Is 2008 The New 1964? [John Derbyshire]
There's a Pro-Ron-Paul meme going around, to the effect that 2008 is the new 1964; i.e. that on the premise—debatable in itself, of course—that the GOP has no chance of winning the presidency next year, conservatives should run a Goldwater-style insurgency to remind the party we're here & set up some influence for 2012. Bruce Bartlett floated the meme here.
I got a thought-provoking e-mail along similar lines (one of dozens like it I've had on that Paul column) from Ben Novak, who lists himself as "founder of the Americans in Europe for Ron Paul Meet-up Group in Bratislava, Republic of Slovakia." Blimey. Well, here's what Ben says.
"Mr Derbyshire—-Recently you wrote an eloquent article titled the 'Ron Paul Temptation ,' about how tempted you were to support him. However, you concluded by fighting off the temptation, writing that '[Ron Paul's] candidacy belongs in the realm of dreams, not practical politics. But, oh, such sweet dreams.' A Ron Paul candidacy does inspire sweet dreams. But, rather than writing Ron Paul off for that reason, I suggest that there are a multitude of reasons why you—and a lot of other Americans—should follow your dream.
"Let us begin with the worst case scenario, which is that Ron Paul, if nominated, has no chance of winning the election. I suggest that this is one of the strongest reasons to make him the Republican nominee.
"There have been at least two times in the history of our Republic when the losing candidate for president has had a greater effect on subsequent history of his party and country than the winner. Such was the case in 1928 when the Democratic party had the guts to nominate Al Smith; and again in 1964 when the Republican party nominated Barry Goldwater. Both changed the face of American politics for generations after.
"In regard to Ron Paul, I suggest that his candidacy, like the hopeless candidacies of Smith and Goldwater, would do more to focus the debate about the importance of our founding principles—about who we as a people are, and what our real interests are—than any other Republican or Democrat running.
"Let's consider the stifling bureaucracy that you so clearly describe in your article. Not one of the other candidates can do a thing about it once elected, without a real campaign discussion of it. Indeed, despite all the rhetoric, under Reagan, Bush I and Bush II, the size of government, its intrusion into our lives, the entangling web of federal programs and the budget deficit all grew immensely. Only a Ron Paul candidacy has any hope of focusing on fundamentals again, cutting through the web of confusion surrounding them, and eliciting any new, creative thought. All the others will just complain about it, but accept it as the only way to do business in Washington—which is the main point in your article. But only a Ron Paul candidacy has any chance of challenging and bringing into question the 'business as usual' attitude of the K Street lobbies, pork-barrel congressmen, and the spiraling bureaucracy.
"That brings us to another issue about why Ron Paul's candidacy is important. Consider the nature of the people in Washington politics today. What we have is an army of office seekers making their best bets on who will provide them with berths in the bureaucracy after the election. Their only real principles are getting power and making whatever cabinet post or bureaucratic niche they are rewarded with grow bigger. Only Ron Paul has the ability to bring a new group of people into politics, people who are committed, like the Goldwater activists of 1964, to taking a different approach to government. Only a Ron Paul candidacy has any hope of bringing new blood and new ideals into politics.
"Now let's talk about foreign policy. There is not a dime's worth of difference among any of the current candidates—Republican or Democrat—over the general direction of American foreign policy. They only disagree over the details of how to get there. Only the candidacy of Ron Paul will open the debate on fundamentals, about who or what we want to be in the world, and about what America's role ought to be. Without him in the race, there will simply be no debate at all—just as there was no real debate in 2004.
"Then there's immigration. Whatever happens concerning the 'illegals' so ardently argued over in the recent immigration bill, there are still tens of millions of recent, legal immigrants who have never seen the ideals of American government in practice. The closest thing to it they have ever heard of is 'compassionate conservatism'—which has been nothing but a fig leaf for the spoils system, a pork-barrel Congress, group entitlements, and politicians for sale. Only a Ron Paul candidacy will remind them (and us older immigrants) of the things that made America so great to begin with. Only Ron Paul offers any ideals that could possibly overcome the racial, ethnic, and group-entitlement politics that are currently tearing us up.
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"Finally, let's talk about the biggest reason why Ron Paul probably has no chance to win. Your article makes it very plain that all the money sources who believe that politicians can be bought and sold at will, all the K Street lobbies, all the millions of bureaucrats on the federal payroll, and all the tens of millions beneficiaries of increasing government largess will be against him. But, would it not be worth it to make them sweat a little, knowing that a man of principle, who can't be bought, is setting a very different example for Americans to follow?
"Now let's talk about the best-case scenario: that Ron Paul wins both the nomination and the election. Suddenly, the rest of the world will ask: has America given up its recent 'imperialism' and returned to the principles that once made it the beacon of liberty around the world? Only a Ron Paul presidency will allow the United States to write on a clean slate.
"Ron Paul may not be able to get many of the things he stands for enacted, but he will cause a rethinking of basics that will cause a thinning out of the bureaucratic nightmare that is in our system of laws today.
