February 13, 2008
This is the second installment in a symposium on the Ron Paul movement to be published in Taki’s magazine over the next two weeks. John Darbyshire’s contribution can be found here
The original title of this piece was to be “Which Way for the Paul Campaign?” but the candidate has preempted that by telling us, exactly, which way he is going. I’ll cite his statement in its entirety in order to give the reader the full flavor:
“Whoa! What a year this has been. And what achievements we have had. If I may quote Trotsky of all people, this Revolution is permanent. It will not end at the Republican convention. It will not end in November. It will not end until we have won the great battle on which we have embarked. Not because of me, but because of you. Millions of Americans—and friends in many other countries—have dedicated themselves to the principles of liberty: to free enterprise, limited government, sound money, no income tax, and peace. We will not falter so long as there is one restriction on our persons, our property, our civil liberties. How much I owe you. I can never possibly repay your generous donations, hard work, whole-hearted dedication and love of freedom. How blessed I am to be associated with you. Carol, of course, sends her love as well.”
With Romney out, and only the Huckster holding the fort (so far) against a total McCainiac takeover, it looks like the inspirer of the biggest eruption of old-fashionied Old Right populism since the campaign of Patrick J. Buchanan is taking his final bows:
“Let me tell you my thoughts. With Romney gone, the chances of a brokered convention are nearly zero. But that does not affect my determination to fight on, in every caucus and primary remaining, and at the convention for our ideas, with just as many delegates as I can get. But with so many primaries and caucuses now over, we do not now need so big a national campaign staff, and so I am making it leaner and tighter. Of course, I am committed to fighting for our ideas within the Republican party, so there will be no 3rd party run. I do not denigrate third parties;just the opposite, and I have long worked to remove the ballot-access restrictions on them. But I am a Republican, and I will remain a Republican.”
“I also have another priority. I have constituents in my home district that I must serve. I cannot and will not let them down. And I have another battle I must face here as well. If I were to lose the primary for my congressional seat, all our opponents would react with glee, and pretend it was a rejection of our ideas. I cannot and will not let that happen.”
“In the presidential race and the congressional race, I need your support, as always. And I have plans to continue fighting for our ideas in politics and education that I will share with you when I can, for I will need you at my side. In the meantime, onward and upward! The neocons, the warmongers, the socialists, the advocates of inflation will be hearing much from you and me.”
To summarize: the presidential campaign is in limbo, there will be no third party run, and we’ll get back to you later about what we’re going to do with all that money we raised ($6 million still unspent).
As Representative Paul put it: Whoa!
Let’s rewind, slowly: To begin with, there never was that much chance of a brokered convention. It isn’t the Republican way: and if Paul is saying he somehow hoped to at least wield influence on the process by parlaying his delegates as bargaining chips, then it’s hard to believe that’s what many thousands of Paulians nationwide were working for.
Secondly, we know Rep. Paul doesn’t denigrate third parties—after all, he ran as the Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate in 1988—but he doesn’t mention that, merely reiterating that “of course” he is “committed to fighting for our ideas within the Republican party.” One’s heart sinks: where has he been this whole campaign? Didn’t he notice that, in spite of the respectable crowds of thousands that flocked to hear him on the campaign trail, he rarely pulled more than 10 percent of the vote in mostly closed GOP primaries? His appeal is to younger, non-Republican independent voters, not to your typical GOP primary goer: he cannot realize his full electoral potential without running as a third-party candidate.
Indeed, the field has never been more inviting for a third-party candidate of the Right, as the man conservatives love to hate takes his place as the GOP standard-bearer in 2008. Such a run has been expected, and even welcomed by many right-wing activists, such as Mark Krikorian writing in National Review online:
“A third-party candidate for president may be essential for limiting the damage to Republicans in Congress. For instance, the Libertarian and Constitution parties, which are on the ballot in almost all states, could agree on a joint anti-McCain ticket (with one person from each party); yes, I’m sure they can’t stand each other, but the question is whether they fear McCain more. Such a ticket could conceivably get 1 or 2 percent of the vote, and some of those voters would otherwise have stayed home, potentially spelling the difference between congressional Republicans getting creamed like 1974 and merely suffering small losses that could be reversed in Hillary’s mid-term election, after she’s made a hash of things. Would such a strategy cost McCain the election, by siphoning away people who’d otherwise hold their noses and vote for him? Two things: first, I want him to lose, and second, he’s going to lose regardless. So congressional Republicans need to do whatever they can (and maybe that’s not much) to save themselves from the deluge.”
