An open letter to Ron Paul fans on the limitations of radical political candidates

Dear Ron Paul Supporter,

Do you honestly believe that your candidate has a chance in hell of winning the primaries, much less the general elections?

I could cite results from every reputable polling organization that show Ron Paul with less than 3% of the vote, but I have a feeling that you will find some reason for their bias, and point to the online polls that Ron Paul forums enthusiastically and systematically flood as evidence of his imminent triumph.  Dr Paul himself has repeatedly stated that his campaign is about the message – a message that most news commentators cannot understand, much less inform the public about.  Online communities make for good news quips, but the “archaic” gold standard, or the question of whether Ron Paul is an isolationist is far beyond what news commentators can be expected to understand.

Despite this, it is undeniable that the success of Ron Paul’s campaign has been a surprise to just about everyone, and tapped into some hidden resource that few suspected of existing.  Perhaps it really is the power of the Internet, coupled with public discontent with the presidential administration and congressional incompetence.  Perhaps people are really uniting around a leader who offers radical new ideas rather than yet another personality cult.  Even if his current support base is just a fraction of what is to come, does it really amount to anything?

When the election is over a little less than a year from now, will any of it matter?  Ron Paul will probably face defeat in the first few primaries, and if he chooses to run on the Libertarian ticket, he will get the usual 1-3% of the vote.  What will all the millions he raised and all the hours his volunteers spent mean then?  Even if by some miracle, he were to win, it would be of little
practical consequence.  Like all politicians, presidents wield their power by cutting deals and compromising left and right.  Without willingness to compromise on all his principles, President Paul will be lucky if he is not impeached in the first week.

I am not saying that Ron Paul is the wrong candidate to support.  I am questioning the premise that radical political ideologies can or should be advocated through political campaigns.  This fact has been aptly demonstrated by the pathetic failure of the Libertarian Party over the last 30+ years.  The Left has been much better at recognizing the failure of explicitly Marxist political movements early in the 20th century, and successfully shifted the focus of American politics by establishing a firm foundation in academia and then infiltrating both major

Whatever your particular political philosophy, it is not even that likely that Ron Paul is a great match for it.  Whether it is his anti-immigration views, his promise of saving social security, his blame-America foreign policy, his borderline theocratic positions, or his support for the state as such, he is unlikely to be a perfect fit for anyone.  Much of his success is in fact due to moderating or hiding the most radical aspects of his libertarianism, such as masking his support for free trade by his opposition to free-trade agreements, or his scapegoating of “illegal aliens seeking the fruits of your labor” as part of his plan to save Social Security.

An educational movement does not need to hide its radical views.  Sure, you might not raise five or six million dollars in a day, but the resources you do have will be spent on spreading ideas, rather than a name and a number in the polls.  Even an extra million votes is not going to make a bit of difference in the general election, but a thousand more students motivated to spread rational ideas on liberty can change the world.

I am not telling you to remove that Ron Paul bumper sticker.  Just recognize the inherent limitations of radical political candidates in a two party democracy, and consider supporting educational organizations that will never have to compromise or hide their principles in order to spread their message.

[Follow up post.]

19 responses to “An open letter to Ron Paul fans on the limitations of radical political candidates

  1. Brainpolice

    Good comments. I have trouble expressing such pessemism about the political process to fellow libertarians.

  2. Hunter S.

    So what you’re saying is that we’re all so stupid that we don’t know who we want? And the guy we want can’t win anyway? Wow – thanks for clearing that up for us…thank god we have pseudo-intellectuals like yourself to keep us hillbillies from making stupid mistakes like seeing what the hell has become of our government while spineless weasels like yourself write crap like this.

  3. Gordon

    Good luck with this. Education is necessary but action is essential if you want change. With the current rate we are losing freedoms I don’t know that you have much time left with an education-only approach.

    P.S. We are working for Ron Paul to win the nomination, not to make some kind of statement (since that won’t really change any other candidates positions).

  4. Brainpolice

    Hunter S. represents the type of vitrolic responses I often get whenever I show the slightest bit of skepticism about the likelyhood of voting for Ron Paul being effective as a means to reduce political power. They do not take criticism very well – see the responses to Stefan Molyneux’s criticism for example. Meanwhile, I usually end up defending Ron Paul against the left’s accusations of racism and whatnot.

    To Gordon: I have no problem with “action”, but why does “action” have to be restricted to voting and contributing to campaigns? Why is not voting viewed as a total lack of action? Why can’t “action” also be persued in terms of forming alternative private institutions in competition with the state and mass civil disobedience? I consider that real action.

  5. Julian Morrison

    Go read up on the Overton Window, and then get back to me.

