Lessons of the Paul Campaign – r[evol]ution within the reForm

July 20, 2008

1 – The boundaries of change

If one were were to encapsulate the Big Questions we face, one might boil them down to these: “How far do we need to go?”, and “How do we get there?”.

Ron Paul himself never quite clearly defined the scope of the changes he sought. Undoing the Reserve Currency of Planet Earth and dismantling the most prodigious Empire in recorded history, not to mention ending the income tax regime, stopping the War on (some) Drugs, reasserting personal privacy and State’s rights… these are truly epic quests. But what was so strange about the Paul Campaign was the insider/outsider double game that was played as events unfolded.

For instance, we had Dr. Paul showing up regularly on the Alex Jones show… but refusing to ever discuss the incredible circumstances of the WTC attacks. Ron Paul and the libertarian gatekeepers around him and on the ‘net always sought to maintain some distance between themselves and the “tinfoil hat crowd”. Yet they weren’t above appealing to that constituency for money (the “handwritten” plea by Dr. Paul mass mailed around Christmas of ’07 was unabashed in collateralizing anti-“New World Order” sentiment).

It was one face to the “kooks” on the front line, and another to Joe Scarborough out in TV land. This balancing act was understandable, as Paul sought to limit his relentless marginalization by the media. But marginalize him they did, ANYWAY. And so one wonders, since it was a given that the Establishment was going to pull out every single stop before allowing, say, the dissolution of the Federal Reserve System, one wonders, why not push the envelope a little? For instance, why not hire some attorneys to fight to get the votes counted, as opposed to spending millions on appallingly amateurish media buys? If nothing else, it might have stirred the pot.

It’s no easy question: how far to go? Prudence says, “let it unfold of its own, in due time”. But if the criminality that many of us suspect the inner sanctums of American Power to be guilty of is a fact, then surely we must out this cancer? Can it be borne indefinitely? Grand larceny, assassination, mass murder…? Yet the Paul campaign got this much right, that to react in hysteria, to scream from the rooftops, to counter violence with violence, whether in thought, word, or deed – this course is doomed, and must be assiduously avoided.

What’s needed is to stay calm. In this Ron Paul did well, and is to be commended. The campaign was *just* mainstream enough to peek out through the cracks of the edifice of What Americans Think They Know. But it ultimately failed to transition out of this initial position, build upon the resources it had assembled, and make a concrete, authoritative political statement. Simply put, the error was in remaining joined at the hip to the GOP, long after that relationship had served its purpose.

2 – Who’s Zoomin’ Who?

There is a branch of game theory called coalition theory. It ponders questions like the following: if we have 3 groups, with 49, 49, and 2 “votes” respectively, all seeking to win an election with 51 votes total, which of these 3 can be said to have the most “power”? And the answer is (drum roll): they all have equal power, because any one of them that wishes to win must make a deal with some other group.

In this little theoretical truism lies a possible answer to the riddle of how a dedicated and united cadre might wedge and manipulate two bloated, corrupt “superpowers” like the Democratic and Republican parties. What is required isn’t a majority, but rather a minority substantial enough that both powers must continuously bargain with this third group to gain its temporary allegiance. Of course, the two superpowers could always come out in open alliance with each other once and for all – but that in itself would be a victory for the good guys with immense ramifications.

The difficulties in launching and sustaining a viable third party are well documented; what is called for probably isn’t another political party. Indeed, such a thing would likely be undermined, as have the Libertarian Party, Constitution Party, and similar entities of the left, eg the Greens. But while a third party is probably untenable, it’s clearly suicide to remain in this abusive relationship with the Republicans.

Why? Go back to coalition theory. By trying to “reform” the Republican Party, our movement COMPLETELY SURRENDERS THE LEVERAGE IT HAS AGAINST THE TARGETS OF SAID REFORM. There is a shockingly naive assumption in all this, as the criminal elements in the GOP get away with political [1] murder. It’s believed that somehow they will surrender their authority because they “need us”. Some coalescing may indeed happen, but expecting those who run the GOP to just “come around” to our way of thinking because they’re in the process of getting the crap kicked out of ’em flies in the face of repeated experience. Most people in 1976 wouldn’t have given the GOP another shot at the presidency for 12 years at least; yet they were right back in the saddle in 1980, with a “revolution”… of sorts.

