Ron Paul is breaking through. His call to return to the vision of the Founders, and the principles embodied in the Constitution, is piercing the wall of silence that surrounds the conduct of our disgraceful foreign policy. Andrea Mitchell proclaims him the new Howard Dean, network television takes note of his fundraising prowess and the resonance of his message, and then we have this very favorable piece on CNN, not to mention this, this, and this all of which points to the appearance or, rather, reappearance of a resurgent political movement on the horizon: an anti-interventionist wing of the GOP.
Commentators, including those who most definitely look on Paul’s success with a very jaundiced eye, are baffled. Why is this happening? How could a mere blip on the electoral screen, a man nobody thought was worth even a footnote in the story of this presidential campaign, suddenly catapult into prominence?
The answer is illustrated in a recent poll, which shows that the majority of Iowa Republicans want us out of Iraq in six months a far more radical proposition than any of the major Democrats has yet to offer. It’s no accident that Paul’s political breakthrough is occurring just as the dissatisfaction of the GOP rank and file over the Iraq war issue reaches the breaking point. As the sole antiwar candidate in the Republican field, it makes perfect political sense that Paul’s campaign is in the ascendancy.
Yes, of course, there are other issues in this race: the sellout of the conservative agenda on fiscal policy, a wholesale and unrelenting assault on the Bill of Rights, the immigration mess, the spectacle of a "socially conservative" party with a putative presidential front-runner whose private life is neither private nor an example of Christian virtue. Paul has some appeal to GOPers who can’t stomach one or any of these ideological anomalies.
Yet most of these issues would not be relevant without the single most important question in this election, the answer to which underlies the basic approach of all the presidential candidates, and that is the war not just the war in Iraq, but the one to come in Iran, as well as the broader "war on terrorism" that has eaten up so much of our attention and resources since 9/11.
For surely Giuliani would have been considered a long shot for the GOP nomination in a world where 9/11 never happened. What would he have run on, without his status as the vaunted hero of 9/11 to constantly fall back on and refer to? His entire campaign is based on the synchronicity of his being in Gracie Mansion as the Twin Towers fell: without that, he’d be somewhere between Mike Huckabee and Tom Tancredo in the polls.
The massive erosion of our civil liberties, the fiscal crisis staring us in the face, and even the immigration quandary have all been either brought to the fore out of relative obscurity or else greatly exacerbated by the post-9/11 hysteria that has so deformed the national consciousness and, consequently, our politics. Underlying all these disparate issues is the foreign policy question, and only Ron Paul is giving Republican voters an answer quite different from, say, Giuliani’s to take a cartoonishly extreme example of the pro-war view.
The media-anointed "front-runner" has problems other than having to explain himself to social conservatives. After all, how many Americans, even including Republicans, really want to see Norman Podhoretz ensconced in the Department of State? Once they hear Poddy’s plea to President Bush to please, pretty please start bombing Iran, I’d venture to say not many.
As for the other GOP hopefuls, McCain has run out of gas, with his campaign stalled and his fundraising in free-fall. Why? McCain has been dragged down by the albatross of his more-royalist-than-the-king position on the Iraq war, his signature issue and the one he mistakenly built his entire campaign around. Fred Thompson has proved a dud, even less inspiring than the Stepford candidate, with all of Reagan’s vagueness and none of his charm or acumen. The second- and third-tier candidates display an alarming lack when it comes to having either a clear ideological message or any particular brand of charisma (except for Alan Keyes, whose brand of charisma, like his ideology, is so idiosyncratic that it cancels itself out). Huckabee should announce he’s running for vice president and be done with it, and the others amount to little more than vanity campaigns. By means of a simple process of elimination, Republicans are left with Ron Paul as the only alternative to ideological bankruptcy and looming political disaster.
The approach the chattering classes have taken to the Ron Paul phenomenon has been classic, rather along the lines of Gandhi’s famous aphorism: first they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.
The "let’s ignore him and maybe he’ll go away" phase ended right after the contretemps with Giuliani over the theory of "blowback." Giuliani’s verbal assault on Paul condensed the ridicule-fight-victory process into a single, signal incident. What Giuliani and his enablers in the media failed to realize is that Paul’s calm, considered, and thoughtful answer resonated with many voters.
The Iraq war has opened this entire question up as it relates to 9/11, a subject that was previously taboo, as Susan Sontag, Bill Maher, the Dixie Chicks, and any number of Andrew Sullivan‘s enemies, both real and imagined, learned to their sorrow. The war dramatized exactly what the critics of American foreign policy had been pointing out, to little effect, for years: that hostility toward America and the gathering terrorist threat were blowback from our actions overseas.
