I shrink a bit when I recall my twenty-year old self. It’s a character-forming exercise, recalling the supreme confidence of one’s “formative years,” and for this reason and others I should probably do it more often. The universal style of youth is of course unshakable commitment to simple ideas, the enthusiastic throwing of one’s arms around a slogan. It’s this style precisely of which I’m reminded when I behold the ever-hopeful and ever-futile efforts of Ron Paul.
Years ago liberal detractors of Paul’s Austrian-derived Libertarianism came up with the mocking term “Paultard” to describe the representative member of his curious cult, the college-aged devotee who reads Young American Revolution and who burns dollar bills at his rallies whilst shouting End The Fed and otherwise behaving like a post-mead Beowulf hero. Or, to transpose the matter into the cultural analogy of David Weigel, “Paul’s supporters have all the lungs and confidence of fourth-century Christians overwhelming the pagans.” Reflecting on Ron Paul’s speech earlier today at the Conservative Political Action Conference (whose website may be found here), Weigel notes that “[Randall] Paul’s and [Ron] Paul’s fans are perhaps the only people in American politics right now who are head over heels in love with their politicians.” I think he’s right about this: the Pauls are the Dave Matthews Band of American politics, having gathered to themselves an extraordinary, and extraordinarily dedicated, following.
Ron Paul is (also like DMB) a fringe interest of sorts, having pressed his core ideas for over thirty-five years, to the thrill of his devotees but to the indifference of the mainstream. By Annie Lowery’s count, only one of his 422 bills has become law. Since I’ve brought forward the topic of core ideas, I ought to list at least a few. Ron Paul advocates abolition of the Federal Reserve and a return to the gold standard, the ending of all foreign aid of any kind whatsoever, and a ten-percent “flat tax” — although it is unclear what he would do with this money, since he appears to oppose all government spending, such as on defence, education, and welfare.
None of this is of course atypical of the libertarian, who as a matter of course advocates the limitation of federal powers to the protection of property rights, the paving of interstate highways, and perhaps the keeping of a modest navy. The ideas of the anti-appropriations Ron Paul are appropriated, sometimes without due credit. A good example is his stealing earlier today of the Johnny Hart line that the definition of foreign aid is when money is taken from the poor people of a rich country and given to the rich people of a poor country. Hart (who you may recall as the creator of the comic strip “B.C.”) was among other things an isolationist, far advanced on the right end of the political spectrum. But as most of us have at one point or another noticed, the far left and the far right bear remarkable surface similarities; and so it came as no surprise to me to hear Paul using a line which twenty years ago I heard in a Michael Parenti speech on American imperialism.
No matter. Given the demographic of Paul’s followers, who are mostly too young to know better, Hart’s quip is certain to be circulated with revisionist attribution to the wise and perspicacious Leader. There’s a little bit of wholesome anarchy in each of us: a barely recessed part of the brain which would be happy to see the politicians sent packing, which really has had quite enough of the permanent war economy and the American fucking-up of other people’s countries and lives (to say nothing of the lives on this side of the water), and which would love nothing more than to burn the whole rotten system to the ground. We’d be quite in trouble as a species if it were otherwise. Paul appeals to this impulse, which is found in its least tempered forms among the young, but which among the rest of us is acknowledged as best placed into balance against other considerations.