With the Krikorians of the world just waiting for the opportunity to cast a protest vote, Paul’s dismissal of the third-party option is mysterious and inexplicable. The idea that he would have to use up his millions to secure ballot status is nonsense: the Libertarians have ballot access in most states, and those few which are problematic could be managed just as they have been in the past.
Thirdly, this business about saving his congressional seat is just a lot of malarkey: Representative Paul has millions in cash on hand, which he can readily use for his congressional campaign. Furthermore, his opponent in the GOP primary—no Democratic candidate has bothered to file—is a Republican town councilman who hasn’t raised much money outside his own family circle and has mainly loaned money to himself. Another candidate, one Andy Mann, a NASA contractor, has also filed, although I can’t quite figure out why he’s running. In short: Paul has never had much trouble getting re-elected to Congress. So that’s not what’s really going on here.
The reality is that for Ron Paul to rule out a third-party run, at this point;when his announcement of just such a move would have had maximum impact;is a tragic error, one that we will look back on and regret all the more as time goes on. It is a major opportunity, forever lost—because the Paul campaign, for all its educational impact, in the end means nothing absent an effort to take it all the way to November, and beyond.
Paul’s presidential campaign galvanized so much energy and enthusiasm that, at times, it mimiced the dimensions and depth of a real mass movement, that is, of a serious effort to recapture the GOP from the neoconservatives and inaugurate a new era on the Right. The Paul campaign ignited interest at both ends of the political spectrum, and drew in a broad array of activists and more passive supporters (contributors and voters) that, despite their ideological diversity, showed remarkable cohesion and an amazing degree of self-organization. As a grassroots phenomenon, it has outpaced anything seen in the libertarian movement or, indeed, on the far right side of the political spectrum; since the storied days of Barry Goldwater.
Even as he was announcing the de facto suspension of his presidential campaign, Paul was garnering 21 percent of the vote in the Washington state primary. Aside from which, Paul’s dedicated activists have managed to pull off a number of similar coups in caucus states, where organization and dedication count for more. On Super Tuesday, a North Dakota newspaper reported, “In the northwestern corner of the state, a farmer spray-painted “RON PAUL” on seven large hay bales stacked beside a highway. The campaign set down roots in the Midwest, where the candidate’s staunch antiwar views and strict constitutionalism resonated in places like Montana” western plains. But this was no regional phenomenon: in cities and towns, as well as the rural bastions of “isolationism” and hillbilly anarchism, the Ron Paul Revolutionaries were on the march. In San Francisco, Paulistas went door-to-door soliciting votes, while, in New York, the candidate’s supporters rallied in Grand Central Station. Thousands flocked to his campaign rallies, and Ron Paul Meet-up groups have sprung up by the hundreds all across the country.
Furthermore, all this activity generated more publicity in the mainstream media than any comparable candidate: national newspapers, magazines, television, and the Internet have all featured interviews, profiles, stories, and editorials that have focused attention on Paul, and made him the subject of discussion from sea to shining sea. Two appearances on Jay Leno: more publicity than this no libertarian standard-bearer ever dreamed of.
The campaign seemed to have a lot going for it, at least initially, its most valuable asset being the candidate himself. Ron Paul emanates sincerity: it forms a veritable penumbra about his person. He is unique in Washington politics in that he is a man of principle: his stance is best described as intransigently libertarian. That he has become an unlikely kind of cult figure, especially among the younger set, is one of the most interesting aspects of the Paul phenomenon: his very modesty inspires adulation.
