He has a solid, unshakeable base. His poll numbers are rising, not sinking. He hasn’t had to go negative. He hasn’t had to deliver a speech to get past his newsletter-induced Reverend Wright moment.
Oh, and one other thing: he’s in this race ’til the finish line.
His name is Ron Paul, and you have the establishment to thank for his shocking march from the margins to something almost mainstream.
In retrospect, at least, there’s really nothing shocking about it. At every step, he has been boosted up and pushed forward by the horrendous failure of the establishment to remove the real-life conditions that heighten his appeal.
Some of these failings, and their great power, have begun to inspire pieces of commentary unthinkable even two years ago.
Says Charles Krauthammer of his position in the GOP: “regardless of my feelings or yours, the plain fact is that Paul is nurturing his movement toward visibility and legitimacy.”
Says Mark Steyn of his foreign policy: “deploring it is an inadequate response to a faction that is likely to emerge with the second-highest number of delegates at the GOP convention.”
Says Glenn Greenwald of his embarrassment of the left: “Ron Paul’s candidacy is a mirror held up in front of the face of America’s Democratic Party and its progressive wing, and the image that is reflected is an ugly one; more to the point, it’s one they do not want to see because it so violently conflicts with their desired self-perception.”
All true. Yet in the minds of many, inside and outside the Beltway, the particulars of Paulmentum continue to taint the phenomenon with more than a whiff of illegitimacy. There is the newsletter issue. There are the associations with conspiracy-mongering. There is the almost wickedly gleeful hawk-baiting on the subject of Iran. There are the legions of Paul fans, on the Internet and in meatspace, whose enthusiasm borders on the berserk, and sometimes more than borders.
These things inspire something more dangerous than fear in the hearts of elites (and of normal people who can’t quite bear the thought of deciding to comprehensively reject the elites’ global leadership). They inspire contempt.
Natural a reaction as it may be for some, contempt for Paul, his supporters, and his sympathizers is so dangerous because it reinforces the sense that the response of the establishment elite to the global economic crisis should leave only a crazy person feeling worse than ever about the U.S. and the world.
After all, the establishment makes an apparently compelling case that, even if you hate some things about the way the post-crisis world is shaking out, you ought to thank your deity of choice that we even have a world to hate on. Barack Obama is not the only one to insist, in so many words, that the establishment saved the human race from a total financial meltdown. Surely you tinfoil hat people could set your overactive imaginations racing with visions of the apocalyptic nightmare that would have entailed. Now where’re the thanks?
Well, there’s just one problem. The establishment elite managed to forestall Armageddon by intensifying the conditions that led to the colossal crisis in the first place. Some say they did this by choice; others say they were forced to do it. The motives don’t matter half as much as the outcome: a financial system more concentrated than before 2008; a political system more dysfunctional; an executive branch more powerful; a federal government possessed of more money, greater reach, and broader authority; and promises of even more to come.
One objection to the picture you are no doubt beginning to form in your head is that, this time, they got it right. This is actually a nontrivial claim. Surely you remember doing something insanely irresponsible and knowing in a flash (miraculous survival!) that you’d never be so carelessly stupid as to try that again. Give the establishment the benefit of the doubt.
But the benefit of the doubt doesn’t matter either. Again, look at the outcome: an increase in the level of risk of total system collapse, courtesy of the intensified factors that led to 2008.
Surely the old military adage holds true, though, that the safest place to hide from an incoming artillery shell is in the crater blown open by the last one? Unfortunately, the ground is shifting beneath us. The international situation, with its complexly interdependent political, economic, financial, and religious variables, is deep into a period of extreme volatility, and getting deeper.
Put differently, we are carrying a Jenga into a moon bounce, with the role of the Jenga being played by civilization as we know it.
The intuition of an “inadequate response” at this order of magnitude is the animating spirit behind the Paul phenomenon. It’s correct to note that Paul’s foundational emphasis on liberty is central to his success, but not enough thought is being put into why the liberty pitch is working.
Answer? Because the logic of liberty offers an alternative structural response to the foreboding risk calculus exacerbated by the establishment’s answer to 2008. Dispersing political authority, and the financial power that concentrates around it, makes for a game much different from Jenga.
Back in June, in my first column in these pages, I advised that a new world disorder would be blunted in the U.S. because of the deep and well-dispersed cultural and historical resources uniquely found among Americans at such a scale. As a whole, our establishment elites have proven unable so far to craft a response to the ongoing global predicament that will not minimize what advantages the American people do enjoy should a new crisis indeed transpire.
Given the apparent likelihood of a fresh crisis event, and given how our post-crisis system is structured to cascade disruptions toward catastrophe, the somewhat out-of-left-field logic of liberty advanced by Paul seems to be striking a growing number of Americans — not just on the right — as something less of a gamble.
James Poulos is a columnist at The Daily Caller, a contributor at Ricochet, and a commentator in print, online, and on television and radio. Recently he has been the host of The Bottom Line and Reform School on PJTV and a fellow of the Claremont Institute. His website is jamespoulos.com and his Twitter handle is @jamespoulos.