Rudy Giuliani is going around the country hectoring audiences with his Podhoretzian message of a civilizational war between the U.S. empire and international Islam: They hate us, he yells, they really hate us for who we are! Yes, but who are "we," exactly? If we’re starting with the speaker of those words, then no wonder they hate us, but, aside from that, what’s the problem? Is it our obsession with Britney Spears or is it the bombs raining down on the Arab world, the propping up of killer regimes like Hosni Mubarak’s in Egypt and the House of Saud, and our unconditional support for Israeli aggression (and not just against the Palestinians)?
Ron Paul has an answer quite different from the one usually given or, I should say, the one allowed by the self-appointed arbiters of political correctness: the debate "moderators," the pundits and television talkers, the "analysts" and "experts" who, like ancient seers examining the entrails of goats, interpret the meaning of political actors and events for us.
We have, however, outgrown such superstitions and no longer need or want the guidance of the gatekeepers, who have traditionally guarded the door to social and political "legitimacy" with jealous vigor. All their vigor and jealousy failed against a technology that simply outflanked them, took them by surprise, and laid siege to their journalistic fortress. These mandarins hid behind the Times-Select wall to the bitter end but couldn’t keep it up indefinitely: there is no better symbol of the gatekeepers’ fall. It was only a matter of time before that wall came down and, with it, the whole concept of "mainstream" thought presided over by guardians of the permissible. The leveling of the playing field, made possible by the cybernetic revolution, has ended the intellectual and political monopoly of the elites. It’s no wonder that the Paul campaign has such a massive online presence.
Furthermore, the existence of the Internet, far from destroying journalism, as predicted by some die-hard dead-tree’ers, has forced the "mainstream" media to be more responsive and flexible. That’s why they’re now paying attention to the Paul campaign: Ron is news, big-time political news. He’s drawing thousands to his campaign rallies, a boast not many presidential candidates of either party can credibly make. And he’s raking in the money. This quarter, he’s brought in almost as much as McCain, and he’s third behind Giuliani and Romney in the cash-on-hand sweepstakes. Money talks and now they have to take him seriously.
The establishment has fallen back on their second line of defense: they ridicule him as a "kook," a "loon," and even a "bigot" in short, they’re trotting out the same attack strategy they used to target another rebel against the party establishment, true-blue conservative-slash libertarian Barry Goldwater.
Back in 1964, when the electorate was still in thrall to the gatekeepers’ media machine, this tactic was quite effective. Today, however, this ploy has the effect of underscoring the depth of Paul’s challenge to the political status quo, thereby enhancing his appeal. It works rather like the concept of blowback in the foreign policy realm: just as U.S. military intervention invites an equal and opposite reaction from its overseas victims, so the intervention of our political elites against the rising Paulian grassroots insurgency guarantees his base of support will expand.
Ignore, ridicule, attack we’re about into the third phase, and I expect that will commence shortly. Perhaps as shortly as the next GOP debate, and certainly right after. The neoconservatives have been the target of Paul’s scorn on several occasions, and he is likely to receive it back in kind before long. Aside from Jonah Goldberg’s ill-informed renunciation of Robert A. Taft and a few bouts of snickering at The Corner, National Review has so far kept its trap shut tight about the Texas troublemaker, even going so far as to exclude him from their daily compilation of stories about the GOP primary campaign. I have the feeling, however, that their silence is about to end, and Ron is about to join the ranks of the "unpatriotic conservatives." After all, the neocons have to somehow stop the erosion of their base at the hands of someone who so clearly understands the role of neoconservatism as a cancer eating away at the heart of the GOP and the conservative movement.
In their view, Paul is falling for the line of the "Left" that America is fighting a futile war against forces it neither understands nor has any hope of controlling, and yet if this was truly a "leftist" idea one would imagine that the Left would come to Paul’s defense but, no. The same "Ron is nuts" meme being spread by neocon snarkers on the right side of the blogosphere is being echoed by the "center" liberal–left. You see, anyone who opposes the system that makes imperialism possible the mercantilist, state-capitalist system of corruption that enriches the few at the expense of the many is "crazy."
Maybe he’s just crazy enough to think our rulers will let him, or anyone with a major public platform, get away with exposing the full extent of their corruption and thank God for that.
The Good Doctor is not alone in prescribing a change a radical change in our stance toward the rest of the world. You’re hearing it not only on the Washington cocktail party circuit, but around the office water cooler: it’s time to start disengaging from the mess our interventionist policymakers have created, starting in the Middle East. In carrying this stance into the arena of GOP presidential politics, Ron is a libertarian-noninterventionist gladiator taking on several lions at once. The resulting knockdown drag-out battle, regardless of its outcome, is going to be fun to watch.