If you’re relying on this ambivalent article from the New York Times, the answer is definitely in the air. Whether you love or hate Ron Paul, there is no doubt that he is a fascinating guy; seemingly, he loves weed and peace and freedom, but he tempers that with healthy doses of irrelevant economic thought, racism, and genuinely crazy rigidness. How does one become a paradoxical patron of Hayekian hubris? Rosebud…
The Birth of a Legend
Ron Paul was born a straight shooter with upper-management potential. Of that there is no doubt. He has the classic credentials: vague family histories of an evil Europe that would love nothing more than to smother the baby of freedom under a blanket of tyranny; a strict upbringing that encouraged hard work and character development; and a drive to be honest and fair and baseball and apple pie and ice cream and blah blah blah:
From a young age, Ron, the third of five, and his four brothers earned pennies picking raspberries that their grandfather, a farmer, sold in Pittsburgh, and plucking dirty milk bottles from the crates of empties in their basement. Yet they saw their parents let customers short on cash slide on paying their bills for months at a time.
Ron Paul didn’t have Facebook or Sock Hops or Sadie Hawkins’s Dances or any of that crap to distract him from being an upright citizen. Moreover, he learned a valuable lesson about the free market early on:
Wartime rationing also left a mark. When he saw a local butcher shop ignoring the rules on Saturdays and selling “all the meat you wanted, at a price,” Mr. Paul wrote, it was “my first real-life experience in the free market solving problems generated by government mischief.”
I’m not really sure I see the lesson in flouting the law to make an extra buck (it kind of seems like that butcher was screwing his customers), but it’s this kind of thing that sticks in a man’s mind and helps him form an ideology. Especially if he loves steak, and he wouldn’t have gotten a steak otherwise.
The Hero’s Journey
But Ron Paul wasn’t destined to be a small-time country bumpkin, spinning philosophies from his porch and shooting varmints and cursing immigrants; no sir, his all-American athletic ability put him on a different track. Sadly, however, his honesty ruined his chances at the University of Pittsburgh (he was offered an athletic scholarship, but declined because he had an injury that he believed would make it difficult for him to compete), so he went to Gettysburg College instead, working his way through and supporting himself by the sweat of his brow. I can practically see the eagles crying!
After college, Ron Paul decided to pursue a medical degree at Duke, and this is where his zany political ideas galvanized with bad art:
At the Duke School of Medicine, the Pauls had the first two of their five children. But even with the demands of medical school and a family, Mr. Paul found time to plow through “Atlas Shrugged” and “Doctor Zhivago,” new best sellers that would inspire generations of conservatives and libertarians.
If the Ron Paul who had arrived at Gettysburg was a bundle of visceral conservative political impulses in search of an intellectual framework, he found it at Duke through his extracurricular reading.
He also began his love affair with the Austrian School of Economics, and Friedrich Hayek. This seems to be the turning point in Paulian histrionics:
Fellow medical students, too, still remember his exhortations about the gold standard and the encroaching welfare state. “He believed in not too much federal government,” said Siegfried Smith, a classmate. “And this was a time when we didn’t have a lot.”
Yet politics was still some time away; first, Ron Paul would intern in Detroit, serve two years as a flight surgeon in San Antonio, and then perform his OB/GYN residency in Pittsburgh. It was there that he would cement his opinions on abortion (an opinion that rankles many individuals as it seems in direct contradiction with his stance on personal freedom). After a few years of annoying his colleagues in Pittsburgh and forcing them to speculate on his membership in the John Birch Society for Assholes, Ron Paul would return to Texas to take over the practice of a retiring doctor. And it is with this practice that he turned toward his political destiny.
The Hero’s Return
The final straw for Dr. Paul was Nixon’s abandonment of the Gold Standard in 1971; after a few years of buying up gold, Dr. Paul ran for a congressional seat in 1974 and lost; he then won in a special election in 1976, and we’ve been stuck with him ever since.
Ron Paul’s opinions haven’t changed in decades, if ever; he writes wacky newsletters and engages in conspiracy theorizing; he insists that Americans deny globalism and forget about engaging internationally. Is he an echo of the assassin Leon Czolgosz? Czolgosz was a hard-working Republican, too; moreover, he was seemingly influenced by the wacky ideas of a few ideologues. Arguably, experience alone differentiates the two men; were it not for Czolgosz’s negative experiences with corporate interests, he might have been Representative Czolgosz (probably not, though–that last name is hard as fuck to pronounce).
I think their differing paths is illustrative of the problem with Ron Paul. He is seemingly incapable of abstracting from his own experience; moreover, he seems incapable of analyzing his own ideologies. He lacks the recursive eye of a genuine philosopher and instead possesses the rigid stare of the ideologue. Counterfactualizing experience is part of empathy, and empathy is a necessary quality in a leader.
Also, youth. Ron Paul is way too fucking old to be president.