Controversial US book becomes a bestseller
by Ron Paul
(New York: Grand Central Publishing)
Hardback: 192 pages
Rec. price: AUD$42.00
Look for Ron Paul’s name in the Australian press and you won’t find much about him, but he is an important public figure. He remains a candidate for the Republican nomination for president of the United States, and has pledged delegates to the nominating convention.
Paul represents a school of thought that is mostly alien to Australia. He is described as a libertarian, but the policies he advocates have long had a following in America — distrust of big government, isolationism, distrust of paper money and a return to a strict interpretation of the US Constitution.
Minority of one
Paul is a member of the US Congress for a district in south Texas. He is also an obstetrician who has delivered over 4,000 babies. He is called Dr No, because he usually votes no in the House of Representatives, and he is often in a minority of one.
His recent book, The Revolution: A Manifesto, soared to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. At one stage, it was so popular on Amazon that it had a waiting-list for delivery of over a month.
Is this a good book? Quite frankly, it’s a great disappointment. It is full of assertions unsupported by argument and is often just plain nutty.
Paul advocates the repeal of any legislation prohibiting illegal drugs, but does not appear to consider the result if this plan were implemented. The US’s alcohol Prohibition era (from 1920 to 1933) was a failure, but this does not mean that all illicit drugs should be legalised.
Paul is personally opposed to abortion, but advocates returning the power to legislate on abortion to the states. This would be preferable to the current situation, where any form of abortion — including partial-birth abortion — is protected by the US Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe vs Wade decision; but Paul’s proposed solution is still far from ideal.
Several US states have legislated to restrict abortion, but it is still an issue that is too hot to handle for most US state legislatures. For Paul to think his approach would gain nation-wide backing across the states is fanciful. In other words, Paul is personally opposed to abortion but against effective action to prevent it.
Paul is a follower of the Austrian school of economics, which believes that markets can solve every social and economic problem and that, with unfettered capitalism, the state will fade away. The state didn’t fade away under communism, and it won’t fade away under capitalism either.
Much of what Paul advocates would be disastrous for Australia. Paul wants all American troops withdrawn from overseas and the end to all “entangling alliances”. He does not support any form of military foreign assistance by the US government, although he does commend individual charity towards foreigners. Paul’s advocacy of the end of aid to Israel has enraged some Jewish groups in the United States. For Australia, Paul’s isolationism would mean the end of the ANZUS alliance, which is the basis of Australia’s defence and foreign policy.
It would be wrong to write off Paul as just another crank. He represents a persistent stream of thought in American politics and has raised millions for his campaign — he raised a record amount in one day on the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, using the Internet as one of his most effective fund-raising tools.
Paul also has hands-on experience as a practising doctor. He delivers babies on credit, and, for the truly needy, he will act on a pro bono basis. Paul must be given credit for acting on his personal convictions to the detriment of his personal finances. Whether his personal example would inspire a more publicly spirited medical system that would cover everyone is doubtful.
We don’t hear much about libertarians like Paul because of a double media-filter — first by the left-liberal American media, dominated by the north-eastern newspapers and television networks, and second, by the Australian media.
Paul just doesn’t fit into the Australian political landscape. Libertarianism in this country — apart from a few short-lived political oddities such as John Singleton’s short-lived Workers’ Party — has never had much of a following.
Paul, however, cannot be dismissed so easily. As discussed, he represents a strong tradition in American politics, going back to the American Revolution and the Founding Fathers, which we should be aware of, not least because of its influence on current politics.
In more immediate terms, Paul also has a strong following in the American West and, if he breaks with the Republicans, and endorses a libertarian candidate in the forthcoming US presidential election, he could draw votes from John McCain, the Republican candidate, causing him to lose key states. (There is also talk that he could be a running-mate for McCain, to “toughen up” the ticket for the Arizona senator, who is regarded as dangerously suspect on taxes. Paul, in contrast, claims he has never voted to increases taxes.)
Australians might not agree with much of what Paul says, but should be aware of his influence. His “manifesto” would indeed be revolutionary if implemented, but it is short on specifics.
Many commentators wrote off Barry Goldwater as an eccentric, but he had a profound influence. Ron Paul won’t win this election, but it would be unwise to disregard him.