For those who may be curious, here’s my attitude towards the Ron Paul primary campaign. I would not vote for Ron Paul, even though I don’t have any in-principle objection to voting defensively in government elections. The short explanation is that I don’t vote for anti-abortion candidates, and I don’t vote for candidates who are significantly worse than the status quo on immigration. Unfortunately, whatever it’s other merits, Ron Paul’s campaign features both of these poison pills. On the other hand, currently he is running in a primary, and so to some extent I wish, without much hope, that he might somehow manage to defeat his current opponents, i.e., the other Republicans, i.e., that bunch of howling bare-fanged war-fascists.
But that’s about all the enthusiasm I’ve got. Many anti-war types and many libertarians are getting positively gleeful about the campaign, claiming that even if Ron Paul has little real hope for electoral victories, the campaign will at least provide a platform for outreach and education about libertarian and non-interventionist ideas, both through media notoriety and also through attracting an obviously enthusiastic and organizationally clever following of base supporters. For my part, I certainly hope that the Paulians learn something in the process, but the first problem is that Ron Paul’s positions, however preferable a select set of them may be to the positions espoused by the rest of the pack, are not libertarian; they’re Constitutionalist, which is something different. He can’t even always be counted on to mount principled, non-legalistic arguments against the war, and that issue’s the centerpiece of his campaign.
The second problem, even setting aside the ideological differences, is that the usual dynamics of electoral horse-racing, and the sometimes ridiculous tone of uncritical personal adulation toward Ron Paul’s personal virtues and the shining radiance of Ron Paul Thought, give me a lot of reason to fear that whatever lessons are drawn may very well be the wrong lessons, and that in any case the enthusiasm and activity around his campaign is likely to collapse into frustrated torpor more or less immediately after their sole vehicle for activism, the Ron Paul political machine, closes down for the season, and stays shuttered for the rest of a multiyear election cycle. Unless something changes, but soon, I see no reason to believe that the flurry of activity, as exciting as it may seem, is going to survive the end of this one maverick candidate’s personal electoral prospects.
Micha Ghertner recently posted a good article at The Distributed Republic, which touches on some similar themes and makes a number of other good points besides, focusing on the way in which the choice of electoral politics as a vehicle seriously hobbles the prospects for accomplishing much in the way of successful education about freedom or anti-imperialism through the Ron Paul machine. Thus:
But it is unreasonable to expect most of the target audience, having been successfully persuaded that Ron Paul is the candidate to support, to then go through the trouble of seperating the wheat from the chaff and come to the self-realization that implicit in Paul’s message of liberty is the notion that our focus should not be on selecting a candidate with admirable qualities such as honesty, integrity, and devotion to constitutional limits on government, but instead our focus should be on the inherent threat to liberty of the system itself, regardless of who happens to be temporarily at its helm. Bundling these two things together involves a self-contradiction between the medium and its message. Expecting people to ignore that contradiction, expecting people to hear the message we actually intend to send while rejecting the message of the medium itself, is expecting too much.
Meanwhile, in the comments section, in order to prove that Ron Paul’s supporters really are approaching this from the standpoint of fair-minded principle, really are making the necessary careful distinctions, and really are putting principled concern for liberty over electoral politicking and partisan cheerleading, an anonymous paleo comes along in the comments to reply that
You beltway libertarians are morons and that Micha’s remarks
sound like the uninformed commentary of Hillary Clinton pollster.
Well, I guess it’s a fair cop. What could be more inside-the-Beltway than considered opposition to making an incumbent Congressman’s candidacy for the Presidency of the United States the main vehicle for your social and political vision, or encouraging means of activism, education, and resistance that bypass the machinery of the federal government?