Thursday, April 03, 2008

Ron Paul 08
Or, "Is A Man Not Entitled To The Sweat Of His Brow?"

I'll be taking a slightly abnormal turn for this website (the zombies article is, no lie, being written) by delving directly into the political realm. Granted, I've discussed political things here in the past, but politics are not exactly the primary (or secondary, or tertiary) purpose of this site. So, why exactly will I be giving live responses to a speech to be given by Ron Paul in little more than an hour? I would chalk it up to simple curiosity, and I certainly am curious to see and hear the man who is so much more popular within my domain, the Internet, than he is in real life. Sure, there's a celebrity factor, but I could have seen Michelle Obama yesterday afternoon by diverting the course of my walk back from classes by a few hundred yards. So what, exactly, am I doing here?

I will probably not vote for Ron Paul for president. I didn't vote for him in the primary election, and I doubt I will in the general election. He stands for a lot of things that I support very strongly (civil liberties, foreign policy, the role of the federal government), and is unwavering in the integrity of his beliefs; he is perhaps less of a politician and more of a man of the people than anyone else in Washington. And yet, an America led by Ron Paul would be an America with tighter restrictions on abortion and immigration, an economy more favorable to corporations than individuals, and a byzantine, unaffordable health care system.* This is not an America that I can, in good conscience, help usher into being. I'm not willing to accept the bad along with the good.

So why, then, am I willing to vote for somebody like Barack Obama, who also supports a lot of things that I oppose? Why am I willing to make some compromises in my beliefs, but not others? And why is the only man in Washington who's willing to call things as they are so unpopular? I hope that listening to his speech will help resolve some of these conflicts, and help me make a decision.

My opinion of Ron Paul is one formed mostly through a haze of base suppositions. I want to give the man a chance to speak for himself.

Besides, this is The Third Amendment, and Ron Paul is about nothing if not the Constitution.

*These might be hyperboles and lies

Barack Obama held a rally downtown recently. It was packed with thousands, tickets gone weeks ahead of time. I'm sitting in a half-empty auditorium (granted, it's still almost an hour early) that seats 600 when it's full. I wasn't expecting a huge turnout, but I was at least expecting the seats to be filled. Ron Paul isn't exactly mainstream, but he's hardly obscure; he must have more than 600 supporters in the Pittsburgh area who are free on a Thursday night. (Then there's me, of course, but I imagine that the curious form a tiny minority here. By "curious", I mean those driven by curiosity, and not "strange", because there's plenty of the latter present. More on that later.) Judging from the Internet, everyone and their mum is willing to donate their life savings, earned from the good graces of God and the free market, to this guy's campaign fund. So where is everyone?

Two-thirds full. Demographics time.
Obviously, there's a somewhat disproportionate number of college-age people here; not only do they form some of Dr. Paul's strongest supporters, but the event is being hosted by the U. Pitt Republicans club. While those within the coveted 18-25 bracket form a clear majority, there is a significant fraction of middle-aged people, maybe in their forties or fifties; these are the folks who probably supported Goldwater. There's quite a few older people as well, probably into their sixties and beyond; I imagine that they're the ones who remember what the Republican party used to mean. (So why do my grandparents support Bush? These people here must abhor him.)

From my almost certainly statistically invalid analysis, the crowd is maybe 55% male, 45% female - about even. As far as I can tell, every single person here is white. This is not exactly surprising, given the general party affiliation of African-Americans, Dr. Paul's stance on immigration, and other such factors. It is, however, a little unnerving - I'm not sure how representative this group is of the general Oakland population, but Carnegie Mellon isn't this white, and we're pretty white. I mean, it's whiter than my high school, and that's saying something.

To stereotype blatantly, it's pretty much what one would expect from Ron Paul supporters.

Perhaps eight-tenths full. I'm contemplating the fact that any given Ron Paul supporter is going to find himself with quite a few strange bedfellows. Case in point: There's a guy wearing a "Gun Owners For Ron Paul" t-shirt; while I support Second Amendment rights on general principles, I get the feeling that this guy supports them in a much less abstract way. I'm surprised they let him in; I had to get my bag sniffed by bomb dogs before I could enter, but there wasn't a metal detector.

