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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  • http://twitter.com/SugaRazor Razor

    Game, set and match. Bravo, sir.

  • Dave Krebs

    Awesome post, Bob!

    Anyone willing to peek at the comments section of this piece at HuffPo? I just can’t do it.

    • GrafZeppelin127

      I’ll do it. Someone has to.

    • GrafZeppelin127

      Comments there are pretty much what you’d expect; 2 categories:

      1. [Insert awful degree and nature of government size, spending, authority, etc., usually relating to global military empire] must be stopped!!!! I guess you’re in favor of [insert awfulness here]!!!! Obama and Romney are the same; they will just continue the [awfulness]!!!!!

      2. You just don’t understand libertarianism. You should read/listen to/watch [insert link to libertarian author/YouTube clip here].

    • GrafZeppelin127

      Third category: Abject, tear-stained, nails-through-the-hands martyrdom:

      [quoting me here:] “‘Rights’, no matter what we think they are or where we think they come from, are rendered nonexisten­­t if no one else recognizes them and we can’t get or require others to recognize them” [end quote]

      So, if a tree fall and no one else sees it besides you then it doesn’t exist?

      “We need law” to recognize them? Really? How creative. And you need clubs and guns to enforce those laws too? Is that how respect worked in your family?

      [context: responding to my analysis of Ron Paul's statement that "You're not entitled to health care; you're entitled to liberty", noting that it could be argued that liberty includes health care since a person is not "free" if he lives in fear of financial ruination resulting from illness or injury]

      Security is not part of the defintion of Liberty. If I am a doctor you cannot force me to care for you. If you do, it’s slavery. You can dress it up in fuzzy terms like socialism or whatever, but it’s still a gun that makes me do it. You are not entitled to health care.

      These people must spend an awful lot of time wringing out their shirts from the tears they weep for themselves. Good lord.

      • incredulous72

        Not to mention they are completely ignorant of what “slavery” really is; or at least they are pretending to be.

      • i_a_c

        If I am a doctor you cannot force me to care for you. If you do, it’s slavery.

        LMAO!! This person should tell that to the doctors in the emergency room who are required by law to provide care regardless of ability to pay. God forbid there be an enforcement mechanism; if you get sick, it’s your fault for not understanding the free market.

    • http://www.osborneink.com OsborneInk

      It’s shockingly supportive, actually. Ron Paul backlash in progress? It’s about fucking time.

  • margietalks

    Good morning. I find the entire campaign to find a Republican nominee, a brain teaser. My husband says that the better candidates are waiting this one out because they think Obama is going to win. I hope so. Anyway, I shake my head at Ron Paul because I don’t get it. Even if he won the presidency, he would be battling the Congress non stop. The president does not have unlimited powers! (thank goodness).
    A thing that I have also noticed about the campaigns and this is probably gonna come off as a bit racist – why is it that all the wifes of the 6 top candidates have blond hair? What is this blond thing? (I know that some may not be natural but still…) OK, I digress…. Good post on Ron Paul and I think you are right on.

    • http://twitter.com/JimmyAbra Jimmy Abraham

      My theory is, and this comes from a thin-slice of the conservatives I know, they tend to like status objects…and they are of a time where the perception of “pretty” is the blonde-haired starlet (though, as of today I think the darker complected are much more beautiful). So to show their status they need to trot around their status symbol. (my theory does not reflect my personal beliefs )

    • i_a_c

      That reminds me of a secondhand Newt Gingrich quote about his first wife.

      “He (Gingrich) said, ‘You know and I know that she’s not young enough or pretty enough to be the wife of a president,’ ” Carter, who now lives in South Carolina, told CNN recently, relating the conversation he had with Gingrich the day Gingrich revealed he was filing for divorce. Carter served as treasurer of Gingrich’s first congressional campaigns.

      Okay, so it’s a secondhand quote. But I don’t have any trouble believing it.

      http://www.cnn.com/2011/12/26/politics/gingrich-divorce-file/index.html

      • http://drangedinaz.wordpress.com/ IrishGrrrl

        I don’t think Carter would lie about such a thing….and you’re right, the wives of many rich and successful men are “trophy wives” as they are called. And you can look at the opposite of the coin and say why would some of these very attractive women want to be with these trolls? They like being married to a man with wealth, power and public standing. I scanned by Peirs on CNN last and the guest was this very old man with a gorgeous Brunette…or look at the younger and pretty wife of Rupert Murdoch…the list is endless.

