July 10, 2007

He’s the conscience of the Republican party, or, at least, of its conservative wing – a reminder of the good old days, when being a right-wing GOPer meant never having to say you voted to raise taxes, or to increase the size of Big Government. When it meant a prudential foreign policy, rather than a Jacobin one rooted in recklessness. Rep. Paul remembers those days, and his campaign for the White House is based in large part on a conscious effort to revive this nearly-forgotten conservative tradition.


I had a little chat with Ron at the Future of Freedom conference on “Foreign Policy and Civil Liberties,” recently held in Reston, Virginia, where both of us were speakers. He was mobbed, of course, and I only managed to get in a few moments, a few words. I said something like “I don’t know why you do it, you will truly go to libertarian heaven for your efforts,” or something to that effect, and he told me that before deciding to run, he had re-read my book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement. I don’t want to toot my own horn, or presume too much, but I’d like to think the book was not only a source of knowledge for Dr. Paul, but also a source of some inspiration.


At any rate, I was floored by this high compliment, the highest one a writer of my sort could possibly receive. Because, you see, my purpose in writing that book was to accomplish a distinctly political aim, and that is to reawaken the spirit of what Murray Rothbard used to call the Old Right in the Republican party. My goal was to popularize the ideas of such long-lost Old Right figures as John T. Flynn, Garet Garrett, Senator Robert A. Taft, Colonel Robert McCormick, and reveal this proto-libertarian legacy to a new generation of conservatives.


If anyone epitomizes the Old Right, in his principled dedication to individual liberty and his essentially conservative devotion to the Constitution, it is Rep. Paul, a 71-year old nine-term Republican congressman who represents a Gulf coast Texas farming district, i.e. red state country. Yet Paul’s early opposition to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, his relentless criticism of the Bush administration’s foreign policy of global aggression, his bitter refusal to countenance the administration’s relentless encroachments on the most basic constitutional guarantees hasn’t been an obstacle – so far – to easy re-election. In 2004 the Democrats didn’t even bother to field a candidate, and in 2006 he won by a 20-point margin.


He’s a red-state congressman with a blue state foreign policy and an outlook on social and economic matters that is unabashedly libertarian – with a social conservative twist. I remember a few run-ins with Rep. Paul in my younger days: us “radical” libertarians didn’t like his abortion stance (he’s pro-life), and I seem remember a contretemps or three over the Gay Question, which Dr. Paul didn’t answer to the satisfaction of the Libertarian Party’s gay caucus. I forget, exactly, what sort of nonsensical political incorrectness had provoked such ire: I do remember, however, the brief picket line we had at a luncheon where he was the speaker. To his credit, Rep. Paul refused to kowtow to the Caucus, and went on with his speech, completely unperturbed and affable as ever.


It’s hard to intimidate Ron Paul, and thank the gods for that. As Rudy Giuliani discovered to his great annoyance at the South Carolina GOP debate, when confronted with bullying, Ron not only stands his ground but goes on the offensive.


In mentioning my book (again!), I don’t want to call attention to myself as any kind of ideological avatar, I am merely pointing out how its themes are reflected in the rhetoric of the Paul campaign. One theme, aside from the history and significance of the Old Right, traced the origin and rise of the neocons as a leftist incursion into the conservative movement, one that posed a particular danger on the foreign policy front. Rep. Paul has a keen understanding of the neoconservative threat to the peace of the world and the liberty we enjoy here at home, as he made clear in this wonderful speech on the floor of Congress, which details the history, ideology, and policy prescriptions of the neoconservatives, especially in regard to the interplay of foreign and domestic policy and their pernicious and decidedly anti-conservative influence on both.


What other presidential candidate has authored such a dissertation? Paul starts out with a detailed historical account of the neocons’ origins on the far left, traces their evolution as erstwhile followers of Leon Trotsky to the “New Right” of William F. Buckley, Jr., and National Review, and chronicles their ascension as the foreign policy elite of the Bush administration and the intellectual authors of the Iraq war. Of particular interest is Paul’s total demolition of the views of neocon guru Michael Ledeen, of Iran-Contra fame, a figure who has long had a reputation as a kind of neoconservative Svengali, and is often seen in the vicinity of the neocons’ biggest, most brazen scandals.


The Texas troubleshooter of the GOP pack is gunning for the neocons, and what an eminently deserving target they make! This means, of course, that they are gunning for him, and the results, so far, have been all too predictable. Writing in the house organ of the New York neocons, the New York Sun, Ryan Sager accused Rep. Paul of being a “racist” because some newsletters from the 1990s expressed politically incorrect sentiments: yet the staffer who actually wrote the comments was immediately fired. Naturally, this is not enough for the neocons, who hope to get Paul in the same way they got Trent Lott and Don Imus. One has to wonder, however—in the context of a GOP presidential primary, where everyone is running to the right of the President—if the way to knock out the most conservative candidate in the race is by making appeals to political correctness.