I consider myself to be libertarian in the social sense; I believe that people should be free to make their own choices, and that governments exist to protect that freedom. This gives me a lot in common with many libertarians, but at the same time, I don't give a flying fuck about economic issues, which tend to be big among these people. I mean, "freedom" doesn't mean, to me, "freedom to make as much money as you want, damn the torpedoes." So, I tend not to get along so well with big-L Libertarians. Yet, I can't help but wonder if these differences are superficial when compared to the more fundamental similarities with regards to human nature.

Heinlein, an author often misappropriated by libertarians, discussed in his book "Starship Troopers" the "inalienable rights" determined by the Declaration of Independence. With respect to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness", he wrote, "What right to life has a man dying of thirst in the desert?" My interpretation of this is that fundamental rights mean fuck-all when Life denies you the opportunity to exercise them. Similarly, what "freedom" has the man with $200,000 in medical debts incurred from a congenital disease? What meaningful choice can he make? It's all well and good to uphold the rights of people who can use those rights, but to me (and at the risk of tautology), freedom means ensuring that everybody has an equal opportunity to be free.

America has never been a meritocracy, and probably never will be. Anyone who says otherwise is either delusional or trying to sell you something. It doesn't make sense to treat our country like a meritocracy until we can make it into one first.

We're approaching standing room only, and the demographic keeps shifting to the college bracket. It's a respectable crowd (I certainly would be happy with myself if I could draw a crowd of 600 in Pittsburgh) and yet I can't help but recall the throngs that turn out for Obama wherever he goes. The general response to "Ron Paul is speaking at U. Pitt tonight" was either "Who?" or "Is he still running?" I would blame the media, but the media generally exists to give people what they want; they're merely the perpetuators of the silence, not the perpetrators.

The guy sitting next to me is an honest-to-god hippie; long, beaded hair, Grateful Dead t-shirt, and he's making something out of hemp. This wouldn't make me nearly as angry if he didn't also have a hot girlfriend. Damn hippies. The girl on the other side is either meditating or sleeping, and I think she's intermittently reading over my shoulder.

It occurs to me that, with the exception of the babe-in-arms three rows back, I might be the most left-leaning person in this room. Since I'm not terribly liberal, and often find myself among company in which I'm the least left-leaning, this is kind of a scary thought. I'm tempted to stand up and start yelling about universal health care to see if I get beaten up.

The crowd is sizable, but relatively calm; people walk up and down the aisles distributing pamphlets and petitions (to get Libertarians on the primary ballot in Pennsylvania. I try to sign, but you have to be registered in PA). The facilitator's microphone test of "Ron Paul '08!" is received with thunderous applause, but calls for "Revolution!" are met with only scattered claps. Ronulans seemed much more rabid online; nobody's even mentioned the gold standard.

My writings will be much more ersatz once he starts talking. I might just stop and listen; we'll see. I'm actually pretty excited; I've never seen a presidential candidate talk, much less an obscure one doomed to political failure.

National Youth Coordinator for Ron Paul '08 is introducing. I think I can see a black person in the mezzanine; the politically undecided Carnegie Mellon physics majors to black people ratio is no longer undefined. Still pretty white though.

Chanting "Ron Paul" now. Signs, cheering, etc. Where else would this happen? This is what I'm here for.

"Ron!" "Paul!" call-and-response. I wish they knew that we did this in the tone of "Mud! Kips!". Should be here any second now.

Introducer for real takes the stage. Apparently, he didn't expect so many people. I'm pretty happy about it too; at least a kook can get a decent following.

So it's College Republicans that are doing this. Interesting.

Ron Paul is from Pittsburgh? Cool. (Basic biography now.) The doctor-and-Congressman thing never fails to blow my mind.

"Everything he said flowed logically from a set of axioms". Hmm. He is indeed the "only candidate who is also a physician", but I could be the only candidate who is also a rodeo clown.

And he takes the stage. Standing ovation. Chants, etc.

"Sounds like the revolution has arrived!" Indeed. His wife is up there with him; that's pretty sweet. They both grew up here, went to HS here. Oh wait, she took off. Never mind.