  6. Richiepoo

    What a ridiculous consideration! I have a moral obligation to vote my conscience. Furthermore, I have an obligation to my oath of military service to support and defend the constitution against domestic enemies. I am therefore obligated to vote for Ron Paul. This is an obligation I do not mind, however, as he is the only candidate I trust. The message sent to Washington when RP wins the presidency will cause The Congress to think twice about the bills they send to the Oval Office.

  7. Daniel Pye

    I think the reason you’re seeing so much vitriol from Ron Paul supporters is that many of them are seldom active in politics, and many hail from the half of the populace that doesn’t vote in presidential elections.

    When you only find a candidate you can back once in a generation, you tend to go at it with a bit more piss and vinegar. To tell the truth, I’ve seen more bile spilt from the anti-Paul brigades than anywhere else.

    In any case, you’ve correctly assessed that nobody knows what the hell Ron Paul has tapped into, nor how large its gonna get. So there’s a lot more interesting questions right now than ‘what are you gonna do when the wheels come off’?

  8. Haigh

    No one individual or organization has done more to educate the current American public, particularly the young about free markets, banking, foreign policy, and the constitution than Ron Paul.

    Regardless of polls, votes, or election outcomes his impact will be long lasting. In twenty years many will point to the candidacy of Ron Paul as a turning point in their political outlook.

    The political process in the hands of an able communicator is an effective means for educating the many about liberty. Americans are energized by a contest. Passion and energy drive learning.

  9. Scriven

    Oooh! You are totally right…. what the HELL was I thinking to support Ron Paul. Mike Huckabee is probably gonna win the nomination so I would be a fool not to vote for him!

    What do I get for winning?

  10. LOL, I am going to start telling budding webmasters that the best way to generate traffic to their site would be to post something even remotely anti-Ron Paul.

    But as too your blog, could you imagine what libertarians could do with $18 million dollars?

  11. Ron

    Yes, we libertarians are in a tough spot when it comes time for elections. We always have to make a choice between several less-than-optimal options: 1) Vote your conscience, probably for a candidate who has very little chance of winning, 2) vote for the least evil candidate who actually has a chance of winning, effectively only voting against the worst candidate, or 3) refrain from voting at all because it’s basically a waste of time and only buys into what is already a broken process.

    Personally, I’ve chosen the first option. To me, Ron Paul is more than just the underdog in the presidential race. He presents an opportunity for me to point to someone well-known and say, “See? I’m not the only one who understands and believes in these principles.”

    I don’t agree with all his policy viewpoints, so no, he isn’t the ideal candidate for me, but I deeply respect the man’s convictions, his consistency, and his love for true liberty. He has my vote, and though it would be a great step forward in advancing the ideals of liberty if he were to win even a single primary, to me that’s not the point. With Ron Paul, the message is out there, and it’s got a lot of people thinking. I consider that a victory in and of itself.

  12. “Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.” – John Quincy Adams

    A vote for the lesser of two evils is a vote for evil. – Steve1776.

    When I stand before God I don’t want to explain why I voted for evil.

  13. Mike

    Ron Paul my not be perfect, but he is the candidate who best represents my views. Who else would I vote for?

  14. GKells

    I guess if you put it that way, I’ll just vote for whoever has the best chance of winning and then adapt my ideology to fit theirs. We have a responsibility to vote as we believe. For years I’ve voted Libertarian and have seen a steady increase in Libertarian candidates winning local elections as a result of myself and countless others voting according to our ideals. It may be a long road, but someday we will be represented as long as we make our voice heard. Voting for a candidate that you are opposed to just because you don’t feel your candidate can win, perpetuates a two party system that will never represent the majority of our people accurately. That’s exactly what the established two parties would want, thanks for putting an intellectual spin to a pro-establishment idea. If Ron Paul gets the nomination I will vote for a mainstream candidate for the first time proudly. The fact that he’s there and has drawn as much support as he has shows me that none of my past votes have been wasted.

  15. GKells

    By the way, I agree with you in regards to supporting educational organizations. there’s no reason you can’t do that and support and vote for the person or party that best represents your ideology.

  16. CrazyCoot

    The GOP primary race is still wide open. Paul might not win, but I see him lasting longer than some of the front-runners.

  17. Stephen.Cramer

    I understand your reasoning, but at some point, the sleeper, once awakened, must at least attempt to correct the problems now clearly seen. The types of fundamental change needed are difficult for the average work-a-day then watch the plug-in-drug till bed time person to grasp. What I expect from Ron Paul’s campaign is involvement in local politics and the beginning of dialog leading to an awakening. Perhaps in 8 – 12 years something will happen as a result of what was begun in the 2008 Presidential campaign.

  18. John C. Randolph

    I didn’t think that the Berlin Wall could come down in my lifetime. When Ron Paul announced his candidacy, I didn’t think that he’d raise a million dollars in funding, either.

    The status quo is never a reason to abandon efforts to change it. If you don’t want to help, you don’t have to, but your smug uselessness is no reason for anyone else to throw in the towel.


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