[Re-posted from earlier today.]
The Dish goes through the process of endorsing candidates in a primary season, not because I'm under any illusions that my endorsement counts. It probably hurts an insignificant amount, if anything. I try to make a decision – because it's easy to pontificate, debate, counter and riff off the various eddies in the campaign, but in the end, it comes to a choice for all voters in the booth. Why should a blogger avoid that responsibility? And I should be clear. This endorsement is mine and mine alone.
For a long time, I thought Huntsman would be my ideal candidate. And indeed, his tax reform proposals – modeled on Bowles-Simpson – are dead-on. Removing every single deduction in one heave would do more to empower market-based decisions in the economy and to throw lobbyists out of work than any other single measure. It's the most important, simple, productive move we can make right now and Obama has been a coward and a fool for not embracing it. Alas, the rates Huntsman favors are, to my mind, far too low, given the desperate need for revenues, if we are to tackle the debt seriously. But we are not electing a dictator. We are electing one branch of three that govern us. Huntsman is not the kind of Republican who couldn't compromise with Democrats. The Grand Bargain may become possible again.
On foreign policy, Huntsman also favors a more realist correction to neocon excess, and would build on Obama's remarkable successes, without invoking some of Obama's more worrying bleeding heart tendencies. His longstanding ties to America's most important global partner, China, make him uniquely qualified to take that relationship to a new level. Unlike Romney, he is not for starting a trade war. And his sanity on climate change – certainty that it is man-made but real skepticism about how to tackle it – is, in my view, the conservative position. And, almost alone among the Republicans, he acknowledges that gay people exist and that our committed relationships merit recognition in the law.
So why not Huntsman? The sad truth is: he simply hasn't connected with the voters, generates little enthusiasm, and has run a mediocre campaign. He started timidly, and failed from the get-go to make a clear distinction between him and Romney. He isn't even campaigning in Iowa; and remains behind in New Hampshire. Nationally, he is at a sad 3.2 percent, a number that has barely budged since the summer. For all intents and purposes, he is a one-state candidate. I welcome his participation but view it as a marker for 2016, if the GOP crashes and burns next year, as they well might with Newt Romney. With such a defeat (and one would hope it is decisive), there will be an opportunity to rebuild a reality-based conservatism. And Huntsman may well be the man to lead it. I sure hope so.
Which brings me to Ron Paul. Let me immediately say I do not support many of his nuttier policy proposals. I am not a doctrinaire libertarian. Paul's campaign for greater oversight of the Fed is great, but abolition of it is utopian and dangerous. A veto of anything but an immediately balanced budget would tip the US and the world into a serious downturn (a process to get there in one or two terms makes much more sense). Cutting taxes as he wants to is also fiscally irresponsible without spending cuts first. He adds deductions to the tax code rather than abolish them. His energy policy would intensify our reliance on carbon, not decrease it. He has no policy for the uninsured. There are times when he is rightly described as a crank. He has had associations in the past that are creepy when not downright ugly.
But all this is why a conservative like me is for Obama. What we are talking about here is who to support in a primary dominated by extremes, resentment, absence of ideas and Obama-hatred.
And I see in Paul none of the resentment that burns in Gingrich or the fakeness that defines Romney or the fascistic strains in Perry's buffoonery. He has yet to show the Obama-derangement of his peers, even though he differs with him. He has now gone through two primary elections without compromising an inch of his character or his philosophy. This kind of rigidity has its flaws, but, in the context of the Newt Romney blur, it is refreshing. He would never take $1.8 million from Freddie Mac. He would never disown Reagan, as Romney once did. He would never speak of lynching Bernanke, as Perry threatened. When he answers a question, you can see that he is genuinely listening to it and responding – rather than searching, Bachmann-like, for the one-liner to rouse the base. He is, in other words, a decent fellow, and that's an adjective I don't use lightly. We need more decency among Republicans.
And on some core issues, he is right. He is right that spending – especially on entitlements and defense – is way out of control. Unlike his peers, he had the balls to say so when Bush and Cheney were wrecking the country's finances, and rendering us close to helpless when the Great Recession came bearing down. Alas, he lacks the kind of skills at compromise, moderation and restraint that once defined conservatism and now seems entirely reserved for liberals. But who else in this field would? Romney would have to prove his base cred for his entire presidency. Gingrich is a radical utopian and supremely nasty fantasist.
