As may be clear from my recent article about Al Gore, I’m getting pretty desperate for some alternative to the Hillary Clinton juggernaut in 2008. That I’m willing to draft Gore and accept his mediocrity and ecopimping shows just how desperate I am. But recent developments have offered me another faint hope which might be closer to my heart and better for the country as a whole than a Gore presidency. Ron Paul is turning into a real candidate.
Previously, I’ve been skeptical about Paul’s candidacy for a number of reasons, from his fanatical lunatic fringe followers, to his lack of charisma and rhetorical skills, to his naive and unrealistic foreign policy, to his very un-libertarian views on religion and government. I did campaign for Paul and voted for him as a Libertarian in 1988, but since that time his performance as a Republican didn’t inspire me with confidence. I’ve been particularly bothered by his inability to write realistic and passable legislation and his ongoing wrongheaded position on issues like abortion and school prayer. It’s not enough to just vote ‘no’ on every piece of legislation, and I don’t want to see prayer in school or postings of the ten commandments. Plus, looming over it all, was the fact that I just didn’t have confidence in Paul’s ability to raise money, gather support and run a viable national campaign.
To be fair, there’s no candidate with whom i agree 100% on every issue, and no matter who I end up supporting, I’m going to have to put up with some positions I really don’t like to get good positions on other issues which I think are important. Who among us, regardless of party, isn’t in the same situation? Can you honestly say there’s a candidate who you think is utterly flawless and will do everything you want in office and nothing you don’t like?
It does get discouraging. The candidates with all the money and all the press coverage and the backing of party insiders often seem to be the absolute worst choices. The top democrats are making ridiculous promises and the top Republicans seem to have nothing new to say at all. They’ve all sold their souls to special interests, most of which I have fundamental disagreements with. I don’t want a president who’s more loyal to unions or oil companies or military contractors or Jesus or the UN than he is to the voters the taxpayers and the constitution.
Everyone is frustrated and many are ready to just give up and stick their heads in the sand. How can we have so many candidates and have them running for months more than usual, and yet have them be so generally unsatisfactory? It seems like a failure of not just the parties and the system, but of our entire society. The relatively decent candidates are languishing at 1% in the polls while the biggest liars and panderers have enormous leads in fundraising and popular support.
The key to getting media exposure and being able to present yourself to the public is having lots of money, and it seems to be very hard to get that money without selling out to special interests. Candidates end up running campaigns designed not to offend wealthy backers rather than to promote a coherent plan for the country’s future. Candidates with actual ideas and principles get ignored by the media, raise no money and end up desperately trying to score a few points in the debates before they inevitably get sent home as also-rans. It’s a terribly discouraging situation for a voter who wants to be able to pick a candidate he can live with and hope that he has some chance of winning.
As the campaign goes on and on and on, the gaps in fundraising and popular support between the top tier candidates and their minor league competitors gets larger and larger and it becomes more and more difficult for the lesser candidates to raise money and they eventually have to drop out. None have dropped out yet, but expect them to start falling like snowflakes in the winter.
In all of this depressing struggle of venality, raw ambition and inadequacy, there does seem to be a small ray of hope in the latest fundraising figures. While everyone but the very top contenders filed quarterly reports this week which showed fundraising well below expectations, Ron Paul suprised everyone by raising so much money that it puts him neck and neck with some of the big boys. While he wasn’t in the same league as Giuliani ($16 million), Clinton ($27 million) or Obama ($20 million), his $5.3 million put him ahead of most of the Republican field and was a huge increase from his previous total of only $3 million. Unlike leading candidates including Mitt Romney and John McCain, Paul’s total went up substantially from the previous quarter while their fundraising efforts seem to be losing steam. Perhaps even more significantly, Paul has spent very little of his money so far, and has no campaign debt, so he has more actual money on hand than candidates who have raised much more on paper. Perhaps most impressive was Paul’s online fundraising campaign which brought in $1 million in the last week of the quarter.
Paul’s strong showing was such a shock to the news media that they actually gave him some decent coverage, including reports on his fundraising accomplishments from http://www.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUSN03273615″>Reuters, http://www.cbsnews.com/blogs/2007/10/02/politics/horserace/entry3319636.shtml
“>CBS News and the generally hostile http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/10/03/paul-raises-more-than-5-million/”>NY Times.
Does this mean that Paul is suddenly going to come from behind and win the election? It’s certainly too early to say. But it does suggest that there’s something much more substantial going on with his campaign than just the army of kooks and enthusiasts who have been promoting him on the internet. They may even have a point when they keep saying that the media’s polls are underrepresenting Paul’s support. Some of those polls are certainly distinguished by some pretty questionable methodology.
I think this makes Paul worth considering as a candidate despite his shortcomings. He still doesn’t have Clinton-level money, and he may never have that kind of a massive warchest, but he has enough to stay in the campaign and remain in the public eye. If he somehow managed to beat out the other Republicans and then got access to party money he would have a chance. With Clinton seeming like the inevitable Democrat choice, Paul has a dark horse quality which would work well against her. The contrast would be hard for voters to miss, with Paul’s obvious integrity and clear principles set against Clinton’s ambition and endless pandering. Paul might be able to beat her when polls are showing other candidates inadequate to the job.
Paul’s principle-based politics make Republican insiders nervous, but it ultimately all comes down to beating Clinton. For that Paul may have the right combination of religious values and independent appeal to draw in votes no other Republican candidate can tap effectively, and the major candidates are not polling at all well against Clinton. There are Democrats and independents in large numbers who want to vote for Paul because he’s the most prominent candidate with an absolute opposition to the Iraq War, and he will also draw solid votes from the religious right with his stands on abortion and school prayer. It may be signficant that Las Vegas oddsmakers have lowered Paul’s odds of winning the nomination to only 6:1, remarkably good considering his ‘insurgent’ candidacy.
There’s still more than a year until the election, but as the main primary season starts heating up, I think it may be time to start taking Ron Paul seriously. What he has accomplished this far from a position so far back in the field, is truly remarkable and has earned him some legitimacy. Paul offers a ray of hope in what has become a fairly bleak campaign.