Lessons of the Ron Paul campaign – Epilogue: I’m not Ron Paul, You are

August 9, 2008

My mother’s father was a bit of a legend wherever he roamed, and roam he did. A poet, musician, raconteur, father of nine (!), likely to pop off a soliloquy from King Lear at the drop of a hat, he was the sort of fella that was too big for the room, and it didn’t make any difference how big the room was. There’s a story of him in church, a swampwater Baptist ministry deep in the bible belt and well back in the good old days. The faithful were going on and on about “Jaysus!”, when it finally came round to him. “Why, I’m as good a man as Jesus ever was”.

Oh my! This was a man who could quote chapter and verse from the King James as well as most of the Bard’s best work. But that was the last time he attended services.

Sorry if that offends, but here’s another story. Bob Dylan had a fan / detractor who was obsessed with Dylan and all Dylan did and all Dylan stood for. This person went to the extreme of dumpster-diving Dylan’s garbage to see if he could divine deeper meanings from the leftovers of Dylan’s chicken dinner. The police had to hassle with this gent over and over; frustrated, they asked Dylan if he could “talk to the guy”.

So Dylan walks up to him, looks him straight in the eye, and says: “I’m not Bob Dylan. You are!”

Finally there is this. One beautiful day I was driving out to canvass, and I was struck so hard by the following epiphany that I had to pull over. The fact is that I came to a time in my life where I took stock of who I was. I’d been beat and broke in many ways and I needed to rebuild. I made a personal commitment to take responsibility for my life, to be the best son and lover and friend and neighbor and citizen that I could be (I’ve no children). I affirmed that it didn’t matter what others did, that I was the alpha and omega of me. And it seems that here in America in the early 21st century many folks have made that same commitment. We stepped out of the woodwork all of a sudden, looked around, and lo and behold we were not alone.

I looked in a mirror and claimed ownership of my life. You looked in a mirror and did the same. I’ve read the US Constitution many times. But never before did I truly understand the meaning of the words, “We the People”.

Peace and Freedom, baby.


Lessons of the Paul Campaign – The Revolution was, is

August 9, 2008

We are: out of work musicians and multimillionaire software entrepeneurs… new age healers and christian chemical engineers… blind discordian perl programmers and bikini babes posing for libertarian calendars… veterans against war… halfbreed martial arts instructors… latino acupuncturists… hardcore tax protestors… anarcho-capitalist grocery clerks… austrian economists… disillusioned progressives… DJs doing freedom raves… young republicans… old hippies… cowboys… day traders… kooks… spooks(?)…

The “movement” is a collection of players so odd in their juxtaposition that it’s no wonder that stakeholding elites can only paint us as “weird”. What is one to make of a community populated by health freedom activists and Christian homeschoolers and anti-drug-war people and small-business Republicans and 9/11 truthers? It seems to the uninitiated like a random collection of oddities, hence the constant framing of us as “nuts”. It’s not just that Life Is High School and the children in charge need to marginalize outsiders to maintain the status quo. They don’t understand, and what one doesn’t understand, one fears.

And they should fear us. This is a deep Lesson of the Paul Campaign – that the revolution is perhaps more real than any of us give it credit for. It’s a lesson clearly lost not only on mainstream politicos but even to some degree on Ron Paul, his top staff, and the old clique that is about to see this thing leave them in the dust – the lesson is too earthshattering. Because despite all attempts to pigeonhole the “movement”, it defies description in terms of the Old Forms.

Left and Right are done. Democrats rally to McCain and Republicans to Obama. Libertarians court neocons like Barr and Root to run their party. Progressives and Socialists plug along, the best of them trying to keep up the “people’s struggle”, begging crumbs from their old “counterculture” brethren (meet the new boss…) who sold out so long ago. Hopelessly lost, the old-school “players” grasp at any straw they believe might get them a “seat at the table”.

It’s not that history is irrelevant; the nightmare from which we can never awake haunts us with incessant echoes from the deep dark well of the past. Indeed, the repercussions of that past are precisely what ours and succeeding generations will have to cope with. But there is a new politics forming in response to the empty offerings of the “normal”, and one is reminded of Nietszche, that is, none of these old fools even know yet that their Gods are all dead. Their bankrupt ideologies are only waiting for a push from Reality and the push is coming. Nobody is sure when. But its approach is inexorable, relentless, inevitable, unstoppable.

