January 07, 2008

Last Thursday’s Iowa caucus shook up both parties. I won”€™t try to suss out what’s happening among the Democrats “€”except to note that the only candidates opposed to our occupation of Iraq, Biden, Kucinich, and Gravel, all tanked as expected. (See, democracy works!)

The three who remain, Obama, Clinton, and Edwards are almost interchangeable manifestations of an inchoate, intractable evil. (Although it’s fun to watch these specters in their pretenses: Obama that he doesn”€™t hate whitey, Clinton that she doesn”€™t hate men, and Edwards that he does hate the rich.)

The Republican race got more interesting”€”and potentially more dangerous. While it’s only human nature to rally around a winner, Republicans do so with a special vigor that reminds me of schoolyard bullies. Murdoch’s minions at Fox News took a glee in banning Ron Paul from their upcoming forum which suggested a long history of stealing lunchboxes and whizzing in fat kids’ lockers.

In my neighborhood in Queens, it was only natural to cheer for the Mets, whose stadium was nearby, over the distant, malignly technocratic Yankees. And most of us did. But there were always a few kids at Immaculate Conception who would only support a team that was in first place. So they loved the Yankees. By no coincidence, these were also the boys who liked to bash in heads, drag nerds face down along the pavement, and captain vicious games of dodgeball during gym class. Which is why so many of us learned to associate a Yankee hat with a punch in the face.

Most such Red-state Yankee fans have been supporting Giuliani, the most bloodthirsty, or Romney, who could flash the most money around. Those two are now threatened by Huckabee, the wackiest (let’s promote equality, everybody “€”through a nice, fat sales tax!). It’s not surprising that this blues-playing Willie Stark is outpolling the animatronic Romney, whose transhuman demeanor recalls the liquid metal T-1000 of Terminator II. Huckabee’s the Jeff Foxworthy of the race: “€œYou know you might be a redneck when… you govern Arkansas even worse than Bill Clinton did.”€ His views on evolution are less alarming than his irrational embrace of squishy post-Baptist “€œcompassion.”€

But at least the neocons are scared of him; a good friend of mine who once worked high up in the Reagan White House is supporting Huckabee for this very reason: “€œHe’s the only leading evangelical they haven”€™t been able to buy,”€ this insider told me.  Another old friend who used to work at NR is stoked about Huckabee as a second choice if Ron Paul doesn’t catch fire: “He’s got the same charm in public that Pat Buchanan has in private, and a lot of the same good instincts.” However, “I’ve also been told he’s a non-elitist who craves the approval of elites.” Well, that would be how it works…. It explains how pretty much every “outsider” who dissents from court opinion is gradually molded and neutralized. Remember when Rush Limbaugh was considered an iconoclast? When he was actually willing to… CRITICIZE a sitting Republican PRESIDENT? That all ended, as James Fallows recorded, the night Bush I invited Rush to spend a night at the White House. That was all it took to neuter that pup.

Then of course there is John McCain, who ought to praised for his sheer, stopped-clock stubbornness in supporting the two most unpopular, irrational positions in American politics”€”and going on running for president. If there’s a worse combination of policies than open borders and amnesty at home, and open-ended meddling in toxic Arabic hellholes, I haven”€™t heard of it. (But then, I haven”€™t been listening.) Invade the world and invite the world. McCain’s yard-dog stare (he should stay away from Junior Huckabee) reminds me of the lunatic Chesterton described in Orthodoxy, whose unhinged, fixed ideas are perfectly logical”€”and impervious to information. Perhaps Stephen Colbert said it best, during his brave take-down of Shrub at the White House Correspondents Dinner:

“€œThe greatest thing about this man is he’s steady. You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday.”€

I was saddened that Ron Paul didn”€™t outpoll the sleepwalking Fred Thompson (who has no business running without Sam Waterston by his side, to do all the work while Thompson rattles ice in a glass of bourbon). Paul is the only candidate who represents the conservative Movement I once joined”€”at age 11, when I started ringing doorbells for the New York State Right-to-Life Party. Which is now defunct. Just like the Movement. 

Indeed, given his elegant balance of social conservatism, respect for individual rights, understanding of economics and reverence for the Constitution, Ron Paul could best be described as a more principled Ronald Reagan. I guess we can see now how far Reagan would have gotten”€”had he been more principled.

But who knows? Tuesday’s vote in my new home state of New Hampshire may well turn things around. Every time I sport my Ron Paul button in Nashua or Manchester, people come up to me and tell me they’re also behind the good doctor. And I meet a much cooler range of people than my old Buchanan button ever used to attract. Paul followers are divided on many issues, and come to the candidate for disparate reasons, but they seem to share one thing: a glowing optimism, a firm sense of hope that the System just MIGHT be made to work this time—that the one American politician who actually believes in the system of limited, representational government might make a difference. It reminds me of the TV footage I saw coming from Prague when Vaclav Havel returned. In fact, the soft-spoken country OB-GYN speaks in a style that recalls that poetic, dissident Czech. So I’m holding onto hope that Ron Paul just might lead our very own Velvet Revolution.


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