This brings us to the very disturbing turn Paulism has taken: the invocation of that same “Reagan Revolution”, the “Robertson takeover” and the like, to “sell” Paulism to the GOP “conservatives”. Groups like the Republican Liberty Caucus are even openly equating Ron Paul with Ron Reagan – with REAGAN, super neoconservative, warmongerer extraordinaire, the most profligate spender the nation had ever seen (until the record was broken by a certain successor), a man that sold out so-called conservative principles so profoundly, that Ron Paul himself quit the Republican Party in disgust and ran as the Presidential candidate for the LP in 1988!!!

What a long, bitter history the movement for LIBERty has when it tries to be “conservative”! And yet, because we’ve convinced ourselves that we’ve nowhere else to go, we find ourselves chanting this mantra: “we really are conservatives, we are real conservatives, be a conservative like us”. And always in this equation of the movement with “conservatism”, ALWAYS, there is a softening of the anti-war, anti-empire stance [2]. And so one wonders, vis a vis this GOP “takeover” – who’s zoomin’ who, hmmm?

The signs are all around the paleocon “surge”. It isn’t only that Ron Paul is being equated with Reagan and Goldwater (can you hear that…? it’s the sound of Rothbard turning over in his grave). We have Bob Barr as the nominee for the LP – Barr, ex-CIA, who voted for the Iraq “War” and the Patriot Act. And the rising star in the LP is Wayne Allen Root – note his initials, “WAR”, and rest assured that “peace” will never be his middle name. It seems the deeper we commit ourselves to this dysfunctional “conservative” assertion, the more we are moved towards the “libertarianism” of Neil Boortz – not the other way around.

3 – Turn, turn, turn…

And so, is this a revolution in the sense of revolving, of running around in circles, forever repeating a past we are doomed to repeat for lack of a memory? Or is there a possibility to transform it into an evolving spiral? Or to stretch the analogy in a different direction, to consciously control and leverage an ever increasing rate of spin, and somehow be there to pick up the pieces when it all comes flying apart?

The dimensions of how far, the vectors of growth, are dictated to us by the political realities as demonstrated by the campaign experience. By Kinky Carole, by Fairfield. We have a vast disaffected and disillusioned middle class [3], a frustrated anti-establishment progressive wing that is veering more and more towards principles of natural law, and young people that are far more radicalized than their counterparts from the 1960’s. We have all these to add to an established paleocon base, rooted in the old Birchist Patriot movement and lately the Constitution Party, with deep connections to the LP, and tentacles in the GOP.

The key here is to forge an *IDENTITY* that embraces all of these. This will never be possible within the confines of the Republican Party, which will inevitably sublimate us into its amorphous, toxic field. We need to form an unassailable cadre, and build on that cadre, steadily and relentlessly, with messaging that consciously undermines the Old Forms.

It’s my contention that the essence of that message can be boiled down to one thing: we’re for YOU, the little guy. This is the fight of the Individual against Leviathan. It’s pure populism, in the best sense of the word. And that is about as “liberal” as any Revolution can get.

[1] Literal murder too. Ask the victims of Blackwater’s little hoedown, or rather mowdown in Baghdad. Now connect the dots; this is who you’re climbing in bed with, when you get naked with the GOP. Is there a body condom strong enough to protect us from the rancorous stench of death that clings to these fascists?

[2] Note that Dr. Paul himself is not nearly the antiwar radical many of us are.

[3] And baby, they ain’t seen nuthin‘, yet.

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Lessons of the Paul Campaign – Politics is a Science of the Heart

July 12, 2008

When we regard the Paul Campaign, questions of ideology and methodology are intricately intertwined. One can’t ignore connections to the L word – libertarianism. Despite the campaign’s rightful insistence on media acknowledgment that Dr. Paul was in fact running as a Republican (debatable though that choice may be), Paul’s libertarian lineage is undeniable. And the historical failures of libertarianism were very much a part, not only of top level misses by Paul and staff, but also of the errors made by us down in the trenches.

Libertarians could never be accused of playing to the galleries, and Ron Paul could in no way be described as “charismatic”. The whiny voice, the unwillingness to polish his presentation at all, the slightly effeminate manner… we can be fairly certain that the patina of demogoguery the campaign has acquired is due more to people’s need to be led than to Paul’s personal magnetism (or lack thereof). As with most things, this was both a source of strength and at the same time the seed of the Paul campaign’s inevitable crash.

