Tag Archives: Ron Paul

Speaking of Populists . . .

Here’s an interesting interview with Ron Paul from Nathancontramundi. I’ve soured on the man since his quasi-racist tendencies were exposed by The New Republic, but I can’t help but admire his stubborn adherence to principle.

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Filed under Libertarianism, Worthy Links

“Populism”

It occurs to me that the emergence of a genuinely populist candidate would look radically different from Governor Palin’s stage-managed political entrance. Mike Huckabee, for example, was a populist presidential contender who came out of nowhere to challenge the GOP’s political establishment. The hallmarks of the Huckabee campaign – the shoe-string budget, the lack of institutional support, the tide of grassroots enthusiasm – reflect his populist bona fides. And Huckabee’s economic platform was about as far as you can get from conservative political orthodoxy in a Republican presidential primary.

Ron Paul is another recent example of a certifiably populist presidential candidate. Like Huckabee, his views diverged fairly radically from the GOP mainstream, and his institutional support from the conservative establishment was virtually non-existent. Paul’s campaign was fueled entirely by small-donor enthusiasm, though he never managed to gain much traction at the ballot box.

The merits of Paul and Huckabee’s positions are subject to dispute, but both men were genuinely anti-establishment figures. Huckabee’s populist economic rhetoric and socially conservative positions reflect the mood of a country that has accommodated itself to the welfare state but not to the prospect of gay marriage. Although Paul’s political leanings were a bit more fringe, his small government message definitely struck a chord with certain segments of the Republican base.

Palin’s populist credentials, on the other hand, are more akin to a John Edwards than a Mike Huckabee or a Ron Paul. This profile from the New Yorker (via Culture11) suggests that Palin had been tapped by the GOP establishment as an effective surrogate long before the 2008 election season. On the campaign trail, her rhetorical nods to Joe Sixpack and hunting caribou are simply window-dressing for a message that is remarkably indistinct from bog-standard Republican orthodoxy. A compelling biography and down-home charm make Palin an effective messenger, but that’s not the same as embodying real populist frustration with the establishment’s foibles. Incidentally, John Edwards (another pseudo-populist) was thought to be an effective liberal spokesman precisely because he married a conventional progressive outlook with a compelling personal biography. Needless to say, that didn’t work out too well . . .

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Filed under Conservatism, Culture, Presidential Politics

The Politics of Exclusion

Over at The Politics of Scrabble, Scott Payne has some interesting ruminations on Bob Barr and the presidential debates (emphasis mine):

Insofar as elections are opportunities for a national discourse, it stands to reason that we would want that discourse to be as representative and searching as possible. This does not mean that we are obliged to open the flood gates and let ever shmo who can open their yapper into such an important event, but those who represent legitimate perspectives that have viable options for pressing challenges ought to be given the opportunity to speak. Had Canadians not pressed this point, I would likely still be very much in the dark as regards May.

The question becomes: how do we determine who represents a valid perspective? That question, I believe, is a qualitative one, not quantitative. Saying that this or that candidate has “X” percent if support in national polls is essentially an arbitrary determination. It’s not unhelpful, but I don’t think it gets to the meat of the matter. What I believe we’re really looking for, though, is the quality of thought that has gone into those candidates’/parties’ positions: do they represent a bona fide worldview, is that worldview comprehensive as regards the office being sought, is there a constructive and contributory element to what is being representative, or is it wholly reactionary, and, perhaps somewhat controversially, is there a genuine intellectual under-girding to the proposals offered? On all of these counts, I think Barr and libertarians pass the threshold, whereas, Nader, to my mind, does not.

The issue of presidential debates is an interesting one, and while I’m deeply sympathetic to political inclusion, I’m not sure that a debate commission should determine the merits of each third party candidacy. Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party, for example, espouses a coherent political philosophy. His worldview is well outside the political mainstream, but then again, so is Bob Barr’s. Baldwin has also been endorsed by Ron Paul, one of the few fringe candidates who achieved real political visibility this election cycle.

Nader is frequently accused of political narcissism, and having heard the man speak I find this viewpoint entirely plausible. That said, I think it would be wrong for a debate commission to exclude him based on the perception of insincerity. His views represent a readily-identifiable strain of left-wing progressivism, one that has had an important impact on the United States’ political development (as a consumer rights advocate, no one did more than Nader to shift the language of public consumption).

