Why Liberals Could but Won’t (and Shouldn’t) Support Ron Paul

16 Aug

The call of Ron Paul: every collegiate twenty-something feels it at some time or another. Because college is a time when young people often discover their own political leanings, the politics of the youth have always seemed to encompass more progressive views than those of general society. That’s not to say all college students are liberal –there are plenty of conservatives –just that they’re more progressive than the rest of the country. On the issues of climate change, gay rights and the legalization of marijuana, college students on a whole are left of center. The Pew research center reported that 66% of those under the age of 30 voted for President Obama in 2008. Pew even says “Among voters ages 18-29, a 19-point gap now separates Democratic party affiliation (45%) and Republican affiliation (26%).

A way to seemingly reconcile the progressive social leanings of the youth with free-market ideals is libertarianism. It seems like this is a natural way for those who were raised republican to integrate their liberal social mores with fiscal conservatism. Because the very nature of dorm life creates an integrated environment where students are exposed to and live in close quarters with people of all races, sexual orientations, geographical backgrounds and political ideologies, the desire for inclusiveness can lead to support for politics like the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, support of gay marriage, the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and a host of other causes. It’s harder than it is easier to graduate college with exclusionary politics.

Although the Pew statistics suggest young people identify more with Democrats than with Republicans, a key group amongst the young politically minded are the libertarians. Often torn between the social politics of the democrats and the fiscal politics of the republicans, most libertarians I’ve met are fervent and zealous in promulgating libertarianism. After the spending-binge that is known as the George W. Bush presidency, libertarians shunned the Republican party. Early incarnations of the Tea Party were quite libertarian –then the Religious Right and Birthers infiltrated the group. With libertarians unable to call the Republican party home and unable to find solace in the Democratic party because of their pro-union, pro-spending philosophy, these politically displaced nomads were wandering around looking for a candidate they could believe in.

Enter: Ron Paul.

Rep. Ron Paul has always had a niche group of supporters; it’s why he’s been a member of Congress for so long. Ron Paul is able to draw in young supporters with his willingness to vocally oppose some of the less inclusive policies of the Republican party, to allow for some progressive views on social issues and maintain a conservative fiscal approach to the economy. The objectivists who treat Ayn Rand as a prophet find in Ron Paul a candidate who closely mirrors the philosophy that they believe in. Rand fans are to fiscal policy what evangelicals are to social policy: a vocal, zealous, block of consistent voters. I’ve been known to jokingly refer to Ron Paul’s supporters as “Rondroids” who defend him against every assailment and inflate his Google numbers and Wikipedia page far beyond his actual relevance to the rest of society. As we’ve seen in American politics, small minorities can outshine and out-maneuver silent majorities. Just as the devout showed up in high numbers to support Michele Bachmann at the Iowa Straw Poll, Rand fans turned out in high numbers to support Ron Paul.

Conservatives and libertarians adore Ron Paul – but unexpectedly, some liberals can at times be mesmerized by him too. His public persona –chalk it up to good PR or individualism—is that there is a contrast to the current Republican field of candidates. He is often perceived to be much more of an intellectual than his contemporaries. He undoubtedly gained some liberal empathy when Rick Santorum picked a fight with him during the GOP debate to garner some air time. But he frankly appealed to the youth so much because he advocated for troop withdrawal and an end to America’s militarism. This view is so far out of the mainstream that you rarely see even Democrats arguing for it –despite its popularity with liberals. The problem is that the very idea that gains him so many fans –the drawback of the military and defense spending—is what puts him so outside the status quo of Washington that he has become a dismissed entity. The dismissal of anti-militaristic views from the mainstream goes back to the post-9/11 era when any and all opposition to anything the defense department did merited accusations of anti-patriotism. The Bush administration all but sewed militarism into the American flag. Do you think the Patriot Act, the Iraq War and torture at Guantanamo Bay would have happened if a culture of fear-mongering didn’t exist? The dismissal of Ron Paul from presidential viability also gains him some empathy with liberals because that very dismissal marginalizes the anti-war sentiment of many on the left. Many Obama supporters are becoming disaffected with President Obama’s continuation of military and defense emphasis and the continuation of the Iraq War, especially after he touted his vote against the way during his campaign. The disaffection with Obama over defense policy may pave the way for some liberals to jump ship and join the Ron Paul train.

