Is Rep. Ron Paul the future of the conservative movement? If last week's annual meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is any barometer, the sad answer may be yes.
The 2008 Republican presidential nominee and libertarian hero decisively won CPAC's presidential straw poll. He captured 31 percent of the 2,400 votes cast, handily defeating the runner-up, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who received 22 percent. Sarah Palin ranked a distant third.
Mr. Paul, Texas Republican, is a staunch fiscal conservative. He is an anti-statist Jeffersonian who champions limited government, low taxes and states' rights. He seeks to slash public spending and roll back the bloated federal leviathan.
In particular, Mr. Paul has emerged as the leading critic on Capitol Hill of the Federal Reserve. He is calling for the Government Accountability Office to conduct a full audit of the Fed. He is right. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke presides over a central bank that lacks real accountability and transparency. Ultimately, the Fed is answerable to no one but itself.
This must stop. Contrary to the claims of its defenders, the Fed is a behemoth whose policies have wiped out Main Street while bailing out Wall Street. It has a long record of failure - one that has repeatedly damaged our long-term prosperity. It is the institutional linchpin of the crony capitalism at the heart of America's corporatist state.
For example, it was the reckless policies of the Federal Reserve that caused the Great Depression, according to Noble Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman. The Fed significantly expanded the money supply during the mid-to-late 1920s. With the massive influx of easy money, the stock market boomed and stocks could be purchased at a 10 percent margin. This created a huge bubble. When it inevitably popped - as all bubbles do - investors rushed to get their money out of the banks to meet their margin calls. This triggered a run on the banks, which led many of them, short on cash, to collapse. By the time it was over, America's banking system and financial markets had imploded. The economic contraction resulted in the mass unemployment and misery of the 1930s.
The dot-com bubble of the 1990s, the artificial housing boom of the 2000s, the reckless lending policies on Wall Street - all were made possible by the Fed's policy of cheap credit. These bubbles have directly contributed to our economic crisis. The Fed's ability to print money and enable trillions of excess dollars to slosh around in our financial system has brought us to the brink of ruin.
Mr. Paul is a fiscal hawk and an economic realist who understands the danger to the constitutional republic posed by the Fed and big-government liberalism. No wonder many younger conservatives and libertarians admire him.
On foreign policy, however, he is wrong - dangerously wrong. His opposition to the "welfare-warfare state" is misguided. A strong national defense is crucial to America's survival, especially in an age of global Islamic terrorism.
Mr. Paul's foreign policy views hearken back to those of the old isolationists of the 1930s and 1940s. Conservatives such as Robert Taft and Charles Lindbergh opposed U.S. military involvement in World War II. They were prepared to abandon Europe to Hitler's Germany. They argued that America was safe within a continental defensive perimeter, protected by two oceans. However, Pearl Harbor demonstrated the myth of Fortress America. The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks also exposed it.
In an age of nuclear weapons and fanaticism, no nation is safe. Moreover, borrowing from the new left of the 1960s, Mr. Paul believes America has become an "empire." He argues that we brought the Sept. 11 attacks "upon ourselves" because of our "imperialist" policies in the Middle East.
This is false. Jihadists have declared war on the West because they seek to restore a medieval Islamic caliphate. America's support for Israel or foreign aid to Egypt is simply a rationalization for their revolutionary totalitarian aims. If America's policies are responsible for spurring global jihadism, why are countries such as France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain, Canada, China, Indonesia, Philippines, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon - countries that are anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian and pro-Arab - also targets of terrorist violence?
The rise of radical Islam is not the result of an imaginary U.S. imperialism. Rather, it is based on the desire to impose Shariah law across the world. The real colonialists are not America, but Osama bin Laden and his allies.
Like Nazism and Soviet communism, Islamofascism poses a mortal threat to the West. We are engaged in an ideological and military struggle - a fight to the death. Mr. Paul's brand of isolationism is bad for the right - and for America. He is correct on the need for small government and sound money at home. But his call for noninterventionism is a flight of fancy. He is yesterday's man, peddling yesterday's illusions.
Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times and president of the Edmund Burke Institute, a Washington think tank. He is the daily radio host of the "Kuhner Show" on WTNT 570-AM (www.talk570.com) from noon until 3 p.m.