We are coming to a reckoning as a nation and that reckoning is going to be about the Small and the Big, the Local and the Federal, the Revolution and the Old Guard. It’ll be top versus bottom, not left versus right, which are after all mere figments of the imagination of an elite so corrupt it has even lost the ability to see through its own sophistry.

The establishment’s champions are themselves its biggest victims, drunk with power and stumbling blind in a faith-based universe built of lies wearing increasingly thin, incapable of seeing the coming storm. What they don’t know will hurt them. In their hubris they despise the rabble they must court in order to maintain their parasitic position on the host of the body politic. But that rabble, the Kinky-Carolists, the Perot Center, the Silent Majority, is getting wise despite all the dumbing down. And the team that speaks to the heart of that core populist center will go on to shape the next chapter of the American Story.

The Ron Paul campaign was a rite of passage. It revealed to the knowing initiate that the battle can be won, if only the warriors will follow the straight and narrow path to victory, veering neither to the right nor the left, balancing always on Truth’s razor edge. The campaign was a song sung from freedom’s radiant heart, not just an essay spoken from her limitless mind. The campaign was a journey, and all roads led back, and lead back, as they always will in this nation, not to the stilted polemicism of Ayn Rand, but to Twain and Poe and Melville. To an eyebrow raised in loving mockery; to a secret terror relentlessly driving us forward, or back; and, we pray, to redemption in the face of tragedy, that we might salvage a Republic from the tidal wave of History.

Because the truth is, the realistic truth is, that the reckoning this country faces will be no small catastrophe. And when the ship that is the America We Knew sinks once and for all, for better and worse, we will need to avoid the whirlpool, to cling to truth, to hope and love, to family, friends and neighbors – to community, not an abstract “society” – and live on to fulfill the promise of our forefathers.

Call us Ishmael.

Lessons of the Paul Campaign – Think locally, act globally

August 3, 2008

1 – Society vs Man

The great flaw of the modern left is that, to paraphrase Rothbard, it “seeks liberal ends by conservative means”. That is to say, it seeks the emancipation of the sovereign individual by means of empowering the old centrist agencies of hierarchical power, most especially the State. We, on the other hand, seek to achieve that same liberal end by liberal means. And that’s what makes us real “revolutionaries”, as opposed to the parade of multi-millionaires on Oprah.

There is more to the title of this piece than a cute twist on an old leftist aphorism. The reversal is not accidental. It undermines the modern left on the basic weakness of not only its self-contradictory terms but the very roots of its philosophical premises.

There is a word, “reification”. that is germane to this subject. It’s a favorite amongst Marxists and Psychologists, but let’s not allow that to put us off the term. Its most elementary meaning is “making what is abstract, concrete”. It’s my contention that this process, the reifying process, is at the heart of this nation’s political dysfunction [1].

The glorification of democracy is a case in point. It’s essential to the Establishment’s continued hegemony, as every act of the State is thus canonized as the manifest “Will of the People”. But the question of whether Das Volk really should be empowered to dictate Law according to its latest caprice is less interesting than the fact that “it”, that is, “The People”, as any sort of concrete *thing*, does not even EXIST. It is an aggregate, not a “person”, and thus should not have attributed to it a concept like “Will”. Certainly mobs have various characteristics, but to attribute to a mob the dimension of “Will” is to identify it with personal, human, will. “The People” is thus an abstraction that, in the interests of whoever wins the election, is “reified” or “concretized” into a sort of personalized demigod.

“And the people spake, and gave unto the Holy One this sacred power”. We’ve not come very far from Jehovah to Mencken’s immortal “booboisie”. To put it plainly, this is just a modernized version of the Divine Right of Kings, and it sure isn’t “liberal”, by any stretch.

Similar processes are at work everywhere. For military organizations the reification of the Nation, the Service, the Unit, are all essential elements in the building of “esprit de corps”. You, the soldier, are not real, and are of no consequence. Ergo, you must die when ordered to. The sublimation of personal identity into group identity necessary to evoke this sort of pathology in a subject can only be accomplished when there is another, greater “personality” to be sublimated into [2].

The implications of this are broad; suffice to say, violence on the scale manifest in the modern world is not possible on a human to human basis. It can only be achieved by the process of abstracting, sublimating, and then, making the abstraction concrete. Because the key result of reification is this: it ultimately devalues the basic human to human connection, thus enabling the total dehumanization of us all.

2 – Man vs Media

Totalitarians of every stripe have always made powerful use of the individual-eating process of reification. The chief tool used to implement this in the Modern Age has been the Mass Media. Whether it’s a paper owned by a Hearst, a state run radio station directed by Goebbels, or a modern media empire run by a self serving fascist like Murdoch, the relationship between Media and Power has always been more than cozy.

