Several months ago, when the American presidential campaigns were just beginning I remember an incredible excitement about Ron Paul and his impossible bid for the Presidency. As a shallow sort of figure, as a mere symbol, I admit though he was fun to watch.
First off, he was the only Republican who was anti-war, and this made the early debates alot more interesting than they should have been. I mean, so often I found myself feeling monumentally stupid to even be caring about these early debates since the actual election was more than a year away, and the ways in which these campaigns are reported nowadays, everything is recorded and analyzed, but then quickly forgotten. Its surreal how the immense amount of reporting on these campaigns can actually reduce not just how much we care about them, but how much we can readily remember. Its as if the sheer amount of reporting combined with the knowledge of how incredibly far away the election is can lead to a cynical deluge. The constant breaking news reports of campaign flubs, barbs and fundraising milestones, leads to an uncertainty over what actually matters, and if something truly important every took place, would I be able to recognize it?
I remember watching a few months ago an episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, where they were commenting on the "battle of words" between Obama and Hillary. The language they used to describe the exchange was violent and meant to convey that a very real conflict was taking place here. Obama was "hitting hard" or "swiping" with his "newly sharpened elbows." The impression from this is that a real battle is taking place here and therefore this is a spectacle and showdown to watch and take seriously. The actual "words" which were being thrown back and forth, and used to hit hard with, were barely active, barely confrontational, barely reached the level of what we would consider to be a "battle of words." The Daily Show captures this gap very well, by portraying the battle through the 1960's Batman TV show style of after each "blow" blazoning "pow" or "bam" on the screen. The intent here is the same as it was in the original Batman, since this hit wasn't actually that hard (or more accurately, because a hit never actually happened), let's remind the audience or trick them into thinking it was, by making a loud "pow" sound.
This emptiness was only part of the frustration. The partisan pandering which took place was just as difficult to watch, especially on the Republican side, where their debates seemed like an angry wash of scared white male pandering. Whereas the Democrats clearly were pandering to a very wide and open tent and in their debates seemed to want desperately to try and bring in through their policy arguments as many people as people, the Republicans seemed to think that the only way to get the support of their base was to scare people, make veiled racist, homophobic remarks, and then propose themselves as the largest and most powerful white man in the room. Their attacks and posturing however made clear that those who make up their base is a single particular group, and that their support is gained through making gestures of shutting everyone else out of the tent.
The debates had a frustrating way of being racist and disgusting, but also boring. After minutes of dull and monotonous answers, with each candidate unsure how to say the same thing better or in different way, someone would rise from the pack with a truly insane or ridiculous statement, meant to win them the alpha male title. Mitt Romney's claim that Guantanamo Bay should be doubled was one such instance, as was San Diego's Duncan Hunter claiming to have built the border fence.
Ron Paul emerged as a sort of progressive pet (or pet project), because of the way he broke up these Republican rhythmns, injecting into these debates taboo perspectives about the war and America's role in the world. The fact that during one debate, Rudy Giuliani actually demanded that Paul apologize was a truly classic moment. One could almost feel perceive a wishful cloud of amnesia descend upon the state and the audience, as everyone sought furiously to banish from their minds, the idea that the United States could have somehow helped bring about 9/11. Ron Paul was intriguing because he was one of the few candidates on both sides who was willing to question the aura of imperial innocence that so many people, and not just presidential candidates wrap themselves in.
From this perspective I can understand why so many progressives would latch on to Ron Paul, he was sort of an exciting anomaly. A Republican anti-war candidate!! Did they still exist? Was there a way that they could be brought over from the darkside, or better yet was there a way that they (just like with Zell Miller and Joe Liberman), be used to sabotage the other side? For instance, even though Republicans seemed to loathe Ron Paul, why did he get so much applause at their debates and sometimes even seem to win them? (probably because of all the Democrats who would vote for him)
As Ron Paul has shifted however from a marginal, fringe figure, and slowly made his way into the consciousness of the United States and the internet, the symbol he once represented to many liberals and progressives, has begun to definitely shimmer and fade. Before, the only thing that mattered was his anti-war/critical of Bush stance, however now as he begins to raise more and more money, and more and more disillusioned voters become attracted to his campaign, his other troubling and frightening stances on issues are coming to the surface.
I won't go into the depths of how frightening his libertarian ideas are, since that will be a post in and of itself. Instead I just want to share with you the incredible twisted racism of Ron Paul's campaign, as exemplified by the following campaign video I just came across on Youtube. If the insanity of the video isn't obvious to you, I'll spare you my rambling analysis and just direct your to the post on this ad from the website Antiwar.com. It is almost shocking how similar this ad is to those made by one of Paul's former rivals in the race Tom Tancredo (which I've also embedded below)