The newsletter comments averred that a great deal of the population of Washington, D.C., is “criminal or semi-criminal,” and attacked the pro-Israel lobby for being "by far the most powerful lobby in Washington of the bad sort”—two statements so obviously and glaringly true that they are unutterable precisely because they are indisputable. Oh yes, and the criminal element of D.C., according to the anonymous “hate-criminal” who wrote these newsletters, is “fleet-footed” – another truism of the sort that dare not speak its name.


Of course, Sager hasn’t actually seen these aged newsletters: he is relying on the second-hand account of Paul’s Democratic opponent, Charles (“Lefty”) Morris, which is telling in itself. Sager didn’t even try to unearth the originals, since accuracy isn’t his main concern: the idea is only to smear Ron Paul. The remarks about blacks are mild compared to some of the demagogy that has appeared in, say, Commentary magazine over the years, but that is just the icing on the cake: the real crime of which Paul stands accused is – you guessed it! – anti-Semitism. Sayeth Sager: “For all those getting really excited about anti-war, libertarian Republican Ron Paul, it’s worth noting that he’s pretty racist and also an anti-Semite.” After all, says Sager, he believes “that the goal of the Zionist movement is to stifle criticism” – and, of course, that’s nonsense. Or is it? Perhaps we ought to ask Norman Finkelstein, Tony Judt, and Professors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer.


There is an almost ritualistic quality to Sager’s smear that renders it flaccid and unconvincing: after all, the Israel lobby is the most powerful influence on American foreign policy, especially when it comes to the Middle East, and everybody knows it. Sager’s accusation is not meant as an accurate description, but as a warning: Paul has transgressed, and will be made to pay. Sager even uses the old-fashioned Stalinist phraseology: Paul, in his view, is “objectively anti-Semitic.” Yes, comrade: tell us all about it.


David Weigel, writing in the online edition of Reason, takes all this very seriously, and avers:

“It was an embittered libertarian who told me to fear the Ron Paul 2008 campaign. Early in February, a few short weeks after Paul confirmed he’d be making the run, my source shelled peanuts and slugged beers and waved the red flag of doom. "’It’s going to get ugly,’ he said.



"’We really don’t know that,’ I countered. ‘Chuck Hagel is just shadowboxing, so Paul will be the only anti-war Republican candidate. He’s going to confuse the hell out of the other Republicans at the debates. At best, what’s he trying to do: Shift the debate three or four inches over to the libertarian side on the war, on whether or not we should have a Department of Education?’ "’Maybe he could, if he got to talk about that,’ he said. ‘He won’t get to talk about that. Once the 1988 campaign gets rehashed, once people start digging through his old Ron Paul Letters, then what’s his campaign going to be about?’ “He quieted down for his final point. This was obviously what kept him up nights. ‘At the end of this, if you say you’re a libertarian, are people going to say ‘Oh, like Ron Paul?’ And are you going to want them to say that?’


That was February, this is May, and libertarians aren’t ready to answer that question.”


But of course they are more than ready – except, of course, for Weigel and much of the editorial staff of Reason magazine, which, like Sager, believes that abortion rights, drug legalization, and gay marriage are the central doctrines of “libertarianism” properly understood. Sager’s book, The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians, and the Battle to Control the Republican Party, is based on the premise that social conservatism and libertarianism are opposites in a political dichotomy which must be resolved by the expulsion of the former from the GOP. Reason is the Iskra of this brand of “socially liberal” libertarianism, which is why liberal Democrats like Bill Maher are under the mistaken impression that they’re “libertarians.”


For these people, Ron Paul – pro-life, socially conservative, a red-state libertarian if ever there was one – is an embarrassment, a reminder of the libertarian movement’s populist, rural, “isolationist” roots. They want him to talk about gay marriage – favorably – and yet he insists on bringing up the Federal Reserve, not a “respectable” issue at all. Sure, Ron’s against the “war on drugs” – here’s an early clip from the 1980s that shows the Texas troubleshooter in fine form – and yet he isn’t at all “hip” about it. When he discusses the drug issue, he doesn’t crack a knowing Jon Stewart-like smile, he clearly doesn’t approve of drugs or like them, and that, ironically, is what makes him so … cool. And by that I mean authentic.


Authenticity counts for a lot this election season, because all of the other candidates – including the minor ones – are chiefly interested in positioning themselves, rather than advocating this view or raising that issue. Sincerity is at a premium, and if Paul could be reduced to a single quality, the one characteristic that typifies his politics and his personality, then surely it is his authentic passion for the ideas that energize his campaign. This campaign isn’t about him, as it is for, say, John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Fred Thompson, it’s about ending the war, redirecting our foreign policy, reining in the metastasis of Big Government, and restoring constitutional government in America.


