It would have been beyond belief just six months ago. I speak, of course, of the Ron Paul Revolution—and for purposes of this piece, I shall refer to it as exactly that, for at once it has been bringing revolutionary change to American politics, and most especially American radical politics, and is doing so at what increasingly looks like a revolutionary moment in American history. I write this as a member of the young generation that has been rallying to Ron Paul, creating a youth movement that is at least the rival of Gene McCarthy’s, as someone who has watched this movement emerge from a variety of angles as perhaps few who have been more intensely associated with it have been able to. I watch the rise of the Ron Paul Revolution as someone who has studied in vast detail the history of third parties and radical movements in America, and with that knowledge is only all the more awestruck by the novelty of the Paul phenomenon.
I write, also, as a Kirkian—and Burkean, skeptical of libertarian gospel and loathing of revolution, yet by the very fact that I have been, however peripherally, a participant in this revolution, keenly aware of the revolutionary situation we are now in. Surely, by prudential standards, this late stage of the Bush imperium has been the most just cause for rebellion since the Wilson tyranny during and after World War I. Add to this ethical dimension the present prospect of war with Iran, and as I write this possibly with Turkey as well, with a ruling class finally awakened to the madness of the war party with its finger on the button and yet unable to stop it, but with a military which just might be compelled to intervene politically to save itself from the slaughter Bush, Cheney, Lieberman, and Podhoretz have planned for it. This, very simply, is a revolutionary situation, and the Ron Paul Revolution is a response to it.
I first became aware that something was actually happening when I attended the Future of Freedom Foundation conference early in June, and listened to Lew Rockwell discuss the incredible opportunity that now faces us. The pandemonium which followed when Ron Paul himself came to the conference was as great as it was predictable—it was this speech, which became popular on YouTube, which was followed by Andrew Napolitano’s fiery oratory in which he declared Paul to be “the Thomas Jefferson of our day”. I left this event with a very cynical analysis which nonetheless remains apt—namely that most Americans oppose just about everything for which the larger libertarian movement, except for its opposition to the Iraq war. So just as Lenin was wrong about everything but the one issue which could rally the people to him, the war, so I figured it just might be with Ron Paul’s libertarian cadre.
OK, I thought, but I was with the choir when I first came to hear Ron Paul preach. Just because he became the toast of a surprising collection of talking heads after he stood his ground, Gandhian in his simple forcefulness, against the embodiment of police/state brutality, this did not a movement make. But boy, did turn out to be wrong! Less than two weeks later, I tried to attend Ron Paul’s appearance on “The Colbert Report,” but was unable to get in at the very front of the standby line. Instead, I was treated for my efforts by an enormous ballyhoo outside The Report, where I met the Ron Paul grassroots. It was wonderful to be at an old-fashioned radical right-wing hootenanny like I had not seen since I was a teenager. Disillusioned capital-L Libertarians, Birchers, disillusioned College Democrats, conspiracy nuts, and just plain folks from the great unwashed—a delightful group! Also notable for its diversity by PC standards, this group charged into Times Square after Ron Paul left The Colbert Report, chanting at the top of their lungs, with placards flailing wildly like lefties. It was glorious, and it was only the beginning.
From just that occasion, I left feeling that the Ron Paul Revolution was proving itself to be the fulfilment of an historical analogy whose possibility I had been anticipating for some years. In the first decade of the 20th century, many and varied radical movements were prospering in Russia, but were driven underground by Russia’s entry into the First World War, only to massively rise up from the ashes once the mustard gas hit the fan. Likewise, there were many and varied populist and patriot movements flourishing in the 90s, only to be driven underground by 9/11 and the Iraq War. I have long wondered if they also might arise, once the army found itself inevitably broken in Iraq. So what, then, was the political opening which made way for this revolution? We’ll recall that, late last spring, Ron Paul’s stand against Giuliani at Champaran occurred within days of the first and foremost capitulation of Nancy Pelosi and the other Democratic leaders in Congress on the Bush war budget.
But something more fundamental, and intimately related, had happened as well. The leftist antiwar movement, such as it was, came as close as any movement or organization in the history of the American left, or for that matter, in politics generally, to abject surrender. This occurred directly in response to the Pelosi capitulation, at which time it became clear that the major umbrella group, United for Peace and Justice, was serving completely at the behest of the Democrats. Furthermore, and most damningly of all, this occurred largely with the takeover of the organization by the Communist Party USA, guided by the lunatic delusions of the Popular Front stratagem with its demands for rival priorities (hence the cloying insistence on Peace and Justice) all dictated by ultimate fealty to the Democratic Party. There could not have been a more a stunning monument to the failures of the past than the takeover of a seemingly genuine antiwar movement by the cult, many generations ossified, which was largely responsible for pushing American entry into the Second World War and thus ushering in the epoch of perpetual war.