There’s little evidence of this yet; the President’s approval rating with liberals has gone down but it’s still very strong. But it would be a mischaracterization to say Paul could win over liberals in an election. While his approach to military spending is right in line with a liberal philosophy, he has extremely conservative views in too many other arenas. He opposed abortion, even reintroducing the Sanctity of Life Act. His rhetoric around the separation of church and state characterizes famous supreme court cases as a way to “deprive citizens of their religious liberty.” He was also critical of the Civil Rights act of 1964. He is one of the most fiscally conservative members in Congress. All of his fiscal views and most of his social views are conservative – so for liberals to jump from Obama to Paul would require a complete 180 on their political philosophy. Paul’s blunt anti-war sentiment has a magic surrounding its rhetoric, but at most he can elicit liberal praise. As far as liberal votes go, it’s the economy, stupid—so one progressive stance won’t negate an entire history of conservative fiscal policy and criticism of liberal economic values.

But that’s in regard to the choice liberals will make when they vote. In our daily lives on non-election days, we often don’t define ourselves through the scope of “democrat” or “republican.” We don’t have to vote up or down on the totality of a candidate as a person. Liberals can (and should) admire Ron Paul’s vocalization of anti-war sentiment. The two-party duopoly of our political system orients us in such a way that we have to see politicians as one-note. We ascribe each politician a persona –usually based on false marketing in campaign ads–and demand that they adhere to it and ignore them when they don’t. Ron Paul can’t be categorized and dismissed as such.


Why Warren Buffett’s Op-ed Resonates So Much with Us

15 Aug

First thing’s first, read this.

Work of Mark Hirschey

The buzz, surprise and resonance that Warren Buffett’s New York Times op-ed has created is keeping it amongst the most emailed news stories today and a constant trending topic on Twitter. The editorial is a rare instance of a public figure taking a stand against the political winds to stand up for the long-term benefit of the country.

U.S. tax policy is far too mired by the ongoing war between short-term politics and long-term benefits. Short-term politics are what continuously keeps our government officials from tackling truly sensitive issues like Social Security reform, Medicare, universal health care and a revamp of our tax code. The political climate in Washington is so subservient to the status quo that our leaders run elections by trying to say as little as possible, offend as few as possible and hide their stances as much as possible. It’s why a discussion on tax policies always turns into: jobs are good. It’s why any conversation about entitlements turns into: old people are nice.

Poll after poll reveals that for the first time in recent American history, a majority of people believe the lives of this generation will not be better than the lives of the past generation. This is because our politicians refuse to put the long-term benefit of this country over the short-term political maneuvering that has incited the ire of the public and put Congress in a 14% approval rating.

So perhaps the very thing needed in society today was someone outside of the political system (truly outside of it, not just as a talking point). Buffett’s article has spread across the annals of social media like a wildfire –a testament to how much of a chord it has struck. It’s odd that a billionaire’s opinion on taxation would resonate so much with people who can relate to him so little –but that’s exactly the case. For those of us outside the D.C. environment, it’s quite obvious how desperately change based on pragmatic but drastic measures is to this country’s wellbeing. The majority of Americans favor increasing taxes on those earning more than $250,000 a year. Despite the fact that the public has spoken, no provision of sorts was included in the recent debt deal, much to the glee of Grover Norquist I’m sure.

Let’s not let tax policy turn into what climate change has turned into. A majority of Americans believe that climate change is occurring and we need to enact more environmentally friendly policy –but a vocal few deniers have prevented this from happening. And while a majority of Americans still believe in climate change despite PR efforts on the extreme Right to dismiss its validity, the spin-tactics have had an undeniable effect on public opinion and the percent of people who believe in global warming has declined. Yes, you read that right: as more and more irrefutable scientific evidence proving the existence of global climate change has been promulgated, fewer Americans believe in it. (You can’t refute the evidence, but maybe you can refudiate it?)

That’s why I love Buffett’s op-ed. As a billionaire himself and someone of significant fiscal acumen, spinmasters can’t just use their usual ad hominem attacks against him. Since he’s not a political figure and because he’s arguing against his own financial interests, the PR machine can’t just dismiss him. He’s given a level of credibility to this stance on taxes that no politician or pundit could give.

A focal point of his argument is that raising taxes does not kill jobs. He mentions that during periods of high taxation, significant job growth has occurred. During a recent period of low tax rates, job creation fell off a cliff (the Bush years). The main point of the argument is not that billionaires do or don’t mind paying more taxes – it’s that the rate they pay has no correlation to how many people they employ.

