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Ron Paul stirs the pot for America's annoyed

U.S. Representative Ron Paul waits for a television interview at a campaign stop in Exeter, N.H., on May 13, 2011, after announcing his candidacy for the Republican Presidential nomination earlier in the day.


Ron Paul may have betrayed his lack of superstition in choosing Friday the 13th to launch his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, but the unconventional congressman clearly feels third time lucky.

After running as a Libertarian in 1988 and ending up among the final four vying for GOP nomination in 2008, Mr. Paul believes his odds of making it all the way to the Republican convention have never been better.

"Time has come around to where people are agreeing with much of what I've been saying for 30 years," the 75-year-old adopted Texan told Good Morning America on Friday. "The time is right."

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It is hard to disagree. The Tea Party existed only in the history books the last time Mr. Paul ran for the presidency. With some justification, he claims paternity for the populist movement that has upended the American political order of late. A 2007 Paul fundraiser held on the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party presaged the political revolt to come.

From the size and role of government to America's entanglements abroad, the constituency of Americans sharing Mr. Paul's loosely libertarian world view has only become bigger and more annoyed since he ran in 2008.

"The public has become more critical of government, less trusting and less supportive of the social safety net and aid to the poor and needy," noted Carroll Doherty, associate director of the Pew Research Center. "There has been a shift towards an inward-looking approach to foreign policy."

Does this make Mr. Paul a serious contender for the nomination?

For most of his 35-year career in Congress, Mr. Paul has been seen as more of a good-humoured gadfly than a serious thinker about public policy. America's problems - from its fiscal morass to its social blights - defy the simplistic solutions of self-rule and personal responsibility he peddles.

His arguments can never be entirely disproven because the policies (or lack thereof) he advocates haven't been, and never will be, implemented. There is a reason for that. Americans may be fiercely individualistic, but they also have an inviolable sense of community and responsibility toward one another.

At the May 5 GOP debate in South Carolina, Mr. Paul drew chuckles when, arms flailing, he parodied an addict: "Oh yeah, I need the government to take care of me. I don't want to use heroin, so I need these laws."

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His contempt for the weakest members of society is reflective of the libertarian's overdeveloped sense of self-worth. Instead of feeling fortunate, he feels superior. But most Americans understand that luck has a lot to do with one's lot in life.

Besides, who would want to live in a country governed - or rather not governed - according to Mr. Paul's principles? If he got his way, for instance, today's flood victims along the Mississippi would be left to fend for themselves. He'd abolish the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"That's the way a free society works," Mr. Paul told GMA. "I don't think somebody in New York or New Hampshire or Iowa has to pay for my flood on the Gulf Coast."

Of course, Mr. Paul has made useful contributions to American political debate. By exposing hypocrisy in American foreign policy, criticizing the suspension of civil liberties in the war on terror and decrying the unchecked concentration of power at the Federal Reserve, Mr. Paul is unafraid of breaking the taboos that establishment politicians live by. Every political system needs a few like him.

Mr. Paul's poll numbers have been rising, with 10 per cent of GOP voters naming him as their choice to be the nominee, according to a CNN survey last week. The poll put him only three percentage points behind Mitt Romney and six behind Mike Huckabee, who is set to reveal whether he will run during Saturday's broadcast of his Fox News show.

Mr. Paul has the kind of name recognition Tim Pawlenty would die for. He can raise cash at the snap of his fingers, pulling in a cool $1-million in the hours after last week's debate. And at a Tea Party convention held to coincide with the Greenville, S.C., debate, there was no mistaking which candidate had the most, and most ardent, supporters.

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But if you imagine a Venn diagram of subsections of Republican voters, it becomes harder to visualize where Mr. Paul's supporters intersect. His views on drugs and gay marriage repel social conservatives, while his isolationism alienates the hawks in the party. His calls to abolish the Fed make him untouchable for anyone remotely interested in power.

According to Intrade, Mr. Paul has a 3.2 per cent chance of winning the GOP nomination. The odds that he will stir the pot are better than even.

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About the Author

Columnist Konrad Yakabuski writes on politics, policy and business for The Globe and Mail’s Comment section and Report on Business. More

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