.

  13. The King Prawn

    It’s hard to believe he likes the military or defense at all with things like this. If the choice is butter or bullets I think it’s obvious which he would choose.

  14. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    Good Berean: I doubt that Paul would not attempt to scale back entitllements after he is elected. He is wise to leave the “adult conversation” about entitlements until then. Many who would otherwise consider themselves “conservative” have bought in to the status quo: It is these he is probably playing to. · Jan 1 at 5:15pm

    One cannot conceivably carry out entitlements reform without first getting a mandate to do so. You are giving him the benefit of a doubt he does not deserve.

  15. Ben Domenech
    C

    I have one small problem with this point from Mr. McCormack, which I pointed out to him on Twitter: he concludes the piece by saying that Paul is “the only Republican presidential candidate who has failed to endorse the central idea of the House Republicans’ plan to reform Medicare for the next generation”, in this case meaning premium support.

    I believe this is incorrect. While Michele Bachmann voted for Ryan’s plan, she specifically placed an “asterisk” on her vote (her word, not mine) and expressed concern about the Medicare portion of the matter, saying “I’m concerned about shifting the cost burden to senior citizens.” Which, even if premium support is the right way to go, it unquestionably does.

    Additionally, Rick Perry has not explicitly endorsed premium support as a solution. His plan only includes Ryan as one option “Lawmakers like Rep. Paul Ryan, Sen. Tom Coburn, Sen. Jim DeMint, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman have recognized the importance of tackling Medicare’s fiscally unsustainable future and put forward serious, credible proposals that deserve to be fully considered and debated as the nation moves forward to reform Medicare.” This is good but is clearly NOT an endorsement of premium support.

  16. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    Michael Labeit

    Paul A. Rahe

    James Of England:

    But, then, I’m a keen supporter of the Henry Jackson Society, and am regularly reminded of the strength and decency of the Cold Warrior Democrat community on those fronts (and less frequently reminded of their awfulness on other fronts).

    Yes, the old Progressives — and Jackson was quite prominent among them — were good on foreign policy. That is, alas, past.
    TR and Wilson also fall under the taxonomy of “old Progressives”. You mean to say that they were “good on foreign policy” as well? · Jan 1 at 7:23pm

    TR, yes. Wilson, yes and no. Yes, he was right to see the Kaiserreich as a threat. No, he was mad to think that one could fight a war to end all wars.

  17. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    Freesmith:

    One last thing:

    “In a few days, we will learn what we should think about the Iowans who turn out for the Republican caucuses.”

    On Tuesday the voters of Iowa will tell us what they think about the candidates after a long season of debates, public meetings and advertisements. But for Professor Rahe, this will be not be an election – it will be an event for him to pass judgment on the voters of Iowa.

    Now there’s a Progressive viewpoint. · Jan 1 at 7:48pm

    I will judge the voters of Iowa as I judged those who supported George Wallace back in the 1960s. Ron Paul is a nasty piece of business.

  18. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    DocJay: Does that fact that Mitt and Newt seem bought and paid for factor in to Paul’s popularity. People smell something rotten in Denmark. You can dissect Paul all you want and come up with some pretty negative and valid reasons to dislike some of his policies, nonetheless he is outside of the gang of crooks from a perception standpoint. Our country is sick of insider crooks. I think a Paul presidency would be problematic to say the least but I’m pretty sure it would be less corrupt than the past three. If conservatives want to beat Obama, they need to prove he is more crooked that whoever runs against him. I am curious if I’m the only one who thinks Obama is a Chicago crook. I am curious if anyone has the guts to try and prove it. · Jan 1 at 8:16pm

    Edited on Jan 01 at 08:17 pm

    You are largely right. No genuine conservatives of any stature ran this year. Discontent with the administrative entitlements state is at its height — and there is no one plausible to vote for. Rick Perry might have put a stop to this. Even, perhaps Michele Bachmann.

  19. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    DocJay: I have the feeling that Paul would be stupefied if he actually won and be as lost as the dog that caught the car he’d been chasing down the block for eight years. I do think he would try to cut more than anyone else though. I prefer to think of Paul as an aging semi libertarian with non realistic visions. I also think his devoted followers don’t like being dismissed as kooks especially when business as usual brought our country to it’s financial knees. · Jan 1 at 8:40pm

    It is, alas, much uglier than that. He built his base by appealing to resentment against African-Americans, Jews, and the homoerotically inclined. He may not be a bit himself, but he lives off of and nourishes the bigotry of others. His isolationism is perfectly consistent with his xenophobia.

  20. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    James Of England

    Michael Labeit

    Paul A. Rahe

    Y

    TR and Wilson also fall under the taxonomy of “old Progressives”. You mean to say that they were “good on foreign policy” as well? · 
    They were more excitable than I’d like; this is kind of a quintessential part of the Progressive personality. Still, if someone is going to be passionate about morality, I’d prefer them to be passionately moralistic than passionately amoral, which is what surrendering one’s responsibilities as a superpower amounts to.  If America doesn’t fight the savage wars of peace, no one will; a tragedy of the commons would operate, as it does with most sanctions now. If America gives up its role as global adult, it would give up a significant portion of its character.

    America is a nation conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. If America does not flinch at the suffering of the unfree, and accepts that there are people, unable to fend for themselves, who should not be cared for, dedication will have lost its meaning. · Jan 1 at 9:42pm

    Yes, indeed, and both Romney and Gingrich are good in this department.

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