Back before my time, in the halcyon days of inflation, disco, and the draft, there was an ubiquitous question in the country's political discourse: Jimmy who? Of course, the interrogative was directed towards the candidacy of Georgia's favorite son, Jimmy Carter, peanut farmer and future president. I was abused as a child, since my very first memory is of my mother and father talking about the 1980 presidential election, and my father cautioning me against the blind sentimentality of my mother and grandparents, who voted for Carter out of loyalty to state (Georgia was the only state of the Confederacy to cast its ballot for Carter). Over the next two decades I was raised on a diet of dinner table political discussion, the mother and grandparents pretty much falling back into character and supporting conservative Republicans, except for my grandmother's inability to overcome a debilitating Pavlovian reflex to praise FDR, she being an impressionable young woman during the Depression and such.
Considering my checkered background, it's no wonder that I chose the suspect road of applying to graduate school to study philosophy, and in particular political philosophy. After four years as an undergrad I've just been able to teach my parents the distinction between philosophy and psychology. The devotees of the first discipline sit around dreaming up bogus theories, while the practitioners of the second set about applying them to susceptible victims. Anyway, as a spectator at the games of life (what Pythagoras called the philosopher) I have developed quite a reputation as a junkie, like those poor fans who go to see the Falcons lose year after year and still keep the faith, one Super-Bowl appearance notwithstanding. So, it's no surprise that a number of fans who cheer for different teams than I do have engaged me over the years for the sake of friendly, and sometimes not so friendly, conversation.
Usually it begins with a, "I hear you're one of those conservative Republicans?"
"Well," I reply. "A lot of my views would probably be described as conservative, and I certainly believe in the legitimacy and utility of a republican form of government, but, although most of the votes I've cast have been for Republican candidates, and for two years I was active in College Republicans, I'm no longer a card-carrying member of the Republicrats."
"The Republicrats," I explain to him, "are the established party, masquerading as left and right, that monopolize control of the political system through restrictive ballot access laws and a system of spoilage that is only armed robbery on a grand scale."
"Oh, so you mean to say that you favor third parties, like Ralph Nader and the Greens?"
"Not exactly. Look, I'm all for freedom, and the right of nuts like Nader to espouse their anti-capitalist bigotry, though Nader is sound on the issue of American imperialism. And it would be a blessing for democracy to open up the political system to more voices. However, even parties organized around the greatest principles tend to degenerate over time, because popular groups gravitate toward the lowest common denominator. I'm all for individual choice."
"Then you're a pro-choice liberal?"
"Exactly, but not how you use those terms. What you call choice is merely state-mandated and subsidized murder."
"Whoa, hold on a minute," my interlocutor objects. "What kind of religious fundamentalist are you?"
"The type that my sister says is going to Hell along with my Hindu girlfriend, because we don't subscribe to her brand of Baptist. In fact, I grew up thinking I was quite liberal in religious matters until I went to college and realized that even the irreligious from the South are more concerned about God and Eternity than your average minister, priest, or Rabbi from yankeedom."
"The South. Why in the world would you want to associate with the South?" And, if they are in my apartment and haven't been scared off by all of it, they might ask about my picture of Robert E. Lee and REAL Georgia State flag hanging on the wall.
"The South," I answer, beginning to turn red, "despite all the injustice done to it and unfair portrayals to this day, is the bastion of American civilization and of the idea of limited government and liberty. Everyone has a right, a duty, to honor their ancestors. Southerners no less than any other people. We have a lot to be proud of, including our War for Independence, fought to protect against foreign invaders, and NOT to preserve slavery, as anyone with one eye and half a brain could find out for themselves!"
If my partner hasn't stormed off by now, or been knocked unconscious by intellectual overload, they'll usually mumble in a dazed stupor, "This is all very confusing. You're not a Republican and you're not a Democrat. You say you're for individual choice, but you don't approve of abortion. And you demand freedom of conscience, while freely identifying with Southerners who are the main purveyors of hate and intolerance."
I give up by this point. Still, I might as well let him in on the secret. "I'm a paleo-libertarian."
"A paleo-what?" He grimaces as he slinks off to take succor from his socialist buddies on the sidelines.
And so we come back to the question recalled at the beginning of this article. "Jimmy-who?" In the intervening decades since his election a lot has changed. Jimmy discovered marksmanship, Habitat for Humanity, and third-world immunization, which all goes to show that it's never too late in life to learn what you're good at. My conservative Republican father has come to be convinced of the futility of American interventionism, the War on Drugs, and the minimum wage, to the degree that his basic philosophy is now paleo-libertarian. My Indian girlfriend, who started out as a moderate Republican, now reads Chronicles and The American Spectator, plus the articles I e-mail her from LewRockwell.com. She even found herself defending the Confederacy to a black student at Vanderbilt when she was visiting her sister. Of course, she had the added advantage of being born and raised in Alabama, the heart of Dixie, while I grew up in the New South capital of Atlanta, unfortunately without even acquiring a southern accent, according to my parents, though my former Jewish roommate from New Jersey would disagree.
If the best defense is a good offence, then we are doing a good job of assaulting the underlying inconsistencies and uncovering the fanciful lies at the heart of statism and the status quo. The game isn't over by any means. When Lee surrendered at Appomattox, that disaster didn't kill Southern nationalism. Bubba still proudly waves the Rebel banner today. The Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD and along with it any realistic hope of a Jewish nation. Never mind. 1948 Palestine. The Athenians condemned Socrates to drink the Hemlock. So what? That didn't deter Plato from persevering in his philosophical inquiries and transforming the entire history of the West. So, next time anybody says to you, "paleo-what?" just remember who beat Gerald Ford in 1976.
August 7, 2001