This is a post that has been brewing in my brain for some time, but was finally pushed through to my fingers by my friend Shaun Kenney’s post on Ron Paul. Shaun, forced by the utter incomptence of the other campaigns to choose between Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, made his case for the latter. Given the choice in front of us, my preferences lean heavily toward the former, and I can’t think of a better place to explain why than here at BD.
I will not discuss the various character and association issues that critics of Paul have raised, mainly for two reasons: first, Ken Falkenstein did it already; second, those who still support or are considering supporting Paul have already discounted much or all of that on the assumption that he represents the best chance to advance limited government. It is that assumption I will challenge in this post.
Let’s go right to the heart of the problem most conservatives have with Romney (including myself): Health Care. Just about everyone knows of Mitt Romney’s support for the individual mandate in Massachusetts and nationwide. However, it takes more than a mandate to bring about socialized medicine (in fact, a mandate might not even be necessary – Barack Obama vehemently opposed one in 2008). It also requires a willingness to use the government’s monopoly/monopsony power in the market to regulate prices and deny services. This is the great danger of single-payer systems such as the British or Canadian examples; this is the concept that led to Obamacare’s “death panels”; this is the danger that in my view is far greater than the mandate discussion (although the mandate is no small potatoes).
Which candidate has supported using the American government’s monopsony power to distort the market in such a fashion? Not Mitt Romney
Moving on, let’s look at social issues. Ron Paul repeatedly refers to himself as “pro-life,” but it would be more accurate to say he has a “popular sovereignty” view on the matter (i.e., it is purely a state issue). That would certainly be an improvement over the status quo, but it hardly means much given that the only way that scenario occurs is an overturn of Roe v. Wade. While I am fairly certain Dr. Paul would do his best to find Justices that would bring that about, the endorsement of Mitt Romney by none other than Robert Bork tells me I can trust either man on this point. Beyond that, Romney’s admittedly unusual travels on this issue (many move one way or the other; he is one of the very few to double back to the pro-life position) are largely irrelevant for now. If Roe were overturned, there may – stress may – be some space between the two, but I’d be happy to see that bridge in my lifetime, let alone cross it.
Shaun also mentioned gun rights, and I’d be a fool to say Romney is better than Paul (or even equal to him) on this; but a Republican presidential victory in November will mean a fully Republican Congress (the Democrats have to defend nearly two dozen Senate seats next year), and if a Republican Congress passes restrictions on gun rights, we have much bigger problems than Mitt Romney or Ron Paul.
Finally, it might be a good idea to take a look at Romney’s budget record, which involved erasing a large shortfall without a general tax increase despite a hostile legislature – something for which many conservatives have praised Bob McDonnell for two years now. Personally, I’m not comfortable with either Governors’ over-reliance on revenue-generating fees or the closing of tax “loopholes,” but I’ve been deep in the minority on that opinion for a good while now. What’s good from Richmond (for those who think it is) should be just as good from Boston.
Paul, by contrast, has greatly over-leveraged his old reputation as “Dr. No.” Lest we forget, the man who repeatedly talks about the proper role of constitutional government sponsored legislation that would have created an insurance moral hazard and could have partially reflated the housing bubble. He even had this to say about it:
Providing tax relief to first-time homebuyers and to those affected by natural disasters should be one of Congress’ top priorities.
I don’t remember that priority coming out of Philadelphia in 1787.
This leads me to a greater problem with Dr. Paul: his limited government mantra disappears when microeconomics are involved. From a macroeconomic perspective, Paul checks all the boxes on limited government; move to the micro-level and he becomes much more comfortable with economic distortions than his supporters like to admit. As a Congressman, that problem can be manageable, as a President, it can lead to the “targeted tax-cuts” fiasco of the Clinton years, or the above monopsony issue. Compared to this, Mitt Romney’s economic record, while hardly sterling (see above), holds up quite well.
Of course, there is foreign policy: perceived to be Paul’s greatest weakness. Even Shaun admits he has a problem with it (so I’d advise you to just read what he has to say on the matter first), but I would also add two other points. First, unlike any of the other candidates, Romney clearly perceives the economic danger from the Chinese Communist Party – both in their currency distortions and their lack of respect for intellectual property rights. In fact, Romney is the only presidential candidate I have seen focused on the intellectual theft issue. In response, his opponents have sneered at him for daring to spike the “engagement” Kool-Aid. Secondly, but just as importantly, Dr. Paul completely fails to understand the importance of a vigorous foreign policy in aiding limited government. Jefferson suffered from a similar lapse in his Administration, and he found himself caught between the French and British Empires. The result was the Embargo Act fiasco – the closest that 19th century America ever came to a police state – and the catastrophic War of 1812.
Romney, for all his faults, understands the threats to America and the havoc they can wreak. While this election season has focused far less on foreign policy than it should, we cannot forget it.
I would add one more item to my list of reasons why Romney deserves a second look in the Old Dominion: he has been the best performing candidate, by far, of any in the field. As the other candidates have moved from gaffe to gaffe (Bachmann on vaccines, Paul on foreign policy and the supposed bigotry of his opponents, Cain on foreign policy, Gingrich on judges, Perry on just about everything, and Santorum on whining about debate time), Romney has been near-perfect. The only thing that comes close to a slip-up was his attempt to goad Perry into a $10,000 wager.
I am loath to mention general election polling, in part because only Romney has been consistently polled against Obama, but it is telling that despite the turbulent reaction from Republican voters, the general electorate has nearly always put him ahead of Obama or in a statistical tie with him. Clearly voters are seeing something they like, or can at least entertain seriously, in November 2012.
Virginia Republicans and conservatives are faced with a choice between two men who are far from perfect; both have admirable qualities, to be sure. However, a thorough and detailed examination of the choices reveals that Romney is better on the critical matters in front of us than he appears, while Paul is a good deal worse than he appears on these same matters. I can understand why my good friend Shaun would lean Paul’s way, but for the reasons above, I can not agree with him.