    • D_C_Wilson

      I think that’s part of it. The other part is that after a few years of loud noises from the tea party, the candidates all believe that they have to pander to the most fringy of the fringe.

  • http://twitter.com/JimmyAbra Jimmy Abraham

    One thing to mention about the $1T cuts…not only would the cuts cause more unemployment among govt workers (and the economic trickle-down) but also cuts in safety net for the unemployed to maintain whatever they can of what they have worked so hard for. Yes, it can be said that some people stay unemployed longer with safety net, but it is still proven better for the long-run economy. I guess the argument for the massive cuts would be “let the market correct itself’..let’s suspend our disbelief and say it does correct itself, how many good people would have undue suffering?

    • http://drangedinaz.wordpress.com/ IrishGrrrl

      Jimmy, agreed. I call this the “how many bodies would it take” question. Some libertarians are nuts and respond with “however many suffers while the market corrects itself is not their concern”. My response to that is “so you WANT to live in a 3rd world country like Somalia?! WTF?!”

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_7VZNIFV5UXBX5LETCRH34M5HG4 Staci Bass

        Some libertarians are nuts and respond with “however many suffers while the market corrects itself is not their concern”.

        They counting on the “fact” that it will never be them.

        • http://drangedinaz.wordpress.com/ IrishGrrrl

          Or anyone they love…which is, again, nuts. To think that they would be “exempt” from the fallout……how stupid or arrogant does a person have to be to think that massive social change such as Paul would initiate won’t affect him?

  • trgahan

    Question: How can you win 12 elections and sell the idea that you’re anti-establishment? Paul sounds more like senator that enjoys congressional district that is so homogenous that he never has to worry about consequences of his voting record.
    To all those Pro-Paul nihilist hipsters, move to any central African or southern Asian nation not named Indian or Nepal and experience the “pure liberty” of Ron Paul’s ideas in action. You’ll have to leave the five-star Sandals resort there as well.

  • i_a_c

    Anybody think he’ll take his ball and go home run third party?

    • http://www.politicalruminations.com/ nicole

      He might. And that would hurt Obama, thanks to the emoprogs.

      • i_a_c

        I disagree. The emoprogs are small in number but excessively loud on the Internet. The president has roughly 80% support from Democrats. I split the remaining 20% evenly between Dixiecrats and emoprogs. So they represent 10% of the Democratic party, or about 3% of the total population.

        No Democrat who currently supports Obama will vote for Ron Paul. He will more than likely help to split the Republican vote, and if we’re lucky, deliver Texas’ 38 delicious electoral votes to Democrats.

        • http://drangedinaz.wordpress.com/ IrishGrrrl

          I hope you are right!

          • i_a_c

            Me too! :o)

        • http://www.politicalruminations.com/ nicole

          I hope you’re right and I’m wrong!

          (texas? never gonna happen)

          • i_a_c

            Let me elaborate on that: McCain won Texas by about 55.5-43.5. Paul would have to get ~12% of the vote in Texas to give Democrats a chance, but Texas is Ron’s home state, and if Dems suspect Ron could be a spoiler, they may spend some extra money in the state on ads and GOTV in cities like Houston and Dallas. Like I said, we’d have to get lucky, but IMO a Paul independent candidacy at least puts Texas in play.

            Anyone want to go troll RW blogs advocating for his third party candidacy? :-)

          • i_a_c

            One more thing: Ross Perot is from Texas and managed 22% of the TX vote in 1992. That wasn’t good enough to swing the state blue, but Texas’ demographics have gotten significantly more Hispanic since then. I think it’s possible.

  • mrbrink

    And Ron Paul’s son, the first openly partially-retarded U.S. Senator in American history, Rand, would have totally gotten that great paying government job all on his own if it wasn’t so goddamn hard out there for a white man.

