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What Ron Paul Gets Wrong

The libertarian from Texas might be a small business favorite, if only he weren't unelectable. The real reason he is, though, might surprise you.

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Rep. Ron Paul Quixote (R-La Mancha) came in second with 23 percent of the vote yesterday in the New Hampshire Republican primary. That’s the second delegate-picking event in a row where he has gotten that percentage of the vote. This proves he has a solid base, but unless he manages to get a substantially more of the total vote in South Carolina or Florida,  he’s going to remain a fringe candidate. That’s despite the fact that he draws support from the right, left and everywhere else. His problem is that almost everyone agrees with him and disagrees with him so strongly.

There are many things for business owners to like about Paul, even for the few who don’t agree with him on anything. First and foremost is his consistency. He is definitely not one to change his opinions to fit the moment.

He has stood for the same things throughout his political career: He’s an anti-tax and in favor of smaller government—which would endear him to most (though not all) owners. He’s against the Fed and wants to get the U.S. back on the gold standard, which is a bit more controversial for owners.

On the social front, he’s in favor of the Bill of Rights in a big way and has been the only candidate to call The Patriot Act what it is – unpatriotic. He’s against war and against American interventionism. (Did anyone else in Congress vote against both The Iraq War and The Patriot Act?) He’s pro-life/anti-choice (depending on your linguistics). He believes in personal responsibility in a way that tends to confound Ayn Rand fans. He believes we have a personal responsibility to help each other and showed that during his long career as an obstetrician, delivering babies and giving help to people who couldn’t pay for it.

This is such an non-conformist list that I don’t know anyone who can’t find three things they agree with him on and three more that make them think he’s a raving lunatic. (Maybe one guy: A New Hampshire voter interviewed on the radio yesterday who said he couldn’t make up his mind between Rick Santorum and John Huntsman. Do those two even agree on the same alphabet?)

I find some of his economic stands sound from a small business point of view. Others strike me as bizarre,  to say the least. He’s against government support and subsidies of big business without exception. Good for him: This makes him the only true free market capitalist running for president. He would never, ever, ever say – as Mitt Romney did –  that “Corporations are people, my friend.” Paul knows what businesses are and what they aren’t and wants them to sink or swim on their merits. It’s a sad comment on the U.S. that this is a radical stand.

On the other hand, there’s this whole gold standard thing. The arguments I’ve encountered about getting back on the gold standard all have to do with gold not being something that has an arbitrary value and therefore makes for a solid currency. This tends to devolve into “discussions” of whether money based on gold or money based on sovereign debt (our current model) are better for the economy. While conventional economists agree with John Maynard Keynes that the gold standard is a “barbarous relic,” that’s not why I think Paul is wrong. I find it indefensible to argue that the value of gold isn’t arbitrary. Gold’s primary intrinsic value is that it’s a superb electric conductor. Any value beyond that comes out of human opinion, just like the value assigned to paper money.

But what truly astounds me about Ron Paul isn’t any of his positions. It’s why voters say they won’t vote for him. The biggest reason: He wants to bring the troops back home. Voters turn away most often when they hear he’s anti-interventionism and that he thinks the way not to get into so many wars is to not have troops stationed in so many different nations. He wants to shrink the military-industrial complex by giving the Pentagon a rational mission. He wants it to focus on defending the U.S. and not worry about our ability to “project our power” around the globe.

America, that’s your reason for not voting for him?

Do me a favor and name one thing we’ve gained from the ability to “project power.” If you can, which I seriously doubt, then balance it against what we’ve paid for it in terms of both human life and its huge role in bankrupting our government.

Once you’ve done that, give another thought to Ron Paul Quixote. You may still not vote for him, but at least you haven’t fallen for the oldest trick in the political book. H.L. Mencken described it perfectly: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

Last updated: Jan 11, 2012

CONSTANTINE VON HOFFMAN | Columnist

Constantine von Hoffman is a writer and sometime standup comedian. His work has appeared in Harvard Business Review, NPR, Sierra magazine, Brandweek, CIO, The Boston Herald, TheStreet.com, and Boston Magazine.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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