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

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?


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

  1. Brady says:

    Excellent commentary, Chuck. I both agree and disagree. First, how I agree:

    I spent some time working the Fairfield, IA area last year and it was definitely unlike the rest of the state. As you said, sort of an island of blue in a sea of red. I would compare Fairfield to some of your smaller skiing villages or communities where Bob Marley and organic delis are popular.

    Here in Oklahoma we were amazed at the eager reception we witnessed of Ron Paul at a local annual event frequented by hippies and punks. The event is called “Groovefest”. The area was covered with traditionally “leftist” (I’ll use the term in the modern sense) organizations and causes. There were booths for Amnesty International, Gay and Lesbian Alliance, and all kinds of other Democrat and “left”-leaning types. It was probably the single most successful event for us if you guage “success” by how much interest was shown and how receptive people were to literature. However, I doubt much real political success resulted from that event since almost all of those attending were Democrats and were very reluctant to change their party registration (Oklahoma has a closed primary).

    Now all of that having been said, I take it from what you wrote here that you think perhaps we would be wiser to target our message toward the Democrat party rather than the Republican, perhaps even running our candidate(s) as Democrats. This is where I disagree:

    While we were able to get a lot of interest from existing Democrats based on Dr. Paul’s foreign policy, “standing up for the little guy”, etc, in the context of a brief period of time, I don’t believe our core message will gain any real purchase among long-time Democrats simply because, fundamentally, the party is opposed to it. The GOP, on the other hand, has a strong chord of rule-of-law, Constitutional, limited-government philosophy running through it at a deep level, even if it has abandoned and largely ignored it.

    I’ll give you an anecdotal example: while those at Groovefest who passed by our tent eagerly took our materials and showed genuine interest in Ron Paul, the tent next to us (some kind of Gay and Lesbian group) were around us all day and talked to us at length. After asking lots of questions, they realized that we actually wanted government OUT of people’s lives – and that meant we didn’t want the government to provide free healthcare, we didn’t want regulations telling individuals they MUST deal with others when it violates their conscience (such as a home-owner choosing not to rent to a homosexual couple), etc. They did not find this aspect of our philosophy appealing at all. Granted, a few actually thought it was worth considering, but for the most part, they saw us as unacceptable.

    The Democrat party is, any more, predicated entirely on the premise that we live in a Democracy (hence the party’s name) and that we should have absolute majority rule. In other words, no limits on government. The mentality is that ANYTHING is within the government’s purview provided a sufficient number of citizens/voters want government to act. This is not simply an incedental policy disagreement, such as we have with the GOP regarding the Iraq war. This is a fundamental philosophical disagreement.

    Take the GOP, on the other hand. At least they pretend to be for limited government, the rule of law, the Constitution, and generally keeping government out of our lives. Yes, most of them then quickly equivocate on each of those positions, but at least we can show that we are not apostate within the party. Rather, we can demonstrate that we are more true to the Party’s stated ideals than they are. We would have no such ability with the Democrat party, for we fundamentally oppose their core premises. Yes, some of the outcomes of our principles comport with their stated desired outcomes, but at the core, our philosophies are utterly incompatible.

    All that having been said, I think it’s all in the way you package your message. I think folks from BOTH sides (“right” and “left”) can be convinced of the truth of our message, so long as the message is delivered to them in terms they are amenable to. For instance, don’t tell Republicans that the Iraq war is a crime against the children of Iraq. They have no sympathy or pitty for Iraqi children. Instead, point out how the Iraq war was entered under the guise of the United Nations, etc. When it comes to keeping government out of our lives, tell Democrats that, yes, you may not like the fact that a home-owner can deny the use of their home to a homosexual couple, but that this is the price of freedom of choice, and that the threat of force required to MAKE them comply is the same kind of force we have used around the world in aggressive wars.

    In time and with effort, I think both sides can be brought to a realization of the truth. But note that in the example above, you are only convincing Republicans to return to the core values they already claim to hold.

    Anyway, I’ll close with this: despite what I have said above, should another Ron Paul come around next cycle, I will aggressively target (at least for the Primary), the “Groovefest” and “Fairfield” types, as I believe they are the easiest to convince in the short-term. But speaking long-term, I don’t see a future for our message in the Democrat party as our core values are fundamentally incompatible with theirs.

    Again, great job on the piece!

  2. chuckyoung says:

    Hiya Brady, great to hear from you.

    I’m going to address your core objection, which is that I seem to be advocating a party switch, shortly. Suffice to say, if you read carefully, I nowhere said that!

    This same thing has come up often in my mailbox regarding this last piece (sure wish folks would reply in the comments…). But for now I’ll just say this: the “Democrats” are no more “liberal” than “Republicans” are “conservative”.

  3. Interesting dialogue with good points all round. I used to think the the political spectrum was a straight line with liberals on the left and conservatives on the right sort of a -_______0______+ type spectrum.

    I now believe that middle America is being divided by a small group of power brokers bent on keeping us divided into left and right, conservative vs liberal, on an issue by issue basis. I think the founding fathers understood this game and took steps to constrain power and restrain and check government powers as best they knew how.

    Over the years we have taken away all the constraints and handed the powers that be a blank check. Now a few of us have decided we’d like to have the reigns back and it may be too late. It is about limited government and restraint of power. Freedom is somewhat desired, but possibly too expensive in personal responsibility for our all our happy slaves. Time will tell if we are really serious about taking our government back and to what extent we will insist upon it!

    For Life and Liberty,

  4. Brady says:

    Thanks for the reply, Chuck. I didn’t really know where you were going with the thing about not spending our energies reclaiming “conservatism” as you put it, so thinking that you weren’t just speaking of a short-term election year scenario, but rather speaking for the long-term, I deduced that that was what you were implying. If not, then in light of what you’ve pointed out in this article, what do you think we need to do long-term (i.e. not just in election years)?

    Regarding the political spectrum, I think a better political spectrum which is somewhat compatible with the way people think of the spectrum today would be to have totalitarianism on the far left (total government) and libertarianism on the right (minimal government). Some may say that anarchy should be on the right, but I’m not so sure that would make real-world sense because anarchy can never truly exist in its purest form. The moment true anarchy appears, the strongest will rule over the weak, immediately falling back to authoritarianism, and therefore back toward the left end of the spectrum.

    On such a scale, both the Republicans and Democrats would fall toward the left end since both are for a high degree of government control over one’s life.

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