"If Ron Paul were president, congressmen and senators would be less worried about what special interest is going to fund their next campaign, than whether they appear to be bought and sold. We just might get some honest legislation for the good of the country. Billions of dollars that now flow into lobbies to influence government might begin flowing into the non-profit sector instead, where they can not only actually help people, but earn their donors some respect.
"All of the current crop of power-seekers spurning the Ron Paul campaign in hopes of power, jobs, and largesse in a Giuliani, Romney, Clinton, or Obama administration, will have to start looking for honest work. Instead, we will get a new generation of idealists eager to start cleaning up the mess.
"Thus, Mr. Derbyshire, when you turn your back on the Temptation of Ron Paul, all you are doing is expressing despair that the Gordian knot of money, power, influence, and bureaucratic paperwork that is currently strangling Washington and the country can ever be challenged. President Bush used to speak of the 'soft bigotry of low expectations.' When you relegate Ron Paul to only a dream, you are only confessing the lowest expectations for any vision of America other than the status quo. "
"I suggest that you find the courage to follow your dream. I know I can say without the slightest chance of contradiction that you will never find a man with more honesty, courage, decency, or integrity to hitch your dreams to than Ron Paul."
[Me] Whew. While I am generally resistant to romantic gestures in politics, and I don't believe the Giuliani, Romney, McCain, etc. camps are TOTALLY devoid of idealism, or unacceptably short on honesty, courage, decency, or integrity, still... the guy makes a case.
Unedited content taken from: http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=Y2YyYjg2YzliMTQ2NTJjNjMyMzAwNWExZTlmMzI1ODI=
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And now for the Derbyshire original:
That Old-Time Religion The Ron Paul temptation. By John Derbyshire
Go on, admit it: you have felt the Ron Paul temptation, haven’t you? And it’s not just the thrill of imagining another president named Ron, is it? Ron Paul believes a lot of what you believe, and what I believe. You don’t imagine he’s going to be the 44th POTUS, but you kind of hope he does well none the less.
And why not? Look at those policy positions! Abolish the IRS and Federal Reserve; balance the budget; go back to the gold standard; pull out of the U.N. and NATO; end the War on Drugs; overturn Roe v. Wade; repeal federal restrictions on gun ownership; fence the borders; deport illegals; stop lecturing foreign governments about human rights; let the Middle East go hang. What’s not to like?
We-e-ell. We all have nits to pick, though we wouldn’t all pick the same ones. The gold standard? Wasn’t it going off the gold standard that gave us full control over the wilder swings of the business cycle? Which was, like, a good idea? I am by no means as willing to surrender to the collective wisdom of modern economists as Bryan Caplan wants me to be, but — the gold standard? Come on. And stopping the War on Drugs? Where would that take us? — Philip Morris brands of crack cocaine available over the counter at Walgreens? You pick your own nits.
That’s not the point, though. Nits aside, the broad outlook there is conservative in a way we don’t often see from a presidential candidate. It is, in fact, conservatism of exceptional purity. Reading through those policy positions, an American conservative can hear the mystic chords of memory sounding in the distance, and hear the call of ancestral voices wafted on the breeze: Hayek, von Mises, Rothbart, Nock, Kirk, John Chamberlain... Unlike the product in that automobile commercial, this is your father’s conservatism — the Old-Time Religion. What is there among Ron Paul’s policy prescriptions that the young William F. Buckley would have disagreed with?
So why aren’t we all piling into the wagon behind Dr. Ron? It’s not that the guy is personally unacceptable in any way. A pious family man, he has worked in an honorable profession — Ob/Gyn medical practice — all his life. (Paul has the slight political advantage of having brought several hundred of his constituents into the world.) He is personally charming and likeable. If not exactly eloquent in the florid, gassy manner American voters are used to from their politicians, he speaks clearly and well, keeps his wits about him, minds his temper, and holds his own in debate. With the positions he has, it’s easy to see why he’s not ahead with the media or the polls, but why isn’t he leading the pack among conservatives?
I doubt it’s his anti-war stand. Outside a dwindling band of administration loyalists in the wagons circled around George W. Bush, I can’t detect much enthusiasm for the Iraq war among conservative commentators and e-mailers. “We gave the Iraqis a fair shot, now let’s leave them to it and concentrate on chasing down worldwide terrorism,” is the dominant sentiment. I’m not clear about Ron Paul’s position on routine counterterrorism and covert ops, but on the war in Iraq, I don’t see much of a problem for him base-wise.
And so far as domestic counterterrorism is concerned, his robust attitude to our nation’s borders and to illegal immigrants is likely to do far more for our security than W’s lackadaisical ethnic pandering. It is hard to imagine that under a Paul presidency, gatecrashers would still be streaming in across an undefended border six years after 9/11.