Gosh darn, he is charismatic. You just want to give him a hug. He expresses surprise at the amount of support he's gotten - way I see it, he's filling a need. Half million volunteers, 900,000 votes, but the work isn't done yet. The campaign is more successful than the votes represent - he garners sympathy from people who won't vote for him. Like me!

"Real change" is probably a dig at Obama. "We need less government" -> rampant applause. It's amazing that a presidential candidate can say these things. In a good way.

"We need to bring our troops home, and save a whole lot of money!" That's one way too look at it.
"Government tends to mess things up when it gets involved" - more on this later.
I think the hippies next to me are here for lulz.

"It's up to us to deal with our own lives, and it's our responsibility to decide how to lead them." This is it in a nutshell, it doesn't get closer to what I believe than this. So why do I disagree with him so much?

"The purpose of the constitution is to restrain the government, not the people". Finally, somebody gets it. He's touching on all the big freedoms here - religion, speech - why does the government get to decide? Again, I'm all about this.

Distinction of the aforementioned freedom - economic vs. social.
One group supports economic freedom, but not social - Republicans, presumedly.
One group supports social freedom, but not economic - That would be the Democrats, then.
Well, when you paint it that way...

"That means you have the right to the fruits of your labor." Is not a man entitled to the sweat of his brow?

He's calling on the historical basis for his ideas - his politics aren't new, but old. He blames the Bush administration for undermining our freedoms. Right on.

Terrorism is a problem, but we're going about solving it the wrong way, and we're only hurting ourselves. Habeas corpus, etc. See why people love this guy? Nobody else is saying these things.

Franklin, liberty, security, and so on. Odd that in my circles, this is a cliché.

Taxes. Get rid of income taxes, you say? Unfortunately, it's things like this that make libertarians seem crazy. Destroying the Federal Reserve gets a standing ovation. This is the stuff that I just can't get excited about.

Apparently, he gets the biggest applause w.r.t. taxes on college campuses. More on this later.

"If you print money, it loses its value." This is the sort of straight talk that appeals to him. He refers to this as the "inflation tax", which is interesting. Inflation tax is regressive, since it hurts the poor the most. Now this is good stuff.

Now he's onto the national debt and deficit spending. If we had to pay for what we're spending, America would revolt. ("Revolution!" This wouldn't be the good kind.) The government can hide the real costs of doing business - you spend money on your pet projects, get re-elected, and everything's great. Except, OSHI~

Saying that Soc. Sec. should never have been started gets applause. I guess this is to be expected among mostly college-age people. He's right, though, in that it tends to fuck people over when the cost of living rises higher than payments. Inflation goes up, standard of living goes down, and suddenly everyone's poor and miserable and wondering why. What we're seeing now is bubbles bursting left and right, and it's us who will have to pay Paul.

We're the ones who will have to ask, "What purpose should the government play?" Simple: "Protection of liberty." Right on.

He's not regressive; he's less regressive than the people who want to "go back to tyranny". He wants to go back to the time when people knew that "free people can take care of themselves better than government can." Now he sounds like Jefferson; I knew I liked him for a reason.

And here's the gold standard. Sure, the Constitution isn't perfect, but we need to save the good bits - and yet, the gold standard falls into this category?

But needing Congressional approval to go to war? Can't argue with that. And who else would say, "We shouldn't have gone to war in Iraq"?

And yet, the Constitution doesn't mention, say, a Department of Education - so then there shouldn't be one unless we amend the Constitution. Oh, lawd.

Comparison to Prohibition - which was perfectly constitutional, until it was repealed - with the War on Drugs. Pretty boilerplate, but that doesn't make it any less correct.

And of course, the hippies applaud for the War on Drugs stuff. Like I said, strange bedfellows.

Relating to state vs. federal law - this is an interesting perspective on it. Couched in rhetoric of medicinal marijuana, though of course the issue is larger than that.

And on to foreign policy. "We as a country ought to mind our own business. We ought to treat other countries as we want them to treat us." Pretty much right on, but again, there are some long-reaching implications of this seemingly simple idea.

A quote comes to mind - "For every complex problem there is a solution which is simple, obvious, and wrong." A lot of the libertarian philosophy seems to be described by this.

