With the McCain and Obama campaigns plunging to new levels of puerile pettiness, there was probably no better time for Rep. Ron Paul to resurface with the promise of an endorsement for the general election. Determined to hold on to his House seat, for which he must run as a Republican, Paul has taken himself out of the presidential campaign. That leaves the fate of the movement that grew around him in question. Will they disperse like a cloud of apathy, or can they find a new champion in one of the remaining independent candidates?
Fresh from his counter-convention in St. Paul, the man whom some might call "St. Paul" has given an "open endorsement" to the four most popular independent candidates while denouncing both McCain and Obama. He seemed to take particular relish in recounting the McCain campaign's last-ditch attempt to get an endorsement from him on the ground that the Republican would do less damage than the Democrat. But one could guess on the evidence of the Republican primary debates that Paul and McCain are irreconcilable on foreign policy. So he's told his people to choose among Chuck Baldwin, the Constitution candidate, Bob Barr, the Libertarian choice, Cynthia McKinney from the Greens, and Ralph Nader on the Peace and Freedom and other lines. By doing so, Paul has steered his movement straight to irrelevance.
Baldwin, Barr, McKinney and Nader won favor with Paul by promising to balance the budget, bring home the troops, protect civil liberties, and investigate the Federal Reserve. Dependent observers (you know, those who aren't independent) will probably focus on the last plank to prove that all five leaders are loonies, but their opinions are beside the point. Paul has achieved something significant. He got four candidates of very diverse opinions, two on the right and two on the left, to agree on at least a minimal common platform. Unfortunately, he must think that's all he can or need do, when it was really only the first step of a real coalition-building process that should have culminated in the four candidates uniting behind one candidate. To fight the American Bipolarchy, like it or not, we have to play by the Bipolarchy's rules. The Bipolarchy dictates that we must always vote for the next-worst candidate to prevent the worst from winning. To defeat the Bipolarchy, independents have to form a big party, running the admitted risk of merely replacing the Bipolarchy with a Tripolarchy, because the only way they can win the presidency is to win an outright majority in the Electoral College.
Under better circumstances, Paul could have advised his supporters in each state to get behind whichever candidate of his four favorites was strongest in that state. The object would be to give each of the four the chance to win one or more states, but the only possible result of such a strategy would be a presidential election by the House of Representatives for the first time since 1825. With no chance in hell of having substantial representation in Congress, the independents' only hope would be an unrealistic one: the chance that at least two of them would get more electoral votes than McCain or Obama. The rule is that the House can only consider the top three electoral vote getters. If both McCain and Obama make the final cut, their partisan allies in the House will make one of them President. If only one of the Bipolarchical candidates makes the cut, then the partisans of the loser might be induced to get behind one of the independents in order to thwart the remaining big man. In such a case, of course, the two independents who presumably make the final cut have to stick together; one must endorse the other.
The only other possibility I can imagine would require an agreement in advance among the independent Electors. They would have to agree before the November vote to pool any electoral votes earned by the independents in different states to put one of them over the top. The concept of the "faithless elector" indicates that this could be done, but it would have to be planned carefully and openly, perhaps with an understanding that the one who gets all the electoral votes won't be decided until after the popular vote, with supporters of all four independents having a say in the ultimate decision. This is where the drastic differences between Baldwin and Barr, on the right, and McKinney and Nader on the left, might prove a deal-breaker. The candidates themselves would need to agree well ahead of time that all are willing to see any of them become President. It might be helpful if the foursome could replace their current running mates, with each presidential candidate picking one from the other side of the spectrum, or possibly agreeing on a single vice-presidential candidate for all four tickets.
All this speculation depends on the assumption that a united front of Baldwin, Barr, McKinney, Nader and Paul supporters can win any state in the Union. But if we can't at least imagine this, then there's no point in any speculation about using the electoral process to overthrow the American Bipolarchy, and this entire 2008 election amounts to nothing more than ... dare I say it? ... putting lipstick on a pig.
Update: The Washington Post reports that Barr effectively told all the independents, including Paul, to bow to him. He stayed away from Paul's photo op and supposedly deigned to invite the Texan to run as his vice-presidential candidate on the Libertarian ticket, which is most likely news to the existing Libertarian candidate. One independent voter, asked for a comment, said that Barr sounded as arrogant as George W. Bush. Based on what I wrote above, I can't say Barr is wrong in principle, but the way to unity is not to issue an ultimatum to everyone else. If he or the Libertarians aren't interested in compromising on some issues in the interest of a united front against the Bipolarchy, then they can continue to enjoy their principled obscurity. Better yet, since we're dealing with Libertarians here, they can GO LIVE IN THE WOODS!