by Carl S. Milsted, Jr.
The Ron Paul phenomenon has caught the mainstream media by surprise. A fringe candidate with some very extreme views, hostility from the Republican leadership, and tiny numbers in polls of "likely Republican voters" has exploded onto the scene: straw poll victories, large enthusiastic rallies, online poll victories, and record-setting one-day fundraising.
The pundits scratch their heads. "He's making better use of the Internet." "It's all spam." "It's a coalition of loonies, druggies and conspiracy theorists."
Mostly nonsense. The official Ron Paul campaign has not been especially clever at using the Internet. The official web site was rather primitive until fairly late in the game. In many ways, the campaign has been a seat of the pants operation that struggles to deal with unexpected success.
The Paul campaign has burst onto the scene from the efforts of those outside the campaign. Part of what we are seeing is what the Libertarian Party is capable of when it's members feel like their efforts have a chance of succeeding, and they can work on something other than overhead tasks such as ballot access. The "Ron Paul Revolution" was started by Ernie Hancock, a radical Libertarian who ran for national chair in 2006. Much support has come from the followers of Lew Rockwell, friend of the late Murray Rothbard, the cantankerous co-founder of the Libertarian Party who battled to keep the party pure, until he walked out himself.
And yes, Ron Paul also draws support from gold bugs and conspiracy theorists of the John Birch variety.
But the Ron Paul Revolution is far larger than any of these factions. Something bigger is happening.
Go to a Ron Paul meetup and you will meet people who have never been active in politics before, including people who have rarely vote. You will also find a significant number of liberal Democrats, despite the fact that Ron Paul is pro-life, and has a traditionalist message.
Ron Paul gets a warm welcome on Comedy Central and Air America radio. He gets rock star treatment from hoards of young people, despite being rather square.
What we are seeing is bigger than any particular campaign. What we are seeing is the political awakening of the "Upper Left." Think of the Left-Right spectrum as going from egalitarian to aristocratic; this puts Democrats to the Left and Republicans to the Right, as expected. Now, add a second dimension: freedom. Democratic Party represents the Lower Left – bigger government with the promise of more equality. The Republican Party has factions both in the Upper Right (Reagan, Forbes) and the Lower Right (the Bushes).
There is no political party of the Upper Left.
OK, the Libertarian Party occupies part of the Upper Left, but they are so far north of center as to be irrelevant, and at least half of the party is in the far Upper Right. (Think Ayn Rand.)
Because there is no political party of the Upper Left, our society has been inching Down and to the Right. The government grows and the wealth gap widens. Unless the population moves with the politicians, we should expect the median voter to actually be above and to the left of where the government is today.
A new political party which occupies the Upper Left has the potential to become as big or bigger than the existing major parties.
But there is no such party. But we do have Ron Paul. For the first time in ages, the Upper Left has an outlet other than apathy, bitterness or conspiracy theories.
Many of you may have a hard time thinking of this paleoconservative as being on the Left. Let me leave you with a few ways in which the Paul campaign is running quite a bit to the Left of the Libertarian Party:
* He has not called for abolishing welfare, only for making it a state issue. He has specifically said that we could better afford to take care of the poor if we weren't trying to maintain an empire.
* He has called for reducing the flow of immigration. Such a move would drive up the market price for blue collar labor.
* He keeps hammering away at deficit spending. Deficit spending is a subsidy to those who have money to lend, price support for the rich.
* His call for gold-backed money would hurt debtors in the short run. In the long run, stable money would put much of Wall St. out of business.
* Even his anti-abortion stance moves him leftward on this scale. This puts him in league with blue-collar Reagan Democrats, and distances him from the college educated atheist elite.
The interesting question is whether this campaign will successfully create an Upper-Left faction within the Republican Party. Or will we need a new political party to keep the momentum rolling? Or will the Upper Left go back to sleep?
Carl Milsted is a senior editor for The Free Liberal.