No, there wasn’t much American Idol in Ron Paul. And while moving away from the postmodern form-over-content aesthetics and ethics that drive our increasingly pathological American Society was certainly a Good Thing, the refusal to play ball just a little, to meet “the people” halfway, to dumb it down but still make a really COOL pop record, is a hallmark of the Libertarian Party and the dogged insistence on “principle”. One could easily argue that principle in a 2% electoral vacuum doesn’t quite fly. There’s a bit of a cop out in there, sanctimonious and self righteous, manifested in an almost willful ignorance of the most basic principles of salesmanship. Like, we’re too GOOD to actually “get over” on the proles.

The disconnect between rhetoric and results, principle and pragmatism, was, if anything, even more pronounced in the grassroots than it was amongst the top echelons of the campaign. Action at a distance was always the first choice of Paulistas – vote in the online poll, post on a blog [1], email to your list. It became profoundly frustrating for those committed to taking the Thing off the ‘net and onto the street; many were determined to answer the media blackout with success, but too few really understood this necessity, too late.

When we finally did “take it to the street”, the insistence on talking issues – on fencing with the minds of, rather than embracing the hearts of, the Great Unwashed – was a profound handicap. It was a revelation to many in the grassroots that the masses could be approached, and maybe even won over, with those two tried and true political methods: the smile and the handshake. Paulists generally preferred preaching to the choir – posting to each other about the latest depredations of a criminal government gone berserk – to getting down in the muck with those they derisively referred to as “sheeple”. Such cynicism is certainly operative in the very political elites Paulists despise – yet we ourselves found it impossible to take a page from the “enemy”‘s playbook, tone it down, and pick key, easily translatable soundbytes to float in a populist mainstream (viz Kinky Carole) that was actually more receptive to the Paul message than Paulists gave them credit for.

In the end, this hopeless bellicosity degraded into a desultory paleocon vs neocon brawl, and we can definitely thank the (official) Paul Campaign for pointing the troops in that direction. This fight was, in the minds of the “General Staff”, apparently preordained and something of a Holy War, with roots running back into the 1950’s and earlier. The frequent invocation of Senator Taft, a political echo lost on 99.99% of the US population, is an almost pathetic emblem of the fruitless obsession with conservative arcana that Paul’s clique indulged themselves in. Anyone steeped in libertarian lore knows that Rothbardians surround Paul; not only Dr. Paul and his top people, many of whom met at Rothbard’s funeral, but Lew Rockwell and Justin Raimondo, major online “voices of the Revolution”, are all dedicated Rothbardians. I myself have a deep love for Murray Rothbard – but it is, to me, a profound tragedy that this old guard was unable to step outside the box and do the end run around the Straussians that was required.

Given the campaign leadership’s cross to bear, it’s no surprise that a reactionary tone dominated the messaging from the earliest debates, a focus on “anti”: anti-war, anti-tax, anti-federalreserve, anti-policestate. These positions are of course all laudable. Yet this approach was (again) both a strength and a weakness, one which at bottom contrasts sharply with the far more successful, though empty, “revolutionary” brand of ’08 – Barack Obama.

Reactionary politics can work, as the frequent success of negative campaigning shows. But it is perhaps not the best way to sell “Revolutionary Change”, because change implies an object or destination, not just movement away from a repulsive status quo. Certainly the pessimism that underlies Paulism is well founded, but selling Hope For America requires that we take charge and consistently set the framework of the debate. Ron Paul tried to do this, going back to the keynote, the Rule of Law. And the best messengers I knew in the Ron Paul campaign always turned to that, because it strikes a deep populist note that few can outshout [2].

But it was easier to blame the “Establishment”, to blame the “MSM” (MainStream Media), to blame the Elites of finance and politics, than it was to take ownership, and “be the change we’ve been waiting for”. This may be the crowning irony of the Paul campaign, that its failures can ultimately be traced, not to the stars, but to ourselves. In the course of the campaign, I often quoted the famous line from the old “Pogo” comic strip: ‘I have seen the enemy, and he is us!’. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but if we are to learn from our mistakes, we need to reckon with this truism and take it head on. Champions of liberty and personal responsibility can do no less!