I don't believe Romney or Gingrich would cut entitlements as drastically as Paul. But most important, I don't believe that any of the other candidates, except perhaps Huntsman, would cut the military-industrial complex as deeply as it needs to be cut. What Paul understands – and it's why he has so much young support – is that the world has changed. Seeking global hegemony in a world of growing regional powers among developing nations is a fool's game, destined to provoke as much backlash as lash, and financially disastrous as every failed empire in history has shown.
We do not need tens of thousands of troops in Europe. We do not need to prevent China's rise, but to accommodate it as prudently as possible. We do need to get out of the Middle East to the maximum extent and return our relationship with Israel to one between individual nations, with different interests and common ideals, not some divine compact between two Zions. We do need a lighter, more focused, more lethal war against Jihadism – but this cannot ever again mean occupying countries we do not understand and cannot control. I suspect every other Republican would launch a war against Iran. Paul wouldn't. That alone makes a vote for him worthwhile.
Breaking the grip of neoconservative belligerence on conservative thought and the Republican party could make space again for more reasoned and seasoned managers of foreign policy. Embracing the diversity of a multi-cultural, multi-faith America is incompatible with Christianism and the ugly anti-illegal immigrant fervor among the Republican base. But it is perfectly compatible with a modest, humble libertarianism that allows a society to find its own way, without constant meddling and intervention in people's lives. Just as vitally, no other Republican (or Democrat) would end the war on drugs, one of the most counter-productive, authoritarian campaigns against individual liberty this country has known since Prohibition.
He could also begin to unwind the imperial presidency. We would no longer go to war without a full Congressional vote and approval. Torture would not return under Paul, making it more likely that we can contain that virus to the criminal regime of Cheney and Bush. Politics would be marked more by what wasn't done, rather than what was – a truly conservative move and in stark contrast with the man who really would have made a good Marxist, Newt Gingrich.
The constant refrain on Fox News that this man has "zero chance" of being the nominee is a propagandistic lie. Nationally, Paul is third in the polls at 9.7 percent. In Iowa, he may win. In New Hampshire, it is Paul, not Gingrich, who is rising this week as Romney drifts down. He's at 19 percent, compared with Gingrich's 24. He is the third option for the GOP. And I believe an Obama-Paul campaign would do us all a service. We would have a principled advocate for a radically reduced role for government, and a principled advocate for a more activist role. If Republicans want a real debate about government and its role, they have no better spokesman. He is the intellectual of the field, not Gingrich.
I am, like many others these days, politically homeless. A moderate, restrained limited government conservatism that seeks to amend, not to revolt, to reform, not to revolutionize, is unavailable. I'm a Tory who has come to see universal healthcare as a moral necessity that requires some minimal government support, who wants government support for a flailing recovery now, but serious austerity once we recover. I favor massive private and public investment in non-carbon energy, because I am a conservative who does not believe our materialism trumps the need for conserving our divine inheritance. I back marriage equality and marijuana legalization as Burkean adjustments to a changing society. I see a role for government where Paul doesn't.
But Paul's libertarianism may be the next best thing available in the GOP. It would ensure real pressure to make real cuts in entitlements and defense; it would extricate America from the religious wars of the Middle East, where we do not belong. It would challenge the statist, liberal and progressive delusion that for every problem there is a solution, let alone a solution devised by government. As part of offering the world a decent, tolerant conservatism, these instincts are welcome. As an antidote – and a very strong one – to the fiscal recklessness and lawless belligerence of Bush-Cheney, it is hard to beat. The Tea Party, for all their flaws, are right about spending and the crony capitalism it foments. So is Paul.
I regard this primary campaign as the beginning of a process to save conservatism from itself. In this difficult endeavor, Paul has kept his cool, his good will, his charm, his honesty and his passion. His scorn is for ideas, not people, but he knows how to play legitimate political hardball. Look at his ads – the best of the season so far. His worldview is too extreme for my tastes, but it is more honestly achieved than most of his competitors, and joined to a temperament that has worn well as time has gone by.
I feel the same way about him on the right in 2012 as I did about Obama in 2008. Both were regarded as having zero chance of being elected. And around now, people decided: Why not? And a movement was born. He is the "Change You Can Believe In" on the right. If you are an Independent and can vote in a GOP primary, vote Paul. If you are a Republican concerned about the degeneracy of the GOP, vote Paul. If you are a citizen who wants more decency and honesty in our politics, vote Paul. If you want someone in the White House who has spent decades in Washington and never been corrupted, vote Paul.
Oh, and fuck you, Roger Ailes.
(Photos: Tom Williams/Roll Call; Alex Wong, Kevork Djansezian/Getty.)