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

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)


11 Responses to Lessons of the Paul Campaign – Politics is a Science of the Heart

  1. mike says:

    Great article. Some claim Dr. Paul’s lack of presidential demeaner and unpalatable stances for his candidacy’s failure to launch. In fact, these attributes were assets and necessary ingredients for an obscure politician to make a forgotten argument to an unattentive public. Dr. No’s uncompromising stances and screeching voice forced me to take the time to consider his views and test the soundness of his message. His radical and “unpresidential” demeaner was the key ingredient to his allure. Paul accomplished far more than a mere run at the Presidency. He gave us a beacon for the future. His example will always be an icon for the limited government movement. He provides us with a modern Jeffersonian ideal. Now we will have to make the necessary compromises to move the country forward.

  2. Andrew Panken says:

    I always had problems with the packaging of the message or lack of it. Between the mismanagement of the campaign and the direction of the message, it’s amazing how well we did do. Though, if you compare it to the Barr campaign, which doesn’t seem to be building a large grassroots support network.

  3. chuckyoung says:

    @Mike: I don’t think so many compromises will be necessary. I think we are, for the most part, already in the “majority”. It’s a question of how to capture market share…

    @Andrew: That unwillingness to “SELL” is straight out of our libertarian heritage. I should know! You’ve no idea how funny it is to have me talking about “branding”. 20 years ago I would have turned up my nose in disgust at the idea. But as I’ve aged, I’ve become a lot more interested in results than theory.

  4. Ed Boyd says:

    Excellent dissertation on the big-picture of the Paul Campaign Chuck.

    I too was puzzled by the lack of any “attack dog” politicking by the campaign, which is SOP for any successful campaign. Dr. Paul and his immediate circle are all incredibly brilliant philosophers and academicians, but frankly, they suck when it comes to the political tactics needed to win. They were more concerned with the message than with the win. I do however think that this was their motive to begin with; and that’s fine. If spreading the message to a tight group of passionate followers and thence making them fellow experts in the socio-economic reasoning of Austrian Economics and Non-interventionist Foreign Policy is what they were intending to achieve, then by all means they’ve succeeded glowingly.

    So, where do we all go from here? We have a truly devout and newly knowledgeable task-force of patriots at-the-ready … with nary a candidate to apply their new fervor and skills. If we all remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day and understand that the rEVOLution won’t be either, then we can alleviate some of the disillusionment with the way the campaign unfolded.

    In our locality, we concentrated on simply getting the word out to the masses as best we could. We ignored most of the State and Nat’l organizers and were better off for it. We had substantially more successes at our local level than most areas and I honestly do feel this had a lot to do with it. Every community is different – sometimes way different – than even areas which happen to be nearby. Folks who live in a small area (such as a given precinct) usually know their own area quite well and should focus on that area.

    First and foremost, we need to do the following in order to ever expect to gain any political clout whatsoever at a higher level:

    1. Start either running your own people in elected/appointed positions within your community or at the very least “feel out” those who are running to see if they’re sympathetic to the cause of liberty and Constitutional authority. If they are, then promise to back them with the full force of your grassroots power (and then do just that). If they’re not on board then also promise them that you’ll do everything in your power to see that they’re not elected/appointed and follow through with that as well. They’ll soon realize that our movement is one to be reckoned with (and made use of if they’re willing to follow our directives and ideology). Freedom is contagious; even for those who might be running with other motives in mind. Feel ’em out and go for it.

    2. Begin canvassing for everything and to everybody in your area. It doesn’t have to be an election year for folks to learn about liberty, the Federal Reserve, the NWO and other such topics. In fact, I’d be willing to bet (no data to back this – just my intuition) that they’d be substantially more receptive to well-reasoned ideological information (push-cards, dvds, simple one-on-one discussion, etc.) during times when an election wasn’t pending, since at these times, they’re not expecting it and hence, less likely to feel like they’re being “sold” on something politically motivated. Ask yourself, “just how many folks simply hang-up on telemarketers even if they were to have the deal-of-the-century to offer?” Folks are always skeptical of salesmen – even salesmen of freedom. Establish a “Canvassing Director(s)” for your group; somebody who is a prodigy at such door-to-door marketing strategies (we have a husband & wife team who’re geniuses at this in our group), and let them coordinate the process of getting the word out about whatever issues the group deems to be most urgent at a given moment. Then, back them 100%. Remember though that the general public (yes, our beloved “Sheeple”) is pretty much sick-to-death of politics by now and aren’t likely to be very receptive (if at all) until after the general election. Wait until the election and inauguration are history and then get back to educating the masses in full force.

