Ignoring Ron Paul for a Living
I think the most incredible thing about this election so far is that while the Republicans flounder - for the first time in living memory, really - on a choice of candidates, you hear so much griping about how there isn't really a conservative candidate in the race. I mean, there's Fred Thomspson, but he's a regular in the 4th-place spot in all the primaries (and caucuses) so far. Doesn't seem much hope he'll win. Nobody mentions the elephant in the living room: Ron Paul. In addition to regularly beating Giuliani and Thompson in all the primaries so far (OK, granted, he finished just barely behind Giuliani in New Hampshire), Paul actually is conservative. We're talking the Real Deal. The kind of conservative that makes up the base and that Barry Goldwater was supposed to have reintroduced the Republican Party to in 1964. Honestly, Ron Paul's voting record speaks for itself on this. If I may borrow a talking point from Carl Worden:
He has never voted to raise taxes.
He has never voted for an unbalanced budget.
He has never voted for a federal restriction on gun ownership.
He has never voted to raise congressional pay.
He has never taken a government-paid junket.
He has never voted to increase the power of the executive branch.
He voted against the Patriot Act.
He voted against regulating the Internet.
He voted against the Iraq war.
To which I might add
He is reliably federalist.
He is reliably pro-life.
He believes in Jesus.
He is firmly against amnesty for illegal aliens.
(Of my addendum list, only the first item appeals to me, but there is no denying that these things are all ambrosia to run-of-the-mill Republicans.)
So what's up? Why is it that the nominal party of small government is scratching its head over McCain, Romney and Giuliani, of all people, when the conservative to end all conservatives is sitting right there under their noses on the ticket?
I think it's fair to say at this point that the Republican Establishment has been hijacked. To cite some general examples... Yesterday Michelle Malkin ran a column on Townhall begging for "a man who can say No:"
I need a man. A man who can say "No." A man who rejects Big Nanny government. A man who thinks being president doesn't mean playing Santa Claus. A man who won't panic in the face of economic pain. A man who won't succumb to media-driven sob stories.
Taking her at her word, it sounds like the man she wants is Ron Paul. But guess who doesn't even get a mention in her column?
She finishes with
As we head toward Super Tuesday, the subprime mess and the economy will dominate -- and the Do Something Democrat candidates will turn their spigot of overextended homeowner sob stories on full blast. Do Republicans want a clear alternative to liberal-nomics? Or will you settle for a lip-service conservative who will reward fiscal recklessness with only slightly less government intervention than the Dems?
Which is about as well-articulated an argument for nominating Ron Paul as it is possible to write. So why is he off the island? I mean, to not even get a mention? No mistaking it - that's not an oversight, it's deliberate.
And then there's Fox News, which banned Paul from the New Hampshire Debates without explanation. As the LA Times aptly put it just ahead of that event:
Fox doesn't return phone calls or e-mails seeking an explanation for excluding Paul, probably because it's very difficult to explain how you invite Giuliani, who's already lost one election to Paul, and the more-famous Thompson, who ran ahead of the lesser-known Paul in Iowa but trails him in New Hampshire polls. And, frankly, Paul probably leads all Republicans in fourth-quarter fundraising with his nearly $20 million haul. But you won't be able to hear him on Fox Sunday where he would be the only Republican candidate to oppose the Iraq war, advocate pulling our troops home from all around the world to save money for domestic needs and slashing numerous federal departments.[emphasis in original]
(Of course, now that Giuliani's managed to beat him once, he's back in their good graces.)
And then there's the matter of Jacob Sullum's column about the newsletter authorship controversy. That was a hot story for conservatives back when it looked like Ron Paul wrote them and was just covering his ass by blaming it on a ghostwriter. But now that the preponderance of people involved in the Libertarian movement have weighed in and as good as all of them think the real author was either Lew Rockwell or Eric Dondero, and now that even high-ranking NAACP men vouch for Ron Paul on the race issue, Jacob Sullum can't get his column onto Townhall's front page. Jacob Sullum's columns ALWAYS make the Townhall front page - even when they're about things conservatives don't like to hear (like how the War on Drugs is destroying civil liberties). But not yesterday. Gee - wonder why that is?
Ron Paul supporters are supposed to all be conspiracy theory nuts, so here's one of my own: there is a media conspiracy to ignore Ron Paul. I don't mean a spy-novel conspiracy. No deliberate planning, no smoke-filled backrooms, not THAT kind of a conspiracy. I just mean a confluence of conscious, deliberate decisions to exclude Ron Paul from national attention on the part of people who are responsible for bringing conservatives the news.
