Monday, December 19, 2011

Paulitics 101


Because I'm a vain, compulsive creature who keeps constant track of site traffic, I noticed several hits this morning coming in via a link in a comment on this piece by ED Kain at Forbes League of Ordinary Gentlemen. And because I really ought to blog something today, I think I'm going to push that bandwagon down the road a little.

I'm actually sort of re-growing a soft spot for Ron Paul after my period of disillusionment with him.

I won't vote for him, mind you; but since I won't vote at all, I won't vote against him, either.

I don't see any reason to retract any of the harsh things I've said about him, because they are all true; but looking back at my meanness, I have, over time, realized that I had a tendency to drop one key piece of context:

Ron Paul is a politician.
A SUCCESSFUL politician.


He's been making a mark on the political scene for going on 40 years now. And successful politicians don't do that by actually being the plaster saints that adherents of their personality cults want to believe they are.

It's a lot easier for politicians whose cultists worship their "pragmatism." That term was custom-made for covering the multitude of sins that electoral politics entails. The only sin it won't cover, in fact, is failure. And sometimes it will even do for that.

Take Newt Gingrich, for example. He's spend decades throwing every crappy idea he comes across against the wall to see which ones stick. The "pragmatism" defense worked pretty well for him when his surge required him to do some defensive tap-dancing, didn't it?

Unfortunately for Paul, his cultists focus on items like "honesty," "principle" and "consistency." The next successful politician who manages to really live up to those three things over a career which spans decades will be the first to do so.

So let's talk about those newsletters (again).

Paul's political career began in earnest just as Nixon's "southern strategy" began re-shaping the American electoral battlefield.

From that point on, and right up to the moment that Trent Lott came to grief for opining, at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party, that America would have been better off had the Dixiecrats won the 1948 presidential election, it was de rigueur for Republican politicians (especially those from south of the Mason-Dixon Line) to scootch their toes right up to, and sometimes over, the line separating "wink, nudge" identity politics from full-blown, sheet-and-hood-wearing race-baiting.

And that is exactly what Paul did, especially in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as he turned the subscriber list of a newsletter that praised David Duke, entertained the racial theories of Jared Taylor, claimed that 95% of DC-area black males were criminals, etc., into the powerhouse fundraising list that would send him back to Congress in 1996 after a 12-year absence.

Paul was not alone in this approach. Ronald Reagan did not select Philadelphia, Mississippi (the site of the 1964 murder of civil rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodwin and Michael Schwerner) as the location for his "states rights"-oriented first post-nomination speech in 1980 by throwing darts at a board. George HW Bush was not courting the African-American vote in 1988 with those Willie Horton ads.

This was how Republicans campaigned at that time. And Paul, Murray Rothbard and Lew Rockwell recognized that when they drummed up their "paleo strategy."

It was not, however, how Republicans campaigned by 2007.

I don't know whether Paul was lying in 1996 when he claimed authorship of those newsletter articles and pleaded "lack of context," or whether he was lying in 2007 when he denied authoring the articles and blamed them on an unnamed ghost writer. But he was lying one time or the other. Big ding on "honesty" and "consistency," and a pretty clear indicator that his only guiding "principle" in both instances was: WINNING.

The same can be said of his pork habits: Earmarking funds for his district, including for projects and purposes that he describes as unconstitutional; but that's okay, see, because once he has the earmarks in there, he votes against the bill that he knows will pass.

And of other things, but I guess I'm getting away from the point here, and that point is that if you assume Paul is just a typical politician of a certain age/era, he doesn't really look that bad, does he? He only starts looking particularly crappy when you compare his actual record to, e.g. Walter Block's panegyrics, the specifics of which no human being could ever live up to.

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