February 11, 2008
This is the first installment in a symposium on the Ron Paul movement to be published in Taki’s magazine over the next two weeks.
In his message to supporters on Friday, Dr. Paul declared his intention to continue campaigning, but with less intensity since, in the first place, “the chances of a brokered convention are nearly zero,” and in the second, he wants to put more effort into his own congressional campaign. He also promised, “I am committed to fighting for our ideas within the Republican party, so there will be no third party run.”
John McCain must have gone down on his knees to give thanks on hearing that. A Ron Paul third party candidacy would have given a home to the many, many conservative Republicans who cannot imagine voting for McCain. A Jan. 29 Rasmussen poll found that, for example, a third-party Ron Paul would get 11 percent of the vote in a McCain-Obama general election. Practically all of that 11 percent would come out of John McCain’s hide. As hard as the media and the Republican establishment have tried to ignore Paul, he remains a potent force.
He is a potent force because his ideas have deep appeal. He has, in fact, in these later stages of the primary campaign, been the only candidate of ideas. While not very presentable by modern campaigner standards, lacking as he does the cheery wit of a Huckabee, the content-free eloquence of an Obama, and the steely unprincipled ruthlessness of a Clinton or McCain, Paul has had no real competition as a promoter of ideas.
We all know, for example, that there is something horribly wrong with the way the federal government spends our money, and that whatever it is that is wrong gets wronger by the congressional session, under presidents of either party. I think we all understand, too, that the fault here is not, or not only, the stupidity or venality of our elected officials, but the dynamics of modern democracy. As David Frum explained fourteen years ago in Dead Right: “Conservatism has always been in danger of devolving from a philosophy of limited government to an ideology of middle-class self-interest … If you cannot say ‘no’ to middle-class constituents, you cannot lighten the crushing load of government upon society.”
A system under which our representative could say “no” to us”indeed, would have no choice but to do so”would be one in which government expansion bumped up against iron (actually, in Paul’s scheme, gold) fiscal constraints. A fiscal system revised along Paulian lines offers at least the possibility of that. Nothing else does. The “solutions” to the spending calamity offered by the other candidates on this campaign trail have amounted to (a) Democrats vowing to spend yet more! and (b) Republicans saying that they will do such things, what they are yet they know not, that shall make them the terrors of the over-spenders.
Possibly a candidate of ideas is too much for the distracted, over-stimulated, Britney-ogling, text-messaging, iPod-jiggling, TV-addled electorate to tolerate. For myself, I wish Dr. Paul had gone deeper into this territory of intellectual conservatism. He did not say half enough, for example, about the National Question. It is true that he is a latecomer to the issue, having passed through orthodox libertarianism, in which there are no National Questions because nations themselves have been abolished as too deplorably constrictive of human liberty. Still, he might have said more and picked up some of the untold numbers of American patriots who are tired of seeing the National Question blithely ignored, or sneered at as being of concern only to “racists,” “nativists,” and other limbs of Satan.
Not that Paul hasn”t had useful things to say about the National Question”whenever before did a presidential candidate air TV campaign commercials arguing against birthright citizenship? Still, I don’t think he said these things often enough or at sufficient length. In his CPAC speech last week (one of the best I have seen him give”YouTube has it in three parts, here, here, and here), for example, he took a passing swipe at the preposterous North American Union being promoted by Bush and his Mexican allies, but had nothing to say about other National Question issues”workplace enforcement, visa controls, H-1B quotas, the Green Card Lottery, the border fence, etc. And having laid into John McCain for his partnerships in legislative enterprises brazenly hostile to elementary conservative principles with Russ Feingold, Edward Kennedy, Tom Daschle, and Al Gore, how could Paul have missed the biggest, stinkiest, most obnoxious target of all on that list?
The thing I am asked most often about the Paul campaign is: Why has the candidate not denounced the various nutso fringe groups”9/11 “Truthers,” anti-Semites, Stormfronters, and the like”who have been loud in support for Paul and who (according to my questioners) have in some cases made contributions to his campaign under their own banners? Some people are very angry indeed about this. I have received a hundred emails like the following:
“I have noticed recently your support for Ron Paul. I assume, therefore, that he has unequivocally rejected the support of all the vile hate groups … who have contributed to his campaign, has returned all of their contributions, has publicly rejected their philosophy and stated explicitly that they represent values that America despises.
“If my assumption is not correct, what the hell’s the matter with you? The issue is the refusal to condemn evil”and I think you know that as well as anyone. Paul’s refusal to return the money and his silence on their beliefs isn’t merely despicable … it is an indebtedness to evil that he accepts. There has been nothing more horrifying in American politics since the German-American Bund.”
I am at a number of disadvantages here”in, for example, having no clue what “the German-American Bund” is (some kind of river bank somewhere?), and in possessing a mind which switches off its attention on encountering PC bully words like “vile” and “despicable” (more usually “abhorrent” in this sort of context”perhaps this particular correspondent came to me fresh from a Creative Writing seminar).
I assume Dr. Paul believes, as I do, that nutso fringe groups are not worth his time, since they have no influence on national affairs; that he has better things to do than sift through the lists of his contributors looking for their identifying marks (by no means always easy to spot); and that Americans can figure out for themselves what values they “despise,” without his assistance.
I think he also believes”extraordinarily, for a modern politician!”that freedom of speech, conscience, and association are sacred and indivisible; that the least restraint on any of them leads inevitably to the kind of situation we see now in Canada, or in most European countries, where having the “wrong” opinion about another guy’s religion, or about some historical event, can get you a jail sentence. If you are an anti-Semite, or a white supremacist, or a “Truther,” or a worshipper of Baal, Dr. Paul is fine with it. If, in addition, you are such a fool as to send your money to the campaign of a candidate who has never, so far as I know, given a syllable of encouragement to any of these groups, he will take your money with a smile. So much the less for you to spend on your next torchlight rally.
Possibly”I should like to think it is so”Dr. Paul believes further that when the PC enforcers say “Jump!” there are other responses a man of integrity can offer than “How high?” In the matter of picking out people who have contributed to his campaign, he has in any case a ready answer: The fact that, as he said at CPAC, he has logged more money coming in from active-duty military servicepersons than all the other candidates combined, Democrat or Republican.
Well, the Ron Paul campaign continues, with enthusiasm, to judge from the innumerable email feeds I get from the Pauline community, very little diminished. If my party”the Republican Party”is to have John McCain as its presidential candidate, let us at least have a voice on the primary trail, and at the convention, and in the general election campaign, speaking out loud and unceasingly for the true conservative values John McCain has far too often ignored or betrayed.
The Senator won’t be pleased to hear that voice; but the media”free, now that they have McCain in position, to turn on him (as they surely will)”will be glad to amplify it.
Hearing that voice, the Senator will probably lose his temper a few times. Thus, in this sad election year, while conservatism”whichever party is victorious at last”faces inevitable defeat, the American people will at least get a good look at the true faces of both John McCain and real American conservatism. For the future progress of our ideas, and of our country, that is not nothing. Let’s work for it, and take it to the bank in November, and withdraw it with interest in 2012!
John Derbyshire is a contributing editor of National Review and the author of, most recently, Unknown Quantity: A Real and Imaginary History of Algebra.
[Photo courtesy of Ron Paul 2008]
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