In other words, I think that every prominent third party candidate meets Payne’s criteria for inclusion. If you let them all in, the debate commission will undoubtedly be accused of wasting the public’s time. If you only let one or two third party candidates participate, there’s no compelling reason to exclude their counterparts from the other side of the political spectrum.

Holding candidates to a minimal standard of public support remains the least controversial way of determining participation in the presidential debates. If libertarians can’t reach a certain popularity threshold, maybe we need to do a better job of choosing our political leadership.

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Filed under Libertarianism, Participatory Democracy, Presidential Politics, The Media

The Last Gasp?

Over the past few months, I’ve occasionally read The Next Right, the group blog of several young Republican strategists intent on revitalizing the conservative movement’s tired infrastructure. Because I’m not a mainstream conservative, I can’t say I’m terribly sympathetic to their goals, but I do enjoy the occasional wonky post on Republican electoral strategy.

On the other hand, the site rarely (if ever) discusses the core tenets of the movement’s governing philosophy (an oversight that prompted John Schwenkler to dub the project “The Last Gasp”). This has always struck me as rather short-sighted, and not just because I’m frustrated by the conservative movement’s ideological uniformity. Here, for example, is John Henke on why Republican activists should emulate the Left’s new infrastructure:

These outside groups have long existed, but the rise of the new media has accelerated the Left’s political machine. The organic elements, such as Moveon.org, Daily Kos, MyDD, Atrios, Talking Points Memo, etc, arose between 1998-2003, and they have been reinforced since then by very savvy, cultivated elements, such as the Center for American Progress, Media Matters, the Center for Independent Media and many more.

The Left has taken their existing coalition and grassroots-based infrastructure, and combined it with this new internet-based Progressive Infrastructure to move messaging, mobilization and money into more effective channels.

Now, I don’t mean to romanticize (or exaggerate) the Left’s ideological vigor. The websites and organizations Henke mentions are all undoubtedly partisan, and their output reflects a distinctly liberal political bent. But the failure of the Bush years, the Iraq War, and any number of other policy disputes have provoked an ongoing dialog on the Left that encouraged the development of ideological institutions like DailyKos, the Center for American Progress, and the Center for Independent Media. Had you mentioned the term “progressive infrastructure” to a knowledgeable political observer circa 1999 or even 2001, you probably would have been met with a blank stare. Now, however, even conservatives grudgingly concede that liberals are ahead of the curve when it comes to cutting edge political organization.

The competing diarists at Kos, the open threads hosted by Atrios, and organs like the Center for Independent Media’s Washington Independent are all part of a broader political environment that helps foment not just electoral strategy, but actual policy. I doubt the Democratic Party’s current progressive incarnation would have developed had liberal activists not received both ideological and tactical ammunition from a nascent progressive infrastructure.

For the purposes of this post, the empirical validity of progressive policies is irrelevant. My point is simply that the Democratic Party’s ideological shift has allowed it to develop more effective political messaging to react to changing circumstances (a prolonged economic downturn, the Iraq quagmire etc.). The Right’s own political infrastructure, on the other hand, can barely survive without a compelling central message. The Republican Party has been riven by serious ideological divisions, from the libertarian revivalism of Ron Paul to the economic populism of Mike Huckabee. McCain’s nomination (and Palin’s subsequent emergence) may have papered over these differences, but their campaign has quickly degenerated a referendum on Barack Obama’s cultural “otherness,” not a serious debate on the merits of limited government. What’s worse, this was obviously the only plausible strategy for a Republican victory. If the Democrats had nominated a less objectionable candidate, would any of these tired cultural appeals have resonated with the general public?

So by all means, argue over campaign organization, “micro-targeting,” and “selection bias.” But remember that your competitor’s gleaming infrastructure emerged in the wake of real ideological turmoil, a process that resulted in both strategic and policy shifts within the Democratic Party. Until Republicans re-examine their approach to governance in the wake of Bush, I fear that The Next Right is little more than a rearguard action.

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Filed under Conservatism, Presidential Politics, The Media