If libertarian Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.
Paul, as expected, did well in Iowa. His strong third-place finish is substantially better than he did in 2008, and his national poll numbers are twice what they were back then. Paul's appeal is easy to understand. His antiwar message of limited government, low taxes and federalism have strong appeal, especially to young people who oppose the war on drugs, take a pro-choice position on abortion and support gay marriage.
Paul scares people who purport to embrace freedom but fear the responsibility that goes with it. Privatize Social Security? Serious change in Medicare? Call off the war on drugs? End government welfare? He actually believes in the Constitution, an amazing document that many Americans ignore, have not read or are apparently waiting for the movie version.
Paul speaks passionately and persuasively about abolishing the departments of Education, Energy, Commerce, the Interior, and Housing and Urban Development. He wants to take a machete to the size of government when many Republicans insist on using a pocketknife.
When then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson spooked Republican colleagues into voting for TARP to "save" our financial system, Paul refused. When President George W. Bush supported bailouts for the domestic auto industry, Paul opposed them. When Bush signed the prescription benefit for seniors, Paul considered it a wrongheaded expansion of an already severely unfunded entitlement program.
Republican opposition to Paul is also easy to understand.
He opposed the Iraq War. He preferred to deal with Osama bin Laden through "letters of marque and reprisal." This refers to a constitutional provision that allows the government to offer a bounty and target individuals rather than nations -- as if the problem were just a handful of bad people.
Paul does not believe that we are at war with Islamofascists. He believes that U.S. actions are responsible for our bad PR in the Middle East. He argues that those who wish to kill us by strapping on bombs and murdering civilians feel this way because "we are over there." On the other hand, he called Islamic terrorists "irrational." If they are irrational, how does it matter that "we are over there"? And if we were no longer there, would Ayman al-Zawahiri, now head of al-Qaida, abandon his publicly stated quest for a worldwide "caliphate"?
Jordanian journalist Fouad Hussein interviewed several of bin Laden's top lieutenants. Hussein outlined al-Qaida's strategy of seven phases -- the first one beginning as an "awakening" for Muslims worldwide following the Sept. 11 attacks. The plan culminates with the "definitive victory" of "one-and-a-half billion Muslims" and the establishment of a global Islamic caliphate by 2020.
Bin Laden, in his 1998 fatwa against the United States, said: "The killing of Americans and their civilian and military allies is a religious duty for each and every Muslim to be carried out in whichever country they are. ... We -- with God's help -- call on every Muslim who believes in God and wishes to be rewarded to comply with God's order to kill Americans."
Paul expects countries and stateless actors to play nice and fair if the United States plays nice and fair. If every country played nice and fair, we would not need a military. He even said Iran would be justified in blocking the Strait of Hormuz -- through which 20 percent of the world's oil demand travels -- in response to Western economic sanctions imposed to deter Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
Do all libertarians feel as Paul does on foreign policy? Most do, but certainly not all. Is there room for a "9/11 libertarian" -- one who thinks we are at war against a ruthless, determined Islamofascist enemy that could not care less about the Geneva Conventions?
Look in the encyclopedia under "libertarian." If a picture of Republican Nobel economics laureate Milton Friedman is not there, it ought to be. President Ronald Reagan considered him a giant in the conservative movement. Over 50 years ago, Friedman argued the then-radical case for education vouchers. Friedman said the money for education should follow the child, rather than the other way around.
Friedman took no position on the Gulf War, but had no Ron Paul-like ideological objection to it. As for the Iraq War, Friedman opposed it. But there was dissent in the Friedman household. Friedman's wife, also an economist and co-author of their seminal economics book "Free to Choose," supported the Iraq War.
What about a Paul third party candidacy, since he is not seeking re-election to the House? He would likely siphon more votes from the GOP than from President Obama -- and do greater damage to the GOP nominee than Ralph Nader did to Al Gore in 2000.
It is quite extraordinary what the rumpled, unpretentious 76-year-old OB/GYN has already achieved. Many Republicans now agree: If the GOP listened to Paul on domestic and economic issues, their "brand" would look a lot better.