Is it the fact that the Ron Paul campaign has attracted a lot of loonies that cools our ardor? I don’t think so. For sure, Ron Paul has attracted loonies to his cause. Christopher Caldwell’s piece on Paul in the July 22 New York Times describes one such:
Victor Carey, a 45-year-old, muscular, mustachioed self-described “patriot” who
wears a black baseball cap with a skull and crossbones on it, drove up from
Sykesville, Md., to show his support for Paul. He laid out some of his concerns.
“The people who own the Federal Reserve own the oil companies, they own the mass
media, they own the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, they’re part of
the Bilderbergers [?? — JD], and unfortunately their spiritual practices are
very wicked and diabolical as well,” Carey said. “They go to a place out in
California known as the Bohemian Grove, and there’s been footage obtained by
infiltration of what their practices are. And they do mock human sacrifices to
an owl-god called Moloch. This is true. Go research it yourself.”
(That word “unfortunately” is a rhetorical master stroke.) But Caldwell is being very unfair to Paul here. You could turn up people like that among the camp followers of any candidate, from any party. Send me out to poke among activists for Giuliani, Clinton, Edwards, or — for sure! — Obama: I’ll come up with worse than that. And around the hard core of Venusians there is always a penumbra of people who are just not quite right in the head. I got talking to a local Ron Paul activist here in my home town the other day. She is a very pleasant and charming lady, but I could hear the distinct rustle of bats in the belfry.
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It is a fact, a sad but a true one, that grassroots political activism, the heart and soul of any democracy, attracts a lot of lunatics. I used to be a constituency activist for the Tory party in Kings Cross, London. Of the twenty or so people who turned up regularly to meetings, four or five were noticeably deranged (or, as an elderly fellow-Tory was wont to murmur in my ear when one of these cranks sought the meeting’s attention, “not quite sixteen annas to the rupee”). One or two were barking mad. My favorite was a gent with an Albert Einstein hairstyle and a permanent ferocious glare who, at every darn meeting, would try to advance his pet project for a law against class discrimination. (This was at a time, in the early 1980s, when laws against racial discrimination were being passed, to much controversy.)
If it’s like that in the Tory party, one of the Anglosphere’s oldest and solidest, at the heart of an ancient metropolis, I can imagine how thing are further away from the political center. A friend of mine, a brilliant, charming, and highly civilized man I shall call X, runs a fringe political group here in the U.S. He invited me to one of the group’s annual conferences. Not sure what to expect, I asked a mutual friend, name of Y, who had attended a previous year’s conference. “Well,” said Y, “there are a dozen or so people like X, thoughtful and well-informed — people you’d be happy to hang out with. And around them buzzes this big cloud of latrine flies.” I decided not to take up X’s invitation.
So, I ask again, if it’s not the man, or the war, or the latrine flies, why aren’t we conservatives all on board with Ron?
By way of an answer, let me introduce you to my friend Zhang (not his real name). Zhang came here from China after the 1989 Tiananmen massacre. An energetic and clever young man, he worked at odd jobs around New York City while looking for an opportunity to make his fortune. The opportunity soon arrived. He happened upon a business opportunity — a new method of engraving on stone, the patent held by a fellow-exile with whom he had struck up a friendship. The two of them were sure they’d be rich in no time. They struggled for a couple of years to bring the thing to market. At last, defeated, they gave up. Zhang took a desk job as a clerk for a credit card company.
What was the cause of the failure? I asked him. He: “We didn’t realize this is a mature economy. So many permits, regulations, accounting rules, taxes! In China, we could have got this off the ground in no time, working out of back rooms and sticking up poster ads. Here — forget it! You’re killed by lawyers’ and accountants’ and agents’ fees before you get started. Stick up an ad, the city comes after you.”
Something analogous applies to politics. If Washington, D.C. were the drowsy southern town that Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge rode into, Ron Paul would have a chance. Washington’s not like that nowadays, though. It is a vast megalopolis, every nook and cranny stuffed with lobbyists, lawyers, and a hundred thousand species of tax-eater. The sleepy old boulevards of the 1920s are now shadowed between great glittering ziggurats of glass and marble, where millions of administrative assistants to the Department of Administrative Assistance toil away at sending memos to each other.
Few of these laborers in the vineyards of government do anything useful. (In my experience — I used to have to deal with them — few do anything much at all.) Some of what they do is actually harmful to the nation. On the whole, though, we have settled in with this system. We are used to it. It’s not going away, absent a revolution; and conservatives are — duh! — not, by temperament, revolutionaries.
Imagine, for example, President Ron II trying to push his bill to abolish the IRS through Congress. Congress! — whose members eat, drink, breathe and live for the wrinkles they can add to the tax code on behalf of their favored interest groups! Or imagine him trying to kick the U.N. parasites out of our country. Think of the howls of outrage on behalf of suffering humanity from all the lefty academics, MSM bleeding hearts, love-the-world flower children, Eleanor Roosevelt worshippers, and bureaucratic globalizers!
Ain’t gonna happen. It was, after all, a conservative who said that politics is the art of the possible. Ron Paul is not possible. His candidacy belongs to the realm of dreams, not practical politics. But, oh, what sweet dreams!
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