In response to Pelosi’s surrender, the venerable Alexander Cockburn dedicated a whole issue of his Counterpunch newsletter to what he frankly entitled “the failure of the antiwar movement.” It was only natural in the wake of this betrayal that the masses in their frustration over this no-win war to end all no-win wars should turn to the first person they should then see speaking truth to powe—which just happened to be, by the everlasting grace of God, Ron Paul. For indeed, if the Ron Paul Revolution achieves nothing else, it will accomplish the complete remaking and realignment of the spectrum of American radical politics—in other words, the death of the left, accompanied by the complete discrediting and repudiation of Beltway libertarianism, a partisan of which actually had the unmitigated chutzpah to ask when the Revolution was first getting off the ground, “Will libertarianism survive Ron Paul?” If by “libertarianism” he meant the varied strands of apologists for the empire calling themselves libertarians – Randroidism, liberventionism, Catoism, and the utterly appalling and affronting redefinition of libertarianism as pro-war liberalism by Dennis Miller and the creators of South Park, then we can now joyfully answer a resounding no!
The profound ramifications for the future of American radicalism leave, however, one section of the political spectrum deeply impacted by the Ron Paul Revolution unaccounted for, and that is, the “conservative movement”—specifically the element which has come to be represented by its younger members generally and YAF today in particular. By August, I had caught on C-SPAN a YAF convention in which I was struck to find the attendees overwhelmingly disillusioned by Bush and his war, with this sentiment encouraged by the speaker, Bob Novak, who with the release of his memoirs around that time had freed the same instincts in himself (though it remains baffling how one who speaks of his political awakening coming from reading Witness could remain unapologetic for his unwitting service as a lackey for the Alger Hiss of our day, Scooter Libby). Novak and his audience, in their give and take, had only kind things to say about Ron Paul, suggesting that at least some nominally principled conservatives might want to get behind him.
Now, when it comes to the “conservative movement”, I continue to echo John McLaughlin. When Crossfire’s guests were offering their New Years’ Resolutions for 2004, Pat Buchanan announced his resolve to write the book which became Where The Right Went Wrong. McLaughlin, in his delightful way, scolded Buchanan: “The conservative movement! You’re still riding that old horse Pat?!!” This sentiment was only confirmed for me late in August when I attended the disappointing proceedings of the Robert Taft Club. Richard Viguerie was entertaining if nothing else, Terry Jeffery of Human Events was surprisingly sensible until he invoked the Supreme Court bugaboo with respect to Hillary, an equally annoying practice by both the left and right/ I later had the tactile pleasure of admonishing Jeffery to his face that, contrary to his opening remarks, FDR was not a socialist, he was a fascist.
Paul Gottfried and Jim Antle were more sober about the future of the right, if at the same time they kept playing to the prejudices of this crowd, which consisted mostly of aspiring young men and women of the emerging Beltway right. My worst suspicions about this crowd were confirmed when I later learned that the one person in the crowd who was unqualified in touting Ron Paul and the now much confirmed potential of his campaign was the communications director of the National Right To Work Committee. My more recent observations of scenes from the Ron Paul Revolution, as it has totally come into its own on the heels of the stunning third quarter fundraising, have more than assured me that this curious species of post-Bush YAFism has, at best, a minor supporting role in Ron Paul’s coalition, but it is nevertheless a significant phenomenon which must be addressed.
My observations of the present YAF and related “conservative movement” crowd from early on reminded me a great deal of the analogous phenomenon on the left, as liberalism declined and fell in the 70s and 80s – the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC) of Michael Harrington. This group was most notable for essentially reuniting the old and new left in the wake of McCarthy and McGovern—something which, incidentally, I feel can go far in explaining liberal/Vietnam generation assent to the Iraq War. Murray Rothbard very aptly labeled this collection of battle-scarred, mostly young McGovernites ready to take on Washington “the new Browderism”, referring to the Popular Front era American Communist leader Earl Browder, known for such slogans as “Communism is 20th Century Americanism!” Likewise it follows that these bright young things who roundly reject neo-conservatism and are now enthusiastically boring from within the conservative policy apparatus are practicing an equally foolhardy Browderism of the right. Significantly, Rothbard’s naming of the new Browderism came in a column in which he juxtaposed it with the newly ascendant “new right” in the late 70s to forecast the then-bleak future of American politics.
The bottom line in all this inside-baseball analysis of factions is that, in the end, while I am certainly optimistic about the potential of the Ron Paul Revolution, it simply can not and will not have a lasting impact on the Republican Party. This was more or less made clear to me around the same time I was closely observing the Browderism of the right with Ron Paul’s relatively poor showing in the Ames Straw Poll. That Paul came in behind “Nuke Mecca” Tancredo is as solid an indicator as any that, at the end of the day, the Republican Party remains the War Party, Tancredo’s later descent into obscurity notwithstanding. And the rise of Mike Huckabee, much as it may be little more than a convenient invention of the media, is not insignificant. Even as Ron Paul shall surely be vindicated, the future of the Republican Party, if indeed it even has one, is with the left-turning Christian right which at least has the potential to adapt to America after the fall. I personally, however, foresee the Republicans literally committing suicide in 2012 running David Petraeus on a stabbed-in-the-back platform, to be succeeded in 2016 by the rise of the Spitzer-Huckabee party.
