The Ron Paul "Phenomenon" and Gene McCarthy

David Neiwert wrote a post this week about the nature of Ron Paul’s support, most of it a response to Glenn Greenwald’s post excoriating the media for ignoring what appears to be a major grassroots movement judging by the amount of money Paul’s been able to raise. Neiwert explains that the reason Paul has gotten away with presenting what is – at best – a superficial, glossed-over version of his actual positions is because he deliberately keeps them superficial and glosses over his background of long associations with far-right fringe groups.

Well, we have to part company. Because as I’ve been explaining in some detail (along with Sara), Paul has so far managed to pull off something of a neat trick: Appearing thoughtful and principled, even though his beliefs and principles are largely derived from the extremist far right — a fact that he’s wisely muted in the campaign. You don’t hear Ron Paul talking about the New World Order a lot in the press, largely because no one is asking him about it — but in reality, he hasn’t changed his beliefs appreciably since the days he was touring the militia K-ration banquet circuit.

That is to say, Greenwald is right, so far as it goes: Paul is consistent and coherent within the realm of his belief system, but those beliefs aren’t simply the benign libertarianism that Paul has erected as his chief public image, and which Greenwald appears to have absorbed. Paul’s beliefs, in fact, originate with the conspiracy-theory-driven far right of the John Birch Society and Posse Comitatus. He’s just been careful not to draw too much attention to that reality, even though he has occasionally let the curtain slip.

All of which is undoubtedly true, but there’s something else going on here and it shows up quite clearly in the responses from Paul supporters on the comment thread to his post: the desperation that comes when the establishment ignores the signal, primary issue of the times.

A commenter named Miranda put it about as succinctly as it can be put.

ugh, more of the same old song and dance, NO ONE CARES! He’s anti-war and anti-tax. That’s what people want and that’s what they hear, that’s what they have been and will continue to respond to, you can keep playing this tune of yours but no one except the far left is dancing to it.

Paul supporters simply don’t care about anything except that he’s saying what they want to hear, what no one else is saying, and that he’s saying it with passion and conviction. From prunes:

It’s hard to be seen as the most dangerous when so much of the competition is enthusiastically endorsing expanded torture programs and pre-emptive nuclear war on other countries.

They see this as such a defining, critically important issue that all other considerations are unimportant. They’re so convinced of it that Brian is prepared to accept everything else that may come with a Paul presidency if that’s the only way it will be dealt with.

The problem, though, is the biggest threat facing the United States, or even the world, is the bipartisan (Democrat and Republican) “empire project” that thinks we have a right or a duty to intervene wherever our business elites think [it] is useful.. Chalmers Johnston is right-the machine is intertwined deeply with both political parties. Look at Hillary, she fully accepts and propagates the kind of militaristic, city-on-the-hill violent American Exceptionalism that is bankrupting the United States. As does O-bomb-a.

A Paul Presidency might be a disaster for the United States, but it might also mean far less interference with the rest of the world. That’s a pretty good tradeoff, imo. At least, the political chaos and infighting would make it more difficult to attack Iran and Syria.

That last sentence may – or may not – be tongue-in-cheek but the central point clearly is not. Paul supporters – not all but many of them – see little difference between the major parties on these core democratic issues, accurately in my view as I’ve said many times. The GOP is off the charts and the DLC-run Democrats are on the same page, only with more “reservations” they want to express for public consumption before they then vote for anti-democratic measures anyway. Greenwald put it this way in a post today on Mukasey’s confirmation:

The Post said the vote “reflected an effort by Democrats to register their displeasure with Bush administration policies on torture and the boundaries of presidential power.” Apparently, they wanted to oh-so-meaningfully “register their displeasure” but not actually stop confirmation.

(emphasis in the original)

With the Republicans enthusiastically backing the Bush occupation of Iraq and the Democrats consistently refusing to stop them or even slow them down despite the unambiguous order we gave them a year ago, a political vacuum has been created that Paul’s uncompromising stance has filled. That’s what his supporters are primarily reacting to. That’s why there’s so much passion and commitment – no one on the “serious” mainstage of national politics is doing anything about the defining issue of the day. No one is emphatically denouncing the illegal war, torture, imperialism, and authoritarianism to the extent that Paul is, not even Dennis Kucinich, who comes the closest of any Democrat running. Things have disintegrated so badly that, as Glenn points out today, we’re actually having discussions about how acceptable torture is.

[The most amazing quote was from chief Mukasey supporter Chuck Schumer, who, before voting for him, said that Mukasey is “wrong on torture — dead wrong.” Marvel at that phrase: “wrong on torture.” Six years ago, there wasn’t even any such thing as being “wrong on torture,” because “torture” wasn’t something we debated. It would have been incoherent to have heard: “Well, he’s dead wrong on torture, but . . . “

Now, “torture” is not only something we openly debate, but it’s something we do. And the fact that someone is on the wrong side of the “torture debate” doesn’t prevent them from becoming the Attorney General of the United States. It’s just one issue, like any other issue — the capital gains tax, employer mandates for health care, the water bill — and just because someone is “dead wrong” on one little issue (torture) hardly disqualifies them from High Beltway Office.]

(emphasis added)

You can look at Ron Paul’s meager if passionate supporters as canaries in the coal mine. Paul may be using them to try to give GOP primary voters the illusion that he actually might win, but they are using him as a tool to force society to listen to them, to make it pay attention to the very real danger to our democracy posed by the authoritarian aristocrats of the GOP and the creeping authoritarianism of the Democrats.