It’s no accident then that populist political reform is asserting itself through the anarchy of the internet. Trends in media certainly give us cause for hope, as the circulation of the NY Times shrinks and bandwidth multiplies throughout the “free world”. But a painful lesson of the Paul campaign, already noted, was that the Media itself, any media, is only a tool. Because talk, after all, is cheap.

There is, however, an Answer, as many of us discovered. For (generally) the first time in our lives, we were radicalized to the point where we got out of our chair, and went next door to talk to our neighbor (shock, somebody LIVES over there?). And, for those who were willing to “take the step”, the resultant discovery of a law well known to old union organizers was revelatory.

This is what we found: HUMAN CONTACT CAN TRUMP THE MEDIA LOCKOUT. This is possible to the degree that the targets of that contact themselves have some sense of the DISSONANCE present within the very abstraction that this self same media portrays as “reality” [3]. Not only that, we can identify real metrics, based on message content, demographics, and the like, that can enable us to maximize return on resources invested in mobilizing those who aren’t pleased with The Direction The Country Is Going. And if anything, disillusionment is on the rise – exponentially.

There’s an equation well known to veteran organizers: 1 handshake = 10 phone calls = 100 emails. It bears repeating, and constant reminding. Most importantly, in this well worn truism we can see the basic equation of grassroots activism: RE-PERSONALIZATION IS THE KEY. We need to break the reification with the immediacy of our message and proximitiy of our methods.

3 – Assymetrical warfare, Homefield Advantage

History, from Paul Revere to Gandhi, shows that “liberal”, that is, bottom up change, starts in somebody’s backyard. Fighting City Hall on their own turf is a waste of effort. Washington, DC? What can you or I do about DC, with its Trillion Dollars and Lawyers and Nukes and Intel Operatives? Most people look at that and are ready to crawl back into their cage. No, to fight ’em, you need to own the ground.

National Mainstream Media has NO REACH into your local issues. Fox and CNBC could care less about your property taxes. Further, most people are unaware and uninformed about their city council and the like. This low interest is actually favorable to dedicated activists. It enables us to have an outsize impact in off-year elections, bond issues, school boards, etc.

Hence “think locally, act globally”. A leftist starts with a global problem and seeks to implement local solutions. For instance, to combat “Global Warming”, it might be proposed at the City and County levels that we start making it hard for Joe Sixpack to drive to work on City or County roads.

By comparison, the “think local” premise seeks LOCAL PROBLEMS, and by addressing those, hopes to grow a GLOBAL MOVEMENT oriented towards real liberal values. So, here in town, let’s get rational timings for Austin’s notorious traffic lights – less time spent at lights, less fumes emitted into the air, less waste for the many economic actors in this “society”. Let’s clean up our local water supply. Let’s make sure international corporations don’t dump toxins all over us and get off by paying a fine to some Federal Agency. Revolutionary!?!

Awareness of “National Events” is certainly necessary. But to stop, say, Real ID, the right vector of attack isn’t the Federal Government. It’s your State. Worried about a Katrina-like situation in your neck of the woods? Start, now, opening up dialogue with your local law enforcement. If they aren’t responsive, use your new found grassroots POWER to remove them.

There are 400,000 registered voters in Austin. There is no question that 400 human beings willing to dedicate themselves to rendering the Real Estate Lawyers that run this town accountable could achieve those ends. Just 400 people.

4 – Freedom Cells

In some sense, the ineffectiveness of the Paul Campaign’s organization is likely a blessing in disguise. History has shown every movement with “National” scope to be ultimately doomed. What is going to happen now amongst Paulists, and is happening, is natural, healthy, and good. We’re doing Our Own Thing.

There is of course a danger in this. The dissolution of the “movement”, the balkanization of our new national community, looms as a real pitfall. But as confidence in the dollar and the United States as a corporate entity falters here and abroad, is there really much to be gained in trying to conquer the dying national power centers?

Further, this is where the New Media may save us. The internet is lousy for getting votes, but it’s great for keeping in touch with established virtual communities. The most active of us are “connected” now, and that isn’t going to change. What is going to change is the necessity to follow along with a bloated, hopelessly incompetent and self serving “National”.

No more rank nepotism, no more $30 million swirling down a political toilet. For the most active of us, this is frankly a relief. We still have the network, and we can utilize that to communicate; not order – communicate. And we can roll our own, in friendly competition, the best of us, the sharers, learning and growing, in little, dispersed cells, with no center to take down. As the problems which beset this country worsen, those who succeed in addressing them in their own locales will attract further success. And thanks to the Internet, each shot fired in this new Revolution can and will be heard round the world.