This Paul youth movement—a far more serious, and, in the long run, more significant phenomenon than the Obama fad in the same demographic—is a response, in part, to Paul’s unmitigated radicalism. The congressman they call “Dr. No” isn’t some fellow-traveling conservative who sometimes mouths libertarian rhetoric, and even occasionally means it: this is someone who not only opposes the welfare state, but also speaks out against the warfare state. Paul goes out of his way to make the connection between his economic views and the most controversial aspect of his libertarian platform, an angular anti-imperialism. During the debates, for example, he rarely let an opportunity go by without referring to the rising material and moral costs of our overseas empire.
Paul set out, I think consciously, to recreate the Old Right coalition on contemporary terrain. Was he so astonished by his own success that he pulled back at the last moment? We can’t know that, but what we can ask is why he failed to give us the leadership implicit in his presidential bid. After all, when you run for president, and put yourself at the head of a movement, you have a responsibility to follow through: you’re asking your supporters to make a commitment, and, implicit in that, is an unwritten agreement on the candidate’s part to follow through.
It’s ironic, and telling, that in the wake of his scale-back announcement, Paul’s supporters pulled off a substantial achievement by garnering some 20-plus percent of the Washington state caucus vote. That result underscores an important point. The people who went through all the trouble to find the caucus locations, show up on time, and sit through the involved caucus procedures, where some kind of political commitment and even savvy is required, were and are serious about politics and about ideas. To now tell them to go home and await further orders is simply not wise: it is demoralizing, and it wastes the momentum—the intellectual momentum—enjoyed by Paul and the campaign to date.
What really scared the substantial anti-Paul contingent among the conservative GOP establishment is that they looked at the youth movement he had generated and saw that this was the future of their movement and their party—if it was to have a future. The venomous smear campaign organized by the Orange Line Mafia, and the hooligan-style assault launched by Bill Kristol and the worst of the neocons, such as David Frum, was simply a defensive war, at least on their part. After all, Paul has continually gone after the neoconservatives, explicitly pointing to them as the real source of the GOP’s problems. His campaign was and is a dagger pointed at the heart of the neocon network in the Republican party, and they responded in kind – that is, in the only way they could, not with a refutation of Paul’s ideas but with smears and a campaign based entirely on the “principle” of guilt-by-association. I’ve covered that campaign here, here, and here, and won’t get into specifics, except to say that, in assessing the effect of the Paul campaign, this chapter takes on special significance.
Every political movement that has an ounce of vitality in it evolves over time, it develops in response to events even as it tries to shape those events: new leaders arise, and other fall by the wayside, in a process of natural selection that keeps the movement healthy—or, conversely, causes it to decline. Up until the launching of the Paul campaign, the libertarian movement—and, more broadly, the paleoconservative-Constitutionalists who occupy the space to the right of National Review—had fallen into a precipitous degeneration. The various “far right” third parties were all fading into the woodwork, with the Libertarians a shadow of their former selves, having “reformed” their platform into the ideological equivalent of vaporware and nearly expired from a fatal dose of “pragmatism.”
Intellectually, the situation was even worse: the Reason crowd and the Cato Institute types constituted the Beltway fraction of a “libertarian” movement that had basically made its peace with the welfare-warfare state. A significant proportion, albeit not all, of these Beltway types rationalize their ideological adaptation to Washington politics-as-usual with a grand over-arching Panglossian theory of increased wealth guaranteeing a very long-term triumph of libertarian principles.
When the Paul campaign appeared on the scene, the instinctive reaction of this crowd was repulsion: after gauging that their libertarian readers and supporters were strongly favorable, they abruptly switched their line—but merely bided their time. When the smear campaign started, the Beltway battalions of the “official” libertarian movement went into action, with statements from Cato bigwigs as well as vitriolic attacks on Paul in the online edition of Reason.
Of course, when anyone looked at the alleged “hate” in his infamous newsletters, and at the accusations leveled in The New Republic and by Marty Peretz’s “libertarian” cohorts, as I did, it became all to clear that the big objection had nothing to do with what was actually written. Paul’s real crime, in the view of his critics, was the very idea of appealing to what is, after all, Ron Paul’s mass base: rural, white, home-schooling, primarily Midwestern farmers and lower-middle class small business owners and blue- collar workers. For the Beltway “libertarians,” this simply will not do. As Radley Balko, of the Cato Institute, lamented: “The Ann Althouses of the world, for example, are now only more certain that opponents of federal anti-discrimination laws should have to prove that they aren’t racist before being taken seriously.”
