When Ron Paul decided to run for president a second time in 2007, he said he just wanted to get into one debate so he could be heard. He knew it was a long shot that he would become the nominee but more important for him was making sure that the real issues were being discussed. He had no idea that from that first debate, the ideas of limited government would spread, and that so many would join him in his fight for the principles that the country was founded upon; that he would be the spark that would revive the interest in the federalist system the founding fathers created.
I think the liberty movement that Ron Paul started can be broken up into three phases, each with its own contribution to the ultimate goal. I believe we are well into the third phase and have an opportunity to bring about real changes.
Phase 1: Introduction to Liberty
In the debates in 2007-2008, Ron Paul brought up complex issues such as the Federal Reserve and the impact it was having on the dollar, in front of an audience that was used to being spoken to in soundbites. Manipulation of interest rates, business cycles? The American people were not ready to be spoken to as adults, were they? But something happened. His message and the honest way in which he delivered it sparked the curiosity of many at home that were not used to hearing a politician speak this way, and they liked it.
People who never before cared for politics or economics started doing their own research and became outraged that the truth had been hidden from them for so long. Many republicans also started realizing that the party long ago had abandoned the ideas that they still professed to believe in.
Ron Paul was met with very strong resistance, however, from those within the party that had become too accustomed to the way things were done. Ron Paul knew it was not going to be easy. He was laughed at and marginalized by the media and the other candidates. When he wasn’t being treated as a joke candidate, not to be taken seriously, he was ignored, and breaking the record for online donations with $6 million, on December 16th 2007, didn’t do much to change that.
But it was to be expected. Introducing people to ideas that in many cases go against what they have known their whole lives is no easy task. The seed was planted though, in the minds of many, even if they chose to reject the ideas of the good doctor. A movement was born. Dr. Paul was joined by many who were open to hearing about the ideas of the founders; by those thirsty for knowledge; by those whose interest in the truth superseded any desire to be accepted by a society that no longer understood why the Constitution was written the way it was.
This is what I think phase one of the movement was about. It was about reaching out to those that already had the right personality. I always say that those that do the right thing are not always the minority, but those that do the right thing for the right reasons, always are. Phase one was about reaching out to those with leadership qualities; those who were not afraid to break from the norm; those who were not afraid to be rebels; those not afraid to stand with the truth even if they had to stand alone, as Dr. Paul did for so many years.
The problem with phase one is that the number of people out there with these qualities is very limited. The truth is that most people are followers. Many believe in certain things because they think society expects them to believe them; society in this case, being the republican party, where a consensus had been formed that in order to call yourself a Republican you had to make sure to never criticize anything the military did.
Phase 2: Credibility
The economic crisis of 2008 proved that Ron Paul was right after all; that he wasn’t just some crazy old man babbling on in the debates about the devaluation of the dollar and other things that made no sense to the common man. The Federal Reserve finally became a topic of discussion and although the 2008 campaign had ended, we got to see plenty of Ron Paul, as news organizations were interested in hearing about Ron Paul’s opinions on the failing economy.
When he ran for president again in 2012, things were much different. If it were not for the dirty tricks played by the media, he would have won Iowa. The party still didn’t want him but they could no longer pretend that what he was saying made no sense. Instead they convinced the voters that although he was an honest man who was right about the deep cuts that were needed, he just would not be able to defeat the incumbent president. One can only hope that some of those primary voters are now regretting that they listened to the party leaders and the media, given what we witnessed in the general election of 2012.
Although Dr. Paul did not end up getting the republican nomination, his 2012 campaign was another win for the liberty movement. It actually became acceptable to advocate for the elimination of departments. Texas governor and 2012 candidate Rick Perry even said in a debate, that he had learned a lot from Ron Paul, about the Federal Reserve. Rick Perry advocated for the elimination of three departments, which was two short of the five Ron Paul suggested we eliminate, but it was a start.
Phase 3: Co-option
There was an overlap between phase two and three of the movement, as I believe phase three started when Rand Paul ran and got elected to the U.S. senate. Many Ron Paul supporters don’t consider Rand Paul part of this movement and became angry over Rand’s decision to endorse governor Romney once it became clear that he would be the nominee.
Those angry at Rand Paul for playing politics and not being as “pure” as Ron Paul was for thirty years, are missing a very important point. Ron Paul did an excellent job at bringing new people into the republican party and getting the young people interested in politics and conservatism. He attracted people into the movement that are intellectually-curious, are independent-minded, are open to thinking about things in a different way, and didn’t care if they had to fight their own party to stand for what they thought was right. The problem? There are just not enough people that fall into this category. If our goal is to enact the changes that we believe are compatible both with liberty and our Constitution, then we must bring more new people into the movement, and for them we cannot continue using the same strategy.
This is where Rand Paul comes in. The fact that Rand Paul is willing to play a little politics by, for example, showing his support for the republican nominee, is precisely what allows for Rand to be heard by long time republicans. You have to understand that it is not possible to change the minds of the majority of the republican party, cold-turkey. You have to do it delicately. Had Rand Paul not endorsed Mitt Romney, republicans would have automatically rejected anything coming out of Rand’s mouth. The fact that Rand is willing to work with the party makes him “one of them” in their eyes. They are more open to hearing about his ideas.
“As soon as they get here, we need to co-opt them,” said former senator and lobbyist, Trent Lott in 2010, referring to the new Tea Party republicans that were about to enter congress. As Wikipedia says, “a co-option is an act of absorbing or assimilating. It is normally used in the context of a group of persons assimilating a weaker or smaller group, with the intention of neutralizing a threat from the weaker group.”
This is exactly what the republicans did to the Tea Party. Glenn Beck was instrumental in this. He held a “Tea Party” event in which religion was a major focus, causing the message of limited government and minding our own business abroad to be drowned out. Eventually you could no longer tell the difference between the good old republican party and the Tea Party movement. Almost all republicans saw themselves as part of the Tea Party movement even if they really did not stand for the things the original Tea Party stood for.
This is the strategy that we must adopt and Rand Paul knows it. By being a team player within the republican party, while at the same time promoting the ideas dear to the Ron Paul movement, Rand Paul is slowly convincing republicans that it is OK to be a republican and at the same time believe that not all of the money spent on the military is well spent.
Rand Paul is our voice in the Senate and by the time he is done co-opting the republican party, not only will all of Ron Paul’s ideas be acceptable within the party, but there will be a consensus that if you are to call yourself a republican you must not be a moderate when it comes to the ideas of federalism and limited government.
But we cannot take an all-or-nothing approach. Take a look at how patient the Left is when it comes to bringing about their changes. They never give up. They gradually inch us forward to where they want us to be. We need to learn from this. Presidential historian Doug Weed said recently, in an article about Rand Paul:
[He] may decide that we need to cut our military bases from 900 to 75, instead of zero. He will be backing us away from the abyss, on his own timetable and it may be too rapid for the general public and not enough for some of us.
How does this end? No one knows for sure but we have a tremendous opportunity here to change the country and remind it what it is that made it great. I found this fictional news story that takes place in the year 2020, when Rand Paul is running for re-election. If we play our cards right, this is what we’ll be talking about eight years from now.
Ron Paul did the hardest part, and now we must build on what he started. But we must understand that in order to reach the number that we need to win, we have to become the republican party. Educating from the outside is not going to cut it.