Please note: I am not the Devil
Ok, let’s start with a couple of points that, while to most people are
clearly true, will be upsetting for some; firstly, Ron Paul is not going to be
the Republican nominee for President. Secondly, he is never going to be
President. That is not to say that he isn’t the best of a bad bunch, and
clearly the best (and arguably only) libertarian option in the 2012 race. And
that is not to say that of all the candidates he’d be the one I’d back if I had
any sort of influence or vote in the primaries or the general election in the
US. But we have to face reality here, my good people; Paul may have performed consistently
in the primaries, but he has not done well enough to get the prize he seeks.
Let’s pause for a moment and think about why Paul hasn’t done as well
as perhaps he should have done. The first (and increasingly tired) excuse that
a Ron Paul supporter might come up with is media bias; that Ron Paul simply
does not get the same level of attention as other insurgent candidates who have
apparently risen from nowhere to challenge Romney. This is partially true, but
it is also partly because there is nothing really new going on with Paul’s
campaign. He contends in primaries, he does ok in them. There are only so many
ways in which the media can write that story and when you have someone like the
barking fucking mad Rick Santorum winning primaries despite his inept and
extremist campaign, that’s going to dominate the headlines rather than the
story of “Paul did ok. Again”.
Then there are Ron Paul’s – how shall we put this delicately – presentational
problems. He seems to only have three facial expressions, and each of them
looks a little odd. He either looks bored and faintly grumpy, utterly startled
or positively demonic. Of course, such things shouldn’t matter; unfortunately,
they do. And while he doesn’t look as ridiculous as the rotund Newt Gingrich –
who increasingly resembles a greying teddy bear who has just sucked on a lemon –
he still seems awkward compared to Santorum (who seems to have lost his neck
somewhere) and Romney (who seems to be the cliché of a career politician in
every way, including how he looks). There is also the potentially more worrying
problem of those apparently racist newsletters; I’m not going to reignite the
debate over them (there are plenty of other places you can go to if you want to
indulge in that); for now, it suffices to say that such newsletters don't really create
the impression of someone destined for the nomination or for the highest office
in his homeland.
But by far the biggest problem Paul has is that he’s ahead of the
debate. What this primary season for the Republicans is boiling down to is what
the last one was about as well; namely, the fight between mainstream statist
republicanism and the more extremist Christian fundamentalist wing of that party. Last time
it ended up being McCain vs Huckabee; this time it’s Romney vs Santorum. And
there’s Paul, stood on the sidelines, making genuinely radical proposals with
the mainstream just not listening to him. And because he stands alone among the
candidates, he’s painted as some sort of an extremist when all he is really
saying is “the state can’t cope with what we want it to do and therefore we
should rely on it less”. I hope that there will come a point when Paul’s basic
politics is considered the common sense mainstream; unfortunately, that time is
So he’s not going to win either the nomination nor the presidency. So
what should he do? Pack up and head back to Texas to chill with the idiotic Rick Perry? No. He should do something far more radical. He should run for
President. As an Independent.
A number of questions immediately arise. Firstly, can he win? Almost
certainly not; he would lack the massive get out the vote infrastructure that
the two main parties have. Can he even run an effective national campaign?
Here, I think he stands more of a chance. He has a band of devoted followers
and passionate advocates; plus, he is able to raise money without dipping into
his personal fortune (indeed, I’m not sure he really has one – especially when
compared to the likes of Romney) and without begging from major donors. There
are people out there to fund him and fight for him; it wouldn’t be a mighty
party machine, but he could conduct the guerrilla politics of the independent
candidate, and be able to move with far more fluidity and speed than those with
large monolithic party bureaucracies behind them.
And he as the added advantage – assuming, as is almost certainly the
case, that Mitt Romney wins the nomination – that there will be bugger all difference between the two main candidates. This means that the media will need
some sort of different narrative, and what could be better than being able to
report on a candidate who actually has different policies?
Of course, there’s the immediate charge that Paul might split the
Republican vote and hand a second term to Obama. But there’s a couple of things
to note there. Firstly, with each passing day, a second term for Obama becomes
more and more likely. Yes, he’s been an appalling disappointment as President
who has failed to impress even his own base let alone build up a wider
consensus behind him in the US. But he’ll be fighting Mitt Romney, who has
exactly the same problems and lacks the massive advantage of incumbency in the
White House. Romney’s going to lose; thus Paul wouldn’t really be making a
great deal of difference there.
But there’s a more fundamental point here; Paul has cross party
support. He can win over small-state Republicans but, with his foreign policy,
he can also win over younger people who stand against US bellicosity and who
have been bitterly disappointed by a President who has, among other things,
left Gitmo open. Put crudely, he could take votes from both left and right, and
thus form a radical alternative that hits the vote tally of both the
Republicans and the Democrats.
Yet… I’ve already said he’s not going to win. So why spend millions of
dollars in an exhausting campaign that on first glance looks a lot like tilting at windmills? Well, Paul has the opportunity to change the terms of the
political debate in the USA. I noted above that he’s ahead of the debate in the
Republican party; if he can take votes from both parties, though, then at least
one of them (most probably the Republicans) will start asking themselves what
they can do to get these people back. And thus the debate in the Republican
party might change from being an ongoing culture war between reasonable
Republicanism and it’s virulently Christian extreme to being one between
statists and libertarians. Likewise, the Democrats might start to clock that it
is not good enough to promise a more sensible foreign policy and then do fuck
all about it once in office. Ron Paul has the chance to show how popular
libertarian ideas; but as this primary season and the one back in 2008 show, he
needs to do so outside of the confines of the Republican party. A well-run independent
campaign might push his ideas towards the political mainstream – where they
deserve to be – and start laying the groundwork for a major party (again, most
probably a Republican) nominee to actually endorse libertarian principles.
So Ron Paul 2012? Yes please. But as an independent candidate.
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