"One man scorned and covered with scars still strove with his last ounce of courage to reach the unreachable stars; and the world was better for this."
— Cervantes, Don Quixote
MONDAY WAS NOVEMBER 5, a red-letter day in the history of revolutionary politics.
As you may know, it was on this day that Englishman Guy Fawkes was arrested in 1605 while attempting to blow up the bustling House of Lords during that year’s opening of Britain’s Parliamentary session…
Fawkes was part of a conspiracy launched by a handful of militant British Catholics to simultaneously assassinate King James I and most of England’s Protestant ruling aristocracy — using approximately 1,800 pounds of barreled black powder stashed in the basement of Westminster Palace. Ever since, the fifth of November has been commemorated in the U.K. and other areas strongly tied to British history, and is today perennially celebrated as Guy Fawkes Day (or Night).
In keeping with this spirit of political and religious upheaval, November 5, 2007 is when the so-named "Ron Paul Revolution" set the current record among 2008 Republican U.S. presidential candidates for campaign funds raised in a single day: $4.07 million. This prodigious sum was generated through an ingenious Web campaign tying Paul’s presidential bid to that historic attempt at fiery rebellion Fawkes nearly pulled off 402 years ago.
Undeniably, shrewd campaign gimmickry was greatly responsible for this single-day avalanche of cash, which has no doubt catapulted Paul into contention for the lead in fourth-quarter campaign funding. Coupled with Paul’s surprising fourth-best fundraising effort among GOP candidates in the third quarter, Paul’s "Revolution" seems clearly on a roll…
But more importantly, this snowballing support serves as a revealing barometer of disunity among rank and file American Republicans. And today, I want to consider for a moment what that could mean.
Before I get started, let me say that I intend this essay to focus on what I perceive as the broader implications of Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign, not necessarily to be an endorsement of his candidacy. There are enough columnists out there carrying his torch already, especially in the universe of libertarian thought…
That being said, in the interest of full disclosure I must confess this: I have met and spoken to Candidate Paul, heard him lecture in person, and even had the honor of being a fellow speaker at this summer’s FreedomFest in Las Vegas, where Paul was the Keynote. And in my opinion, he’s a sincere, bright, appealing candidate who makes a lot of sense.
But like I said, that’s neither here nor there.
"A little revolution now and then is a good thing…"
— Thomas Jefferson
Unlike with every other presidential candidate in recent memory (or in the current crop), the main question about Ron Paul isn’t whether he means what he says or not…
According to everything I’ve seen and all I could dig up, Paul is a man of sterling character and reputation. He’s clearly sincere in his stated desire to end the war in Iraq, reform, shrink or eliminate most every agency or institution of the government, restore a true laissez-faire economy, and return America to a system much closer to the one the Framers of the U.S. Constitution laid out 200-plus years ago in Philadelphia…
But is this what Americans want? Do we really want a president who gives it to us straight? Carter did, in his brutal-truth "malaise" speech, and look what happened to him. And do we really want smaller government and the increased personal responsibility that comes with it?
Granted, I think these are things we should want, and so do a lot of politicos and pundits far smarter, more important and more influential than me. But that’s irrelevant. Judging by poll results and past voting histories, Americans of neither dominant political party really want smaller, less invasive government. By all indications, what the vast majority of people seem to want is bigger and more powerful government — but only if it serves their party’s agenda at the expense of their political adversaries. For examples:
From what I gather, most voters on the right couldn’t care less about compromising Constitutional safeguards on personal privacy, blurring the line between church and state, and eradicating the freedom to choose who we marry, when we have our kids and how we end our bed-ridden lives. They’re also square with granting more power to the police and FBI to watch us 24/7 and enacting a strong-arm foreign policy — as long as all of this results in what they perceive as a safer, more secure nation of higher (translation: Christian) morality…
Conversely, many on the left seem not to care if certain Constitutionally guaranteed rights (e.g.: gun rights) fall by the wayside, if agents of the government pass judgment on matters of parenting and the family, or if arbitrary Federal mandates reduce our freedom to choose how we live, what vehicles we drive, what we put into our bodies, and what we do with our own property. They also seem perfectly cool with anyone who can physically get inside the country gaining unlimited access to the public teat — as long as all of this stuff results in what they perceive as a state with a more equitable (translation: Socialist) distribution of wealth and opportunity…
All of these ends, right or left (and right or wrong), require bigger, more invasive, more costly or more oppressive government. And Republicans and Democrats who vote seem to cast their ballots for it every time. So again, the main question about Ron Paul isn’t whether we can trust him, but this: Is America ready for him?
Will we tolerate a president who reduces the scope and reach of government — if it means he eliminates some of our own pet causes in the process?