Fiscal conservatives will argue that you can lower taxes and still increase overall tax revenue: this is true if the employment rate is high, so more people have taxable income (If there are more incomes to tax, then it is feasible that the government could gain more revenue by taxing more people at a lower rate than by taxing fewer people at a higher rate). But, it is a farce to mistake what could be true with what always is true –and furthermore, to argue this proves a causal correlation is wrong because it doesn’t. While low tax rates and increased revenues can occur concurrently, it has never been proven that low tax rates cause the job growth necessary to increase overall tax revenue in the country.

Perpetuating Media Myths: How Politicians Get Away with Dodging Reporters

14 Aug

Sometimes, we believe that if you say something enough times, it becomes true. That’s actually never the case; but if you say something enough times, people will start to believe it’s true. Take for example, the narrative perpetuated by conservatives today that the media possesses an inherent liberal bias. The “liberal media bias” is a myth of particular danger to our free society because perpetuating this very notion allows politicians on the Right to dodge accountability for any other their actions because whatever they do, they can always claim it was the liberal media bias that is “spinning” the story to make them look bad. This kind of farce argues that investigative journalism is nothing more than a smear campaign. It’s the notion of muckrakers all over again. We’ve reached a point in society where we question perception more than we consider facts. Instead of countering stories on merit, we see public figures slam their detractors with ad hominem attacks. The easiest PR move a politician can make when questioned is to simply question the partiality of the questioner.

Official portrait of United States Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY)

Defenders of Anthony Weiner dismissed accusations that Weiner sent lewd photos to women over Twitter by pointing out that Andrew Breitbart had a history of manipulating facts to perpetuate a conservative agenda, most flagrantly by editing a video of Shirley Sherrod to make it seem like she was giving a racist speech (the exact opposite of what her speech was actually about). Breitbart was gravely unethical and patently dishonest with his coverage of Sherrod, but he did happen to be right about the Weiner scandal. I don’t have anything even resembling praise for Breitbart, but I think that his track record as a “journalist” proves that public figures should treat journalists and detractors as investigators. I sometimes wonder how differently things would have went for Weiner if he had been honest from the start of his scandal instead of denying facts he knew to be true.

The case of Anthony Weiner is a sensational instance of a politician dismissing valid inquiry by waging an ad hominem attack on the inquirer. But many more subtle, equally as wrong, cases of this behavior happen on a daily basis –especially with regards to conservatives using “liberal media bias” as a shield to stave off hard-hitting journalism. Take a look at Sarah Palin’s monumental gaffe in which she argued that Paul Revere was some sort of NRA-shill who warned us that the British were trying to take away our arms. She then went on to claim it was a “shout-out gotcha” question on Fox News. Palin’s repeated avoidance of what she calls the “lamestream” media in favor of taking softie questions at Fox falls into her habit of playing the victim every time she looks bad in the press, which is often. Newt Gingrich astonishingly even tried this trick on his own ilk at the GOP debate.

Crying “lamestream media” at every hint of serious questioning has escalated too far. Because conservative politicians now know they can just go over to Fox News to announce things -with a positive spin free of charge courtesy of Roger Ailes – and that the mainstream networks will play clips of it later anyway, they’ve successfully been able to stave off the kind of serious journalistic inquiry needed, especially during an election. In Iowa Michele Bachmann snubbed Don Lemon of CNN with a placid smile and a crowd of protective handlers. Don Lemon is now claiming Marcus Bachmann, Michele’s husband whom she is “submissive” to, pushed him. The video is below, so you can decide for yourself if you want to see this as a crowd-gone wild situation where Bachmann needed to escape quickly, or part of the broader efforts of the Republican party to deflect and ignore all journalists not openly associated with their political ideology.

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GOP Debate Made for Great TV

14 Aug

Credit: National Park Service via Wikipedia

Ever since the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debate – the firsttime presidents debated for a national TV audience – the importance of television-friendliness as a presidential quality has been well known and subsequent debates have demonstrated the ability of style to trump substance. The estimated 70 million viewers of the first presidential debate in history overwhelmingly named Kennedy as the winner while audience members who heard the debate on the radio, called Nixon as the winner. Nixon reportedly refused to wear make-up for the debate and as a high school history teacher once told me, “he looked sweaty on camera.” Perhaps Nixon didn’t even look that bad, but certainly the tanned, charming, boyishly attractive John F. Kennedy certainly made him pale in comparison. What the Nixon-Kennedy debates showed us is that political discourse is as much about showmanship as it is about substance. Kennedy’s whopping win during the debate foreshadowed the shift in this country’s emphasis on political theater over political accomplishments.

