There is something afoot within the Republican Party specifically and American politics generally. Something is happening, something that will make it increasingly difficult for the GOP of today to return to its previous way of doing things.
This “something” is a keenly felt incoherence within the GOP, a tension that is on its way to boiling over. This tension has been brought about in part by the presidency of Barack Obama, it is true. But the contribution of the latter consists in simply forcing to the forefront inconsistencies within the GOP that long predate the rise of Obama, inconsistencies that are the offspring of the tumultuous marriage between the party’s rhetoric and its practice.
Republicans loudly and proudly affirm “limited government” and the “individual liberty” to which the former is supposed to give rise. Yet their talk is one thing. Their walk is something else altogether. In practice, the differences between Republicans and Democrats are differences of degree—fractions of a degree, at that.
We need not recapitulate the many respects in which our two national parties are for all intents and purposes indistinguishable. One need only reflect upon the presidency of George W. Bush to recognize that while our 43rd President was many things, a proponent of “limited government” he most certainly was not.
However, regardless of Republican media spin, the base of the party has long recognized that its leadership has failed miserably to advance the agenda that it claims to support. This explains why with every primary season, voters insist on the need to nominate a “real conservative.” That the majority of the GOP’s base remains mired in confusion on this matter is beside the point. The very fact that the base routinely reveals itself to be at odds with “the establishment” proves that even Republicans perceive a conflict between what Republican politicians, strategists, and commentators say and what they do.
I contend that it is the candidacy of Ron Paul that has at once illuminated and remedied this conflict. Because of his visibility as a national figure, to say nothing of his earthy charm, Paul has made it impossible for Republicans to any longer deny the glaring incongruity between their utterances and their actions.
Paul explodes onto the national scene espousing just those ideas to which Republicans have claimed to be committed for decades. His fellow Republicans in the presidential primary contests of 2008 and today are no less reserved than is Paul in expressing their support of “limited government” and “individual liberty.” Yet it is Paul, and Paul alone, who is regularly treated by both his colleagues and their supporters in the so-called “conservative” media as persona non grata. Why?
The question is rhetorical: Paul is clearly the only one who truly believes in that of which Republicans speak.
At a minimum, he is the only one who recognizes that certain kinds of policies—like those suited for waging an interminable war against a vague enemy—are radically incompatible with Republican Party ideals.
Just by virtue of his presence, Paul simultaneously identifies the contradiction at the core of GOP politics and points the way toward its resolution.
Paul calls out his fellow partisans while hurling them on the horns of a dilemma. If Republicans really believe in the ideals to which they pay lip service, then they have no logical or moral option but to adopt the policies that Paul prescribes. If, though, they refuse to adopt these prescriptions by continuing along the path that they have been traveling for far too long, then we have no logical option but to conclude that their ideals are nothing more than rhetorical devices for procuring votes.
There is no slipping between these two horns: the dilemma is inescapable.
Republicans know this. This is why they have reacted to Paul as hysterically as they have. Paul is a whistle blower. The affable Texas Congressman and stalwart constitutionalist has aired the GOP’s dirty laundry for all of the country to see.
However, Paul is generous. Yes, he has shown that the Emperor has no clothes. But he has offered to provide clothing—and more. Paul seeks to adorn the GOP with those jewels—our Constitutional liberties—that its rhetoric would have us think it prizes. And he seeks to do this by charting a new course for his party and his country, a course that is in keeping with the spirit of liberty in which Americans have traditionally delighted.
Paul’s support among voters not only indicates no signs of diminishing; it continues to swell. As much as Republicans in the media would love to have us believe that the Paul phenomenon is negligible or vanishing, that Paul continues, and will continue, to accumulate delegates all of the way to the Republican National Convention exposes this line for the falsehood that it is.
Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.