Nearly every article I've read about him since his newsletters have become news have talked about how honest he is and how he speaks truth to power. That's true. And it's an admirable trait for someone to have, especially a modern politician. But I think the fact that this trait has been so admired about Paul recently speaks to just how bad everyone else is on that front.
Ron Paul is way out there on numerous issues; monetary policy, regulation, economic policy in general, and federalism (which encompasses nearly every policy since he would just leave it up to states). I'd even argue that his foreign policy is a bit out there. It's great that he would stop fighting unnecessary wars. But he seems to want to do a lot more than that. And even though I want us to scale back, I don't want us to stop giving monetary and diplomatic aid to the rest of the world. That could be in the same ballpark in terms of danger to us as overreaching is.
Paul says he wants to end the drug way and generally respect people's civil rights. But what if states want to keep fighting drug wars, keep gay people from getting married, or infringe on people's rights in the name of fighting terrorism or crime in general? What if a state wants to enact anti-free market economic policies on it's businesses and people? In those circumstances would Paul use the authority of the federal gov't to enforce the principles he claims to hold dear? Or would he sit back and adhere to the federalist principles he also claims to hold dear?
I don't think there is a clear answer to any of those questions. And the consequences of him not fulfilling his desire to protect people's rights could be almost as important as Obama's failures have been. The point I'm trying to reinforce is that Paul holds some radical views. And just because he is honest about expressing those views doesn't make them any better. All of Paul's good virtues and great policies he supports don't make going back on the gold standard or letting states oppress gay people's rights any better.
I appreciate that the likes of Glenn Greenwald, Ross Douthat, Conor Friedersdorf, and Andrew Sullivan are trying to keep liberals honest by pointing out that Paul supports policies Obama said he would but hasn't since he has been in office. But just like liberals can't (or at least shouldn't) ignore Obama's failures of those issues, we shouldn't ignore the questionable policies Paul endorses just because he is being honest or because the rest of the GOP is an absolute laughing stock. What matters is policy and the effect that policy has on people. And while I have been very disappointed with Obama's policies and his lack of honesty, I don't think Ron Paul would be better on the whole.
What I think Paul and Obama show us is that we need to expect more from out leaders. They both hold traits that are good. But they are incomplete. They rise to the top because they are just the best options amongst a bunch of bad options. If we make it clear that these incomplete candidates aren't good enough we wouldn't have to harp on those few good things and make qualifying endorsements. But that is one of the challenges of American democracy.