Ten years ago this month, almost the entire political establishment of the United States united in supporting the invasion of Iraq. On the political right, one lone voice stood out against it: the then Texas congressman Ron Paul. This weekend, Dr. Paul is keynote speaker at the annual convention of the conservative Manning Centre here in Ottawa. His presence has provoked an unusually sharp attack from Globe and Mail columnist (and University of Ottawa Senior Fellow) Jeffrey Simpson, who denounced Dr. Paul as “a fringe candidate” who attracted supporters “of the far right and loony variety”. According to Simpson, “any conference that would offer Mr. Paul as a keynote speaker can’t be serious”, and if “Canadian conservatives believe Mr. Paul has something to teach them, then they’ll demonstrate their own withdrawal from the complexities of life and, therefore, their fitness to govern.”
Dr. Paul is indeed a fringe candidate; but the fact that one of the very few American politicians who rejected the Iraq war is considered not serious, while those who supported it continue to be listened to and to hold power, tells us more about the narrowness of political debate in the United States than it does about Ron Paul. Certainly, some of his views on the gold standard, the Federal Reserve, and so on put him on the margins of economic debates, but that does not mean that there is nothing to learn from him. Decades of demanding fiscal rectitude and of warning of the dangers of loose credit mark him out as a decided oddity in American politics—but at the same time show a prescience which deserves some credit. Financial rectitude is a good thing; those who propose it should be welcomed, not dismissed as unserious.
More importantly, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Dr. Paul has been almost a lone voice of sanity in debates about American foreign and defence policy as well as civil liberties. That America’s problems might not have military solutions; that endless intervention in other countries is counter-productive; that defence spending ought to be cut; that the terrorist threat does not justify repeated assaults on civil liberties—these are all ideas with which many in Canada would probably agree. Yet in America, Dr. Paul has been largely on his own among the country’s elected representatives in making them. That he has done so is entirely for the good.
Unfortunately, Canada lacks an equivalent of Ron Paul. There is nobody in the Conservative Party who challenges the prevailing orthodoxies of liberal interventionism, increased defence spending and military Keynesianism. Nor alas, is there anybody of any similar significance in either the Liberals or the NDP, both of whom threw themselves with fervour behind Canada’s military intervention in Libya and thoroughly accepted the crazy assumptions of the recent Jenkins Report that defence spending is good for the economy.
Civil liberties seem to be entirely off the political radar; there is no public discussion of how to hold Canada’s vastly expanded security and intelligence services to account, nor does anybody ask whether the expansion in their funding and powers is justifiable. Even fiscal rectitude lacks the prominence it had in the past: the government talks of eventually balancing the budget but shows no sense of urgency, while the opposition seems unwilling to press the point.
Our politics are much the worse as a result, as too are the policies which our government pursues. American politics has benefited from Dr. Paul’s activities in the past decade. Canada could do with a Ron Paul of its own.