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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Dateline Downtown

Dateline: Downtown
Dateline: Downtown

Outsider candidacies, true, no-hope outsider candidacies, form an entertaining diversion many political campaigns, and often the only reason to pay any attention at all. In a day of pervasive (and, I hazard to say, well-placed) cynicism, they can provide welcome aerations of the stodgy halls of power once their zephyrs have kicked up enough prairie dust. Fringe candidates are everything Establishment men are not: colorful, passionate, and broke. They are like life on the sidewalks, and may now be the last vital sign of our civic life.

They come, most often, in two flavors. The first offer to return all calls made by constituents, thrash away at position papers to post on their homey little geocities pages and print on handbills that get wheat-pasted to the walls of their workplace. They are the kind of men Norman Rockwell could reduce to tears with a stroke of the brush, but also the kind of men he painted.

The others are the descendants of His Imperial Majesty Emperor Norton I, the famous crank who bombarded San Francisco in the middle of the 19th century with demands to dissolve the United States Congress by force (he also single-handedly quelled race riots, history tells us, and demanded the erection of a bridge spanning the San Francisco Bay seventy years before the opening of Golden Gate). Men like Lee L. Mercer, whose platform was written “To Prove Jeb Bush is all in my house with disease” and “To Prove the United States Government killed my sex life, my wife sex life, my daughter-in -laws (sic) sex life both may sons and other of my family members sex life with Espionage Experimentation and Espionage Exploitation sex killing.”

It’s easy to mock, but for every twenty Lee Mercers or Henry B. Krajewskis there is a Ross Perot or a George Wallace ready to tap some submerged, but widespread, phobia, hatred, or anxiety and channel it into an oppositional candidacy. The third (not fourth or fifth or twelfth) party candidate, the successful one, is the waking nightmare of every insider. He presents a stark challenge to the entrenched. “Your way of thinking does not work,” he says. “Mine will.” The aggrieved, the bitter and disparaged, swell supportively around him, because the next words from his mouth are, “And here’s how.”

There is trouble in these waters, of course. Any History major knows about Huey Long’s bijou populist movement, that was maybe just this side of installing Long as dictator-for-life before he was assassinated. It’s also instructive to study Charles Lindbergh and the America First Committee in the years leading up to WWII. Or George Wallace in the days after school desegregation. Or the Know-Nothings. If Plato were alive today and making his case against democracy, he would point to movements like these.

What happens, then, when the candidate makes sense in his way? What of the Ross Perots and Ralph Naders who, not necessarily being virulent xenophobes or demagogues, simply are convinced that America has strayed and can be set aright? It’s easy to form a backlash against a Nazi apologist, but the money power has it tougher with the man in the crowd who finally stands up at the town hall meeting. It’s the same problem George III had with Thomas Paine. Sic semper tyrannis.

That’s why Ron Paul interests me so much. The man hasn’t the slightest chance of winning, and if he does win he will be co-opted. Regardless, the fact that his candidacy is garnering so much excitement from seemingly disparate groups of people, from John Birchers to liberal bloggers, should speak to something.

The fact is that unless, by now, your campaign treasury balance begins with at least a two followed by a lucky seven digits you are sunk. Paul won’t be able to establish or maintain the kind of cash flow needed to be successful against Hillary Clinton’s money machine even if he should by miracle sweep through the Republican field. When you are running for President of the United States of America, and you are not a front-runner flush with cash, you run because either a) you’re crazy or b) it’s not about winning. It’s the last kind that shake things up. Ask George Bush I or Al Gore about Messrs Ross Perot and Ralph Nader.

Paul’s message is one I fancy, and I hope he is a problem for the Republicans. They are dismissive of him, the party muckamucks, but he quotes Ronald Reagan: “There’s a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: As government expands, liberty contracts,” saith Bonzo. So does H.L. Mencken: “The most dangerous man, to any government, is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost invariably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. And if he is not romantic personally, he is apt to spread discontent among those who are.” The founder of Daily Kos has identifies himself as a “libertarian Democrat.” When Ron Paul supporters get, not all in your house with disease, but all in your face with posterboard, they are not excited about anything new, and it’s difficult to box them in as right (or left) wing nuts. They are excited about the same thing as the first Greek to fit the prefix “an” to the root “archon.” No lord shall live. It”s a very old current in the noosphere, and one no government, pox it, will be rid of soon.

I actually kind of like the American government, for what it is- I should say, I loathe it less bitterly than one in Zaire would loathe Mobutu. I will say that I’m not so hard-driving a cynic that I can’t hear Dr. Paul say something like “every politician on earth claims to support freedom, yet so few of them understand the simple meaning of the word” and not feel a little funny inside.

The problem is, Assume he gets elected. It’s the same problem an anarchist faces when you ask, OK, What happens after the revolution? We just instantly go from oppressed and terrorized, pathetic horde to freewheeling wealth sharing cooperators overnight? Right. It’s much more likely that someone steps in to assume and recentralize power. Likewise, Ron Paul is just going to roll his big head out of Texas and into Washington and strangle every government agency he sees, and this is going to be a good thing?

What about when the next pandemic breaks out? It’s a legitimate question. If it were so easy to dispense with the notion of government, it would be extinct. And it is just this rationale that has allowed authoritarians to conduct mischiefs many as long as bogeymen have existed to scare us. Unfortunately, some of the bogeymen are real. Thus do the mountebanks of Capitol Hill extend themselves and prevail. I might vote for the guy who wants to curb government, but I’m not convinced it will get us anywhere.

About the Contributor
Dan Roche served as opinions editor for The Mass Media the following years: 2006-2007; 2007-2008; 2008-2009