06 November 2007

Money Talks, but Does It Vote?

Ron Paul, the Texas congressman, has earned the biggest headlines so far of his campaign thanks to his devoted donors, who dedicated Guy Fawkes Day (5 November to us Americans) to setting a record. They fell short of Sen. Clinton's best day, back during the summer, but gave Rep. Paul, a libertarian Republican, more than $4 million in this single dramatic gesture.

Paul has run for President before as a capital-L Libertarian, and the Libertarian party fields a candidate every four years, but libertarianism itself has never drawn this kind of money before. The elderly Texan is obviously earning a lot of his cheddar through his uncompromising opposition to the invasion and occupation of Iraq. It's unclear whether his antiwar supporters are fully aware of Paul's ideology, but they have no excuse for ignorance, since the hardcore Paul supporters will point you to websites that make his positions clear.

His libertarian ideology makes Paul unfit to be President of a civilized nation. Libertarians no doubt think themselves the most civilized people on earth, but they shouldn't confuse their quaint insistence on competing for survival according to some concocted code of rules with the truly civilized alternative of cooperation for collective survival. That said, if Ron Paul represents an authentic libertarian foreign policy, he might make an excellent secretary of state, whoever gets elected.

Paul himself has no chance of winning the Republican nomination. The key to winning the primaries is concentrating resources in Iowa or New Hampshire and committing yourself to old-school door-knocking, phone-ringing retail campaigning. That's how Kerry beat Dean in Iowa in 2004, when the internet-generated "perfect storm" dissipated into thin air. It's easy to donate money electronically to the candidate you love. It's another thing to do the grunt labor that seems to be required to generate true momentum. Idealists like those who support Paul now or supported Dean four years ago probably recoil from the prospect of having to convince someone not already in agreement with them not just to agree with them, but to go out and vote on such and such a day. Libertarians may have an advantage here because they tend to see themselves as super-salesmen or heroic entrepreneurs, but the sort of retail politics that primaries demand are the sort of politics a lot of them hate in the first place. They won't convince me that they have it in them until they pull it off. But even though I disagree with them on domestic politics, I wish them luck, and if they want to keep fighting after the primaries, I wish them more.

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