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 , 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 .
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!
 heh… yeah, yeah…
 “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)