The Ann Althouses of this world amount to a very small percentage of the general population: after all, what if we got together all the cranky, neoconnish know-it-all female lawyers—;would we even have enough to fill a small room?
Yet it is unfair to apply this argument to the Beltway types, who couldn’t care less about building a real political movement outside the confines of the Georgetown cocktail party circuit. That’s why they care more about the Ann Althouses of this world than they do about that North Dakota farmer who spray-painted “RON PAUL” on hay bales. Heck, they’re embarrassed that Paul won his highest vote totals in rural districts like North Dakota and Montana. Why, those places are nowhere, they don’t matter: only the Washington-New York-Hollywood axis matters: the rest is fly-over country, which, if it isn’t exactly uninhabited, is certainly empty intellectually, as least as far as the Orange Line Mafia is concerned.
This “scandal” was actually a good thing for libertarians, and the broader “freedom movement” that Paul often refers to: in separating out the professional boot-lickers and careerists in Washington, and showing them up for what they are—basically a tame “libertarian” side-show, run and maintained financially by neocons—the newsletter controversy had a salutary effect on the movement. In struggling to identify itself, and refine its sense of who are its friends, and who are its enemies, the emerging right-wing populist tendency represented by the Paul campaign received an intensive education that it will not soon forget.
Ron Paul’s great achievement has been to inspire a veritable army of Myrmidons, who seemingly rose up out of the earth in response to his summons, and whose numbers and fervor astonished the candidate—and this writer, who has been laboring in the vineyard of the “movement,” lo these many years now, and has never seen its like.
Paul’s great error, on the other hand, is to literally throw this army away, demobilize and demoralize it, with a curt announcement: surely they deserve—we all deserve—a little more than that.
Finally, the Paul campaign needs to reconsider its summary rejection of the third-party route. This is an historic opportunity that will not reoccur any time soon. McCain is enormously unpopular with conservatives who will turn to Paul in increasing numbers—if only there is something for them to turn to. Concerns about Paul’s congressional seat are overblown: that cannot be the real reason for the sudden drawing in. It is a question of what will be the legacy of the Paul campaign: will it be yet another ephemeral right-wing populist effort that, in the end, came to nothing—or will it lay the basis for a new organization, perhaps a new party of the Right—or, in any event, a vehicle for the movement to take a more activist form?
As Murray N. Rothbard, the founder of the modern libertarian movement, put it in the scintillating final chapter of The Ethics of Liberty:
“The Marxists have correctly perceived that two sets of conditions are necessary for the victory of any program of radical social change; what they call the ‘objective’ and the ‘subjective’ conditions. The subjective conditions are the existence of a self-conscious movement dedicated to the triumph of the particular social ideal—conditions which we have been discussing above. The objective conditions are the objective fact of a ‘crisis situation’ in the existing system, a crisis stark enough to be generally perceived, and to be perceived as the fault of the system itself.
“It is such a breakdown that stimulates a sudden search for new social alternatives and it is then that the cadres of the alternative movement (the ‘subjective conditions’) must be available to supply that alternative, to relate the crisis to the inherent defects of the system itself, and to point out how the alternative system would solve the existing crisis and prevent similar breakdowns in the future. Hopefully, the alternative cadre would have provided a track record of predicting and warning against the existing crisis.”
The crisis, as anyone can see, is all around us: the objective conditions are not only ripe, they are over-ripe. Ron Paul has indeed been a prophetic voice: his warnings that we’re headed for a financial 1930s-style meltdown are well-known, and, yes, he and his movement do relate the crisis to the inherent defects of a financial system and foreign policy regime that is pushing us into bankruptcy. Yet without an organized movement—not only an electorally-oriented party, but the sort of literary and activist apparatus that provides the institutional and political basis for the rest—the opportunity to change the world, instead of simply analyzing it from the sidelines, is irretrievably lost.
[Photo Courtesy of Ron Paul 2008]