As Lew Rockwell said, "I guess the memo went out." In the past week there was a seemingly coordinated effort by various right-wing pundits and websites to besmirch Ron Paul’s supporters. As we’ve argued before, Republicans who oppose Ron Paul at first hoped he’d just fade into oblivion. But now that ignoring him clearly isn’t working, his opponents have upped the ante.
This is why it is now more important than ever that Paul’s supporters be on their best behavior. Now let me unload the obvious disclaimer: I am not trying to give a sermon, and I have been known in the past to lose my temper in online discussions. Even so, I think my present analysis needs to be stated, just to remind everyone why courtesy works.
When it comes to Ron Paul’s nomination, there are three main objections. The first is that he can’t possibly win. Well, that particular claim is becoming less and less plausible. The second objection is that his ideas are too "radical." This objection too will be difficult for self-professed limited government conservatives to handle; they’d best stick to foreign policy, because anyone trumpeting "Big Government-lite" is going to get his clock cleaned against Ron Paul on domestic issues.
The third objection involves his supporters. They have been labeled Internet geeks, quixotic idealists, tinfoil wearing crazies, and even terrorist sympathizers and white supremacists. Yet there has also been a consistent charge that Ron Paul supporters are rude, intolerant bullies when it comes to reasoned political discourse. This is ostensibly why some sites have quite literally banned them.
Don’t misunderstand, I’m not endorsing these charges. I’ve seen plenty of vitriolic Web discussions, and the average Ron Paul supporter seems at least as civil (and often more so) than anybody else. But the fairness of these charges is largely irrelevant. As Ron Paul gains more and more popularity — as more people follow up the invitation to "Google Ron Paul" — we have to make it crystal clear that these charges are bogus. If someone who hasn’t thought about politics in years stumbles unto a message board, and sees even one comment along the lines of, "how much is rudy ghouliani paying you to write this warmonger crap??? youll wish Ron Paul won when you get RENDITIONED!!" then that might be enough to validate the stereotype.
Besides his unexpected popularity, the thing that pleases me most about Paul’s campaign is the reverse LOVE embedded in the word revolution. For a candidate who is going to be portrayed as soft on terrorism, this was a risky move, akin to a new pro football team wearing pink jerseys. Yet at the same time it was a brilliant move, because the Ron Paul revolution really is based on treating everyone as a human being with rights, and being serious when we say that; it is the antithesis of "blowing people up" (as Glenn Beck warns us about).
Many of Paul’s supporters are Christians, and so I don’t need to remind them (and myself) of why we must answer insults with kindness and courtesy. But for those who do not subscribe to turning the other cheek as a matter of personal morality, let me offer the following strategic considerations.
First and most important, realize that in order for Ron Paul to win the general election, he will need the votes of rank and file Republicans. The left has been soft on Ron Paul because they still don’t view him as a serious threat, and because they find it entertaining to watch him castigate the militarism in his party. But make no mistake, if Paul wins the nomination, the left will be mobilized as we’ve never seen. It’s true, there will be many antiwar Democrats who won’t cast a vote for Hillary Clinton against Ron Paul, but even so he will be painted as the most reactionary, woman-hating Republican of all time; see here and here for a taste.
So it’s not enough to narrowly squeak through the primaries with a split war hawk vote, and building enemies all the way. On the contrary, if Ron Paul does pull off the unexpected and secure the nomination, he will have to have done it in such a faultless manner that even his biggest Republican detractors will think, "I strongly disagree with his foreign policy views, but he really would balance the budget and slash taxes. His followers mean well but are just naïve about terrorist threats. I’m voting for him against Clinton. Better to have no foreign intervention than botched foreign meddling."
Looking even further, if Ron Paul were to actually become the next president, he will be able to achieve so much more if his supporters have conducted themselves with the utmost class. Yes, no matter what we do, there will be plenty of smears thrown our way. But remember not to focus on the loudmouths; our goal isn’t to convince them. Rather, the goal (in an online forum, say) is to convince the ninety-nine people reading the website who don’t post anything.
In many respects, today’s libertarians (and Ron Paul supporters in particular) face the situation of a racial minority in decades past. And for that reason, the nonviolent techniques practiced by many American blacks are instructive. For example, here is an excerpt from Diane Nash’s recounting of the workshops conducted by Jim Lawson, which led to the "sit ins" at lunch counters in the segregated South:
Jim Lawson was a very interesting person. He had been to India and studied the movement of Mohandas Gandhi. He also had been a conscientious objector and had refused to fight in the Korean War. He conducted weekly workshops, where we would do things like pretend we were sitting in at lunch counters. We would practice things such as how to protect your head from a beating and how to protect each other. If one person was taking a severe beating, we would practice other people putting their bodies in between that person and the violence, so that the violence could be more distributed and hopefully no one would get seriously injured. We would practice not striking back if someone struck us.
The reference to Gandhi is also relevant. Ron Paul’s supporters want to dissolve the "American empire." Well Gandhi was able to defeat the British Empire through civil disobedience and appealing to the conscience of the powerful. The same approach can work here. Ron Paul’s supporters are rightly outraged at the claim that they are closet terrorists because of the Guy Fawkes connection. In addition to eschewing actual violence, to truly be wise as serpents yet harmless as doves, we must be completely polite and fair with our opponents. As I said above, this won’t work on a lot of people. But some will take notice and make a case for at least tolerance. We know our ideas are better, and it’s much easier to defuse the name-calling if we refuse to follow suit.
In closing, all I’m asking is that Ron Paul’s supporters act as the candidate himself. Unwavering and uncompromising, to be sure, but also polite and civil to a fault. This is the way to win a revolution based on love.