When the Old Gray Lady finally deigned to take notice of Ron Paul’s presidential bid, it was in the form of a long piece in the New York Times Magazine by Christopher Caldwell, a piece that confirmed the definite feeling of déjà vu I get when I note the energy, the enthusiasm, and the surprising success (so far) of the Paul campaign. It is, to my mind, basically a remake of the Goldwater crusade that launched the modern conservative movement.
Back in 1964, the Goldwater campaign arose from its Western and Southern roots to take back the GOP from the Eastern Establishment and lay the basis for the conservative revival of the 1980’s. The media—and, in those days, the phrase liberal media was a real redundancy—was relentlessly hostile to Goldwater and contemptuous of his followers, who were characterized as reactionary rubes and perhaps even closet Nazis, or at least bigots of a very unappetizing sort. In the liberal imagination, the alleged menace of the “Radical Right” was embodied by the John Birch Society.
Already the object of several hysterical reports by the Anti-Defamation League, the anti-“extremist” tag team of Arnold Foster and Benjamin R. Epstein, and the indefatigable Harry Overstreet, the Birchers were characterized as the secret power behind the Goldwater campaign. In the liberal imagination, the Goldwater movement supposedly represented an attempt by the “Radical Right” to goose-step into power and undo decades of “social progress.” The propaganda blitz was aided and abetted by the future neoconservatives, who had yet to defect to the right and were still sounding the alarms against “the paranoid style in American politics,” as Richard Hofstadter’s famous essay characterized all dissent from orthodox New Deal liberalism.
This phrase “the paranoid style” comes up early in Caldwell’s otherwise favorable profile of Ron Paul and his campaign. While the candidate’s integrity, dedication to what are recognizably conservative politics, and obvious sincerity are all given their due, there is an unmistakable vein of disdain that runs through the piece, and the “mainstream” media began to pick up on it even before it went online. Editor & Publisher headlined its story “Ron Paul—President of the Wackos,” a theme that showed up in Caldwell’s focus on the Pasadena Ron Paul Meet-up group, which includes some members of the John Birch Society. When Caldwell raised the issue, Paul didn’t budge: “‘Oh, my goodness, the John Birch Society!’ he said in mock horror. ‘Is that bad? I have a lot of friends in the John Birch Society. They’re generally well educated, and they understand the Constitution. I don’t know how many positions they would have that I don’t agree with. Because they’re real strict constitutionalists, they don’t like the war, they’re hard-money people.’”
“Paul’s ideological easygoingness,” avers Caldwell, “is like a black hole that attracts the whole universe of individuals and groups who don’t recognize themselves in the politics they see on TV.” In Caldwell’s view, that is not a Good Thing: To mix with such poltroons is to risk being “showered with privately printed newsletters full of exclamation points and capital letters.”
The growing visibility and success of the Paul campaign is, for militant centrists such as Caldwell, a worrying sign. It represents a conspiracy of malcontents, of the left as well as the right, who may have irreconcilable differences, “But they have a lot of common beliefs too, and their numbers—and anger—are of a considerable magnitude. Ron Paul will not be the next president of the United States. But his candidacy gives us a good hint about the country the next president is going to have to knit back together.”
The country is badly divided, because of the war and the depredations of the present administration, and Caldwell sees the Paul campaign as a barometer of the country’s great distress. Ron Paul’s candidacy is a political antibody, the natural reaction of a healthy (at least, to some degree) body politic as it tries to fight off an invasion of foreign germs.
The U.S. government itself—not just the GOP or the conservative movement—has been hijacked, and this is especially evident in our foreign policy, which is run by special interests and foreign lobbyists. Ron Paul understands who the hijackers are and what they want, and he is the only candidate who has taken on the widely hated neoconservatives: “There is abundant evidence exposing those who drive our foreign policy justifying preemptive war. Those who scheme are proud of the achievements in usurping control over foreign policy. These are the neoconservatives of recent fame. Granted, they are talented and achieved a political victory that all policymakers must admire. But can freedom and the republic survive this takeover? That question should concern us.”
Indeed it does concern the regular readers of this magazine, who were troubled by the neocon takeover long before it became fashionable.
The gloom that is a large part of being a paleoconservative seems, for a moment, to be at least partially dispelled by Ron Paul’s impressive success. He is successfully propelling the ideas many of us have been writing and speaking about for years to the center of the political stage, at least on the Republican side of the aisle. As of this writing, Paul has plenty of “buzz,” and now we’re going to see if it translates into votes. Patrick Ruffini, the RNC’s former internet whiz, is predicting that Paul will take second place in the Iowa Caucuses; and his campaign has enough support nationwide to ensure that Ron will go all the way—in one form or another—to the ballot in the general election.
What Murray Rothbard used to call the Old Right is back, and the Paul campaign is its latest incarnation. Like the Buchanan Brigades before them, Paul’s legions are committed to taking back their party, and their country, from those they regard as usurpers in every way. Unlike Buchanan, however, who faced a sitting incumbent Republican, Paul faces a badly divided field of major phonies and minor single-noters, such as Tom Tancredo. In addition, all the anointed frontrunners either married their cousins or belong to some weird frontier cult. For the moment, many are hailing Fred Thompson as the next Reagan, who can unite fractious conservatives on the basis of his acting skills. One has to wonder: Can someone who lobbied on behalf of the abortion industry really get the GOP presidential nomination?
At the end of his piece, Caldwell is quick to point out that “Ron Paul will not be the next president of the United States,” but, hey, what’s significant is that it is no longer inconceivable that he will get the GOP nod. Defying the odds and the elites, Goldwater defeated the Eastern Establishment, vanquished Nelson Rockefeller and his minions, and launched the rebirth of conservatism in America. The Ron Paul Revolution aims to renew and complete that victory.