Who knew that the presidential candidate who would most challenge the conventional wisdom of Washington would not be the guy with the weird name, but the one with two first names?
I started thinking about this while listening in on a conference call with Barack Obama last week, as he laid out his plan for rural America. As he went through a litany of issues to help Nevada, I couldn't help but think about how it all stunk of pandering.
Obama got to where he is because of the big ideas. I can remember flipping through channels back in 2004 and stumbling upon his speech at the Democratic Convention and being captivated by these big ideas, the bridging of our partisan differences for the benefit of the country. It was a message that resonated with liberals and conservatives alike.
But now that he's one of the top candidates in the race, it's sad to see him being co-opted by the party establishment, getting the same advice from the same consultants who have sunk many Democratic presidential campaigns.
I don't need to hear about how a candidate is going to take care of such micro-issues like rural hospitals and mining law reform. The man is running for president, not governor.
What he should have said is, "Hey, there are these big main issues that I am going to focus on that will help everyone in this country, and make this nation stronger."
And so it is, the unconventional candidate is swallowed by the status quo.
That's something that is not likely to happen to Republican Ron Paul.
Paul's stands on issues gives everyone something not to like. He is, by a long shot, the most principled candidate in the race. His views are grounded on a very strict interpretation of the Constitution, and they don't change depending on what the latest poll says.
Paul has been kind of a sideshow in the Republican race, a fringe candidate who was given no chance of any kind of success.
That is, until last week. In one day he raised $4.2 million. Those are not fringe-candidate numbers. That's big-league money, and people are now starting to pay attention.
Paul's libertarian philosophy has a little something for everyone. He is an ardent critic of the war in Iraq and our empire-building actions around the world. He also talks of limiting government, shifting power back to the states, and eliminating federal spending for things like education and health care.
It seems like a radical agenda, but it's not. It's simple, straightforward and, unlike so many other campaign agendas, grounded in our Constitution, not poll numbers.
Do I agree with Paul on everything? Heck no. But at least I know where he stands, and that he'll still be standing in the same place four years from now. That's a huge plus that outweighs a lot of policy differences.
If by some chance Paul were to become president, it's not like there would be a sudden end to federal programs people have come to rely on. He admits that there isn't consensus to do some of the things he wants, like abolishing the Internal Revenue Service.
But he would certainly shake things up and force everyone to re-examine just how government works, and how to make it better. Pushing responsibilities back down to the states would be a great accomplishment. So often, the states stand by and wait for the feds to step in to solve their problems.
Just like a parent who kicks a child out of the nest, it's time for the states to step up. Having more decision-making shifted to the state level also gets it one step closer to the people, and that's a good thing.
After 220 years, the federal government needs some serious renovation, to clean up centuries of dirt and debris, to tear away the old wallpaper and flooring, and get back to the framework on which it stands. We don't need another conventional politician to spray a new coat of paint on the mess and declare it new again.
I doubt Ron Paul will get the chance to take on this governmental makeover. He doesn't stand much of a chance in the Republican primaries. Perhaps he can take the third-party route, and pull enough support from both the Democrats and Republicans to upset their long-running political monopoly.
If he can do that, it would do more to reform this government than all of the other candidates put together.
• Kirk Caraway is editor of http://nevadapolitics.com and also writes a blog on national issues at http://kirkcaraway.com.