He reminds us that the Cold War was much scarier than terrorism. Why don't more people think like this?

His position on the war: "We just marched in, we can just march home." See above. But the bitch of it is, he's right. The war is a stupid, stupid waste, of money, sure, but more importantly of lives.

And of course, it's not just about Iraq. Bring our boys home from S. Korea, from Europe, everywhere. He's making it out to be about the money, but it's not - it's about imperialism, or lack thereof. Why isn't anyone else saying this?

Holy shit, he just said we should start talking with Cuba again. Fuck yes.

This will improve diplomatic relations, the economy, and it's not like America is vulnerable. This gives us some more money, which we then use to ease people off unnecessary federal programs. Very pat.

He's just told a roomful of people that he won't be giving them Soc. Sec. benefits in their old age, and got a standing ovation for it. Amazing.

Obligations that the U. S. Government has failed to meet:
1. Taking care of veterans
2. Protecting our borders
3. Protecting our sovereignty (i. e. we belong to the United Nations)
4. Being a member of the North American Union (OK, I have no idea what this means

So, apparently medical care is more expensive because of government intervention - inflation or something. Socialized medicine met with resounding "boos". *sigh* Why you gotta make me hit you, Ron Paul?

Oh man, he just dissed McCain. Glove slap, baby glove slap. He's telling people that it's not hopeless, and honestly, he's right. Win or lose, "this is just the beginning of something really big." I hope he's right.

Pats on the back all around. Go us!

So, now he's saying why he hasn't spent any money. Or maybe he's just saying, "Thanks for giving me money."

Next "giving Ron Paul money" day will be April 30th, or "Buy my book, 'The Revolution Manifesto', day". Intriguing.

The fundraising has brought him attention, sure. You know what else would? Spending it.

We can't pretend that everything is okay. But, if we recognize that these are our problems, and that the answers lie in the Constitution, we can fix 'em.

Just as important as real contracts are social contracts. Hellooo, John Locke.

He's right, though. It doesn't take everyone to be on his side, to make change. It just takes an extremely vocal minority. Hell, that's what the Bush supporters were.

Anyone can help spread this change. You don't have to be a politician. Just spread the word.

And today, we have a great political equalizer: the Internet! Ron Paul, /b/!

This is the time of the revolution. Ron Paul is out of here. Closing remarks to follow.

Ron Paul inspires a fanatical devotion in many of his followers, and after hearing this speech, I can understand why. There are so many things that he just gets right. And yet, the aforementioned quote holds very much true. Ron Paul offers simple solutions, and people accept them because they're solutions to problems that nobody else even recognizes as problems. (Deficit spending, for example. This really will destroy our economy, and nobody is talking about it.) This tends to appeal to the young, who want to believe that they understand everything, and that the reason these obvious solutions haven't been implemented is because they're the only ones smart enough to see them.

Ron Paul is ultimately an idealist, and I respect that greatly. However if I'm going to support an idealist, it'll have to be one whose ideals I support fully. I can compromise my beliefs to support Obama's brand of change, because there's actually the possibility of this change happening. On the other hand, if I'm going to support an idealist, it will be one who fully embodies all of my beliefs, not just some of them.

In the end, pragmatism vs. idealism is a false dichotomy. One can be both idealistic and practical at the same time, it's just harder. The reason I don't support Ron Paul is not because it's not a practical choice, but rather because I don't think that his ideals, played out to their logical conclusion, will result in a better America. We may be free, but that freedom will be meaningless in a world where we cannot exercise our freedoms.

So Ron Paul, Internet, and thank you for reading. I promise I'll write Zombies, Part II in time for your birthday.

it's only divine right



Blogger bukojack said...

Response to comment regarding your opinion on the media:

John Swinton, the former Chief of Staff of the New York Times, called by his peers "the Dean of his profession", was asked in 1953 to give a toast before the New York Press Club. He responded with the following statement:

"There is no such thing as an independent press in America, if we except that of little country towns. You know this and I know it. Not a man among you dares to utter his honest opinion. Were you to utter it, you know beforehand that it would never appear in print.

