Monday, May 16, 2011
A Kind(ish) Word
About Ron Paul
I watched the whole thing. Can you?
YEAH, SO LET'S ALL PRETEND TO TAKE RON PAUL SERIOUSLY. Don't get your hopes up. I overcame my irrational sense of his hysterical tone and personal creepiness long enough to watch his interview with Chris Wallace yesterday. So I'm now prepared to talk not about his personal creepiness but his platform.
It's possible that he is, as Juan Williams (never mind his motives) was intimating today on Imus, a seminal figure in the remaking of the Republican Party. As was Barry Goldwater. This is not a small thing.
When I was a management consultant, I gave seminars to top executives a couple decades ago on the subject of "mental models." (A subject I understand Glenn Beck has recently recycled under another name.) The idea is that our sense of the possible is determined by a consensus that can occasionally be wrenched in a different direction, so that what used to seem insane becomes part of our horizon of possibilities.
I accept that Ron Paul is saying things that haven't been said for a long time. In this respect, he is expanding the mental model of what is possible. I'm pleased that young people are undergoing this mental stretching exercise.
I was also impressed that he answered Chris Wallace's questions so directly. He's obviously an honest man. More power to him. I am absolutely convinced that he is sincere.
But here, I confess, is the end of my kudos to Ron Paul. And the beginning of my message to his followers.
Ron Paul will never be president. He may run and run and run....
Ever heard of Harold Stassen?
...but he will never be a nominee of the Republican Party and he will never be president. Why? Because he is more ideologue than politician, and he is running for the presidency of a country that no longer exists.
I'm not even talking about his foreign policy, which is ludicrous and verging on criminal. I'm talking about his very conception of the presidency, the American people, and the state of our culture. It represents a nostalgia for a time that hasn't existed in the lifetime of Americans. He wants to be Calvin Coolidge, basically a remote civil servant located in the White House, with no responsibility for the disasters, ruptures, and snafus that strike every one of the fifty states from time to time. "Not my business," he proudly announces. "That's not who the president is supposed to be."
Fine. But even Reagan knew better than that. Like it or not, the president of the United States is the most powerful and influential man in the world.. Americans are long long past accepting him as a mere accountant of the nation's balance sheet. There may be value in Paul's view but there is no currency in his stated policy. He and all his followers can rue the ancient day when the game changed, but Americans by an overwhelming majority now believe in a national safety net. We can debate how safe that net that should be, battle about its costs and benefits, but if you argue it shouldn't be there at all, you are simply quaint, a curiosity who will never be taken seriously. That part of our national debate is no longer on the table.
Honestly, he puts me in mind of Rip van Winkle. A whole bunch of people who, for reasons of youth or inexcusable inattention, suddenly became aware of a crisis in American poliltics without any knowledge of how we got where we are. Sometimes it seems he's running against FDR in 1936, still trying to undo the Keynesian disaster of the Great Depression and forestall the losses of saving the U.S. from war with Hitler.
What's hard to communicate to the new true believers: The oldness of his positions, meaning not the inveterate wisdom of them but the obsolete temporality in which they might have made sense. Is it a coincidence that he is also old and cannot see the world except through old old eyes that only seem new to youngsters who still think they can turn back the clock to the days before nuclear weapons, the Cold War, and that distant instant when we might have passed up the responsibility to be the adult in the room of the world?
None of him is new. The only thing that is new is the desire of the left to tar all of us with his archaic platitudes. He's having a vogue now because they would like us to be dismissible, all the way down to him and his simplistic perspectives.
I don't begrudge him his right to speak and attract followers. I'm simply tired to death of the evangelical fervor that insists he's a sage voice telling us who are old enough to know better that he's saying anything new. Or, that he as a personality is anything but another manifestation of the fashion called retro.
Goldwater? Reagan? No. Stassen? Tell you in 2016.
But I concede he believes what he's preaching to the last breath.
P.S. You might want to read the exchange between Brizoni and me in the Comments section. That's why I'm inserting this video.
All the Paulistas might want to compare and contrast this with the video of Ron Paul's appearance on Fox News Sunday. If you don't know the history, this is the event known as 'The Speech,' which launched Ronald Reagan's political career. It was the only shining moment in the absolutely disastrous 1964 presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater. It was run again and again, because it was the only positive, upbeat communication associated with Goldwater's march toward electoral suicide.
I watched it with my parents the first time it aired, 47 years ago. It was absolutely electrifying. (I was 10 and I still remember the moment; only the moon landing, the Kennedy assassination and 9/11 are as seared into my memory.) I think you'll find that the opening citations of federal debt and levels of taxation could be the opening of a Republican candidate address in 2011 almost unchanged.
Like the Paulista Minutemen, Brizoni over-interpreted what I was saying in the post above. I wasn't disagreeing with Paul's ideals. I was saying, "Quit telling us oldsters we don't understand. We do. But we also know that winning the political battles isn't about being a fusspot curmudgeon who insists that he, just like the liberals, knows more about what we need than the average people do."
Compare and contrast. Paul harps on everything that's wrong. Everything he'll undo. Reagan does a lot of that, too. But he also shares a vision of just how great we can be, a magnificent hope and faith in the American people. Somehow, constant kvetching about the Federal Reserve doesn't accomplish the same end result. Note also that the isolationism Paulistas insist is part of the "package" of liberty takes on an entirely different, and far more realistic, spin here.
But I'm sure, as always, you know better, just as you know more about economics than an old fart with thirty-some years of business experience and even more than that in the practice of effective communications.