In a Friday interview with Bloomberg News, Rep Ron Paul (R-TX) was asked to reflect on his presidential campaign and state whether or not he was “unhappy” with his party.
“Well, it's not my party,” Rep. Paul responded. “I don't like politics at all, and I think both parties are Keynesian economists and both parties support the positions that I don't like. So the party in many ways is irrelevant.”
Strong words, but Paul’s decision not to speak at the convention, hold an alternate “We Are the Future” rally and book an early departure from Tampa – not to mention the Maine delegate controversy during the RNC – already drew some definitive lines between the himself and the GOP.
Still, there is a peculiar gloom hanging over this answer of Dr. Paul’s. One is reminded of Santiago from Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea – the elderly fisherman who is both too weak to bring in his catch, but too strong, proud, and determined to give up the fight. We remember how often he thought of Manolin, his young companion, and would lament he had no one to assist him.
It seems an injustice, really, to allow Paul to depart as an outsider – a man unwanted and out of step with a party that so often beholds itself to the ideal of American Conservatism. In his private life, he is a loving husband and father of five; he served in the Air Force; he worked as a doctor, specializing in obstetrics and gynecology and delivering more than 4,000 babies throughout his medical career. When patients were in rough financial situations and thought they had to use government subsidies, Dr. Paul would lower fees or even work for free.
Publicly, he has been in and out of office since 1976. In that time, he has sponsored some 620 bills – only one of which has been signed into law: one for the sale of a customs house in Galveston, Texas.
And yet this man has made an undeniable difference. He deserves immense credit for the formation of the Tea Party, and his supporters have always been known for being more active, more outspoken, and more dedicated to their candidate than those in other camps – something about his message resonates still.
But the most tragic of things – and I mean tragic in the old way: the failing of a great man – is that the Republicans are losing a true bedrock of principle. They are losing a sincere belief in American Conservatism, a political philosophy that takes its principles from the Founding and a belief in the inherent, God-given rights of individuals.
Being a “conservative” today often means being 10 years behind the Progressives – endorsing yesterday’s policies as a way to avoid tomorrow’s. Yet it does not need to be this way – an alternative exists.
Granted, Dr. Paul was not a political man. He did not care for politics, and he wasn’t very good at it. Much like a Calvin Coolidge, who is remembered today as being a man who loved his daily naps, many will look at Paul and figure that he wasn’t all that much – a blip, a temporary aside that will give way once the man is gone. No meaningful legacy can result.
But I remember when I was a young man, 18 years old and just starting to take an interest in politics. For me, the country needed a program, things had to change, and I knew that – if only we had the right sort of policy in place – we could turn things around. Human beings were statistics, pieces to be moved; I could make them better, happier.
Dr. Paul changed that. Maybe this is a silly thing in retrospect, but how few of us have truly taken a second to consider how wonderful and marvelous human beings can be? How creative, how hard working, and how independent – in sum, how self-governing man can be?
This was the gift Dr. Paul gave me. In the way that great men do, he taught me something I already knew, but had buried deep into my mind and forgotten. Man does not need his government to make him successful, virtuous, or happy – for that, he needs his freedom and his fellows, little more. We are a country of the American Dream, not the “promise” or the “entitlement,” certainly not the “dependency.”
Like Santiago, Dr. Paul has wrestled with his own great marlin: Conservatism itself. The fight has been long, painful in parts, and certainly exhausting for those who stood by the good doctor. But it has not yet concluded.
What we shall hope, as now Dr. Paul’s position must be filled, is that the great marlin can indeed be overcome, and its resistance shall not forever drive our ship. Let us hope also that this great fish can be saved from the sharks, that when it is returned to shore it is not but a meatless skeleton.
And let us hope that, as Dr. Paul prepares to leave Washington, we have not seen the last of the great conservatives.