This is, at its heart, the revolution of the “little guy”. In this David vs Goliath fight, the methods need to match the message. Centralization has ever been the enemy of Liberty. Why should our movement be any different?

[1] In broader context, it is part and parcel with most of what’s gone wrong since the mid-19th century; but that’s a book in itself.

[2] Not to denigrate heroism… and the fact is, by all accounts of Those Who’ve Been There, that true battlefield heroism owes very little to this sort of conditioning.

[3] “Conservatives” advocating the dissolution of our national sovereignty, “Liberals” happily pimping for global empire… that sort of thing.

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.

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?

Lessons of the Paul Campaign – Kinky Carole, or We Own the (Perot) Center

June 26, 2008

“Kinky Carole” was a running gag amongst organizers in Austin. It’s a tongue in cheek reference to Kinky Friedman and Carole Keaton Strayhorn, two iconoclastic, “populist” candidates for the Governorship here in TX in the ’06 race. Neither one was particularly ideologically “sound” from a Paulist standpoint. But then one of the Lessons of the Paul Campaign is that Ideology Ain’t All it’s Cracked Up to Be… perhaps we’ll deal with ideology in depth some other time.

To run for governor, each “independent” had to file a ballot petition list with the Texas Secretary of State. These lists are a matter of public record; I bought ’em for 74 bucks each. Partners upstate got a good portion of them matched against existing phone records. A few of us started phone banking ’em; we got returns of around 7% per dial. Telemarketers are happy with 2%. During our calling for the TX Straw Poll in summer of ’07, we called 10,000 potential attendees – all of whom were former GOP delegates, that is, known party activists – and I think we got perhaps 30 people to actually drive up to Dallas for the Straw Poll. So in my cold calling experience, raw returns of 7% are very good.

While I worked the Kinky Carole list, “old hands” here were following conventional wisdom, the same wisdom that had been handed down by current and former campaign staffers: go into the heaviest GOP precincts and work ’em hard. This was the same wisdom that had gotten Ron Paul around 5% of the vote over and over (assuming that’s really what he got, but that is YALOTPC). These seasoned campaigners were getting nowhere; they’d knock on doors for 3 or 4 days and come up empty handed. Meanwhile I was doing ok in my little South Austin precinct… at least I was doing a lot better than the folks in NeoCon land were doing.

Based on these results, we ranked all the precincts in Austin by their ’06 gubernatorial returns, sorting them according to how well Kinky Carole (plus the tiny libertarian vote) did in each. Basically, we were looking at a 3rd party metric. We triangulated that against having enough GOP support to be worth working (each precinct’s delegate strength being based, in serpent-eating-its-tail irony, on how many votes GOP incumbent Rick “the haircut” Perry got in ’06). Finally we checked each precinct against geographical exigencies, ie, was it “walkable” (flat, houses close together).

Newly armed with our Kinky Carole analysis, we started hammering on the “correct” precincts. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. All of a sudden, every 10th knock was a supporter. The problem became managing time well, the challenge being to not spend too much energy on each newly found supporter, instead keeping up the effort on finding more of the same.

A nice story that. A success story (Paulists treasure them as we haven’t had many). But what is the “lesson”?

For me, it’s this: “revolutions”, whatever their basis, don’t appeal to establishment stakeholders. A modern American political revolution has and will have its core appeal with the “silent majority”, silent because it’s so disillusioned. Our “revolution” has zero appeal to the legacy GOP; it’s appeal is to the disaffected “Perot Center” that knows intuitively that politics in the US is profoundly corrupt. This meme permeates our culture – “Politicians are crooks! Throw the bums out!” – yet the incumbents keep on winning. I’d argue that one of the reasons the Establishment came down so hard on the Paul campaign was that there lurks in the Constitutionalist message not only an ideological resolution to the amoral postmodern statist status quo, but actual hope for some concrete change.

We have been portrayed as the “fringe”, but are we? According to whom? A snobby elite that knows what’s good for the peasantry? By any populist measure, we are Majoritarians on issue after issue. Stop the War. Protect my Privacy. Stay out of my sex, drugs and rock and roll. Don’t steal my money. Control the border dammit. Over and over, this “movement” has the right “message”. The question is, how do we get that “message” out, and how do we foster the belief, the hope, that “movement”, actual change, is possible?