Will we accept a nation in which we’re more fully accountable for ourselves and our families — or have we grown too accustomed to the guardrails and safety nets Big Brother puts in place to protect us from our freedom?
Will we have the discipline to use the tax dollars we’ll save with smaller government to look after our own retirement finances — or will we spend the extra cash like drunken, uh, senators?
Will we embrace a downsized bureaucracy if it means fewer cushy state and federal government jobs — and a private sector workforce that’s all of a sudden flooded with incompetent boobs who are used to collecting tax-funded paychecks for doing basically no work?
Under a purist president like Ron Paul, this is the kind of stuff that would happen. In true Fawkes-esque fashion, Paul would attempt to explode into splinters (figuratively, of course) the bloated system we’ve built here in America. He’d attempt to dismantle, reform, cut, shrink or outright eliminate whole agencies of the government; he’s already said he’d abolish the IRS, the Department of Education and much more if he had the power to do it…
Again, I’m not saying this would be a bad thing. In my opinion, the presidency of a person like Ron Paul may be the only hope of restoring America to the greatness our founders envisioned. I’m only wondering if anyone else in power from either party would allow it — or if the mainstream media would get behind it.
I’m betting not. The brutal truth is that we may be too far-gone to embrace a candidate like Ron Paul. He may be sincere, but he may also be jousting at windmills in the current American political climate…
"The natural progress of things is for government to gain ground and for liberty to yield."
— Jefferson again
Let’s consider this for a minute. If Paul gets elected, every time he gets his way about anything, a bunch of career politicians and bureaucrats who currently have power will lose it, regardless of which side of the aisle they’re sitting on. That’d be an inevitable fact under any president whose goal is to shrink and contain government…
The hen-ish and clucking, education-meddling, tax-raising, welfare-doling, illegal-hugging and militant environmental contingents on the left would find themselves cut off at the knees by a president who can’t be bought by a sea of tax money he could use for his own agenda — or the promise of votes from millions of overnight "citizens." That’s because he likely wouldn’t have much of an agenda except the abolition of existing programs and pork, and probably wouldn’t much care about serving a second term.
On the flipside, the goals of hawkish, spread-democracy-at-all-costs (code for "kill non-Christian infidels"), bedroom-meddling, surveillance-peddling, isolationist, and militantly anti-immigration factions of the right would find their agenda mercilessly thwarted by a president they can’t literally put the fear of God into. Many of their pet causes would be squarely in the crosshairs of a president whose sole agenda isn’t his own party’s power, but a return to Constitutional fundamentals.
So, given that all of this is the case, how would a guy like Ron Paul ever be able to garner either party’s nomination — no matter how much 11th hour cash he raises or how much support he may have from the public?
In other words: Is either party (in Paul’s case, the GOP) willing to put someone in office that’s going to attempt to render large numbers of their own kind obsolete, superfluous or illegal?
I don’t think so. They should, but they won’t.
"…I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism."
— Ronald Reagan, 1975, Reason magazine
Let’s also consider what would actually have to happen in order for the libertarian-leaning Republican Ron Paul to be elected president — assuming for a moment that he were somehow able to secure the GOP nomination and raise enough money to mount a credible challenge.
First, he’d have to get a huge number of praise-the-Lord-and-pass-the-ammunition Republicans to vote against their own Iraq war stance, or else corral the votes of a huge number of moderate anti-war Democrats to make up the deficit. Would Pauls’s anti-war message attract more moderate donkeys than it alienates conservative elephants?
Who can say? What can probably be safely said is that Paul’s staunchly pro-life stance would likely give Democrats inclined to vote for him a moment of pause…
But would this neocon-friendly abortion stance be enough for far-right Republicans (who vote in huge numbers, by the way) to overlook Paul’s determination to end the war in Iraq — an issue a lot of hard-core Christians must surely perceive as "God’s will" being done with American lead?
Complex questions, all.
None of it really matters, though, because the one thing a man like Ron Paul needs more desperately than anything else in order to ascend to the presidency is the one thing he’ll never get: Massive exposure and support in the media.
The only way Ron Paul can get elected is if he can get his message out — because that message IS a persuasive one. It resonates with Americans of many different stripes. More than perhaps any other presidential candidate in recent memory, Paul’s obvious sincerity, selflessness, intelligence and focus on returning America to its own Constitution may indeed be enough to sway rank and file voters into casting a ballot against one or more facets of their core belief structure.
But that message will NEVER get out in force (and it isn’t) through the typical channels.
Think about it. Paul is the Democrats’ worst nightmare — a small-government, pro-gun, free-market loving, pro-life opposition candidate who’s threatening to scoop up and claim as his own the only issue they’re firmly in line with the bulk of the American public on: The Iraq war.
