What’s Interesting about Iowa

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By the time the Iowa caucus finally happened, even political junkies were sick of it. It was a contest of doubtful influence on anything, and this year it was virtually impossible for anyone to “win” the thing. (A “win,” I believe, should constitute something more than 25%.) CNN and Fox News kept saying that “excitement” was “building.” Right. One Lego block at a time. And those debates — Good God! Why? How many dull parties must you attend? I say none.

But I was surprised and amused by the circus animals who were paraded through the streets of Sioux City, each with its own fleet of trainers and guard of clowns. It wasn’t the greatest show on earth, but it was a show.

Michele Bachmann, who demonstrated that illiteracy need be no handicap to a person’s self-esteem.

Newt Gingrich, who consistently delighted me with his screwiness and bitchiness. Every one of his “new ideas” had me rolling in laughter. (My favorite was the one about summoning local juries to determine whether illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay in this country. As you probably know, I am no friend of open immigration, but if ever there was a court invented by a kangaroo, Gingrich’s immigration jury was it.) I loved the perfect zingers he scored on the other candidates. When an outraged Bachmann demanded to know whether he had called Mitt Romney a liar, Gingrich calmly asked, “Why are you so horrified?” I’m going to miss Newt.

Herman Cain, a good orator, and an intelligent person, who somehow lacked the rare and peculiar kind of intelligence that’s necessary to recall embarrassing incidents in one’s personal life. Of course, this is the kind of intelligence that almost everyone else possesses, but why should it be expected of a presidential candidate?

Jon Huntsman, the candidate from the New York Times.

Rick Santorum, the former Senator from the Roman Catholic Church. Who else would have complimented George Bush, a Methodist, on his performance as a politicized Catholic? “From economic issues focusing on the poor and social justice, to issues of human life, George Bush is there. He has every right to say, 'I’m where you are if you're a believing Catholic.’” The surge that Santorum experienced in Iowa was initiated by conservative Catholics who realized, at last, that this hapless, obscure person was actually a Knight of Magistral Grace of the Knights of Malta.

Mitt Romney, the man who everyone loves to hate. You’ve got to appreciate a candidate whose aides run a Mittness Protection Program.

Rick Perry. You’ve got to love a guy who, being revealed as an ignorant fool, funded an ad campaign in which he admitted to being an ignorant fool, yet urged everyone to vote for him.

I’m going to miss these acts — the acts that go away, of course. The ones that keep going inspire no such nostalgic feelings.

But what of Ron Paul? I am sorry to say, from the dramatic point of view, that I was not surprised by anything that happened with him. I expected him to suffer attacks. And I expected him, notwithstanding the attacks, to achieve about 20% of the vote. He got 21%. That’s about what he usually gets from Republicans (and independents acting as Republicans, as in Iowa) when noses are counted or buttons are pushed.

Believe me, I would rather see myself as part of Paul’s 21% than as part of the less than 1% in which I am placed whenever Libertarian Party registration or voting is measured. But — call me a traitor if you want to — I’ve never believed the results of the Nolan survey or any other questionnaire purporting to show that more than 20% of people in America are really libertarians. They aren’t. If they were, they’d have plenty of opportunities to show it, but they don’t. What they are is people who believe in legalizing drugs and raising taxes on “the wealthy,” or lowering taxes and pursuing a bellicose foreign policy, or some other combination of views that seems, from libertarians’ perspective, incoherent and ridiculous. But America has always been an essentially libertarian country without a libertarian population. It’s the triumph of structure over “the people.”

Would Paul attract more voters if he recognized this? Here’s my reason for asking that question. Paul is a preacher, and he preaches largely to the choir. His rhetoric assumes that “Americans want” what he wants. He seems honestly surprised that anyone should care that Iran has an atom bomb, or worry about his desire to dismantle the Federal Reserve system. But even I care that Iran has the bomb, and I well remember having to be convinced that the Fed was a bad idea. Every libertarian can say the same about his or her experience with libertarian ideas. But Paul has the preacher’s style, not the educator’s, or the conversationalist’s. He talks to people, not with them.

So could he attract more votes if he were a different kind of campaigner? The good thing and the bad thing is that it’s hard to tell whether he could or not. I want to believe that the libertarian philosophy can be conveyed with even greater effect. Yet Ron did very well at holding his 21%, no matter what. And twenty-one percent isn’t a percentage to scorn. There’s leverage in that.




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Comments

Serge Issakov

I agree with you characterization of his style as being more preacher than teacher. But this statement is perplexing:

"He got 21% [in Iowa]. That’s about what he usually gets..."

Paul usually gets about 21%? Really? Where? When?

In 2008 he got 9.93% in Iowa, and 7.8% in New Hampshire.

In 2012 he got 21.45% and 22.88% in Iowa and NH respectively. Those are big jumps.

That NH result was good enough for a 2nd place victory. With that it's possible that he will get sufficient media exposure to grow his support and success even more.

Perhaps not very likely, but possible, and more likely with your support than without.

You and Mr. Ramsey seem eager to discount his success and emphasize how unlikely continued growth and success is. Why?

Serge Issakov

What's really amazing is that Ron Paul -- and his libertarian message -- have picked up 48% (Iowa) and 47% (NH) of the 18-29 age group. Getting nearly 50% of any group in a field of 5-6 candidates is impressive.

www.forbes.com/sites/stephenricher/2012/01/11/ron-paul-takes-the-youth-vote-again/?feed=rss_home

I've been a libertarian since 1985, and this story alone is bigger than anything else that has happened for libertarianism in all that time.

You're probably right about how few real libertarians there are, but do any of us know how much of that is due to lack of exposure to these ideas? Whether they agree with libertarianism or not, what percentage of our society could even explain what libertarianism is? Whatever that number, I suggest it's finally growing, at least a little, thanks to Ron Paul.

The only question is whether libertarian advocates and intellectuals will leverage this situation, or squander it.

What will you do?

Rodney Choate

Mr. Cox:
"But — call me a traitor if you want to — I’ve never believed the results of the Nolan survey or any other questionnaire purporting to show that more than 20% of people in America are really libertarians. They aren’t. If they were, they’d have plenty of opportunities to show it, but they don’t."

How true! I get the impression that many in the party don't appreciate that observation.

Greg R

Ron Paul is bringing libertarian ideas to the American people, who forgot about them after Reagan left office. They just need to be reminded of them again. Regardless of the election outcome this cycle, Ron is loading the bases in preparation for Rand hitting it out of the park next time.

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