So even with setbacks like the Ames Straw Poll, the Ron Paul Revolution just kept on walking, kept on talking, marching on to freedom land. All the way, indeed, to its breathtaking and historic $5 million raised in the third quarter of 2007. Which finally brings us to October, when I attended the Mises Institute 25th Anniversary festivities in New York, the events of which disabused me of any doubt that we are indeed entering a revolutionary situation. The question which had been most pressing on my mind in the weeks and months leading up to the Mises conference was whether or not the youthful masses were being educated and having their consciousness raised by the larger foundations on which the Ron Paul Revolution stood. The answer, as ever since this Revolution began, was a resounding yes. I was stunned to see meet at this conference roughly 200 my own age and younger, many of whom I had seen before at random Ron Paul events in New York. It was also moving to see at the event a close friend of mine, a senior in high school who is probably in the top five leading the Ron Paul Revolution in the Big Apple. All in all, this was a generational moment. It dispelled any doubt I’d had that this youth movement was easily the equal of Gene McCarthy’s.
The most surreal and breathtaking event of the weekend was going from the conference to a party being held at the then-still under construction Ron Paul HQ in New York, arriving in the middle of an impromptu appearance by Paul himself, in which he was addressing a large and tightly packed throng of mostly young people, again “diverse” by PC standards, with great uproar and chanting by the crowd with fists raised. In this darkened room in the Meatpacking District, I could not help but have come to mind that most vivid cinematic depiction of the romance of the Russian Revolution, the scene in the film Reds when John Reed is addressing a crowded factory at midnight debating whether to strike. This is an entirely new and novel phenomenon which not even most old fighters of the right, to say nothing of the mainstream media and establishment, has at all come to terms with if it has even grasped it at all—a radical youth movement which in rallying behind a man and a platform which, while ostensibly libertarian, has more in common with the John Birch Society than with most self-identified libertarians. Could this have ever been imagined in the case of Pat Buchanan, or reaching further back in history, for that matter, of John Schmitz?
I was motivated, in part, to write these observations after reading in this journal the 1053rd rant by Paul Gottfried about how the left needs the neocons, finally taking the cake when he called John Mearsheimer a man of the left. (For the record, a very good mutual friend of both Mearsheimer and myself tells me he is quite certain Mearsheimer voted straight Republican until 2004). Specifically here, I sense that much of the failure to appreciate just what is happening out there is symptomatic of the enduring power of old grudges and old wounds. When Norah O’Donnell bitterly called Ron Paul an isolationist, she was not trying to summon the ghost of Max Lerner; indeed, she probably spoke out of total ignorance of the word’s history, and her magnanimity on the matter when she interviewed Paul later would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. No doubt, it drives the neocons absolutely mad that the media today have not memorized Daniel Bell’s The Radical Right, nor do I doubt that they will very soon have some choice words to that effect. You know that Commentary, when it deigns to speak about Ron Paul, will serve up a genunine whopper!
If I should come across here as perhaps a bit too optimistic about the media and the culture, this goes to the heart of the matter of why I speak with such gusto about the Ron Paul Revolution. Whatever Ron Paul may or may not achieve in politics—my own Burkean hope has always been that he will play the same role in this election as Norman Thomas in 1932, that is, to run on the platform closer to what would actually transpire in the next administration than the Democratic platform in each respective campaign—the true revolution that is occurring is in popular consciousness if not more broadly in culture. This is what was so stunning about what I myself witnessed in the way of raised consciousness among the Ron Paul Revolutionaries at the Mises conference, along with such instances as 2,500 Michigan students chanting at Ron Paul’s prompting for the gold standard, and many such instances since and many more to come. Imagine in the wake of the 2008 election if just one in five of the number now rallying for Ron Paul go out in protest actions against the Lincoln bicentennial. Even as I write this, we are approaching the 5th of November, when the most ambitious fundraising drive for Ron Paul yet is being held on a day to honor the martyrdom of a Catholic monarchist. Who would have ever dreamed?
I write not only in approach of Guy Fawkes Day, but, just two days later, the 90th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. We do well, first, to consider just how analogous our situation has become. All too akin to the “surge” were several key events of the latter half of World War I – the Russian spring offensive against the Austrians in 1916 which won important tactical victories but broke the army and led directly to the revolution, the simultaneous French pushback against the Germans which staved off looming defeat but led directly to the 1917 mutiny, and the German last rally of early 1918 which led directly to defeat, the Spartacist uprising, and ultimately, the Nazis. It is already a great irony that this anniversary is being marked by a pivotal and treacherous moment for the neo-conservatives, which history shall surely record as Trotsky’s greatest legacy (instead of his relatively petty dissent from Stalin). But the supreme irony would be if the most successful Leninists in history (yes, more than Lenin himself—if only the neocons had had to face down the White Army and the Kronstadt Sailors) were brought down by the very chain of events which led to the Bolshevik Revolution in the first place. For the record, I am not predicting that Ron Paul will lead a pitchfork wielding mob on the White House. But if Hillary is president and insists on continuing the war a la Kerensky, anything is possible.
You say you want a revolution, well, ya know . . . .
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