And the vehemence with which some people oppose Ron Paul is a little bewildering: if the critics think Paul is a 'kook' as some of the less imaginative call him, or 'your crazy old uncle who lives in the attic' as some other critic ungraciously called him (and these are 'conservatives' speaking, by the way) then why are they so upset over his candidacy and his ideas? If he is a fringe figure who has a slim chance of being elected, or even nominated, why waste any time denouncing him? Just ignore him as the irrelevancy he is.
However it seems that many 'conservatives' or Republicans, most especially the devoted party types, are worried that Paul's candidacy may siphon off a few votes from their fave candidates, and given that Giuliani and Romney and the fast-fading McCain need whatever support they can glean, since they are generating only lukewarm support, I suppose it makes sense for some people to try to discredit Ron Paul. Or maybe they are irritated by his candidacy because they realize that someone who actually supports conservative principles will draw attention to their candidates' conspicuous lack of conservative credibility.
Or maybe they are rationalizing their own unfaithfulness to any semblance of conservative principles.
I can't guess what motivates John Derbyshire's piece
That Old-Time Religion
which is somewhat fair to Ron Paul, but in the end, dismissive of him.
Nits aside, the broad outlook there is conservative in a way we don’t often see from a presidential candidate. It is, in fact, conservatism of exceptional purity. Reading through those policy positions, an American conservative can hear the mystic chords of memory sounding in the distance, and hear the call of ancestral voices wafted on the breeze: Hayek, von Mises, Rothbart, Nock, Kirk, John Chamberlain... Unlike the product in that automobile commercial, this is your father’s conservatism — the Old-Time Religion. What is there among Ron Paul’s policy prescriptions that the young William F. Buckley would have disagreed with?
So why aren’t we all piling into the wagon behind Dr. Ron? It’s not that the guy is personally unacceptable in any way. A pious family man, he has worked in an honorable profession — Ob/Gyn medical practice — all his life. (Paul has the slight political advantage of having brought several hundred of his constituents into the world.) He is personally charming and likeable. If not exactly eloquent in the florid, gassy manner American voters are used to from their politicians, he speaks clearly and well, keeps his wits about him, minds his temper, and holds his own in debate. With the positions he has, it’s easy to see why he’s not ahead with the media or the polls, but why isn’t he leading the pack among conservatives?
If Washington, D.C. were the drowsy southern town that Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge rode into, Ron Paul would have a chance. Washington’s not like that nowadays, though. It is a vast megalopolis, every nook and cranny stuffed with lobbyists, lawyers, and a hundred thousand species of tax-eater.
On the whole, though, we have settled in with this system. We are used to it. It’s not going away, absent a revolution; and conservatives are — duh! — not, by temperament, revolutionaries.
Imagine, for example, President Ron II trying to push his bill to abolish the IRS through Congress. Congress! — whose members eat, drink, breathe and live for the wrinkles they can add to the tax code on behalf of their favored interest groups! Or imagine him trying to kick the U.N. parasites out of our country. Think of the howls of outrage on behalf of suffering humanity from all the lefty academics, MSM bleeding hearts, love-the-world flower children, Eleanor Roosevelt worshippers, and bureaucratic globalizers!
Ain’t gonna happen. It was, after all, a conservative who said that politics is the art of the possible. Ron Paul is not possible. His candidacy belongs to the realm of dreams, not practical politics. But, oh, what sweet dreams!''
Derbyshire acknowledges that some conservatives will be attracted to the conservative policies Paul stands for, but he then dismisses those principles as unrealistic, unattainable, and hence a chimera, a distraction.
This line of argument sounds strangely familiar; we've been here before. The example that comes most readily to my mind is the recall election of 2003, in which Arnold Schwarzenegger was running against Republican -- and conservative -- Tom McClintock.
Ironically, in this op-ed piece which appeared at NRO during that campaign, the NRO editorial supported McClintock:
We know that McClintock is currently behind Schwarzenegger in the polls. But we also know that if elected, McClintock would fight the spenders and taxers in Sacramento. About Arnold Schwarzenegger we know no such thing.''
The op-ed writers were correct; Schwarzenegger has proven to be a disappointment to conservatives since taking office.
But the arguments against McClintock, solid conservative that he was, ran something along the lines of this:
For starters, Democrats know McClintock cannot win. They know that he has ran [sic] for statewide office twice before and lost both times. McClintock’s problem is not so much that he’s unknown but that Californians know about him and have rejected his candidacy time and again. Knowing this, a Democrat plot to boost McClintock’s candidacy at Schwarzenegger’s expense has already surfaced.''
And the reason McClintock was declared unelectable? He was 'too conservative', said Schwarzenegger's minions and the usual party hacks.
