The Ron Paul Movement Rides On
It is not surprising that with the polls ranking him third nationally, Ron Paul would finally make the cover of National Review (“Ron Paul’s Last Crusade,” September 19). It is also not surprising, sadly, that although the accompanying story is sometimes humorous, it is generally negative toward Paul.
Kevin D. Williamson has many things to say about the 2012 Republican presidential candidate, and he does not hesitate to lampoon everyone — Paul, his senator son, the campaign staff, and, of course, Paul’s army of enthusiastic supporters. But perhaps Williamson’s truest sentence can be found in the first paragraph. Williamson writes of Paul: “He is, for better and for worse, a man of ideas — maybe the last true man of ideas in American politics.”
But what are those ideas? Williamson notes of Paul, “He wants to talk about fiat money, the American Empire, the Fed.” Williamson then portrays those who support Paul’s ideas in an unflattering light, to say the least.
It is a well-established trick of the Left to attempt to marginalize opposition by focusing on the eccentric rather than centric. For example, last summer, many liberal pundits were far more concerned with the theology of Michele Bachmann’s church than with explaining why she is popular with many in the grassroots. Liberals are even prone to imply that her theology is really what attracts people to Bachmann.
In his repeated attempts to portray Paul and his campaign as beyond the pale, Williamson takes aim at Paul’s Iowa campaign chairman, Drew Ivers, noting that Mr. Ivers also worked for Pat Robertson in 1988, Pat Buchanan in 1996 and 2000, and some third-party candidates. But Williamson conveniently fails to mention that Ivers was also a county chairman in Iowa for Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaigns in 1976 and 1980. Obviously, Reagan rose to power aided and abetted by “fringe” and “extreme” elements in the Republican party.
This type of marginalization is what the Left does best. This is not to say that eccentricities or actual fringe behavior should be ignored, whether on the left or on the right. But it is to say that any genuine bottom-up grassroots movement — like the Tea Party or the Ron Paul movement — is going to be filled with everyday people, some of whom might not say the right things or present the right temperament for many in the political class.
Whereas Williamson chose to put a negative “fringe” spin on the person even he admits is the “last true man of ideas in American politics,” the current issue of Time actually examines how those ideas are impacting the 2012 presidential election. In a story titled “The Prophet,” Time reports:
In the four years since [Paul’s last presidential run], the world has changed in mostly grim ways that seem to affirm Paul’s worldview. His vision of an eroding Constitution and a Washington–Wall Street cabal helped spark the Tea Party movement. Conservatives who once sneered at his foreign policy as being “isolationist” have grown weary of war. His call for a more accountable and transparent Federal Reserve has morphed from quaint obsession to mainstream Republican talking point in Congress and on the campaign trail.
Time also notes of Paul: “As prophet, he is still defining the GOP race.” For some, that Paul’s brand of conservatism now shapes the Right is bothersome. Former NR contributor David Frum expressed such concerns when Rand Paul won the Kentucky Republican primary last May: “Rand Paul’s victory in the Kentucky Republican primary is obviously a depressing event for those who support strong national defense and rational conservative politics. . . . How is it that the GOP has lost its antibodies against a candidate like Rand Paul?”
Senator Paul is now considered by the grassroots to be one of the most conservative senators, in league with Jim DeMint and freshman Mike Lee. Similarly, Congressman Paul is increasingly considered to be a leading conservative figure, something reflected by his strong poll numbers and the dominance of his ideas in this election.
Which leads us to the underlying but primary question: What is conservatism, and who gets to define it?
In 2008, NR and many others on the right picked Mitt Romney as the conservative alternative to John McCain. In 2012, few on the right who endorsed Romney are comfortable even calling him “conservative” anymore. Has conservatism changed, or have the acceptable parameters of that term? What many on the right today lazily like to call Ron Paul’s “leftist” foreign-policy views are similar to the generally non-interventionist foreign-policy views of early NR giants Russell Kirk, Robert Nisbet, and Richard Weaver. Did NR secretly use to be liberal — or is Paul simply unearthing an older Right? At the end of his life, William F. Buckley Jr. said that the Iraq War was a “failure.” In 2005, Buckley said of the Bush Doctrine, “It’s not at all conservative. It’s anything but conservative.”
Was the founder of NR a “leftist,” or has there always been a place on the right for conservatives who share Paul’s foreign-policy views? And is that “place” expanding?
Though most are reluctant to admit it, the growing pushback on the right against Paul is more about his expanding influence than about any specific issue. For reasons typically having more to do with establishment attachments than principles, a GOP nominee Paul or even a President Paul is some conservatives’ worst nightmare — and many now fear that Paul’s movement and what it represents are here to stay.
A common dismissal of Paul is to note the congressman’s strong youth support; many old-guard Republicans complain about the constant presence of those passionate but pesky “Ron Paul kids.” In his recent blog post “I Have Seen the Future and It Is Ron Paul,” The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait cites recent poll data showing greater support for Paul than for any other presidential candidate among young Republicans.
Paul’s young supporters stand to have a major impact on the future of the Republican party. Youth might not turn out in droves at the ballot box, but their activism has long helped steer both major parties and particularly the conservative movement — recall the Republican National Convention of 1960, in which the young turned out to support Barry Goldwater, a candidate of the insurgent anti-establishment Right. Of Goldwater’s youthful supporters, National Review wrote: “They are going to be around for a long time to come, which is something the Republican leadership should take note of.”
This gives us a sense of what Paul’s impact on American conservatism and the Republican party means now and could continue to mean in the future. Even Williamson admits, “The Ron Paul movement goes on.” And to the extent that some on the right realize this but don’t like it, we can expect them to marginalize Ron Paul every chance they get.
Official Ron Paul 2012 campaign blogger;
assisted Sen. Rand Paul with The Tea Party Goes to Washington
Kevin D. Williamson replies: I do not object to Ron Paul because I wish to discredit the ideas with which he is associated; I object to Ron Paul because he discredits the ideas with which he is associated, and most of them are good ideas.
Having good ideas is not enough; Ron Paul lacks judgment. For example, he is correct that the monetary policy of the United States is defective and inflationary. Unfortunately, he also believes that the Federal Reserve is a kind of wicked cabal and therefore focuses his energies on dissolving it, the result of which would be to put monetary policy in the hands of Congress, an even worse outcome. If Mr. Paul has thought through the consequences of that, there is very little evidence of it in his book End the Fed. In a similar way, he is so blinkered by his antediluvian commitment to the gold standard that he fails to account for the fact that a government that can manipulate other commodities’ prices also can manipulate the price of gold, particularly if it happens to be the world’s largest holder of it by several orders of magnitude. He is correct, in my view, that our military is too widely deployed and too lightly called out; he is wrong that the United States is an “empire” — strange empire, that pays tribute to its conquered foes rather than extracting it! — or that the malefactors in Tehran and elsewhere can be trusted to mind their own business if we mind ours.
And if Mr. Hunter wishes to associate Mr. Paul with Ronald Reagan, he ought first to consult with Mr. Paul, who famously expressed his desire to “totally disassociate” himself from the Reagan administration and its policies, a fact reported in my article, and a fact that, like every other fact in the piece, stands unchallenged by Mr. Hunter, Mr. Paul, or his acolytes.