Worst Case Paul

TAS Alum Conor Friedersdorf asks a very sensible question: what’s the worst thing that could happen in a Ron Paul presidency?

Salon’s Alex Pareene gamely takes up the gauntlet, and I largely agree with his diagnosis, although, of course, not always with his characterization of the diagnosis.

This, in particular, is regrettable but probably true:

Hacks with contempt for good government make bad political appointees, as Bush taught us. Ideologues actively opposed to the existence of a powerful federal government probably make worse ones.

In all likelihood a Paul presidency would start with a lot of gridlock and end with Congress basically taking over the country and overriding Paul’s veto pen. And anything that can get two thirds of Congress is certainly not going to be great, but it’s probably not going to be terrible, either.

But, as I told Conor on Twitter, the almost greek tragedy-like dilemma of a Paul presidency would be that to get anything he believes in done, Paul would have to embrace and extend the imperial presidency he so obviously detests.

And if Paul makes this Faustian bargain, then he becomes much more dangerous.

So here’s the worst case scenario of a Paul presidency, as I can see it.

President Paul and his appointees, realizing that they can’t end the Fed through Congress, decide to launch a bunch of far-reaching federal investigations of the Fed. Maybe a true-believin’ special prosecutor is appointed. American law being set up in such a way that if you investigate deeply enough you’ll always find something illegal someone did, the Fed is incapacitated. Maybe key figures and even Bernanke are driven to resignation and put before a Grand Jury but maybe it just makes it impossible for them to do their work.

Then an external shock—or just the market freakout caused by unleashing the Spanish Inquisition on the Fed—causes a financial collapse. Obviously a bailout is not forthcoming, nor is easy money. Maybe it’s not the banks that fail but investors who stop trusting the dollar and buying treasuries. (In which case the banks would fail, too.) The financial collapse turns into another Great Depression.


You can also come up with a scenario under which prematurely yanking troops from Afghanistan ends up with such chaos that Pakistan becomes a failed state and nukes end up in the hands of terrorists. (And India invades to prevent that and China meddles and Paul is like “What? It’s way over there! Not our problem!”) But that’s probably fairly unlikely.

The most likely scenario is still nothing-happens-for-four-years. But most people who underestimated Ron Paul’s ability to do damage have been surprised.