Television itself has proven to be a game changer in the political discourse.  Early 2008 interviews can be credited with the take-down of Sarah Palin as any real threat to the presidency. Clips of her I can see Russia gaffe and her inabilityto name a single newspaper will live on forever in Internet-infamy and the Zeitgeist. But television can also be credited with supplying Sarah Palin with longevity and unwavering press-coverage, by her supporters and her attackers – perhaps even more so by the latter. Sarah Palin’s made-for-tv looks helped her gain early intrigue from the moment she was named as a Vice Presidential nominee; her made-for-tv personality, full of one-liners, folksy jabs and winks, has kept her relevant far beyond the expiration date of her actual political career (as governor of Alaska). Even though her favorability rating in the general public is shrinking, it’s important to note that major pollsters are still actually performing favorability polls on a public figure who is not running for president, does not currently hold office, and has flouted any indications that she might run. It’s true Sarah Palin could still jump in the primary, but I doubt it; she’s plenty powerful where she is right now: on TV and in headlines. TV arguably made and arguably disassembled her political career. Either way, it undoubtably made her who she is today, to the point where her bus tour/family vacation merits national TV coverage.

Which brings us where we are today: at the height of political theater. Sometimes politicians treat elections like job interviews, rattling off their accomplishments and repeating to us their resumes. Other times (increasingly often times) politicians treat elections like auditions, where the most attention-grabbing candidates know that PR stunts are what will keep them in the news. It’s difficult to ever predict how much of a politician’s personality you see is calculated, how much is authentic and how much is simply an appeal to a popularity contest. Swing voters like strong leadership and authenticity. Talking points only work on the hyper-partisan voters who have already made up their minds about 100% of their choices and are simply looking for a candidate that will be a mirror for their hopes and fears. Which is why primary debates are more zany than general election debates. Some of the candidates, like Rick Santorum and Michelle Bachman are feeding off of and feeding into the small but vocal constituencies that have absolute support of their agendas, like say the Religious Right in this case. Others, who lack in media attention, like Herman Cain and to a lesser extent, Tim Pawlenty, come out swinging just to keep their campaigns alive. There’s usually a sole, renegade candidate who is true to his or her beliefs despite being almost unelectable, like Ron Paul. And then of course, there are the candidates with the most mass appeal, like Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney, who walk the fine line of trying to simultaneously energize the base while still appealing to moderates and swing voters. (You’ll note Newt Gingrich doesn’t fit into any of these categories neatly. That’s because I treat what’s left of his campaign effort as an attempt to raise enough money to pay off his debts. I just can’t take someone with such low approval ratings, such little motivations and such a horrible start to the campaign season seriously).

Yesterday’s debate had all the usual character types, but was surprisingly, well, surprising. The last presidential debate was much more neutered. Moderated by John King, the questions were all wrong and pacing of the debate did little to keep viewers interested. With hundreds of channels to choose from, why watch a boring debate when the inexorable mashups of the best moments will appear in the blogosphere in a matter of hours? Fox News and the three moderators struck a good balance between questions that the audience wanted answered while still subtly pitting the candidates against each other – a tactic that leads to fantastically entertaining TV. Afterall, the GOP debate was competing withJersey Shore‘s timeslot. In yesterday’s debate, we saw the formerly shy and uncle-ish Tim Pawlenty take direct shots and Michelle Bachmann’s record and even get a hilarious jab at Mitt Romney into the mix. He was doing what he could to correct the mistake he made in the previous debate of not going for the jugular when asked about Mitt Romney’s track record. That mistake took him from the top of the pack to the bottom. Pawlenty had every incentive to make last night’s debate a game changer since he needs to win the Iowa staw poll in order to save his campaign.

Herman Cain’s “America needs to learn how to take a joke” line was funny and helped make the debate lively and energetic. Newt Gingerich’s claim that all questions directed at him were “gotcha” questions was funny, but for entirely different reasons.

Perhaps the most surprising smackdown was the Rick Santorum – Ron Paulclash. The clash was highly entertaining, but so unnecessary because neither candidate was in a position to be helped politically by it. But I suppose it’s key to note that both candidates benefited from the squabble in the sense that it earned them each more TV time then they otherwise would have gotten during the debate. (Santorum was awkwardly interrupted when the moderators let Bachmann and Pawlenty engage in a back-and-forth earlier) I guess the strategist in me wonders if either Santorum or Paul think they could ever get the nomination. From my vantage point, they’re both there to raise awareness for the issues they believe in, and of course, their own profiles. But hey, Paul may have won over some anti-war liberals with his gutsy insistence that the U.S. needs to back away from its military-industrial complex.