    3. Start to coordinate with your other, larger political boundaries. By this I mean your County, (US) Congressional District and (State) Senatorial District. Get to know the key players in your area and stick to ’em like glue (or a migraine, if they’re hostile to your cause). Attend – en masse – ALL of their monthly/quarterly/annual meetings and let them know that you’re here and here to stay. Our local GOP (previously ruled entirely by neocons) found out that to ignore us was to their peril, as they LOST their power in the County. The Ron Paulians combining forces with the Christian Community which had always been shut-out by the neocons as well, took over the County Convention and shocked them to their spines! (The local Christian factions were predominated by Chuck Baldwin types and hence quite fond of Ron Paul as well) Reach out to these other nearby, politically intertwined communities and make sure that “the left hand always knows what the right hand is doing.” Otherwise, you’ll never be able to expand your influence beyond your local enclave, no matter how successful you are locally. This was a BIG problem within this campaign and one in which we’re better off accomplishing ourselves rather than allowing the “big boys” to “guide” us in such efforts. Always remember that YOU know your given area (and probably the areas surrounding it) far better than THEY do.

    Look for leadership in your bathroom mirror and keep fighting them right in your own neighborhood – as that’s where your best chances for success lie. Once you’ve gained enough influence and supporters in YOUR area, then, when we combine for another major cause, they won’t know what hit ’em!

    In Liberty,

    Ed Boyd
    Texas Hill Country

  5. Michael Lambert says:

    I understand now more clearly the word libertarian, and have no problem with being identified with the name, except that the word is perceived differently by a vast majority of Americans to other wise mean that every thing is legal that there are no boundaries. The word libertarian turns a lot of people off especially when they identify others attached to it. Many are not educated to see the big picture or refuse too.
    I had always voted conservative, because at the time my misguided core values reflected so. You know the examples so many of us and not all of us, were deceived by such as the heroism in the name Terrorism!
    which has been used like a puppet on strings to manipulate the public, or the words no body else wants to work these jobs so legalize? He must of only been talking about the migrant workers. ye the corporate buddy system is entrenched with its vendors selling their spy wares, and pharmaceuticals at the tax payers expense. I see the deception and see Rome burning is it because of the devaluation of our dollar which seems purposely designed to fail. Perhaps the coast line will now become a commodity up for sell to the highest bidder in the name of oil independence? The word Libertarian perhaps it would rather be well explained or stated as patriotism. wrong greed effects us all especially when the banking system is not backed with Gold.
    Regards to all that see now.
    Michael Lambert

  6. Carter says:


    Gang, This is a recent LaRouche, speech. It is long but comprehensive. If you have read the previous article you would do well to hear LaRouche, out. It is an amazing analysis the likes of which are seldom heard. He starts at 3:30 minutes. It carries on for 2 hrs and 45 minutes. So, get a bag of chips.

  7. chuckyoung says:

    @Ed: The enormous importance of localism is something I need to discuss more. But what I’m trying to get across first is that we MUST maintain our identity *OUTSIDE* the party structures (strictures). Won’t be easy. The Paulist “brand” isn’t really “conservative”, or “liberal”. It is Something Else. And it will always be a tough “fit” with the existing norms.

    @Michael: again, trying to define the “brand”. I don’t think it is exactly “libertarian” either. This “branding” quest is not simple, given that the operational facts as cited in earlier essays (kinky/carole and krishna) show that there is appeal for the ideology in unsuspected shades of the political “spectrum”.

    @Carter: LL is an interesting guy. I’m not generally a fan of his solutions. But he has always been a source of a lot of good analysis. And certainly I welcome all allies in the cause of liberty.

  8. Well thought out work of analytical prose. I agree with most said and yet without SELF actualization by self, little can be assimilated to any worthy degree. I will keep trying though. Peace, Daniel

  9. saul says:

    This is a very good piece of writing that intelligently explores the reasons behind the Fall of Paul — if indeed there ever was a Rise.

