Jacob Sullum
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"I don't think Ron Paul represents the mainstream," says Mitt Romney. Newt Gingrich, another of the Texas congressman's opponents in the contest for the Republican presidential nomination, uses stronger terms, declaring, "Ron Paul's views are totally outside the mainstream of virtually every decent American."

As the results in Iowa suggest, the "mainstream" to which Romney and Gingrich refer is not defined by voters; it is the range of opinion deemed acceptable by leaders of the two major political parties. The mainstream has brought us a national debt the size of the national economy, a bloated yet overextended military that has strayed far from its mission of defending the country, and a lawless executive branch that usurps legislative powers and violates civil liberties.

If that is what the mainstream represents, it is no place for decent Americans who support smaller government. Romney and Gingrich may think they are discrediting Paul, but they are actually recommending him as the only candidate who breaks decisively with the status quo.

Although all of the Republican candidates pay lip service to fiscal restraint, Paul is the only one to propose actual spending cuts, as opposed to smaller increases. His plan would balance the federal budget by 2015. By contrast, Romney aims to "put us on a path to a balanced budget," while Gingrich vaguely promises to "balance the budget -- by growing the economy, controlling spending, implementing money saving reforms, and replacing destructive policies and regulatory agencies with new approaches."

The fiscal incontinence of the Republicans not named Paul is vividly illustrated by their attitude toward defense spending: More is always better, and any cuts, even if they are only reductions in projected increases, recklessly endanger national security. Romney assails "the Obama administration's irresponsible defense cuts," which would leave the Pentagon's budget bigger in a decade than it is today. The idea of going any further -- say, reducing military spending to the amount appropriated in 2007, when the country was hardly helpless against its adversaries -- is anathema to Romney and Gingrich.

In this atmosphere, Paul's insistence that "there's a difference between military spending and defense spending" is a breath of fresh air, and so are his warnings about the consequences of failing to make that distinction. Although his opponents try to isolate him by calling him an "isolationist," his views are more in tune with public opinion than theirs.

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Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
 
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