As long as it's just George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and John Ashcroft who are evil — a “bad batch” — then you don't have to kick the habit entirely. Just make sure you get a good batch next time — elect "good" politicians — and you'll never have to question the political system to which you have become attached.
~ Me, three years ago: "Kick the Habit: Politics Is Not the Answer"
I can't believe the things that have been coming out of my mouth these past few months. If anyone had told me a year ago that today I'd be sending an e-mail to my friends urging them to vote — and to vote Republican — I would have said that person was either nuts or just didn't know me.
And yet here I am, writing the e-mails, getting involved in the movement, and trying to explain to my friends — long used to hearing me tell them why voting is worse than a waste of time, how it helps perpetuate a system that is destructive and wrong — why this time it's different, this time it not only makes sense to vote, but they must vote …and get all of their friends to do it too.
And all the while, a little voice gnaws away at me, asking if I'm not just falling into the same trap I warned against when I wrote about the 2004 elections "Kick the Habit: Politics is Not the Answer"; If I'm not just putting my faith in a politician to solve problems that have no political solution; If I'm not just trying to solve problems with the very mechanism that created them; if I'm not granting legitimacy to the state by participating in its elections. And the truth is, I don't have a clean answer to any of those questions. I can't just dismiss them or pretend I'm not in fact falling victim to the same attachment to political solutions — the same addiction — that I saw so clearly as being part of the problem four years ago, and that I still believe is part of the problem.
But neither can I answer the other voice that asks questions just as troubling. Questions like: "so why haven't you, and the anti-war movement, been able to end the war in Iraq?" and "what exactly is it you're going to do to stop them from nuking Iran?" I don't have answers to these questions either, and I am quite frankly tired of feeling helpless in the face of this kind of evil. And I know: that's how they suck you in. That's what politicians and drug pushers alike look for in their potential customers: a sense of helplessness, neediness… an emptiness needing to be filled. I know all that.
But I also know that this time something is different. Ron Paul's entire political career calls into question my beliefs about how political systems work and how politicians survive within them. My understanding of democratic politics may explain everyone else in Washington, but it certainly doesn't explain Dr. Paul's success in being elected and returned to office for ten terms. Or maybe he is the exception that proves my rules. Whatever he is, he is not the same animal as the others in Washington, he's not selling the same stuff. And his candidacy for president forces me — and, I believe, anyone who has taken a principled stand against voting — to re-examine my reasons for not participating in the system.
The truth is, I never was a "principled" non-voter. I've always said — jokingly of course — that if a candidate came along who promised to drastically reduce the scope of government, and I trusted them to do so, and that person actually had a shot at winning, I would have to consider voting for that person. Not surprisingly, I have never been faced with this particular dilemma. I suspect that I am not alone among lifetime non-voters who have never really had to examine their stance. As long as there is clearly no point in voting, we are never really forced to dig deeply into the reasons why we don't vote. And, certainly in my lifetime, there has never been any point in voting in a presidential election. Until now.
I first encountered Ron Paul the last time he was running for president. He was running as the Libertarian candidate, and nobody even pretended he had a chance of winning. As an opportunity to spread ideas about liberty and free markets though, my friends and I thought his candidacy was a good thing. One of my friends wrote to him and asked him to come speak at our school, the University of California at Santa Cruz (think Cuba to UC Berkeley's Kremlin).
This was 1987, when the "Internet" was little more than a handful of geeks in computer labs engaging in vibrant discussions on a Unix platform and sometimes making little pictures with X's and O's across the screen. My friends and I spent one Saturday plastering the UC campus with "Who is Ron Paul?" flyers and did whatever else we could think of to spread the word in advance of his appearance. When the evening came, maybe six or seven people showed up. (One of my co-organizers says it may have been a dozen, but I think she's being generous.)
The word "gracious" does not describe Dr. Paul's response to the meager turnout. "Gracious" would have been skillfully concealing his annoyance and soldiering on through the evening. Dr. Paul was not gracious. He was genuine and engaged and seemed to care only about presenting and defending the ideas he cares about so deeply. He was, I imagine, the same person he continues to be as he pursues the Republican nomination today; a person committed to liberty, doing whatever he can to bring it about in our society.
The contrast between our pathetic gathering twenty years ago and the rock-star receptions Dr. Paul receives wherever he goes today is heart-warming and gratifying. It makes me happy that Dr. Paul's years of tirelessly speaking the same words in defense of freedom are paying off, and it makes me feel that there may yet be hope for this country.
