Beltwayites Are Arrayed Against Ron Paul

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I really feel sorry for Katharine Mangu-Ward: she walked into a hornet's nest when she appeared on Fox News the other day and disparaged Ron Paul — or, rather, mocked his chances of winning the GOP presidential nomination. She might have thought she was merely expressing the Conventional Wisdom on Paul's candidacy — which, indeed, she was — but her comments underscored an important point about how social change works, which I'll get to in a moment. But first …

As senior editor of Reason magazine, an ostensibly libertarian publication, the Paulians rightly expected her to stand up for her team. Oddly, it was left to the other panelist, journalist and author Liz Trotta — not a libertarian, as far as I know — to defend Paul, and her defense was interesting: she said the wars are a bigger issue than anyone realizes, and since Paul is the only Republican candidate calling for an end to US intervention around the world, the issue could conceivably catapult him into the top tier. Mangu-Ward, a former staffer at the Weekly Standard, sat there and rolled her eyes, as if someone had suggested the moon is made of green cheese.

Immediately after her performance, a howl of outrage went up from the libertarian ranks, demanding Mangu-Ward's head. u201CFire her!u201D they demanded — indeed, so numerous and loud were the protests and subscription cancellations that Nick Gillespie, former editor-in-chief at Reason and now resident Talking Head, was forced to take to the Reason blog with a rather weak defense of his colleague's faux pas. Since Reason's slogan is u201Cfree markets and free minds,u201D averred Gillespie, their editors are free to say and write whatever they want. According to this theory, Mangu-Ward could predict the victory of the Socialist Party candidate, and not collect a pink slip. That this would never happen is irrelevant: Reason is a Beltway institution, although they still retain their office in Los Angeles, and Gillespie was simply defending his fellow Beltway pundit — and the Conventional Wisdom she gave voice to — against the mob of ignorant hoi polloi,

But why were the libertarian hoi polloi so angry? It was, I think, much more than the fact that one is supposed to defend one's own tribe against external attack: after all, this isn't the first time Reason has sneered at Ron Paul, who is so far removed from the trendy u201Clifestyleu201D issues the magazine loves to write about that the distance can only be measured in light years. The u201Ccosmopolitanu201D wing of the libertarian movement has very little in common with the grassroots, and this is true for the simple reason that the u201Ccosmotariansu201D nearly all live and work in Washington, D.C., where the tyranny of the Conventional Wisdom is strongest.

No one in the Imperial City, outside of Ron Paul and his staff, believes the Paul campaign is going anywhere, and, more — they don't believe it can go anywhere but into the dustbin of yesterday's failed campaigns. It is they — the self-appointed gatekeepers and guardians of the Conventional Wisdom — who define the parameters of the possible, and they have deemed a Paul presidency impossible because it goes against everything they've ever known and were taught to believe. Even the u201Clibertariansu201D among them — and I use the term very loosely — are trapped inside this bubble where nothing much ever changes, and this means the State and its worshippers are always going to be on top, and the libertarian u201Cradicalsu201D (and their progressive brothers-and-sisters-in-spirit on the u201Cfar leftu201D) are always going to be marginal. This ultra-conservative mindset — conservative in the temperamental sense — is a function not only of what the Beltway pundits believe, but, rather, of who they are and where they live.

They are intellectuals, albeit of the third or fourth tier, publicists, policy wonks — denizens of the Beltway subculture, where Power is at the center of everything. In these circles, one's relationship to Power determines one's social and professional standing, and the attainment of Power is the end-all and be-all of existence. If you're not in Power, then you're constantly angling and scheming to get back into Power. The role of libertarians in such a milieu is to act as the class clowns, or the Bad Kids — who are allowed a certain amount of leeway, but, in order to keep their jobs and their vaunted credibility, invariably police themselves so as to avoid expulsion from Olympus. Thus, the Beltway u201Clibertariansu201D are allowed to play in their own sandbox, contenting themselves with extolling methamphetamine addiction and calling for the immediate importation of the entire Mexican population to Arizona — but beyond that they dare not stray. Thus, Reason stayed u201Cneutralu201D — i.e. objectively pro-war — during the run up to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, running both pro and anti-war pieces as if the two held equal weight from a libertarian perspective. War is debatable over at Reason magazine, but the legalization of heroin and the sale of babies — not so much.

In any case, the really interesting part of all this — didn't you know we'd get to the interesting part eventually? — is what it says about how differently the two main classes in American society see the possibilities of social change.

To us ordinary Americans, the hoi polloi if you will, the process of social and political change is simple: we get to decide if and when a political change occurs, because, you see, we have these events known as elections. Which means we get to pick and choose our leaders: if we don't like the current occupant of the Oval Office, we can pitch him out and raise someone else up to take his place. It could be any native-born American in theory at least.

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