It’s unclear who emerged as the winner of the debate. None of the candidates surprised me as much as the Fox News moderators did. They asked poignant questions and confronted the candidates with some of their most notable gaffes. Cain was asked about his Sharia law comments, Bachmann was asked about her “submission” to her husband, Huntsman was asked about his record as a moderate and support for civil unions (I don’t think that can be called a bad thing, but the audience at the debate certainly did), and Mitt was asked about job growth in Massachusetts during his time as governor. The moderators of the debate kept the discussion energetic – but most importantly – televisable. This debate was far better than the previous one on CNN. Maybe that’s because we’re getting down to the wire and the candidates are finally starting to pick each other off or maybe it really was good moderating. Either way, televised debates have a major impact on elections. Even voters who don’t sit down to watch an entire debate, certainly see bits and pieces of them on youtube or any one of the 24-hour news networks that play these kinds of clips on loop.

An Open Letter to the President

14 Aug

Dear President Obama,

Photo Credit: Pete Souza, The Obama-Biden Transition Project

Three days of UK Riots, Bashar’s bloodbath on the streets of Syria, famine and violence in Somalia, inflation in China, global stock market uncertainty, high domestic unemployment, an increasingly probable double-dip recession and public distrust and disappointment with government officials dominate the world headlines. The world we live in is a layered and complicated place in which suffering and tragedy are daily events that we’ve learned to ignore in favor of concentration on the simple, the understandable and the easy.

I’m 22 years old and entering my last year of college, I will graduate with a Master’s degree in Public Communication and a Bachelor’s in English in 2012 because I enrolled in an accelerated degree program. I also plan to attend law school after graduation and I am currently in the process of studying for the LSAT. But for the past month and a half I’ve had difficulty concentrating. On October 1, I will take the most important test of my life and allow four hours to determine the trajectory of my career. For a test as important and difficult as the LSAT, I should be able to concentrate and care –but I’m having trouble doing so.

I believe my problems focusing on LSAT-preparation stem from my growing skepticism that a law degree will guarantee me any job-certainty or even employment. While I’ve wanted to be an attorney since my early childhood, the closer I get to my goal, the less certain I am that I’ve made the right choices. With education should come confidence. But young people growing up in this economic and social climate have very little of either, education or confidence.

2008 was the first presidential election I was old enough to vote in; I was hopeful and idealistic as young voters often are. For all of my idealism and hope, I feel you have not actually enacted any changes in the status quo that I can be proud of. I voted for you because I thought it would bring about changes in policy and the political climate. But I know that many of the other young voters, who came out for you in record numbers, voted for you because of what you stood for and because we believed that you understood that deep structural changes were necessary in the way that our government functioned.

You became the President at a very uncertain and unlucky time in American history. You inherited a great deal of failed policies, a deficit, two wars, a recession and a political system where change is based on backroom deals and not constituent voices.  I can now see that the kind of veering change that I expected was naïve. But the factor that most elicited my support of you, your eloquence and honesty, is a glimmer of what it was in 2008. While seven seasons of The West Wing have taught me that the idealism of the campaign must turn into pragmatism and realism in the actual presidency, I do not believe that that shift should manifest itself in the inability to stand up for what you believe in.

One of the most compelling statements you made in your campaign was when you said U.S. foreign policy should extend an open hand to the Middle East instead of a closed fist.  I know that the rhetoric of your campaign indicated that you would be a collaborative, pragmatic and compromising leader. While I know numerous Op-eds and pundits have already belabored this point, but I do want to state that compromise doesn’t mean capitulation. All leaders must have two hands, one open hand to compromise, but one closed fist to stand firm.

This brings me to the point of my introductory paragraph: the world is complicated. Each and every one of us has far less control over events than we can find comforting. I do not expect you to create miracles out of destitute situations across the globe and at home. But if you make the case for the things I thought you stood for in 2008, even if you don’t accomplish them, at least these issues will have a voice. There is structural inequality and systemic poverty in the world, I know you can’t solve it, but you are standing behind the largest, most powerful podium in the world. When you say something, it matters; which is why I hope that you will choose to say what matters in the future.

I know with 2012 around the corner, you must say what people want to hear rather than what they should hear, in order to get reelected, but I’m just not sure what the point of reelection is if we’re reelecting more of the same, especially when we all believed in change.

I will be voting for you in the 2012 election; but this time, not out of excitement and promise, but out of fear and uncertainty. Maybe that change in me is just a part of growing older. The small but resilient part of me that still hopes you will reemerge as a strong leader to re-inspire the nation wishes you the best of luck.

Thank you,