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"?