CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA—Adoring crowds packed rooms to capacity across Iowa the last two days to hear the leader of their revolution. Dr. Ron Paul, as he his loving referred to by his supporters, went on an eight-stop jaunt through eastern Iowa to rile up his supporters two weeks before they vote in the caucuses. He is poised to win the 2012 Iowa caucuses: He leads in the latest polls, has a developed campaign infrastructure, and can count on true believers to show up to vote on January 3.
Now seems like a good time to remind people that Paul is, in most ways, the most extreme of the Republican candidates. Many liberals have developed a soft spot in their hearts for the libertarian over the course of the campaign. On civil liberties and foreign policy, Paul provides the lone bright spot during debates, rebuking the other candidates for supporting the Patriot Act and advocating bombing every country that glances askew at the United States to the high heavens. His Iowa events have featured testimonials from former Democrats who take the microphone and, in AA fashion, declare themselves Ron Paul apostles.
While his foreign policy and defense of civil liberties might appeal to the progressive heart, Paul jumps off a cliff when it comes to the economy. As he has for years, Paul describes the government as an illegal counterfeiter because it prints money that's not backed by gold. Paul claims he would cut $1 trillion from the federal budget during his first year in office, and is the most stridently anti-tax of the GOP candidates.
Supporting flat taxes has become the default conservative position this cycle. Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry have made a flat tax code a central tenet of their campaigns, and Herman Cain's 9-9-9 proposal might be the most memorable catchphrase of the contest thus far. At a town hall Wednesday morning in Fort Madison, a member of the crowd questioned Paul on why he also didn't support a version of the flat tax. "I do," Paul responded, "but I want it flat, 0-0-0. Spending is a tax, that's why I spend a lot more time talking about spending … I've come to the position that I won't have my 0-0-0 right away but I would support anything that would reign in the IRS and reduce your taxes."
Danielle Lin challenged Paul's free-market rhetoric at a campaign stop later that day. She said that she had been diagnosed with cancer in 2008, and while she has since recovered, she was concerned about herself and her children if the Affordable Care Act's ban on preexisting conditions were to be overturned. Paul offered a meandering and dubious response. "If you have a policy, they can't cancel it if you need it—that should be illegal. They should be taken and tried for this because they broke their contract," he said, though he didn't offer an explanation for what would happen if an insurance company simply refused to enter such a contract with a cancer survivor.
Paul came off as callous, and eventually said that religious institutions would step in to fill the void and help sick people. "In the old days the churches did this," he said. "We've given up on that, we've given up on this idea that the church would fill in on that." Things took a turn for the bizarre when Paul suggested that his vision for health care might even include organ selling. "The freer the market is, the more they would likely have more kidneys available for transplants," he said. He was probably just implying that Obamacare bureaucrats won't allow elderly citizens to receive transplants, but with Paul's obsession with abolishing all government regulation, you can never be too sure. A thyroid cancer survivor in Manchester posed a similar question yesterday, and while Paul offered a crisper answer, he still couldn't assure that a cancer survivor wouldn't be thrown out of the insurance system under his plan.
Paul's supporters talk of bringing a "revolution" to the government, and it's no wonder when their candidate engages in conspiratorial, doomsday rhetoric. "We’re making a lot of progress. It won't be easy, but I know if we don't do it, if we don't work our way out of this it will be much, much tougher," he said to a crowd of over 600 in Bettendorf Wednesday night. "I'm afraid of violence coming when you see what the government is preparing for, and the arrests and military law, and the demonstrations on the streets. Some people aren't going to be convinced so easily that you don't owe them a living. If there's no money there they're going to be upset and angry. We see this in Europe already, and we see demonstrations in our country."
It is only occasionally that Paul will step out of his Ayn Rand utopia. "It would be nice if we could wave a wand and just say, 'The Fed is closed down, no more printing of money and now we're on the gold standard,'" Paul said Thursday morning. "[But] it's not practical to do that."