March 17, 2010

Ron Paul, Obama, Kooks, Chaos and the Future

It's hard to judge whether Ron Paul is a force within the Republican party, a fringe kook, or both. Like anyone else in politics or otherwise, he has some good qualities and some bad qualities. To be honest, I'm not a big fan of Ron Paul, though he does make some good points. For example, he's big on reducing the national debt. The problem is he's a bit kooky in a Pat-Buchanan-plus sort of way. For example he seems a bit soft on drugs and he's reflexively protectionist on trade. Ironically that latter point makes him most like Pat Buchanan (who was rabidly anti-NAFTA), most unlike traditional economic conservatives and to my way of seeing things, most insecure about America's greatness. Where he fits in on the future of America is a little hard to peg.  But this post isn't really about him.

While Ron Paul espouses conservative principles, one of the fundamental principles of economics (and thus many conservatives) is countries specializing in production of goods and services where they have a competitive advantage. To not do so, represents an opportunity cost. In the absence of distorting rules (for example, no offshore drilling in American coastal waters) the United States certainly has a competitive advantage in many industries and therefore shouldn't be afraid of a little international competition. It should still not only survive, but thrive.

For all his quirks and ability to attract the conspiratorially minded, I do find myself thinking more along the lines of Paul in one respect. While there is no logical imperative to get out of Afghanistan and Iraq with the urgency that he espouses, there is a very salient point to his overall argument about nation building. Focus.

Although Iraq and Afghanistan do represent the front lines in a War on Terror, and should not be abandoned, the cost of being there are worth re-visiting. I've supported the War on Terror since 9/11/01. I supported both wars. I still do.

But there are the obvious costs and not just in terms of lives and money. One of those costs is focus.  From the perspective of preserving America, there's a much more important fight at home that needs to be waged. The most imposing threat to the future of the country comes from within. The creeping advance of socializing so many parts of the American economy looms over the future like a specter (not Arlen). And this is not just specific to the Obama era. This dates all the way back to the New Deal and the Great Society. Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security all represent future economic catastrophe. What makes Obama's health care play so dramatic is his fierce urgency of now approach to everything. It brings to the forefront not only the problems with his own agenda, but the problems with the same agenda that has crept along for decades slowly, quietly draining the life out of the country instead of doing so with the reckless abandon of the President today.

The real enemy is within. What is needed is focus. The challenge for America, or any nation for that matter is to be the best nation you can be. Perhaps that's a bit idealized but - if the US focused on the US, would China be such a potential threat? That's where Ron Paul gets it right; the focus has to be on improving the underpinnings of American greatness - the economy, innovation and liberty, which allows the other two. The focus should be on America rather than other nations. But only the primary focus.

You cannot take your eyes off the ball on North Korea, Iran, China or any other potential threat. But these threats are secondary to a potential national bankruptcy. They may require primary focus in the future but that would be easier to do as a financially solvent nation. They may require primacy now too, but increasingly, and increasingly quickly, America is putting itself in a position to be financially unable to give them the attention they deserve. Blame Obama for that.

But you can thank him too. He has inadvertently opened many eyes to the dangers of the state, and the state unchecked. He has for many, provided laser-like focus on the national debt issue. If you were willing to bite your tongue on the Bush bailouts, you probably won't be inclined to do so any more, regardless of which party is in power. And that is very a good thing.

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