This means that Paul is ALSO the mainstream media’s worst nightmare. You can argue it until the cows come home, but earnest study and plain old common sense show that the bulk of the do-gooder mainstream media is as bent to the big-government left as any of the candidates — more so, since they don’t have to compromise on their message in order to corral votes.
What about FOX News? True, they may not be as left-leaning as the others, but they don’t seem to be doing Ron Paul any favors. Quite the contrary, it seems. Some online sources have argued that FOX is desperate to oust Paul from the race in favor of more "conservative" (ironic, since Paul is by far the best example of a classical conservative) candidates like Romney, Huckabee and Thompson. I’m inclined to agree.
Indeed, FOX’s "You Decide 2008" Web site posts only five news-line items for Paul, the last one being from back in October. No mention is made of his Guy Fawkes Day fundraising record. Conversely, GOP candidates Romney, Huckabee, Thompson, Richardson and even the relatively liberal Rudy Guiliani and John McCain have between 15 and 20 posts each, with most of them featuring more recent updates, some from as recently as this morning.
So who in the mainstream media is going to help Ron Paul get his message out? Aside from a sizeable presence on the Internet, a fairly visible (yet shoestring-budget-looking) grassroots effort and a precious few debate appearances, how are rank and file voters going to be able to hear how much sense Paul is making?
The key to this is in the debates, which unfortunately, not a lot of people are watching. But if they were, they’d see something pretty interesting…
First, a preface: Poll results are a tricky thing, and in my experience, the reporting of poll results seems far from objective — or even complete. Yet according to a many sources online, Ron Paul is consistently declared by multiple polls as either the outright winner or among the leaders in the nine out of 10 GOP presidential debates he has participated in thus far.
So why aren’t we seeing and hearing more Ron Paul talking points and sound bites in the mainstream media?
This is all especially interesting when one remembers how much media exposure a far less appealing, credible or qualified H. Ross Perot got during the 1992 presidential campaign. Many think this is because everyone knew Perot’s presence would siphon more votes from George H.W. Bush’s re-election effort than it would from Bill Clinton’s election campaign. But anti-war Ron Paul is likely to pull votes from both sides…
And so he must be stopped.
What’s even more interesting is that despite being under heavy fire from all political sides, having a funding war chest that’s dwarfed by the front-running candidates (perhaps not for long, though), and enduring a near-blackout in the mainstream media, Ron Paul’s latest CNN opinion poll numbers put him sixth among Republican candidates at 5% of the vote, were the election held today.
This isn’t bad for this stage in the game. However, the real support numbers may be significantly higher than this. According to USAElectionPolls.com, data from a large number of "straw polls" nationwide put Ron Paul’s real-world support at between 15-20%...
Again, why aren’t we hearing about any of this from Big News?
It’s because Ron Paul is dangerous to the system that butters everyone’s bread.
"Remember, remember, the fifth of November, the gunpowder, treason and plot…"
— Guy Fawkes Rhyme, author unknown
People who care (not nearly enough of us do in America) can trumpet all day long about Ron Paul’s 10 consecutive terms as a Texas Congressman, his squeaky-clean reputation, his true-to-the-Constitution voting record, his common-sense platform, his consistently dominating performance in debates, and on and on and on. But unless he wins enough states in the primaries to get the GOP nomination, it’s all nothing more than a footnote. He’ll be an asterisk in an otherwise status-quo election cycle.
I see this as a defining moment for the Republican Party, perhaps more so than any other in my lifetime. If Ron Paul succeeds in staying in the mix despite the best efforts of BOTH political parties and the media, this election could be the first in years to truly revolve around issues and a core governing philosophy instead of money, pandering and back-room political dealings.
It remains to be seen whether the GOP far-right will vote en masse solely for whoever they think will put God first (the jury’s out on who this is, but Romney’s looking like the Chosen One) and kick righteous ass on the non-Christian world…
It remains to be seen whether the pro-war faction of the party can be persuaded that their votes thus far have been in error, and that a vote for Paul isn’t necessarily a vote for a weaker, less secure America (it may be — but only time will tell)…
And it remains to be seen whether Republicans REALLY WANT smaller, less invasive government, lower taxes and more freedom — even if it means more discipline, fewer jobs and pork-barrel safety nets, less ligature between church and state, and greater personal responsibility…
The bottom line is this: Starting right now, with Ron Paul’s some-would-say-quixotic candidacy, the GOP has its best chance in decades to decide who it is, and refocus on what’s supposed to be their core philosophy: Smaller government and a more strict interpretation of the Constitution.
Does the GOP have the guts to finally walk like it talks? It’s worth my vote to find out, I think.
I guess we’ll have our answer in the wee smalls of next November 5.