Tuesday November 6, 2007 05:10 EST
By far the most significant and interesting political story of the past 24 hours is the extraordinary, record-breaking outpouring of support for Ron Paul’s presidential campaign. Therefore, it is being ignored by much of our establishment press — not a single article about it in The New York Times or Washington Post (though it is discussed on a couple of their blogs), nor even a mention of it on the websites of CNN or CBS News (which found space to report on Stephen Colbert’s non-candidacy). But MSNBC and Fox News did at least both post the AP article on the Paul story.
Regardless of how much attention the media pays, the explosion of support for the Paul campaign yesterday is much more than a one-time event. The Paul campaign is now a bona fide phenomenon of real significance, and it is difficult to see this as anything other than a very positive development.
There are, relatively speaking, very few people who agree with most of Paul’s policy positions. In fact, a large portion of Americans — perhaps most — will find something in his litany of beliefs with which they not only disagree, but vehemently so. Paul has a coherent political world-view and states his positions clearly and unapologetically, without hedges, and that approach naturally ensures greater disagreement than the form of please-everyone obfuscation which drives most candidates.
Paul, of course, is not only in favor of immediate withdrawal from Iraq, but also emphatically opposes the crux of America’s bipartisan foreign policy consensus. He reserves his greatest scorn for America’s hegemonic rule of the world through superior military force, i.e., its acting as an empire in order to prop up its entangling alliances and enduring conflicts — what George Washington lamented as “permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others.”
And Paul is as vigilant a defender of America’s constitutional freedoms — and as faithful an observer of the limitations on government power designed to preserve those freedoms — as any national political figure in some time. In one interview, Paul put it this way:
As a matter of fact, if you look at every single problem we’re facing today, it’s because of the lack of respect for the rule of law and the Constitution.
At the same time, Paul is as much of an anti-abortion extremist as it gets, having proposed federal legislation to define conception as the beginning of life, and denying federal courts jurisdiction to adjudicate abortion cases. He is near the far end of what is considered the “right” in terms of immigration policy and favors a drastically reduced role for the federal government in everything from education to health care.So there is at least something in Paul’s worldview for most people to strongly dislike, even hate, if they are so inclined. Yet that apparent political liability is really what accounts for the passion his campaign is generating: it is a campaign that defies and despises conventional and deeply entrenched Beltway assumptions about what kind of country this is supposed to be.
While Barack Obama toys with the rhetoric of challenging conventional wisdom, Paul’s campaign — for better or worse — actually does so, and does so in an extremely serious, thoughtful and coherent way. And there are a lot of people who, more than any specific policy positions, are hungry for a political movement which operates outside of our rotted political establishment and which fearlessly rejects its pieties, even if they disagree with some or even many of its particulars. Moreover, circumstances often dictate political priorities: individuals who historically may not have been attracted to “limited-government” rhetoric and all of the specifics it traditionally entails may find that ideal necessary now after six years of endless expansions of intrusive federal government power.
Regardless of one’s ideology, there is simply no denying certain attributes of Paul’s campaign which are highly laudable. There have been few serious campaigns that are more substantive — just purely focused on analyzing and solving the most vital political issues. There have been few candidates who more steadfastly avoid superficial gimmicks, cynical stunts, and manipulative tactics. There have been few candidates who espouse a more coherent, thoughtful, consistent ideology of politics, grounded in genuine convictions and crystal clear political values. Here is what Jon Stewart said to Paul on The Daily Show:
You appear to have consistent principled integrity. Americans don’t usually go for that.
There is never a doubt that Paul actually believes what he is saying, nor is there any doubt that what he believes is the by-product of critical and rational thought grounded in genuine political passion.Perhaps most importantly, Paul is the only serious candidate aggressively challenging America’s addiction to ruling the world through superior military force and acting as an empire — not by contesting specific policies (such as the Iraq War) but by calling into question the unexamined root premises of these policies, the ideology that is defining our role in the world. By itself, the ability of Paul’s campaign to compel a desperately needed debate over the devastation which America’s imperial rule wreaks on every level — economic, moral, security, liberty — makes his success worth applauding.
I actually think the Paul phenomenon is, in a very rough way, comparable to the phenomenon that fueled the early stages of the 2004 Howard Dean candidacy. Because Dean is now the head of the DNC, he’s become a rather mundane Beltway politician, and that is how his candidacy is now widely remembered, but that obscures the highly unconventional genesis of Dean’s ascension. When Dean first began to attract attention, he was intense, passionate, and angry — not merely at the Bush administration but also at his own party, and he was speaking in tones and about ideas that were virtually non-existent in war-crazed, Bush-revering Washington in 2002 and 2003.
Like Paul, Dean didn’t actually speak in conventional ideological terms — he emphasized federalism principles and gun rights and balanced budgets and government frugality — and he attracted a large amount of support because of the anti-Beltway ethos of his candidacy, including among many people who were previously apolitical and far from ideologically rigid, at least in the standard establishment way of understanding ideology. Just as there are now, there were many conventional Democrats running in 2004. Dean’s appeal lay in his unconventionality, just as Paul’s does.
Part of the dynamic of an unconventional candidacy is that it can become a repository for a whole array of disparate, unrelated groups. The lack of ideological familiarity enables many people with unconventional political views to read into those candidacies whatever they want to see — even if it isn’t really there — and to use the candidate as a proxy for their otherwise ignored and stigmatized causes. That was true to some degree for Dean, and is probably true to a much larger extent with Paul. But there is still clearly a coherent core to the rationale of both candidacies, and it is characterized by intense dissatisfaction with the mandated assumptions of mainstream political discourse.
Additionally, the establishment’s reaction to both candidacies is similar. Even though they both were espousing ideas more substantive and thoughtful on vital issues than any other candidates, both of them were depicted as radical, fringe losers not to be taken seriously. This, despite the fact that they are both eminently rational medical doctors repeatedly re-elected by the people who know them best — their constituents. But the Beltway political and media elite protect their prerogatives by demonizing anyone who challenges them as an unserious loser, and that is how they depicted Dean (until he joined them) and how they now depict Paul.
I don’t want to push the Dean/Paul analogy too far. There are obviously very major differences between them and what fueled each of their candidacies. But the hallmark of both was that they tapped into the widespread and intense scorn for the rancid establishment governing both the Beltway, and anything that does so is something to be cheered.
Enough Said! Not sure why so many people are hesitant to support this guy’s candidacy all the while complaining that change in government never comes. Here is a candidate that wants to turn government on it’s ears….and folks line up to beat him down.
Raising money is good, but if it does not translate into increased poll numbers or votes in primary season, it’s all for nothing.