He was never expected to win. That is not the problem. He was expected to articulate a vision of free men and free markets that would at least have some influence on American politics. It was to be an exercise in public education rather than political power; its purpose was (or should have been) to increase the sentiment for liberty. This is important because politics begins in public sentiment for certain perceived common goods, and requires an education in practical reason on the best methods and policies for reaching those goods. From that standpoint, a campaign like Ron Paul's could have been very valuable, in much the same way that the populist campaigns of “Fighting Bob” La Follette was a success; although the candidate lost, the campaign won in that his major causes became part and parcel of American politics. Ron Paul is not likely to have that kind of success, neither for himself nor for his cause.
It is not that other candidates do not use the rhetoric of liberty. Mitt Romney, for example, claimed to be a champion of the “free market,” and then proposed giving the automakers $20 billion. McCain opposed the Cheney/Bush “tax cuts,” and then insists on making them permanent. (I put “tax cuts” in quotes because there were no such cuts; there was a tax shift. Borrowing is taxing as well, but merely a tax you shift to the next generation.) And Huckabee wants to slap us all with a 30% sales tax and massive tax increases at the state and local level. And all of them—except Ron Paul—actively support an illegal and pointless war. They all use the rhetoric of constitutional liberty, but in reality they all support the torture state, the imperial presidency, the bankrupt government, and foreign adventures. A Ron Paul campaign that at least broke into double digits would have served as a warning to political leaders of both the right and the left that there remains in this country a significant sentiment for freedom and constitutional government.
Alas, I think the Ron Paul campaign has been counter-productive. It could be argued from his poor results that such sentiments are confined to a fringe group and need not be taken seriously in political calculations. He has demonstrated that you can ignore the reality of freedom so long as you pay homage to the rhetoric. Paul himself was never able to get beyond that rhetoric to articulate a coherent vision and practical policies. Indeed, clicking on the “issues” button on his own website gives only the most superficial discussion of the issues. Comparing all the candidates' web sites, Paul has, if anything, the most superficial discussions. Had Paul been consistently able to break even into the 10-15% range, he might have had a great influence on American politics; he might have established himself as the leader of a group that the Republican Party could not afford to ignore. As it is, he only demonstrated their impotence.
It is not that he did not have the money to do the job. Indeed, he has been successful in fundraising. But he has been less successful in finding useful ways to spend the money. He was no better than Romney or Giuliani at using his political funding wisely. And he turned out to be both a poor campaigner and poor debater. Well, there is not much he can do about his naturally whiny voice, but at least he was willing to defend the Constitution against all comers. Or so I thought. But in his latest ad, he is using all that money he raised not to defend the Constitution, but to attack one of its bedrock principles; he is as willing to abandon the Constitution for political advantage as is any of his rivals, Republican or Democrat. The principle that Ron Paul is now attacking is that of birthright citizenship. (see the ad here.)
Of course the ad plays to the immigration issue, and does so in the standard fear-mongering terms that might be expected from nearly any other campaign; he does not use the opportunity to articulate a “libertarian” view, but a purely nationalistic and even xenophobic one. Nevertheless, that is an issue that can be argued either way, and I do not here argue it one way or the other. His particular view is not where the problem comes in. Rather, the problem is that in the course of this ad, he calls for an end to a bedrock constitutional principle, that of “Birthright citizenship.” This has been a part of American tradition since the founding and part of the Constitution since the 14th amendment. Ending it would require repeal of at least part of the 14th amendment. This is a strange “defense” of the Constitution. Even that's okay; after all, the Constitution is not holy writ and has a mechanism for change. But should this principle be abandoned? Can it be overturned without great harm to our understanding of citizenship and the role of government?
Birthright makes citizenship an “act of God,” as it were. Repealing the 14th amendment would make the granting of citizenship purely an act of some government department or other. We would all become, in effect, “naturalized” citizens, whose membership in the body politic was in the gift of the bureaucracy. At a time of the torture state and the imperial presidency, in a time when the government seeks the power to declare some citizens “enemy combatants” (whatever that means) and to strip them of all rights before bringing them to trial, this is a dangerous idea. And whatever one thinks of this idea, one cannot really call it a “libertarian” idea. Indeed, making citizenship a gift of government seems to me to be the opposite of libertarianism, because what the bureaucracy gives, the bureaucracy may take away.
I am not a libertarian, for reasons I have laid out before (see Why I am not a Libertarian.) Nevertheless, I wish the libertarians well, and I believe a Distributist state would resemble the libertarian ideal more than it would resemble anything else. Further, I believe that libertarianism is impossible without well-distributed property. So I had good reasons for wishing Ron Paul well. I am truly saddened to see him sell out his principles for a few votes. As it is, he is not likely to get those votes; he sold his birthright and didn't even get what Esau got: a mess of porridge. It is, I think, a sad ending to a promising campaign.