I don't live in California, hence I had no direct stake in that election, but I spent many an hour arguing online with Republicans on forums who kept arguing that McClintock should drop out and let Schwarzenegger have a clear field; after all, we all knew, said they, that a 'right-wing' type like McClintock was a loser. ''You don't know California; no right-winger can win. Schwarzenegger is the best we can get here. McClintock is a purist, he's too conservative, he'll lose. We need a moderate, somebody who is electable.'' So they got their wish: Schwarzenegger was elected. What's the old saying. be careful what you wish for?
This argument, that McClintock was unelectable, was the most respectable argument against the 'too-conservative, too-purist' McClintock; the less intelligent critics made constant cruel remarks about his slight strabismus, and ridiculed his appearance, much as some of Paul's more dimwitted opponents resort to cheap shots about his age or his haircut.
But it seems to me that Derbyshire is resorting to those old arguments about how being too conservative is political poison. How many times have I heard the 'pragmatists' drag out that quote from Bismarck about politics being ''the art of the possible"? In other words, we can only ever hope to elect candidates who hew to the accepted party line or who don't rock the boat too much, because to support principled men (or women) dooms us to unelectability and political oblivion. Ultimately the message underlying this mindset is that we are doomed to the status quo, however corrupt or pedestrian or hopeless or unacceptable that status quo is. The status quo, the presently accepted order of things, or some slight variant thereof, is all that is 'possible', and we are doomed to the 'possible', to more of the same, in other words.
Thanks but no thanks.
At some point, this mindset becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: we decree that anybody who is radical enough to try to remind us of the Founding Fathers' principles, or even the principles of a half-century ago, is 'unelectable' because he is quixotic or a dreamer or a wacko or a kook or a 'reactionary' or a purist or unelectable. I wonder how many people back in the 18th century said the same things about our Founding Fathers? It seems that a substantial percentage of people in that era were not in favor of our independence from Britain; no doubt they thought the Founding Fathers were extremists or 'fringe' elements. Most people prefer the 'devil they know', the status quo; no matter how unacceptable things are, we are used to them, and few people like real change; it's disruptive and it's frightening for many people. And it's especially frightening to those who have a vested interest in keeping things just as they are, for example, party functionaries and people who are insiders in the existing political structures. Or media people.
But if we continue to insist that only people who hew to the existing party line are 'electable' then we guarantee that only such people will ever be nominated and elected. How can we declare in advance that a certain candidate is unelectable? Why even have elections if we know in advance who can or cannot be elected? Let's just poll the party members and media elites and let them tell us who we want. That seems to be what our system amounts to, if these people can tell us in advance who we will or won't vote for.
The only way we can know who the people will choose or won't choose is to let them choose, and let them do so in the voting booth.
If I had my way, we'd stop running so many polls which tell us every other day who and what we want. Polls are intended to influence opinion and shape it as much as to check and report public opinion.
As others have said, the only polls that matter -- or should matter -- are the ones on election day, when we cast our ballots.
But the idea that conservatism cannot do anything but rubber-stamp and preserve the liberal status quo is to make conservatism merely a useless philosophy that does little but try feebly to slow down liberal change, and preserve yesterday's radical left innovations.
And Derbyshire's argument that we couldn't, say, throw out the U.N. because of the predictable howls of protest from the left means essentially that we can't do anything that upsets the left and provokes one of their frequent tantrums. If that is true, we are really and truly done for as a country; reversing some of the harm done by leftists is essential if this Republic is to survive, and we have been far too cowed by the left's hissy fits for too long. Let them howl like spoiled children; they've been allowed to blackmail us by means of their emotional abuse and the result is the chaotic society we live in today.
And the oft-repeated cliche that you can't turn the clock back -- who decreed that? I turn my clock back every fall, when we go back to standard time. I turn my clock back when I travel west across time zones. The idea that once liberals have done something it can never be undone is absurd.
We can nominate an 'electable' Republican who is no conservative, and 'win' as a party, but if conservatism loses, and we elect more of the same failed policies, the Republic loses. What do the fortunes of the party matter, if our country goes down? What have we 'won' if we get another open borders, globalist, big business, interventionist, disconnected elitist?
There's something to be said for daring, and stepping out of line, away from the failed status quo, and trying something different -- or, going back to the tried and true which did work for us for centuries. We know the status quo does not work. Doing the same thing repeatedly expecting a different result is madness, so the saying goes.
''If a conservative order is indeed to return, we ought to know the tradition which is attached to it, so we may rebuild society; if it is not to be restored, still we ought to understand conservative ideas so that we may rake from the ashes what scorched fragments of civilization escape the conflagration of unchecked will and appetite.'' - Russell Kirk
“We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.” - C. S. Lewis