Like many of his supporters, I don't agree with Dr. Paul on all of his positions. We part ways on abortion and immigration. But the issues where we do agree are so important and there is so much at stake that our differences are not an impediment to my support. More importantly — and I believe this is one of the greatest keys to his success — I know that his stance on each issue is the product of his genuinely held beliefs. He does not choose his words based on opinion polls or on the fundraising successes they have earned other candidates, but on his own understanding of what is right and what is wrong. Because of this I have unending respect for the man.
I don't think I am alone in this. People are beyond fed up with empty political promises. They are tired of meaningless "choices" at the ballot box. They are rightly cynical about the entire process. Ron Paul has spent over 30 years of his life demonstrating that his promises are not empty and that he is utterly devoted to the pursuit of liberty in this country. Even people who have just been introduced to him see that he means what he says.
And this changes things. People are accustomed to voting for the lesser of two evils. What happens when someone who is not evil shows up? Integrity is not generally an ingredient found in presidential elections and its presence here now changes the entire nature of the game. Ron Paul is not playing by the same rules as everyone else, and by playing by his own rules — by committing the political cardinal sin of meaning what he says — he changes the rules for everyone else. Candidates are now no longer measured against other politicians whose words mean nothing, but against a man of integrity, and in order to succeed they must rise to his level. But they can't. A reputation earned in over thirty years of dealing with people is not something that can be bought. Nor can it be "spun" out of thin air. Quite simply: Ron Paul has something none of the other candidates have or can get in time for the elections. This fact alone could very possibly win him the Republican nomination and even the presidency.
And that's when my own words come back to haunt me. There's that voice, reminding me that I don't even believe in the process. That I don't want anyone to be my president, that decisions over how much freedom I have shouldn't be up to the majority. That by participating in the system, I'm agreeing that they should, that the majority has the right to rule over my life. So, for the record: I don't want a president. And I don't grant the majority the right to make decisions over my life.
But what is at stake is so great now that it is just no longer acceptable to not try whatever means I can find to fight what is going on. It is not acceptable to sit by and watch as "my" government lays waste to entire nations of human beings who have never done me any harm. It is not acceptable to sit by as the same government lays waste to the (however imperfect) institutions that evolved to protect citizens' rights and freedom from tyranny. Not if there's anything I can do to stop it. So, if there's even a chance that Dr. Paul can have an impact in these areas, I feel an obligation to help him do that.
It's not like I haven't tried other things. I've stood out in front of the New York Public Library in sub-zero weather handing out anti-war pamphlets. I've written articles. I've marched in anti-war demonstrations alongside tens if not hundreds of thousands of other people — demonstrations that, if you get your information from the mainstream media, never happened. I've tried what I knew to try, and none of it has worked. The evils committed by the state — in my name and with my money — have only gotten worse and more widespread, and will continue to do so.
The truth is: I just don't know what else to do.
So, come February, or whenever it is they hold the primaries in my state (I'm told I can only do this in one state, which is disappointing), I'll be marching myself down to the voting booths and I'll be pulling a lever… or filling in a form… or tapping on a screen. Actually, I don't exactly know how I'll be doing it, but I'll be doing what I've never done before and what I never thought I'd ever do: Voting in an election for a presidential candidate who I believe can make things better.
I've long believed that politicians cannot get ahead by delivering more freedom and less government; that the game of politics can be won only by delivering more favors and more of other people's money to one's constituents; that the only real winner, ultimately, is the state, and that those who play the game end up serving its expansion. I've always qualified my condemnation of politics and politicians with the words "except for Ron Paul." I'd then usually say something like "but of course he doesn't actually accomplish anything." Well I was wrong about that. Really really wrong. For all these years, Dr. Paul has been building something no other politician has — something that when just one person has it, suddenly becomes an incredibly valuable asset: credibility.
The question with regard to Ron Paul is not whether or not he will keep his campaign promises — he will. The only question is whether he will be able to accomplish what he has set out to. Will he be elected? And if he is, how far will he be able to get on his wish list of dismantling the leviathan state to which we have become so accustomed?
I don't have answers to either of these questions. And anyone who says they do doesn't understand what is happening here: The very nature of the game is changing and all because one man has insisted all along on playing it his way.
So maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it is possible to effect positive change toward a more free society through the political process. Ron Paul has proven me wrong once already and he may just do it again.
I hope he does.
November 15, 2007