By Brian Doherty
Former pop music critic and successful warrior against "rockism" Kelefa Sanneh delivers a long, long profile of Ron Paul in the New Yorker, hitting the campaign trail with him in Maine and Nevada and surveying the shape of his career. Newsletters are mentioned without being treated as the most important issue about Ron Paul, and intelligent questions are raised about his mysterious lack of appeal to the mysteriously departed "Tea Party" movement.
Some highlights that pick up the flavor of the piece:
During Paul’s visit to Maine, he paid a visit to Colby College, in Waterville, where he was introduced by Paul Madore, a conservative activist and his state campaign chair. Madore began his introduction on a combative note, assailing “the A.C.L.U. and other leftist organizations” for “forcing us to constantly apologize for our Christian heritage.” In fact Paul and the American Civil Liberties Union agree at least as often as they disagree, and they have worked together in the past. (In 2009, the A.C.L.U. sued the Transportation Security Administration on behalf of a staffer for Ron Paul’s nonprofit organization, Campaign for Liberty, who was briefly detained in an airport after hesitating to explain why he was carrying a box of cash.) When Paul got to the podium, he thanked Madore for the introduction, but, near the end of his speech, he pushed back. “Liberty is liberty,” he said. “Some people would use it for different religious values or no religious values—just so they get to make their choices.” A few minutes later, before inviting his supporters to pose for pictures with him, he remembered something important. “I forgot to talk about the campaign,” he said, grinning. “I’d like to get your vote next week.”
My own experience on the (lack of) branded or self-conscious "Tea Party" action while on the road with Paul in the past year supports what Sanneh writes here:
In “The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism” (Oxford; 2012), the political scientists Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson take the measure of the recent amorphous uprising. They find that, despite a focus on economics, Tea Party groups often entertain “socially conservative moral arguments” and don’t generally identify as libertarian. “The Tea Party came, during much of 2010, to be (misleadingly) portrayed as a formidable, independent political movement that threatened to overturn the two-party system,” they write. In fact, Tea Party supporters tended to be indistinguishable from conservative Republicans—the energy was new, but not the ideology. Individual Tea Partiers have become influential within the Republican Party, especially at the local level, but few people now view the movement as a threat to the political duopoly. This election season, no viable Tea Party Presidential candidate has emerged, and the Tea Party itself has been all but invisible, subsumed within the broader Republican electorate.
And Sanneh hits home why the much-feared Obama-elevating Paul third party run is unlikely:
There is only one politician whom Paul regularly praises in his speeches—a man he coyly refers to as a “senator from Kentucky.” If Paul sees a future for himself in the Republican Party, it is through his son Rand, who might have an easier time than his father in attracting traditional conservatives to his cause. (During his campaign for the Senate, for example, Rand Paul declined to rule out using force to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.) Unlike most politicians on the verge of retirement, Paul can’t accurately claim that he has nothing to lose by breaking with the party that has been his home for all but one of his years in politics. Hope for his son’s prospects—and a disinclination to put him in an awkward position—might be enough to keep Paul from ending his political career with another third-party campaign. If he split the vote, indirectly helping to reëlect Obama, it might be a long time before Republicans were willing to get behind anyone named Paul.
That this long, detailed, mostly accurate and fair piece appears in such a bastion of establishment cultural and non-professional intellectual chatter as the New Yorker is yet another sign of the mainstreaming of libertarian ideas that has been encouragingly moving forward for the past decade or so, and a sign of how the Paul campaign, while not the only force behind that mainstreaming by any means, is at the very least an important and positive part of it.
For much, much more on all this, read my out-in-May book on Paul and the Paul movement, Ron Paul's Revolution, and my April cover story in Reason magazine.