[1] heh… yeah, yeah…
[2] “Do you believe officeholders should honor their oath to uphold the constitution?” being the classic, with all the rhetorical unassailability of “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” (thx J)


Lessons of the Paul Campaign – Krishna whispers in your ear: “It’s the left, stupid”

July 7, 2008

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi passed away recently. He was, on the one hand, the founder of the Transcendental Meditation movement, and on the other, the subject of John Lennon’s biting “Sexy Sadie”. Like most gurus (*cough* Ron Paul *cough*), he was perhaps a mixed bag, but I can forgive my gurus their imperfections. In Maharishi’s case, I’m a meditator myself (though not a practitioner of TM). I’ve known, liked and loved a few TMers over the years, and have a good deal of respect for Maharishi and his legacy.

So what does this have to do with Ron Paul? Plenty. The TM people were the only folks to actually WIN a County for Ron Paul in the Iowa Caucuses. The TM foundation has maintained, for decades, a university in (of all places) Fairfield, Iowa. A good bit of the story of Fairfield can be found here. What is perhaps most interesting about the Jefferson County victory is the demographics underlying it. Like Austin, Fairfield is a “drop of blue in a sea of red” – though it should be noted that, as I recollect it, Obama singlehandedly polled as high as the entire republican field combined! IN IOWA!?!

Given this fact, it would seem that, demographically and strategically, what won Jefferson County for the Fairfield folks was that they

“did not waste much time on regular Republican voters. We focused on anti-war independents, anti-war Democrats, and especially on young people.”

That is to say, they abandoned the Ron Paul Campaign’s quixotic predilection to joust with political windmills, that uniquely libertarian penchant for hopeless causes that had the “strategists” in Dr. Paul’s circle trying to sell the “antiwar” message to the one audience in the USA least likely to buy it. “Bringing the troops home” is the mainstream, majority preference, with around 2/3s of Americans hoping for an end to the illegal and immoral occupation of Iraq. However, polls show the distribution generally reversed amongst Republicans, with only around 1/3 of GOPsters wanting an end to the war, or more appropriately, “war”. No wonder the nominee of this party of warmongerers is John “100 years” McCain.

This lesson, “move left”, played relentlessly here in Austin. It got to the point canvassing that I counseled people to ignore neocon “cues” – yellow ribbons and the like – and spend their time instead on disillusioned Kucinich supporters with “Peace Now” signs on their lawns (Kucinich dropped out of the TX primary due to the Dems’ insistence that he sign a “loyalaty oath” to support the party’s eventual nominee). And of course, short of a Ron Paul yard sign, there was no better cue than a “Kinky Friedman” bumper sticker. Though a lot of the classic “paleocon” triggers remained relevant (gun rights, sovereignty, taxes), overall, one stood the best chance with the disillusioned center.

In Congressional District 25 here, a district that includes South Austin, Old Austin, Keepin’ it Weird Austin, an area with an astonishing number of yoga studios per capita (Om Nama Fairfield…) – here, we got one of the highest vote totals of anywhere in TX, including Ron Paul’s home district. We executed one of only two county convention takeovers (that I know of) in the whole state. And we did it by campaigning, here in this open primary state, against Obama, not McCain.

Many in the “movement” are fond of pointing out the “broken” paradigm of Left and Right. One of the “movement”‘s founders, Murray Rothbard, wrote extensively and with great lucidity on the subject of Left and Right, with a special focus on the provenance of those terms, their origin and evolution (read: corruption). But throughout the campaign, it seemed the heirs apparent of Rothbard’s legacy – Paul, Rockwell, et al – were incapable of embracing the expansive political vision of their mentor, Rothbard.

Reclaiming the “Conservative” brand from a bunch of reprobate Machiavellian Trotskyites is an odd goal for a “Revolution”. Isn’t it true that the “movement” can lay just as strong a claim to the term (classical) liberal as it can to the term (paleo-) conservative? Is there somehow less resonance between us and the folks on the “center/left” than there is with the hard neocon “right”? The whole thrust of blue-collar democrat progressive theology a la Frank Capra is “standing up for the little guy”? Isn’t that what this movement is all about, especially on an emotional, soundbyte level?

Why should we allow the Establishment to deny us our Liberal heritage? Here in the age of Limbaugh, “liberal” has become a slur, this label that Jefferson and Madison wore with pride. One would think that Constitutionalists might have some affinity for Jefferson and Madison. The legacy Buckleyite GOPsters have called us “liberals” over and over. Maybe it’s a compliment we should take to heart?