Winning by Losing

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Just after taking office as President of the United States in 1789, George Washington wrote in two separate letters that he had both "feelings not unlike those of a culprit who is going to the place of his execution," and that he "greatly apprehend, that my countrymen will expect too much from me." No one man in the eighteenth century measured up to Washington's reluctant statesmanship. He resigned his military commission along with every political office he had or could have obtained following the American War for Independence, retired to Mount Vernon, and preferred to live as a planter. He was the American Cincinnatus. But Washington knew in 1789 that, thankfully, the Constitution as ratified by the States did not allow for a dictator or a king. He could not unilaterally "save" the United States (and it could be debated whether the United States needed saving). Such work required the hands of many, most importantly the States and the Congress. Washington was not the government.

Ron Paul supporters should find solace in Washington's words. No one in the Paul camp is under the delusion that he is the "savior" of the Constitution, but I think many would be disappointed in a Paul presidency, just as the Tertium Quids were disappointed with Thomas Jefferson. The realities of the Constitution and Washington politics would have limited Paul's effectiveness, and rightly so. Americans don't need a presidential tax or spending plan. The president cannot raise taxes, lower taxes, cut spending or increase spending. We often hear "Reagan cut taxes," or "Obama spending increases" but both are incorrect. It was the Congress that did both and the Congress should be held accountable. But this is where Ron Paul can win by losing and be more effective from the sidelines.

As many have pointed out (Jack Hunter most recently), the young age and enthusiasm of most Paul supporters provides hope for the future of the federal republic. They can breathe life into the Constitution. The plan, however, should be to turn our attention away from the presidency for good. As per the Constitution as ratified, the States and the Congress have more power than the president. Washington knew it and we should remember it. A three part plan under the guidelines below could change the course of the United States forever.

1. One thing the progressives did well in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries was bridge the gap between political theory and political action. Most knew that Americans would never accept Marxism in large doses, so they conceived of a two-pronged strategy to dupe the American people into accepting their destruction of the first American principles of liberty and decentralization. The first involved the popular philosophy of pragmatism. In short, these progressives would insist on a piecemeal approach to American socialism and by the time Americans realized that they had embraced the political slogans of the Communist Manifesto, it would be too late.

The second involved a scientific concept called permeation. This is where Ron Paul supporters could make a move. The progressives joined every conceivable civic organization they could, from local political parties to civic clubs, in an attempt to drive public opinion toward their agenda. If enough Paul supporters made a determined effort to do this, the Republican Party would look drastically different in five years. Furthermore, because liberty and freedom are not difficult concepts for Americans to embrace, and because Paul supporters advocate a return to principles of 1776, Americans are already primed to accept this message, albeit gently if necessary. Successful efforts by Paul supporters to swing the delegate count in the Republican primary process by becoming active at the local level is a nice example of how this could work on a broader scale.

2. As a wonderful new book edited by Don Livingston has pointed out, Americans are beginning to rethink the American union in light of the crushing social, political, and economic problems the United States is facing. This grass roots effort would breathe life into the next part of the strategy. Americans need the States to grow a backbone, and by guiding the Republican Party at the State and local level, Paul supporters would be able to sway the legislative agenda in statehouses across America. Imagine if seventy-five percent of the States were controlled by people interested in decentralization, and at the very minimum several Constitutional amendments that would forever destroy the leviathan in Washington D.C. Don't think it could happen? Just look at the sweeping changes brought forth by the progressives with the 16th-19th Amendments to the Constitution. If three quarters of the States proposed and ratified a slate of amendments designed to reduce Washington to the general government it was designed to be, Congress and the President could do no more about it than part the seas and make it rain (Al Gore to the contrary). The States are the key, and our focus needs to be there.

3. Ron Paul is retiring, but there are members of Congress who are worth their salt. Rand Paul and Justin Amash are nice examples. Again, this all hinges on controlling the State and local parties. If Paul supporters could determine who is a candidate for office at the State and local level, then perhaps as much as thirty percent of the Congress could be controlled by "Paulites." The Paul campaign has shown that a liberty minded candidate can raise money and on the local and State level have a real chance at winning. A voting block of that nature could propose or defeat legislation at will and would force the statists and centralizers to the bargaining table. One or two members of the United States Congress do not have much power, but one-hundred would.

Americans are hungry for this type of action, but it will take dedication and the willingness to make the local more important than the "national." The Constitution as ratified by the founding generation is the blueprint, and the progressives, for all of their faults, knew how to make local politics into an effective weapon. Ron Paul will not get the nomination (of course he will be closer than the pundits think), but he can still win the war. It took the progressives over one hundred years to get here, the modern mess of debt and government power. They were patient. A little patience, a little perseverance, and a lot of hard work are all liberty minded individuals need to strike the heart of Washington and kill the monster. It must be gutted from the outside in and the bottom up. The president cannot and should not "change" America lest we have a love for a totalitarian dictator. Ron Paul 2012 has to be the start of something bigger. The young people have the bug; now it is time to run with it.

Brion McClanahan [send him mail] holds a Ph.D. in American history from the University of South Carolina and is a faculty member at Tom Woods’s Liberty Classroom. He is the author or co-author of three books: The Founding Fathers Guide to the Constitution (Regnery History, 2012); Forgotten Conservatives in American History (with Clyde Wilson, Pelican, 2012); and The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers (Regnery, 2009).

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