  • gescove

    Keep up the good work! How this whackaloon has ANY traction as a candidate is quite beyond me. Perhaps some of his supporters should visit the fun-filled Libertarian paradise of Somalia. Then they could return as real cheerleaders for the Ron Paul cause!

  • mnpollio

    I have to admit that I have never understood the impassioned interest that Paul generates in many conservatives, liberals and independents. It is almost like they hear the word “liberty” and the proclamations about legalizing pot and stopping foreign wars, but then zone out on everything that comes after that.

    Sure, stopping foreign wars sounds terrific and is a worthwhile endeavor, but Paul’s stance that the U.S. could somehow exist in a bubble in the modern world is laughable. Plus, why do these people seem completely unfamiliar with Paul’s stances on domestic issues. Watching a senior citizen scream support for Paul’s small government stance, while apparently being unfamiliar with the fact that Paul wants to abolish their Medicare and Social Security that allows them to live one step up from destitution is pitiful. Watching modern people bend over backwards to excuse Paul’s indefensible stances on Civil Rights, women’s rights, gay rights, handicapped rights, etc., would be comical in a Marx Brothers movie, but it simply painful in real life.

    Perhaps the most appalling aspect of this is the sad feat that haters who want to hobble and destroy the U.S. government and the democratic process like Paul and his equally noxious spawn have been given a boost by witless voters into positions where they not only get to profit off of the government that they purport to despise, but that they also have been given the ability to accomplish its destruction from the inside.

  • http://twitter.com/thossy Tom Hardy

    makes me think of the Frisky Dingo:

    Xander: Then we pump those profits back into the uh profit cycle to generate even more profits. And I uh… I Know what you’re going to say, “Profits?” Yes Stan. You’re soaking in them. Thoughts?

  • MrDHalen

    I hate (not really) to go all Occam’s razor on the Ron Paul supporters, but the fact is they’re just intellectually lazy people who feel bullied and intimidated by the complex world that surrounds them. I call them “lazy”, because I truly believe middle school kids could debunk libertarianism in five minutes of debate.

    And one last thing libertarians, most of you wouldn’t survive in a true libertarian paradise because you would refuse to do the heavy “thinking” required to navigate such a cut-throat world.

    • http://twitter.com/KQuark KQµårk™

      Similar to what you are describing, I’ve heard someone call Paul supporters “lazicrats” which fits this truth. Every libertarian idea sounds good for about a millisecond until reasonable people think about it. Each idea Paul has a fatal flaw especially when you tie his views together.

      For example let’s just end the drug war and defund all public healthcare. It would be simply an unmitigated healthcare crisis. Countries like the Netherlands that have made drugs legal have excellent healthcare systems and still have problems with the unintended consequences of legalizing drugs.

      The problem is Paul appeals to people who are not critical thinkers.

  • http://twitter.com/KQuark KQµårk™

    I’ve wrote about Paulies on our blog several times. I especially can’t understand Paulies who call themselves progressives. They parrot Paul like a cult. They say we need to get rid of the EPA, FDA, CFPB and justify it by saying the EPA does not do ENOUGH, the FDA approves drugs that KILL people, and the CFPB is part of the Fed.

    WTF?! if the EPA doesn’t do enough the answer isn’t destroying it. Obviously to people who aren’t clouded by the Paul cult it’s strengthening it. The same for the FDA even though now it saves literally millions of live each year by making most drugs and foods safe. Don’t even get me started on going back to the gold standard so we can wheel all our money around in wheel barrels.

    I always tell these twits. The Constitution is not the end of law, it’s the beginning foundation of all law. The whole body of law in this country is based on the Constitution but includes laws enacted by congress (state and local government) and an English Common law system based on legal precedent. If you want Libertarianism we tried that for a few years it was called the Articles of Confederation and it was a total disaster. The whole country was paralyzed. Because there was not executive branch. The government could not tax or regulate foreign and interstate commerce and had it’s own currency. Each state had one vote regardless of size and all laws needed to be passed with at least 9 votes out of thirteen. There was no national court system. But this is what Ron Paul really wants to reduce the federal government to in reality.

  • http://twitter.com/gussiejives Gussie Jives

    BEST. POST. EVER.