Monday, December 19, 2011

The Ron Paul phenomenon

Ron Paul is beginning to frighten me.

To be totally accurate, it isn’t just Dr. Paul that frightens me, but his followers as well.  The relationship between Ron Paul and his followers seems to be almost unique in modern American politics.  Dr. Paul’s followers, often referred to as “Paulestinians” by talk show host Michael Medved (listen to Medved on Atlanta’s AM-920 WGKA), are fiercely loyal to their candidate, which explains why Paul often wins straw polls.  These contests are not normal elections, but consist of activists who often have to pay or go out of their way to take part.  Paul’s supporters, while small in number, are fully dedicated to Paul’s success.

Ron Paul is in the Republican Party, but is not of it.  He was originally sent to Congress as a Republican, but later left the party to run for president as a Libertarian in 1988.  He was re-elected to Congress as a Republican in 1996 and has run for president twice, both times as a Republican, since then.  When he failed to win the Republican nomination in 2008, Paul did not support John McCain.  Instead, he endorsed Chuck Baldwin, the Constitution Party candidate.

Most of his supporters do not seem to consider themselves Republicans either.  In fact, the majority of Ron Paul supporters that I have come in contact with see both major political parties as two sides of the same coin.  Recently, a Ron Paul supporter told me that it was her opinion that Obama was “Bush’s third term.”  This is not the view of a majority of the Americans regardless of their party affiliation.

Many of the other views of Paul and his disciples are not shared by other Americans.  Paul criticized President Obama for ordering the raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout and his foreign policy platform smacks of isolationism.  He has favored extending friendship to Iran, rather than threatening sanctions or attacks to halt Iran’s nuclear program.

Paul claims to be for “nonintervention” rather than isolationism.  In a speech posted on Youtube, Paul explains that this means he is for trade and talk between countries, rather than for sealing the country off from other nations.  He doesn’t explain how he would protect Americans abroad (or at home for that matter) without intervening militarily against foreign threats from people who have no such compunctions about using military force against Americans.

Many Ron Paul supporters also seem to be more at home with members of the Occupy Wall Street movement than with the Tea Party.  When I visited Occupy Atlanta last October, more occupiers professed an admiration for Ron Paul than any other presidential candidate, including Barack Obama.  Paul supporters are often quick to parrot liberal criticism of the Tea Party and the Koch brothers, even though Paul is widely considered to be one of the inspirations of the Tea Party movement.

Paul’s most vocal supporters seem willing and even eager to believe the most outlandish conspiracy theories.  Ron Paul supporters have argued with me that Israelis are not really Jewish, that FEMA is secretly building concentration camps around the country, and that American soldiers are required to take an oath to kill their own families if ordered to do so.  Many are believers in the 9/11 truther and birther movements as well.  These are only a few of the many paranoid fantasies that Ron Paul supporters have supported in dialogues with me.  The only requirement seems to be that the conspiracy must be anti-American and anti-Israeli.

Even Paul himself has seemed to endorse conspiracy theories as well.  He says at a gathering recorded and posted on Youtube that the government investigation of the attacks was “a cover-up, basically.”  As late as 2007, Paul told that he believed that there was a cover-up of 9/11, even though he denied being a truther.  In an article from his newsletter posted on, Paul shared “research” that speculated that the U.S. government created the AIDS virus.

Paul also has a history of racist statements in his newsletters.  I could find no statement where Paul has renounced the racist statements in his newsletters or the anti-Semitic comments of his supporters that are common on websites dedicated to Paul.  While Paul cannot be held responsible for the behavior of his supporters, there is evidence that he authored or had direct knowledge of the contents of his newsletters.  When asked to condemn the behavior of his supporters by “American Spectator” blogger Jeffrey Lord, he failed to do so.  He is, however, on record as saying that “the philosophy of white supremacy is wrong and immoral” in an interview posted on Youtube.

Paul and his supporters both seem to agree that he is the only candidate who is worthy successor to the Founding Fathers as an upholder of the Constitution, yet they both misunderstand American history.  For instance, Paul criticizes the Federal Reserve as unconstitutional, but fails to note that Congress established a central bank, the Bank of the United States, in 1791.  This was only three years after the Constitution was ratified. 

Likewise, Paul criticizes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as unconstitutional.  He fails to note, however, that Article I Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress the power to “punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations,” such as genocides and crimes against humanity.  Military interventions are not new.  According to “the Savage Wars of Peace,” U.S. Marines landed abroad 180 times between 1800 and 1934, with one of the first actions, the war against the Barbary pirates, occurring during Thomas Jefferson’s administration in 1801.

As disturbing as their political beliefs is the ardor with which Paul’s disciples support their man.  Their fervor approaches the point of becoming a cult of personality.  They seem to see him as a Messiah-figure.  Many unabashedly pronounce their belief that Ron Paul is the only hope for the country and the world.  The only thing that comes close in recent U.S. history is the leftist adoration of Barack Obama prior to the 2008 election. 

When others fail to see the world as the Paulestinians do, they are denounced as “sheeple,” unthinking people who follow the crowd and do what they are told.  When presented with evidence contrary to their beliefs, they cite a conspiracy to cover up the “truth” (even though Paul hasn’t been silenced over his long career and the conspiracy sites are still up).  When Ron Paul suffers an electoral defeat, it is because he was ignored by the media, not because his ideas only appeal to a small, vocal minority.  (In 2008, he won less than three percent of the Republican primary votes in Georgia and less than two percent of delegates nationally.)

Admittedly, there are some casual supporters of Paul.  These are people who may have heard him in the debates and like his fiscal policies, without knowing the details of the man, his platform and his disciples.  Their existence is illustrated by Paul’s recent rise in the polls as Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich faltered.  These people have not yet been swept up into the world of paranoid fantasies that the Paulestinians inhabit.  Some will.  Others will take a closer look at the candidate and reject him as they have rejected other Republicans this primary season.

Nevertheless, if, by some miracle, Ron Paul became the Republican candidate in 2012, I would support him.  In spite of the good doctor’s foreign policy failings and questionable attitudes about race, his economic policies would make him a better president than Barack Obama…  but just barely.

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