Huffington Post

The Fantastical Crackpot Cult of Ron Paul

[My latest for The Huffington Post.]

During Tuesday night's New Hampshire Primary election coverage, Lawrence O'Donnell hilariously and saliently described Ron Paul as "not a candidate," therefore Jon Huntsman was the realistic second place winner, though not technically since he placed third on paper. Likewise, Mother Jones' Kevin Drum recently wrote that Ron Paul is a "crackpot."

Naturally, they're both correct. Times a thousand.

But a million Elvis fans can't be wrong. Or can they? In other words, Ron Paul supporters are easily some of the most exuberant, die-hard, overzealous political activists around, and you'll probably get a hearty sampling of that zealotry in the comments below this post. Nevertheless, the perpetual question about a movement like this is: how can so many people be so completely delusional?

The word "cult" is often employed in political contests, but seldom in recent history has it been more appropriate than when describing the so-called Ron Paul Revolution. Specifically, Ron Paul has no chance of winning the nomination (and he doesn't really want to); if a miracle happens and he actually does win the nomination and, subsequently, the presidency, he has no chance to successfully govern; and his libertarianism is pure hocus-pocus science fiction, evidenced by the fact that it's never been successfully implemented. Ever. But Ron Paul's supporters don't know it. Or, at least, none of them can describe a single instance in history when such a system has prospered without serious consequences and horrendous side-effects.

To paraphrase the underpants gnomes from South Park, the Ron Paul supporters' plan for success is as follows:

Phase 1: Vote for Ron Paul.
Phase 2: ?????
Phase 3: Liberty!

At the risk of over-explaining the joke, the question marks represent the un-electability of Ron Paul. No matter how vocal and activated the fanboys might become between now and the would-be nomination of Mitt Romney, there aren't enough votes. There is no conceivable path to the nomination, and an even narrower path to the White House. Why can't he win anything? The aforementioned crackpot factor. During every general election cycle each party has a crackpot candidate. Ron Paul is the quadrennial Republican crackpot. (On the Democratic side there was Mike Gravel in 2008 and, this year, domestic terrorist Randall Terry.)

Perhaps Ron Paul is self-aware enough to realize this, but he sounds almost as delusional as his people.

"I've been electable. I've won 12 elections already," he said on CBS. "It's amazing that I do so much better than those other candidates that are all electable. They're in fourth, fifth and sixth place and they're electable. All of a sudden they say I'm not electable. I don't know how that adds up."

An eighth grade social studies student knows why this is a ridiculous line of reasoning. It's significantly more achievable to be elected by a relatively homogeneous community of 100,000 voters than it is to be elected nationwide by 100 million. So the notion that he was elected 12 times in his congressional district is meaningless on the national stage.

For this and a variety of other reasons, very few people take Ron Paul seriously outside of his imaginary Galt's Gulch cult compound. The reality is that our political system has remained relatively intact for 224 years because most people, despite their gretzing, are actually comfortable with the continuity it provides. If voters were as militantly anti-system as they claim to be in anecdotal conversations, they would elect more incumbents and fringy third-party challengers. Ron Paul would have a better shot if anti-system fantasy replaced comfy, complacent reality.

Only slightly better.

The election of Ron Paul is a minor conundrum compared with implementing his libertarian ideas. If we presuppose that he wins and then achieves any of his proposed changes to the system in the face of a divided electorate, few working coalitions and no party support in Congress, those policies would absolutely crush the economy and, ultimately, the very "liberty" which Ron Paul cultists repeat like hiccups in response to any challenges to their leader.

Despite an era when deregulated corporations and financial institutions pushed the world economy to the brink of another Great Depression, Ron Paul's agenda would remove almost all restrictions on the market.

Certainly, rich white men would continue to prosper under the laissez-faire policies of a Ron Paul administration. Until the inevitable crash. More on that presently. But minorities and women would fall prey to free market discrimination and subjugation. While "liberty" is the calling card of a Ron Paul supporter, they don't appear to understand how liberty would be denied to women and minorities.

Among other monikers, Ron Paul fancies himself a "constitutionalist," but that strict adherence to the Constitution ends with the 14th Amendment. The Supreme Court, in accordance with its judicial review powers, decided that the 14th Amendment includes a right to privacy and, thus, the right for a woman to have an abortion. I fail to understand how constitutionalists and those who cling so dearly to the ideals of limited government and "liberty" can so casually and oppressively order strict government regulations dictating what occurs within the bodies of every woman of child-bearing age.

Furthermore, with the rolling back of the Civil Rights Act, entire sectors of the free market would be free to discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity and gender. At the state and local level, we would see an inevitable return of Jim Crow laws that allowed, among other things, poll taxes and neo-slavery, and so the growing American minority population would find itself trapped in a new American apartheid without any recourse for justice.

But, you know, "liberty!"

About that inevitable crash. Ron Paul would cut $1 trillion in spending from the budget in his first year. That's not $1 trillion spread out over a number of years -- he's talking about $1 trillion in 2013 alone. Without robust consumer spending, low unemployment and high GDP, these cuts would lead to a massive and inextricably deep depression. And I mean inextricable. There wouldn't be any means of escape since his subsequent budgets would continue to slash and burn everything in sight. Meanwhile, the aforementioned deregulated businesses -- the ones that aren't destroyed by the crash -- would swoop in like vultures to exploit the disaster, and the divide between the super wealthy and everyone else would grow beyond comprehension.

Then again, pot and heroin would be legalized and the United States would wall ourselves off from the rest of the world -- a policy that worked out really well in the 1930s. By the way, if you believe Ron Paul is anti-war, think again. Some of his top donors are defense contractors, he voted for the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against terrorists, and he proposed HR 3076 which would have unleashed a government-financed private army of mercenaries and assassins to indiscriminately and unaccountably kill terrorists irrespective of nationality.

But, you know, "liberty!"

And Ron Paul cultists wonder why no one else takes their guy seriously.

See, Ron Paul isn't a candidate. He's a meme. Much like a popular YouTube video, Twitter hashtag or literary blog metaphor, if you're aware of it, you're savvy -- you're one of them. Ron Paul is a shibboleth for nihilistic hipsters. If you can work "Ron Paul" and "liberty!" into a tweet, you're one of them. You're anti-establishment. People who are devoted to Ron Paul appear to be more interested in the fantastical, fictitious idea of President Ron Paul than the realistic manifestation of President Ron Paul.

Nevertheless, this underpants gnome will soldier on as a spoiler, potentially weakening Mitt Romney's efforts by emboldening the right flank against the moderate frontrunner who's awkwardly struggling and desperately failing to appear more right-wing. And that's fine with me, but don't expect too many non-cultists to take Ron Paul seriously enough to win, much less govern.

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