Senor Weigel was wrong: the smears haven’t stopped the momentum of the Paul campaign, which has taken off from the margins and placed the candidacy of the most conservative member of Congress in the national spotlight. Paul has gotten to talk about the war, about dismantling the federal Leviathan, and more – and no amount of sniping from the neocon peanut gallery is going to be able to obscure his powerful message.


The neocons hate Ron Paul not just on account of his antiwar stance, and his principled approach to foreign policy questions – which always puts real American interests first – but also because of his radical populism. Neocons, who believe in rule by “enlightened” elites (i.e. themselves) hate populism in all its forms, but especially the right-wing populist version epitomized by Paul in his opposition to the Federal Reserve and what he calls the “banksters” – the elite financial class that makes a very good living out of the business of inflation. Our system of fiat money enriches the privileged few at the great expense of the long-suffering many, and this isn’t due to capitalism, but to a system created by regulators to benefit the monetary-industrial complex. In combination with the military-industrial complex, these characters control the country – and much of the world.


Weigel’s “embittered libertarian” confidante believes that if Paul becomes a threat to the GOP Establishment a smear campaign will be unleashed that will render him harmless, and yet Paul is already a threat in an important sense: that he gets up there at Republican debates and raises issues no one else dares to raise, such as the moral culpability of the US government as it goes about the world committing war crimes, is in itself a major victory, because it changes the terms of the debate. The neocons would much prefer a GOP primary contest that bears no relationship to the electorate beyond the 30 percent or so who make up the Republican “dead-enders” who still support the war. When it comes to our crazed foreign policy, only Ron Paul is speaking to the electorate, especially independents who might otherwise lean Republican – he’s acting like the frontrunner, while his rivals pander to a rapidly-shrinking base.


I was on the radio the other day – KALW, a public radio station in San Francisco – and the hostess was a very cute leftie type (of course: what other type works at a San Francisco public radio station?) who was astonished by the very existence of Ron Paul. Omigod – he refuses to take his pension! Wowie zowie – he’s never voted for a tax hike! Jeezie-peezie – he’s a consistent opponent of Big Government! Oh, and look at his list of campaign contributors – nary a PAC to be seen!


In her mind, Rep. Paul is unique, some sort of political mutant whose existence can be explained away as an anomaly. Yet there is precedent for Paul: he had a precursor. His name was Howard Buffett.


Yes, we’re talking about those Buffetts – Howard was the father of Warren Buffett, the legendary investor whose generosity is as renowned as his financial acumen, and Howard, too, was a financier, a stockbroker. He was elected to Congress in 1942 vowing to block Franklin Roosevelt’s plan to “fasten the chains of political servitude around America’s neck.” Like Paul, he refused all pay raises, and his political credo limns the Texas troublemaker to a tee: before taking a position on a bill, he would ask himself “Will this add to, or subtract from, human liberty?”


Buffett was a pillar of the Old Right, just as fiercely anti-imperialist as he was anti-statist. As Murray Rothbard recounts, he opposed the Korean war – and the dangerous precedent set by Truman when he sent US troops to the Korean peninsula without bothering to consult Congress – when the entire body of “respectable” American opinion, from The New Republic to the Republican party establishment, was behind the first big confrontation with the newly-minted Commie enemy. For years, Buffett tried to get the government to declassify the testimony of Admiral Roscoe Hillenkoetter, then the CIA director, that would have established American responsibility for starting the war: alas, to no avail.


Rep. Buffett retired from politics in 1954, just as the Old Right sun was setting and the “new” right of William F. Buckley, Jr., and his gaggle of ex-Trotskyist intellectuals were ginning up the third world war with the Soviet Union. Out of step with the militarized, hopped-up “anti-communism” of the conservative movement, he represented the last gasp of a movement that had fought, heroically, to preserve liberty in America against the depredations of the New Deal-“Fair” Deal and America’s second crusade to spread “democracy” around the globe.


Ron Paul, Buffett’s contemporary doppelganger, represents the revival of the movement Buffett fought to preserve. If Buffett stood at the end of a tradition that was in decline, then Paul stands at the beginning of an Old Right that is being renewed.




The question that arises in the minds of Ron Paul’s more serious supporters is: what happens after the Republican convention, when one of the “majors” – my money is on Romney – is nominated?


There is currently an effort by some of his prominent supporters to persuade Paul to run as a third party candidate, but there’s no telling what will come of that. The idea is to have both the Libertarian and Constitution parties nominate him, and this would ensure ballot status virtually everywhere. Keep checking back here to find out the latest ….


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