I am paid one hundred and fifty dollars a week so that I may keep my honest opinion out of the newspaper for which I write. You too are paid similar salaries for similar services. Were I to permit that a single edition of my newspaper contained an honest opinion, my occupation - like Othello's - would be gone in less than twenty-four hours.

The man who would be so foolish as to write his honest opinion would soon be on the streets in search of another job. It is the duty of a New York journalist to lie, to distort, to revile, to toady at the feet of Mammon, and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread, or what amounts to the same thing, his salary.

We are the tools and the vassals of the rich behind the scenes. We are marionettes. These men pull the strings and we dance. Our time, our talents, our lives, our capacities are all the property of these men - we are intellectual prostitutes." (As quoted by T. St. John Gaffney in Breaking The Silence, page 4.)

That was the U.S. press in 1953. It is the mass media of America today.

12:57 AM  
Blogger bukojack said...

There have been many wonderful films made about The Federal Reserve Banking System and the Income Tax. Use google and watch some of them. You may not find the topic of the economy interesting today, but one day soon you will have no choice, but to find it more compelling as the system crumbles all around you.

Don't know about the North American Union. If you value American Sovereignty then please research. There is plenty of info on the net. The Late Great USA is an amazing book written by a bestselling author named Jerome Corsi.

Universal Health Care? What is the difference between paying for health care today or paying taxes to pay for Universal Health Care tomorrow? The answer is not amount of money because it will be about the same so...One, the government under UHC will have control over you medically. They will dictate when and where and how and even if. Two, you will wind up paying for people that will not pay for themselves like me, so thank you in advance. Why not look into what Dr. Ron Paul says the real reason the Health Care System is all jacked up and then try to approach a solution from that standpoint?

1:18 AM  
Blogger WinstonKirk said...

This was a good piece. Thank you for giving me a window into the mind of a "liberal" (I have more or less rejected labels like that).

My response is something like bukojack's second one so I'll try to keep this brief. I tend to be long winded when dealing with complex topics so that will be tough.

I would argue that you need to understand fiat money, specifically the mechanisms of our fiat currency, in order to understand the ire we have for the Federal Reserve and the esteem with which we hold a 100% commodity standard. This is a big topic that will require you to learn a good amount of economics but its worth it. The problems in our fiat system hurt the poor and working classes the most, though even the reasonably wealth working in the private sector for companies that don't get most of their business from government contracts are hurt. Many of the programs like welfare and social security are band-aids that help alleviate the problems within the system but, if the fiat system were changed, would be mostly unneeded after a transition period. The argument that the Federal Reserve is needed for stability is a red herring. We have had a number of boom and bust cycles since its creation, most were worse than anything seen prior to 1913. Many of the earlier panics were caused by the fractional reserve banking system, which would be eliminated with a 100% commodity standard.

For the "North American Union" stuff, check out the "Security and Prosperity Partnership" and the recent works of Jerome Corsi ("Late Great USA"). The basic idea is that there exists a push to "harmonize" the three countries of North America in a system similar to the European Union. If you think that's crazy, remember that the EU just officially celebrated its 50th birthday, yet it has only been talked about as being anything other than a conspiracy theory for a decade or two. A NAU would dramatically reduce the sovereignty of the US, along with nearly eliminating what remains of Constitutional rule.

Socialized medicine won't solve the long term problems with our health care system. It will provide a one time drop in price, about 15% in other countries, maintaining overall service levels, then prices will continue to climb and service will drop at the same rate as before. That's what we have seen in most other countries. What's more, by building an entrenched bureaucracy with legal powers we will make it far harder to implement real solutions as they emerge. Do you really think that the medical industry won't have a significant role in writing the legislation, for their own benefit? Even if a perfect socialized system were initially created, over time the interests of the industry making the products would lobby to take more and more control. There isn't a simple solution to the medical problems because it isn't a simple problem so I'll leave this topic after saying that, like in almost all things, government isn't the best solution and a government run system would at least reduce our privacy and self determination even more.

Once again, thank you for your article and thank you for being open enough to listen to our ideas.

2:15 AM  
Blogger Evan said...

you could have said 4/5 instead of 8/10.

7:01 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home