Posted by Brad @ 11:58 am on August 23rd 2011

Ron Paul – What’s the Worst that Could Happen?

We have variants of this discussion a lot in 2008, about what people were afraid of it Ron Paul were somehow miraculously elected. For some reason I always felt that Paul was held to a different standard than anyone else – it was just generally assumed that Ron Paul, being elected President, would suddenly fiat into existence a libertarian utopia/distopia. Even with Paul himself assuring voters he would work towards ends, but incrementally – no first executive order being the abolishment of all government agencies – that was generally the standard to which he was held. That’s both fair and unfair depending on how you look at it.

Anyway, Conor Friedersdorf, a Paul-sympathetic, begins honestly reflecting on the question, and inviting readers to do the same. His setup:

So I got to thinking. What’s the worst thing that could plausibly happen if Ron Paul wins? And by that metric, how does he measure up to the folks he’s running against? Don’t ask why I chose him. It’s obvious. The idea of him in the White House makes a lot of the people reading this post uneasy. Despite my libertarian sympathies, there is even a part of me that has always felt, without ever having thought it through, that putting Paul in the White House would be the biggest gamble of all the possible candidates running in the GOP primary. His tenure might have tremendous upsides: zero imprudently launched wars, a resurgence of civil liberties, more transparency. But he’s also a radical who wants to see more fundamental change than any other candidate, he is least beholden to the political establishment, which constrains the behavior of conventional pols, and we’ve never seen him operate as an executive. […]

Even so, I am beginning to wonder whether my intuition that he represents the biggest gamble has led me astray: as I ponder the worst case scenarios that Paul might bring about, they don’t seem scarier than the alternatives.

It’s an interesting question, and go read the comment section, wherein the readers try to reasonably grapple with it too.


  1. He would refuse, as President, to sign legislation extending the debt ceiling. Under any circumstances.

    This would trigger a default, causing the yuan to replace the dollar as the global reserve currency of choice. The result would be an economic collapse on the order of the great depression.

    As President, he could do this alone.

    Comment by Rojas — 8/23/2011 @ 5:20 pm

  2. The debt ceiling was my very first thought as well, although I can’t quite tell if Rojas is being wry. But wouldn’t the rules for overriding a veto apply to the debt ceiling as well?

    Comment by Jack — 8/23/2011 @ 5:33 pm

  3. I’m glad this question is coming back up with some of the bigger blogging names. It seems to me the same sort of argument I tossed out all the time during the last run, and have started to use again during this run: Every single Presidential candidate running has some drop dead crazy freaking ideas, goals, and policies. The key difference between Paul and the movement conservatives was their ability to institute their crazy (more war, bomb Iran, etc), while Paul would be helpless to do more than talk about his (gold standard).

    Comment by Jack — 8/23/2011 @ 5:48 pm

  4. Oh, and when i say “tossed out all the time during last run” I mean every place but here.

    Comment by Jack — 8/23/2011 @ 5:49 pm

  5. I was actually thinking of you (or at least your devil’s advocating to your liberal friends) when I posted this.

    As far as the debt ceiling goes, I guess I am still sort of of the opinion that a temporary default wouldn’t be worse than, say, government bankruptcy (obligatory, rather than voluntary, default), but in the end I don’t think a President Paul would have the guts. That said, you better believe Congress would be hop-stepping just a little bit more in getting budgets through knowing Ron Paul’s in charge. My guess is nobody decides to play budget chicken with him in charge.

    Comment by Brad — 8/23/2011 @ 6:25 pm

  6. I think Dr. Paul’s record provides ample evidence that he has the guts to do anything he considers right. And I think we can safely say that the possibility of a Congressional override of such a decision, in the current political climate and with Congress’s current makeup, approaches nil.

    The President is also charged with nominating candidates for the FRB, as well as the chairman, with Senate confirmation. What sort of candidate do you suppose he would nominate to a policy body which he wants abolished? We can assume that the Senate would reject his first few suggestions, at which point…the seat would remain vacant, wouldn’t it?

    Comment by Rojas — 8/23/2011 @ 7:19 pm

  7. Rojas, I think the congressional dynamic would change dramatically with a Paul, as opposed to an Obama, exec. I think you would see a whole lot of angsty cooperation and aisle crossing with even greater pressure to pass it on both sides with a Paul presidency, and it would be a few years from now so the TP movement might be different. As for the appointments, do you think Paul would use recess appointments in situations like that?

    Comment by Jack — 8/23/2011 @ 9:54 pm

  8. I think the seat would remain vacant…because that is precisely his agenda for the Federal Reserve.

    Also, within six months of Dr. Paul’s inauguration, China would invade Taiwan.

    Comment by Rojas — 8/23/2011 @ 11:55 pm

  9. I don’t think failure to extend the debt ceiling would lead to a default. Or at least, default of what? I’d guess you’d be worried about T-bills? Why would we stop making interest payments on those? Wouldn’t those be one of the last things we’d stop paying?
    Other than that, I don’t think international markets care all that much about the U.S. defaulting on obligations. For instance, if the U.S. stopped funding government pensions, I can’t see why curreny markets or foreigners would care in the slightest.
    (Which is not to say that defaulting on pensions/SS/Medicare/etc. would be good, just that it wouldn’t trigger any sort of crisis in the dollar. Possibly the opposite).

    Comment by Redland Jack — 8/25/2011 @ 12:07 am

  10. More from Connor on the subject, sounding a lot like Jack. I have to admit, I don’t get it either, the behavior he’s critiquing (left-leaning civil libertarians going out of their way to find fault with Paul), save that it makes me a lot more skeptical (cynical?) of progressives on civil liberties and foreign policy.

    But there’s something about their reaction to libertarians that I regard as mistaken and weirdly myopic. And if even they are going to respond to all the betrayals of the Obama Administration on these issues by just voting for him again no matter what, is there any hope for left leaning civil libertarians?

    There isn’t much hope for the group of right-leaning civil libertarians within the Republican Party either. But at least Paul and Johnson are running, and the lesser of the two, Paul, is doing surprisingly well in polls. You’d think, given the convictions of Yglesias and Serwer, that the emergence of a libertarian right would excite them. Fewer needless wars! No illegal spying! An end to drug prohibition, and its ruinous effects, especially on minorities! But they’re too busy worrying over the return of the gold standard and the Civil Rights Act to see potential allies.

    Unlike liberalizing drug laws, or ending foreign wars, there is, in fact, no plausible scenario where we repeal the Civil Rights Act or return to the gold standard. And a stronger civil libertarian presence in America would do a lot of good. Its emergence might be hastened if prominent progressives didn’t ridicule and dismiss its most prominent advocate for falling short of standards that their own champions don’t come close to meeting.

    Comment by Brad — 8/25/2011 @ 9:15 am

  11. The problem is that Yglesias and the like are by and large not answering Conor’s question. Conor is asking WHAT WOULD ACTUALLY HAPPEN given the realities of politics in a Paul administration, ie which actions would be within his direct purview as President and which items on his agenda he’d have sufficient support to push through Congress.

    By and large, the responses to his question from other bloggers have been laundry lists of things Paul believes that they don’t like. Which is not the issue. At all.

    Comment by Rojas — 8/25/2011 @ 10:01 am

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