Comparisons of the Ron Paul “Phenomenon” have been made to Pat Buchanan’s run on a solely anti-immigration platform, but the similarity that strikes me most forcefully is between Paul and Eugene McCarthy’s challenge to LBJ in ’68. I worked on McCarthy’s campaign in New Hampshire, which is where I lived at the time. I was 20, the Viet Nam war was raging out of control, half of the 50,000 who would eventually die had already been killed, we knew Tonkin Gulf was a fraud, and we didn’t believe for a second in McNamara’s Domino Theory.

There were a lot of us across the country. We marched, we demonstrated, we screamed from the rooftops. We held sit-ins and teach-ins and open seminars on Vietnamese history on lawns and in church basements. At that point, virtually no one was actually listening. We disrupted normal US society to such an extent that we are still, 40 years later, hated for it, yet no one in the establishment made any real attempt to throw a monkey wrench into Johnson’s war, or at least represent a POV held by tens of thousands of Americans who were very noisy about it.

Until McCarthy.

Gene was a soft-spoken patrician with a wicked dry humor who was willing to go up against his own party. He wasn’t the orator Paul is, and he tended to speak quietly, sometimes almost tonelessly, with very little inflection, much less fire. But his message couldn’t have been plainer. “The war is wrong. It must be stopped.”

That’s what we wanted someone to say, and we didn’t give a damn what his other positions were. I don’t even remember ever knowing if he had other positions, and I wouldn’t have cared what they were if he did. All I knew, all I wanted to know, was that he was the only one saying what needed to be said, the only one opposing the Johnson/McNamara war policy.

Sound familiar? Ron Paul’s supporters are doing what we did – making a lot of noise and demanding that their fear of losing our democracy be taken seriously. We demonstrated and marched in real life on real streets, but then, we didn’t have the internet. They do, and that’s what they’re using instead. It’s working – in a way – but for the Paulists to have the same effect we did, Ron’s going to have to make a significant showing in New Hampshire. That’s still the flashpoint – Iowa is a beauty contest. He has to come in at least third, and in respectable double digits, or he’s finished.

If he succeeds in a decent showing, the Republican campaign will be thrown into chaos, the Democratic campaign will have to be drastically reconfigured, shock waves will slam the current political establishment on both sides, and we’ll have a whole new ballgame.

A Paul Presidency would be an utter disaster, no two ways about it. But a Paul victory in NH would put everyone on notice that supporting Bush’s wars and the perpetual occupation of Iraq is a path to political defeat. That might not be such a bad thing.

5 Responses to “The Ron Paul "Phenomenon" and Gene McCarthy”

  1. I came upon your blog while searching for new Ron Paul news and all I can say is Wow. I really enjoyed reading this.

    While I totally disagree with you about an RP presidency being ‘an utter disaster’ I can say without a doubt you have your arms wrapped around the ‘why’ behind Ron Paul’s support among many of his supporters, and that is: ” no one on the ‘serious’ mainstage of national politics is doing anything about the defining issue of the day. No one is emphatically denouncing the illegal war, torture, imperialism, and authoritarianism to the extent that Paul is.”

    But it’s not just about the war, Ron Paul, at least it’s not for me, a fiscal conservative. He is the only Republican candidate for president who votes the way he speaks, and doesn’t just pay lip service to limited government ideals.

    I don’t agree with everything he stands for, but I know he has a core set of principles and beliefs and I know for a fact that he makes decisions based on those values. I know what I am getting when I vote for Ron Paul, which is a lot more than I can say for Hillary or Rudy.

  2. c moore says:

    An interesting phenomena among the young supporters in general is their apparent knowledge and distaste for The Federal Reserve banking system and the fiat monetary monopoly it runs. I sense they inherently see social and economic shockwaves looming during their “Me” generation. They know their future opportunities are being plundered and they are convinced it is a result of organized corruption. Suprisingly, the many groups out there who traditionaly challenged various aspects of the establishment are rapidly finding our banking/political cartel system is the common root problem. Don’t believe me? Go to a rally where Paul is talking. You are right that Paul’s supporters are cheering when he calls for the end of the war. They clap loudly when he says we need to end the federal ‘War on Drugs’. However, when Paul mentions ending ‘The Bank’, allowing competitive currency to compete with the dollar, and end the cruel and unusual Personal Income Tax, the place goes friggin’ nuts. Why? Because Paul and his freedom message are dynamic and unique in this race. Much more than an anti-war candidate Paul easily proves to be. It is only a click away. His congressional record, his writings, evidence of his overwhelming qualifications to lead this country. Paul’s Austrian free market economics is a model the internet generation easily grasps. They have personally experienced an excellent working example of free market economics in the nature of the internet itself. I can appreciate the comparison of campaigns, but I truly believe we are witnessing the birth of a real and timely revolution fueled by the information age. The support for Ron Paul is diverse and creative. Both products of freedom.

  3. NH_GOP says:

    You gotta love it. The far right is in a tizzy over this and claims Paul is a ‘liberal’ when he’s the most conservative in the race.

    Then the liberals accuse him of being a far-right..

    Which is it?

    He’s just CORRECT period..

    Our country is in debt, constantly at war, and failing fast. No one wants to admit it and really do something
    about it. They would rather argue over who is left, right, or associated with whom.

    Hillary depends on this kind of stupidity of the people to get supporters but even her support is slipping now that people see her war policy is the same as Bush’s and she wants to squander $8Billion MORE even as we sink further into debt.

  4. As far as passion, though, Ron Paul’s campaign probably more closely resembles Bobby Kennedy’s, and a lot of that passion was carried over from the loss of JFK.

  5. PAFreedom says:

    Dr. Ron Paul is the only presidential candidate that actually follows his oath of office and wants to restore true governmental accountability.

    His message has broad appeal to all Americans that would like more freedom.

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