November 11, 2007
Ron Paul: merely a Barry Goldwater without the gunpowder
I don't use the word "fascinating" very often to describe political movements, but that's just what the Ron Paul phenomenon is. It's fascinating because it's a strange sort of outlier, a borderline freak show, an insurrectionary abnormality within the normally staid and stuffy Republican Party.
Paul has ignited a dedicated and mushrooming base largely, as we know, because of the Iraq war. He alone among the Republican warhawk club of presidential candidates called a spade a spade early on -- that the war was an anti-constitutional betrayal of America's interests -- and thereby stood out from the snarling pack. In doing so, he also put to shame the Democratic candidates, excepting Dennis Kucinich, who have done little but waver and waffle on the war's status quo. Hence Paul has been able to draw visceral antiwar support from both sides of the blurred ideological divide.
When both parties get themselves mired in such an intolerable state of affairs, Ron Pauls happen. It's as simple and predictable as that, but no less fascinating. Because they usually take on a common-man, log-cabin, "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" kind of grassroots enthusiasm that's like a behemoth without a head. Support sprawls, and indignation and frustration rule, but usually in only one identifiable cause and direction; in this case, the Iraq war and demands for its end.
But if Paul's supporters, who are growing in numbers and financial contributions literally by the minute, were to scratch the surface of Paul's vocal frustration on their behalf, I doubt they'd like what they find. For, beyond the Iraq war issue, what Paul represents is a neo-New Rightest movement within an already reactionary political party. He takes the Republican clock -- already cranked back to the Gilded Age -- and turns it further back to the virtually non-governmental age of the early 19th century.
Paul is nothing new. He's just Barry Goldwater without the gunpowder.
For this Texas congressman, who has drawn a handsome government check for 20 years, simplicity reigns, just as it did for the Arizona senator. Government is bad, government can never be helpful, we were never so well off as we were in 1787.
The internal complexities of that era that led to, say, our bloodiest war, severe and repeated economic depressions and an unsustainable two-tiered class structure are easily overlooked, if only one would restrict oneself to a McGuffey's Reader view of American history and political philosophy.
This, Paul has done. For him, complexities begone -- and that's a seductive proposition for millions who are sick of, and confused by, the turmoil of modern, post-industrialized life. It's so simple, and comforting, to identify one enemy -- the government -- and envision a happy, carefree life with its perceived intrusions erased.
Take a look at Paul's Web site, and you'll soon see what I mean. It's chocked full of the most curious phenomena -- what you might call black-and-white ambiguities, all promising a simpler, and thereby happier, future.
Take, for instance, taxes. Paul likes lower ones, and who doesn't? How low, we can't say, because he doesn't. But he does say things like this: "Whether a tax cut reduces a single mother’s payroll taxes by $40 a month or allows a business owner to save thousands in capital gains taxes and hire more employees, that tax cut is a good thing."
Well, for that single mother it might be for a while, until she realizes her and her children's health care is now kaput, her daycare subsidies are forever gone, her kids' school will continue to crumble, the federal highway she travels to work on is unattended, the air she breathes and the water she drinks are worsening in quality, her state and local taxes are now $400 a month in a failing attempt to compensate -- and her employer is now cashing all his goodies in with no capital gains to pay.
You want 1787? Or 1887? You can have it, but you won't want it for long. I can guarantee that, because neither did the folks who lived in 1787 and 1887.
There's no doubt Paul's antiwar, anti-imperialism message is a powerfully sensible one. Go beyond it, though -- turn down the siren song of simplicity, and turn up the muted lessons of history -- and your Paulite enthusiasm, if so possessed, is sure to drift away.
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The Nazis, Fascists and Communists were political parties before they became enemies of liberty and mass murderers.