Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Ron Paul Phenomenon

Thirty odd years ago, when I called myself a "libertarian," had a Ron Paul candidacy emerged in those days, I could imagine myself as an avid supporter. 

In the early 1970's, one would have noticed that I was a little closer to my more liberal college buddies when it came to the war (in Vietnam during my generation).  Though I could understand the reason for the war, and I considered myself anti-Communist even then; I generally believed, however, that we were fighting a war of attrition in Vietnam, which I did not like, and was very much against.  I believed that someone like US Rep. John Ashbrook would be the ideal guy to put an end to it, and to usher in a lot of free enterprise loving concepts to governing; but he was easily swept away by a Richard Nixon who ended up being the President, and who ultimately did put an end to the Vietnam war; unfortunately the way he did it was not very pretty.

More than the issue of the war, I believed in a lot of generally libertarian principals, such as limited government (with a capital "L"), and as such, an end to massive bureaucracies, lower taxes, the kind of things you'd hear from Ron Paul today. 

Paul's platform includes a return to the gold standard, abolition of the I.R.S., a literal view of the Constitution, and an immediate end to the wars in the Middle East.  Conceptually attractive.

I guess I would have to admit that today I see that kind of Libertarian thinking as ambitious, impractical and unrealistic.

Yes, I do favor limited government,  but anticipate the unfortunate need for some form of taxation, and hence a need for an I.R.S., albeit, maybe an I.R.S. trimmed a few notches.  I don't think we need a department of Education, and also agree with the concept of a more literal view of the Constitution, but I can no longer think of myself as an isolationist, and consider Libertarians who favor it as having the heads in the sand.  I am also pro-life, and many libertarians (not all mind you, there is actually an organization called Libertarians for Life) despise government intrusion on the matter, though I believe Ron Paul is pro-life, having sponsored a bill declaring life begins at conception.

As one reads about the avid (rabid?) Paul supporter, one discovers the passion that I recall from my college days.  I see a lot of college aged techies going absolutely bonkers for Paul.  Sometimes they are overbearing.  They are using their generationally associated knowledge of the Internet, which is vastly more sophisticated than my generation's knowledge certainly, to aid the Paul campaign - even indirectly - even in a manner independent of the campaign itself.  A recent article in the NY Times and on MSNBC provides a peek into this phenomenon.

Paul has maintained a US House seat from Texas for 5 terms.  He can't be just an ideologue to hold onto a seat like that, especially from Texas.  He must have some political pragmatism to his repertoire.  So he's been tested in the fiery baptism of 20th Century realpolitik, and has survived.  But the one thing that particularly annoys me about Paul is his inane view of the war against terrorism.

From my vantage point, I see him as being an annoyance to the John McCain's, Rudy Giuliani's and Mitt Romney's of the world, all of whom, I believe, understand the danger of terrorism today.  Maybe it is not a bad thing for Paul to be providing a contrast to these other Republican candidates for President.  If Paul decides to run for President as an independent, Fred Barnes believes he'll actually do more harm against the Democrats than the Republicans.  I don't know if that's true, but it is interesting to me, a person with only a few more miles of tread left on the tires, to see the phenomenon I witnessed over 30 years ago recur, and to see the energy and jubilance in that remnant of young, (18th Century) Liberally minded, libertarian thinking, free enterprise loving college students.  But I entirely expect the same result as had occurred 30 plus years ago, and this time I see it as occurring rightfully so. 

John Ashbrook lost in 1972, and essentially was never heard from again.

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