Granted, some of this is the result of legitimate policy differences. The Republican Party might be new at making the world safe for democracy, but they've long prided themselves on being the party that takes national security seriously. They're also generally less likely to shy away from patriotic sentiment than the Dems. Paul could've been forgiven for opposing the Iraq War, I think, if he didn't have such a tendency to couch his opposition in "Blame America" terms. Giuliani and McCain still wouldn't be satisfied, of course, but there are ways to articulate your opposition to the war that pluck patriotic heartstrings. All he really has to say is that soldiers sign up to defend Country and Constitution, and sending them away to unconstitutional wars with ambiguous goals based on shoddy intelligence work and with no clear homeland defense motivation was hardly in their noble job description. But of course, that isn't how Paul phrased it. And the more he hammers on implying that the US brought 9/11 on itself, the less like a fit for the Republican Party he seems.
But I think there's more to it than just legitimate distaste for the whiff of "blame America" motivations behind Paul's foreign policy. Indeed, if that's all it were they would probably WANT to parade him in front of their voters; he would discredit himself. Unfortunately for the Republican establishment, on every other issue Paul is about as solid a traditional Republican as it is possible to be, and this is embarrassing for them.
It didn't take long after Bush's first election for it to become quite clear that he was nothing like the small-government/"humble" foreign policy president he had campaigned as. The man was clearly allergic to vetos, and this despite some of the worst pork spending in the history of the Republic. There were steel tariffs almost immediately: welcome back Herbert Hoover. And that "humble" foreign policy was anything but. The man who might as well have said "read my lips, no nation-building" didn't hesitate to propose exactly that. And in the meantime, of course, there was the federalization of education, the largest growth in entitlement spending in recorded history, budget surpluses turned into record-smashing deficits, all manner of due process abuses, etc. etc. etc. None of these things are traditional "Republican" positions, and yet the "Republicans" in Congress didn't seem to have much objection to them as they passed.
The whole Republican schtick over the last 8 years has been to excuse it all by pointing to the Democrats and warning that things would be worse under their leadership. As they no doubt would have been. But a feeble excuse is still a feeble excuse, and in the 2006 midterms the base made known just how thin that excuse was wearing. Now the Republican Party is in richly-deserved disarray. It's hardly surprising that the leading candidates haven't learned a new game yet. They're trying to rehash all that "you'll be worse off under the Dems" crap - and they might even get away with it but for Ron Paul.
But there he sits. Good ol' Dr. No. The one Republican of the bunch who never flinched, never relaxed into the political comfort zone of larding his constituents with pork and trusting the voters to return him because "the Dems are worse." The one Republican who never failed to point out just when and why they were acting outside the constitution. For a party that prides itself on being for "principled, constitutional government," it must hurt to have Paul put the lie to it all. He's living proof that they could and should have been doing a lot better than they did.
Truth be told, I don't think most media outlets know what to do with Paul. Politics has become a flag-flying game. For the average voter, it ceased to be about policy a long time ago. What it is now, really, is an extension of the culture wars. People affiliate with a party because it flatters their self-image in some way. Most commentary operates on a left-wing right-wing scale the simplicity and illogic of which can hardly be overstated. And so I think media outlets just don't know what to do with Paul. He's "right wing" as far as that whole small government and pro-life thing goes. But then, he doesn't play ball on Iraq. Or on gay marriage. Or on PATRIOT or the War on Terror or even Social Security and Medicare. He can't easily be pigeonholed into their neat little categories.
If his ideas were sweeping the nation, they might look on this as an interesting challenge. And if he were completely unpopular, of course, they could safely write him off and wouldn't have to face the issue at all. Frustratingly for most media outlets, Paul is neither popular nor unpopular. He has just enough support that they have to cover him a bit, but not so popular that it's worth their time to really investigate his appeal. And so they all think it would be nicer if he would just go away and let them get back to their tried-and-true "stupid party" vs. "evil party" story.
And that's where I think it comes from, this "conspiracy." The media just doesn't know what to do with him; it's easier if he's either ignored or written off as a nut. And if you wondered why it was Fox News in particular that seems complicit, that's because in addition to being a puzzle to them, he's also embarrassing.
But it is precisely this kind of censorship that makes me hopeful. Ron Paul isn't going to be the next president; my support was never based on a hope that he would win. All I need him to do is make clear to the RNC that there is a strong contingent of voters among their base for whom small-government principles are non-negotiable. That they feel the need to edit him out of the party's image tells me two heart-warming things: (a) that they're worried about him and (b) that there will be no mistaking, come November, what it means if a significant number of Republican voters stay home and cost them the election. Their deliberate attempts to ignore him, in other words, are the surest sign he's succeeding.