More Last Notes On Ron Paul: Pat Buchanan in 1996

(This post originally stated that Paul endorsed Buchanan in 1996; Paul endorsed Buchanan in 1992. Apologies for the error.)

This post is in part inspired by the overall rise of Ron Paul in Iowa, this Dave Weigel post, “Poll: Newsletters Not Hurting Paul in Iowa”, and a Conor Friedersdorf post, “Grappling with Ron Paul’s Racist Newsletters.

It should be stated emphatically: the newsletters will not hurt Paul at all in Iowa or New Hampshire. That there might appear to be a media elite that makes an issue of it only helps him. The best analogue, I think, for the Paul campaign is the campaign of the candidate who Ron Paul endorsed in 1992, Patrick Buchanan. In 1996, Buchanan carried with him a 1992 convention speech that many found repulsive, as well as a well documented history of questioning or diluting the possibility of the holocaust. This messy history did not hurt him at all in Iowa, where he placed second, or in New Hampshire, where he placed first, this with a small ten cent campaign (I think Buchanan would adore that they be called guerillas or an intifada) versus the Bob Dole colossus.

The mistake should not be made, then or now, that the base of either campaign was knuckle dragging paleos, rather than a wide spectrum of people repelled by a clump of false choices, whose passions are entirely rehearsed.

Here is John Cassidy in “Why Ron Paul Isn’t Just Another Right-Wing Nut”:

Out there in Iowa, thousands of Paul supporters, many of them young and enthused, seem determined to go ahead with this meaningless exercise in democracy. They are busy putting up posters, making phone calls, knocking on doors, and packing the candidate’s appearances in places like Sioux City and Maquoketa. In a primary in which many of the other candidates have largely forsaken one-on-one campaigning in favor of televised debates and television ad blitzes financed by super-PACs, Paul and his supporters represent a reassertion of old-fashioned shoe-leather politics. The other candidates have campaigns: Ron Paul, for good or ill, has a movement.

What sort of movement? From a brief reading of the national coverage of Paul’s campaign, you might be driven to the conclusion that his support is largely made up of racists, gun freaks, isolationists, homeschoolers, and Friedrich Hayek enthusiasts. Certainly, there are some of these. Paul’s decision, back in the early nineteen-nineties, to try and move beyond his econo-libertarian base by embracing other right-wing groups, including some linked to militias and neo-Nazis, is rightfully coming back to haunt him in the form of front page articles in the Times and elsewhere. When Newt Gingrich, as he did yesterday, describes the views of a fellow conservative as “totally outside the mainstream of virtually every decent American,” you know there is a problem.

But many of Paul’s supporters, particularly the younger ones, can’t be categorized as traditional right-wing extremists. What draws them to his campaign isn’t his views on welfare-dependency, Israel, or monetary policy, but his reputation as an outsider, a plain speaker, and a scourge of the political establishment.

This is Michael Lewis, writing of the Buchanan campaign in The Losers: The Road To Everyplace but the White House:

As always, Buchanan attracts a surprisingly prosperous and ordinary crowd; if you close your ears to their roiling enthusiasm you might think you are at a Dole event. But you’re not. The central fact about the Buchanan supporters is their panicky feeling of powerlessness. Some part of this feeling is no doubt the response of a psychotic mind to the complications of modern life. But another part of it is perfectly legitimate and endemic to minority life in a democracy. The people don’t rule. The majority does. It’s for just this reason—that, ultimately, they won’t win—that groups of people whose interests are not remotely similar can afford to join together into a single political movement. It’s only when such a movement comes close to actual power that it experiences the ordinary pressures to fracture. The evangelical Christian in the tweed jacket with the Buchanan sign looks first to his right, where he sees a raving lunatic, and then to his left, where he finds an unemployed worker, and asks: Do I want him to have his finger on the button?

More, equally important shared circumstances. A leading candidate, Romney now, Dole then, who is expected to win, is in a lock to win, who makes few contacts with voters, is kept outside of media scrutiny, has a pile of political opinions that aren’t his own but grabbagged from others in order to win the nomination, and a circular argument with a qualifier: the leading candidate is expected to win because of a substantial warchest and a pile of endorsements, which the candidate has received because he is expected to win, even though large numbers of Republican voters passionately do not want him to win, and are fighting against him in part because of this certainty that he will win.

The Buchanan election was at a time of greater economic prosperity than now, but he may have been received with such enthusiasm in Iowa because it was a period of relative long-term downturn in per capita personal incomes, from parity with the national average in 1975 to 90% in 1995. Incomes in Iowa went up and down since then, with a rise in the past two years I’m guessing due to the farm boom, though always still below parity with the national average – all in a period of stagnant national average incomes (U.S. Bureau Of Economic Analysis).

So, Paul may have many of the same political circumstances as the candidate he endorsed in 1992, but also a greater exhaustion over any foreign policy commitments, with greater unease over job security and economic stability. An important distinction is that Buchanan is a phenomenal speaker, while Paul is not. That this distinction is irrelevant is telling. That Paul is an unflashy, plain speaker is as crucial to his appeal as candidate as great speakership is in another. It is something that “represents” him, an anti-image of unprocessed small town straight talker, an image that may well be as false as Romney’s – who, I believe, is supposed to a be some sort of fire-breathing conservative – but which his supporters wish to continue to believe in, which the newsletters will not interrupt at all. The newsletters will be dismissed not because of any savvy on the part of the Paul campaign, but because his supporters wish to believe, and this belief, that he is a system shaking anti-establishment candidate, cannot be transferred on to anyone else.