    Since we are just chewing the fat here, I’d venture that the reason may be considerably simpler.

    To a GOP, from the top to the rank-and-file, heavily vested in a vision of national identity based on bellicosity abroad and regimentation (ie. “patriotism”), with heavy undertones of the oxymoron of “American Nationalism”, to these folks, Dr. Paul proposed a vision of a constitutional republic essentially devoid of any of these factors.

    Seems to me that this is the hallmark weakness/strength of Libertarians, the lack of national identity in the proposed scheme of things. It is really a necessary logical consequence — when the individual is absolved of all obligation to the common, the existence of a “common” has to be called into question, or at least its meaning — somehow a set of legal statues does not seem sufficient to make a “common”. Also, based on very recent empirical evidence, professing love for liberty and the constitution does not seem to be sufficient either, by a long, long shot.

    Even more unfortunate for libertarians is that some in the ranks, sensing the void of this “common”, fill it with guns and racial intolerance. This is one sorry ass “common” ground, I think it must be said. It is darwinian and, to the general public it is just scary.

    To all this we add, as Chuck so rightly points out, the overall reactionary nature of the libertarian manifestation. In the end the American public is optimistic and positivist and is probably much more interested in hearing what people are pro. But here again the libertarians run into the conundrum: how do people against government and communal action engage in formulating heartfelt proposals for positivist governmental policy and common action?

    It is possible that a way out of the conundrum is to appeal to the exact scope of the “common” action. If it can be said that the aim is to return the scope of common action to a local level, that may offer a way our of the dilemma and get some resonance with the public at large.

    Chances are, however, that even that would get botched. This is because there is nothing in the libertarian mindset to reconcile such local scope with the proposition that government action at the highest levels is at times “good” is the most general normative sense, eg. the civil rights amendments to the Constitution (at the time — and probably even today? — a sign to some of the institution of a “military dictatorship” by the federal government).

    So it seems like the question comes back to what is the “good society”. Given that the question has been around since Plato, I will not be holding my breath for the answer.

    What seems to be the reality on the ground today, though, is that we have a choice between supporting somebody that is likely to bankrupt the country in pursuit of an agenda of mass-murder abroad and state-imposed “patriotism” at home, and who submits a vision of Empire as his proposed American identity, or someone that while holding perhaps misguided economic notions presents us with the possibility of an intelligent way our of our current debacle and a non-reactionary national identity that would actually represent an evolutionary step — and, very importantly to me, without the bombing of anybody for fabricated reasons.

    At the end of the day this November, as tragic and unfortunate as it may or may not be, it will perhaps come to a choice, not between the brilliant and the more brilliant, but rather between idiocy vs. non-idiocy. Between the certainty of continued stupidity, lawlessness, mass-murder and national shame, and a forever polarized national identity, or the possibility of a positive way forward in which we may find the tools to invent the 21st century American.

    At the most real level, however, I hope on hope that we can all see beyond all these words to the fact that to the people that McCain will promptly bomb, this election is very far from being about philosophies.


  10. Rob A. says:

    I cannot help but think that perhaps our energies would be better directed toward issue advocacy, especially locally. That is what I will be focusing on, not the false dichotomy of national party politics. The “dream candidate” of freedom and liberty most likely does not exist and will not win anytime soon. If one surfaces I will be all for helping him/her but until then I will work to force our current and future office holders to do the right thing, and if not then make sure they pay a political price.

    – Rob A.

  11. Brandi says:

    Let me tell you what my family told me….. Which I had to learn for myself~ We were all “little ponds” in this game of politics. So many people were used in the “political” process. I spent a HUGE part of my life campaigning for Ron Paul, and what did I get????? Ridiculed, Laughed at , Ignored, and Shunned. I do have to give him credit for opening my eyes to the disgusting fact that it doesn’t matter WTF I think, or WTF the rules are… I am a slave to society, and no matter how hard I fight for the underdog, or how hard I fight to do the next right thing, I doesn’t fucking matter….. which brings me to my next point. If you want to make a difference in this world, you have to know what you are up against. I NOW know, and have decided to go back to school and get my LAW degree. In order to fight my battles properly I am going to have to have a Masters Degree behind it. If I truly want to help the American people, I am going to have to do it the Old Fashion way, and believe me, I will be one BAD ASS Lawyer. Civil Law that is……

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