Four years ago I voted for Obama mostly because of his foreign policy stance. While he had promised to bring our troops home from Iraq after taking office, his opponent was itching to start yet another land war in Asia, glibly altering an old Beach Boys song to "Bomb-Bomb-Iran." As our nation subsequently continued in the direction of increased military intervention, greater income disparity, restricted civil liberties, and more power appropriated by the executive branch, my only consolation was to think that it could have been worse.
Then last September my 17-year-old son asked me to watch a presidential primary debate with him. I was certainly not expecting truths we had found in hard-hitting documentaries like Why We Fight, The Corporation, and Manufacturing Consent to be spoken by a Republican candidate running for President, yet there was this Texas congressman condemning preemptive, undeclared wars as militaristic nation building that only undermined our national security. Ron Paul — where had he been all this time?
The more accurate question, as it turned out, was "Where had we been?" Congressman Paul had been opposing the endless wars and other unconstitutional measures for decades. Through increasingly lengthy Ron Paul study breaks, we learned that Dr. Paul was not only consistent, but consistently right in his warnings about the impending consequences of our economic and political actions. In particular, he exposed the role of the Federal Reserve not only in war financing, but also in currency devaluation, vast debt accumulation, artificial boom-bust cycles, and even the loss of our civil liberties (End the Fed). Given that a partial audit of the Fed — thanks to Paul's relentless efforts — had revealed secret bailouts of trillions of dollars to both foreign and domestic banks and institutions, it began to concern me that Goldman Sachs and its cohorts — the same banks that profited from the government bailouts — were the top contributors to both Obama's and Romney's campaigns.
The core texts I was concurrently rereading in preparation for my classes Literature Humanities and Nobility and Civility: East and West inevitably led me back to thinking about Paul's message, from Thucydides' warnings against Athenian empire building to Giambattista Vico's explanation of how Rome slipped from a republic into a tyranny. Rereading More's Utopia for the latter course, I came upon the question of how a king would respond were he to be shown that "all this war-mongering, by which so many different nations were kept in turmoil for his sake, would exhaust his treasury and demoralize his people, yet in the end come to nothing through one mishap or another." What if rather than a king, we have a two-party political class serving monolithic corporations who also conveniently control mainstream media? Might that be why the establishment isn't willing to present Ron Paul honestly, either treating him as "the 13th floor in a hotel," as Jon Stewart quipped, or distorting his views through biased coverage?
Despite the media blackout and outright hit pieces, Ron Paul has elicited support and admiration both within and beyond our nation. In the past months I've seen him likened to "a clean boat in a sea of garbage," a rock star, a Jedi knight, a prophet, and Don Quixote. One significant difference with respect to the latter figure, at least, is that the giants Paul's been challenging (e.g., the military-industrial complex, crony corporatism, the Federal Reserve) are all too real even though largely hidden from view.
Having set my homepage to the Daily Paul, I reactivated my Facebook account to post Paul-related articles, switched my affiliation from independent to Republican to vote in the primaries, and began shopping at the campaign's on-line store. My son gave rally signs to his high school teachers for their classrooms and bumper stickers to his friends for their cars. He started a Youth for Ron Paul chapter at Columbia within minutes of enrolling as an incoming freshman.
Our concentrated focus on Paul-related news was initially disconcerting to my daughter, a Columbia College sophomore. Over Thanksgiving break she complained of feeling displaced by a new baby in the family and sought help from Yahoo! Answers: "My family is obsessed with politics! They’re driving me nuts. What can I do?" (Ironically, the best answer came from someone with the opposite problem who offered to trade parents.) When I forwarded her Walter Block's article "I Hate Ron Paul," she replied that not only should I join Ron Paul Anonymous, but she would need to begin a co-dependency group for those whose loved ones suffered from the same addiction. By semester's end, however, she was relating Ron Paul to her Contemporary Civilization course readings, especially John Locke on the government's role to protect the natural rights of liberty and property. When upon her return home after exams she started playing Ron Paul songs on YouTube and phone banking, I knew she was a Ronvert! She even succeeded in convincing her grandmother to vote for the first time since the 1960s. In the space of one semester, Ron Paul had become our champion.
Over winter break the three of us spent many hours gathered around the laptop on the kitchen counter as we followed news gleaned from the Internet. We asked ourselves how President Obama could have so quietly signed the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (global internet censorship treaty, known as the "evil twin" of SOPA) and National Defense Authorization Act (indefinite military detention of American citizens without due process bill). In light of these executive actions, Vico's remarks on ancient Rome's fall into dictatorship had a particularly eerie ring. "By pursuing their own private interests," he wrote in the New Science, "free peoples let themselves be seduced by the powerful into subjecting their own public freedom to the ambition of others." While "a few vainly discoursed on the benefits of liberty," the rest went from "indifference" to "ignorance of the state as of something foreign to them." Not surprisingly, Congressman Paul not only spoke out on behalf of our liberties, but took action. The first thing he did upon returning to the House in the New Year, apart from voting against yet another rise in the debt ceiling, was to introduce an amendment repealing the unconstitutional section of the NDAA.
Yet looking at the polls and grassroots support for Dr. Paul, there are decidedly more than just a few individuals determined to restore America now. During a rally speech in New Hampshire last month, Thomas E. Woods, Jr., noted how Ron Paul is galvanizing people to study political philosophy and learn about monetary policy because the movement is ultimately not about the man, but rather the message. The crowd knew what he was talking about and so did we! We had long since devoured Paul's The Revolution: A Manifesto, and were delving into Murray Rothbard's monumental Man, Economy, and State. Realizing that regardless of our profession we cannot afford to ignore the economic issues that affect us all, we are aiming to get up to speed on the Austrian School this semester thanks to daily on-line articles and publications from the Ludwig Von Mises Institute. And although I could never have predicted such a consequence five months ago when I joined my son to watch that fateful primary debate, this spring break the three of us will be setting out on a fifteen-hour road trip to Auburn, Alabama for the Mises Institute's annual Austrian Scholars Conference. There is no turning back on this journey of discovery, and we are thrilled to be in such great company.
Our favorite Frank Capra classic, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, had a happy ending, but it was only a film. Will Ron Paul garner enough support to disappoint the Republican establishment's predetermined nominee despite systematic media misrepresentation? Will the good doctor be given a chance to cure our woes come November? In my opinion, given the pro-war, pro-bankster, anti-liberty direction adopted by both parties, our collective future as a free nation may depend on it. As Ron Paul wrote in "We've Been Neo-Conned": "Let it not be said that no one cared, that no one objected once it’s realized that our liberties and wealth are in jeopardy."
A shorter version of this essay recently appeared in the Columbia Spectator.
Jo Ann Cavallo [send her mail] is an associate professor of Italian at Columbia University and the Italian literature editor of The Literary Encyclopedia. Her latest book manuscript, The World Beyond Europe in the Romance Epics of Boiardo and Ariosto, received the 2011 Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Publication Award for a Manuscript in Italian Literary Studies.