If the analogy with Buchanan holds for Paul, then we can expect the possibility of his winning at least the same counties as his predecessor did. If geographic distribution of income across the state in 1996 was anything like it was in 2010, his winning counties will reflect the broad appeal of both campaigns, across counties of varying income levels. County map of 1996 Republican primary. Average weekly wages in Iowa (map is at the bottom) by county.

The winning counties for Buchanan, with each county’s average weekly wage in second quarter 2010:

Lyon ($526), Sioux ($580), Plymouth ($689), Woodbury ($690), Monona ($525), Osceola ($557), O’Brien ($548), Ida ($623), Shelby ($568), Buena Vista ($599), Carroll ($585), Pocahontas ($575), Calhoun ($540), Webster ($664), Hamilton ($592), Boone ($645), Hancock ($661), Howard ($586), Allamakee ($536), Dubuque ($670), Des Moines ($633), Van Buren ($586), Marion ($664), Mahaska ($611)

National average at this time was $865 (wage numbers are from Bureau of Labor Statistics). The only counties above $800 were Dallas, Polk, Linn, and Monroe – all of whom went for Dole in ’96.

Additional counties that might fall in line with Paul based on how they voted in the ’00 (2000 results) and ’08 primaries () might be Monroe, Madison, Warren, Jasper, Keokuk. Votes for Dole, but more tepid than in other places, votes for Bush but more tepid, if not a vote for Forbes, support for Huckabee.

Now: what was initially intended as a short reply to Conor Friedersdorf, who responds to the newsletters here. A fragment:

How is it — some of you might ask — that I’d even consider a vote for a candidate who, at best, negligently lent his name to a racist publication, profited from the deal, and either never bothered to find out who wrote the offending material or lied about being ignorant of it? (To be clear, if I thought he actually wrote the newsletters I certainly would not vote for him.) I’d answer that none of the policies he advocates makes me morally uncomfortable — unlike his competition. And that he has a long history of doing what he says when elected, and no more.

“How could you vote for someone who…”

Isn’t that a thorny formulation? I’m sometimes drawn to it. And yet. We’re all choosing among a deeply compromised pool of candidates, at least when the field is narrowed to folks who poll above 5 percent. Put it this way. How can you vote for someone who wages an undeclared drone war that kills scores of Pakistani children? Or someone who righteously insisted that indefinite detention is an illegitimate transgression against our civilizational values, and proceeded to support that very practice once he was elected? How can you vote for someone who has claimed to be deeply convicted about abortion on both sides of the issue, constantly misrepresents his record, and demagogues important matters of foreign policy at every opportunity? Or someone who suggests a religious minority group should be discriminated against? Or who insists that even given the benefit of hindsight, the Iraq War was a just and prudent one?

And yet many of you, Republicans and Democrats, will do just that — just as you and I have voted for a long line of past presidents who’ve deliberately pursued policies of questionable-at-best morality.

I am very much in favor of many of the policies which incite Mr. Friedersdorf’s support for Paul. I will, however, mention a modest proposal variation which fits his defense as well.

Obama supporter: Jack the Ripper? Is the GOP actually running you for president?

Jack the Ripper: Why, yes. And who are you to criticize? The many I have killed are only a fraction of those killed by the drones of your president. The suffering I’ve caused is but a thimbleful against the pain caused by your jails.

This is hyperbole, but even in this extreme case, it’s a working defense. Beyond this, it is a defense that implies, I think, a certain arrogance. That a candidate’s policies are so good, never mind their possibility of passage, that it exorcises any past sin. A counterpart on the other side of the aisle would be a democratic candidate who expected to be forgiven his klansman past because his promised programs of universal healthcare and gun control are so beneficial. Both varieties, I think, are a kind of condescending paternalism. Though our fellow men are asked to be accountable for their sins, some should be held less accountable than others because of the future benevolence they may demonstrate once they assume the powers of the state.

I will also note that if Paul is expected to be consistent with his past thoughts in any future policies as president, he will no doubt end all financial and diplomatic backing for the world court, as well as any financial backing for AIDS and other disease therapies internationally, AIDS research, as well as various subsidies for food, medicine, and heat back home – all of which could be expected to add a few thousand bodies to the charnel house. May we at least include such losses in the moral calculus, along with the lives saved from the end of drone wars?

A last note among many last notes: let us at least be rigorous enough to distinguish between intentional harm and unintentional, unwanted harm, incidental to the objective. The goals of the war in Afghanistan may, should, be questioned. The means to achieve that goal may, should, be questioned. I do not think, however, a claim can be made that the express intent, integral and necessary to the policy, was to kill children. If the goals could have been achieved without ever having such deaths, if these goals could indeed even have been achieved, the policymakers would have been grateful. I will contrast that with intent of the Paul newsletters, where the express intent, integral and necessary to the writer and the reader, are stories of jewish conspiracy, how those with AIDS those be exiled and ostracized, how to kill black men and get away with it, solely for the purpose of entertainment, ethnic solidarity, and above all, profit.

We may have another absurd modest proposal out of this contrast. There is a hostage situation in a city. A risky rescue is proposed and the mayor gives his sayso. Many, including children, are killed when things go wrong. In another part of the city, a man beats and robs a woman solely for the pleasure of humiliating her and the possession of a few more dollars. If we do not distinguish between intended and unintended harm, as Mr. Friedersdorf does not, it seems the robber should be preferred for mayor, as he has the blood of a simple mugging on his hands, while the current leader is culpable for the deaths of many.

This post has no formal closing, which is suitable, since with what may well take place in Iowa and New Hampshire it will be one of many last notes on this subject.

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