Ron Paul: Interviews with Historian David Beito and Political Scientist Matthew Wilson





10-31-11

Alexander Heffner, a freelance journalist, conducted and curated interviews with leading academics on the top GOP hopefuls. They will appear as part of an ongoing series on HNN.

David Beito Interview

David Beito, Professor of History, The University of Alabama, and author of Taxpayer’s Revolt

In the context of our political history, is Rep. Ron Paul the most libertarian presidential candidate the country has ever seen?

Yes, very much so.  I don’t think anyone in American history comes even close.

Do you see parallels between Paul—in one or more dimensions—and any past presidential candidates?

He’s really in a class all by himself.  One possible parallel among mainstream candidates would be Grover Cleveland, who at great political cost refused to allow the annexation of Hawaii even though it was offered on a silver platter and stood firm for the gold standard during the depression of the 1890s.  Another parallel would be Martin Van Buren, who, like Cleveland, was generally an advocate of smaller government and critic of foreign imperialism, who broke with this party and ran as an anti-slavery candidate.  A final parallel among third-party candidates would be former Illinois governor John Palmer, who ran as a “Gold Democratic” third-party candidate against McKinley and Bryan in 1896.  Having said that, nobody approximates Ron Paul as a consistent critic of interventionism, defender of civil liberties, and champion of free markets.  The only exceptions to Paul’s consistency, in my view, are his stands on immigration and abortion and, even on these issues, he is generally better than the alternatives.

Paul was a political pariah among the Republicans in 2008; now many mainstream GOP presidential candidates have adopted his attitudes: what do you make of this?

I think that events since 2008 have been in Paul’s favor.  The emerging stagflation since 2008, despite numerous bailouts, massive Keynesian stimulus, money supply expansion, have made Paul look prescient compared to the rest of the GOP field (most of whom either supported these policies at the time or were silent).  The same could be said about the continuing, and failing, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the emerging disorder in Libya.  Nobody in the GOP field, with the exception of Santorum, seems to be as enthusiastic about advocating foreign intervention as their counterparts in 2007-2008.  Even Rick Perry, who is one of the current favorites among the neo-cons, has criticized “foreign adventurism” in the abstract.

Paul is a former obstetrician.  Have any other medical doctors run for president?  Besides Dr. Bill Frist, the former Senate leader, does Paul join other notable political figures who came from the medical profession? 

Interesting question.  The only example in American history that comes to mind is Howard Dean.

Do you believe Paul will run as a third-party candidate (a la Ross Perot) if doesn’t win the GOP nomination?

I hope so, but think it is unlikely.  One possible obstacle in his mind might be that it could undermine the possible future political plans of his son for higher office.

Matthew Wilson Interview

Matthew Wilson, Associate Professor of Political Science, Southern Methodist University

In the context of our political history, is Rep. Ron Paul the most libertarian presidential candidate the country has ever seen?

Ron Paul is really the only semi-credible libertarian presidential candidate that this country has seen.  Barry Goldwater in 1964 had elements of libertarianism in his ideology, but he was much more supportive of overseas military interventionism than Ron Paul is.

Do you see parallels between Paul—in one or more dimensions—and any past presidential candidates?

The closest parallel to Paul in terms of domestic policy would be Goldwater.  Both sought a dramatic scaling back of the federal government’s role in national life, including the elimination of many New Deal/Great Society programs.  In terms of foreign policy, Paul’s isolationism and desire to bring American troops home from pretty much everywhere echoes many fringe candidates of the left (i.e. Dennis Kucinich), and is reminiscent of the very limited role in world affairs that many Republicans advocated in the 1920s and 1930s.

Paul was a political pariah among the Republicans in 2008; now many mainstream GOP presidential candidates have adopted his attitudes: what do you make of this?

It frequently happens in American politics that protest candidates will win acceptance for their message, but not for themselves.  While Paul himself is still seen by most voters as something of an exotic figure, his small-government message has been picked up in milder form by a lot of the more mainstream GOP contenders.

Paul is a former obstetrician.  Have any other medical doctors run for president?  Besides Dr. Bill Frist, the former Senate leader, does Paul join other notable political figures who came from the medical profession? 

Currently, I know that Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma is a physician, as is Alabama Governor Robert Bentley.  I’m not aware, however, of any major presidential candidates other than Paul who have been from the medical profession.

Do you believe Paul will run as a third-party candidate (a la Ross Perot) if doesn’t win the GOP nomination? 

I don’t think it makes sense for Paul to run as a third-party candidate.  He would have no real chance of winning, and his only impact would be to virtually guarantee Obama’s re-election.  Unless he has a major personal axe to grind against the eventual Republican nominee, I just don’t see him doing it.


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