Saturday, November 10, 2012

My Little Ride on the Ron Paul Express

I studied philosophy in college, but I have often tended to investigate it more deeply by immersing myself in ideas rather than studying them from the outside. In that vein, this is the story of my little ride on the Ron Paul express during the spring of 2008.

The first inklings came when some guys at my yoga studio whispered to me in the locker room that I needed to support Ron Paul. "For the banks," they said, in hushed tones. "He's the only one who understands what is going on." I looked him up that night.

In the summer of 2007, I decided to treat myself to a little gift. I subscribed to satellite TV. On the first day of my summer vacation, the technician hooked me up. "You get all the premium channels free for three months, too!" He told me.

And suddenly, my life was filled with the wonders of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and The John Adam mini series, and a myriad of movies, old and new, that I had heard about, but never seen.

Among the shows that came into my life was Penn & Teller's "Bullsh*t." The first episode I watched was an expose about Walmart. They paraded across my screen a line-up of people who talked about how Walmart had given them jobs when they couldn't find work, and how they were able to better provide for their children because they could buy things cheaper. A city counsel woman talked about how Walmart had revived the bad section of her town.

I was in a state of cognitive dissonance. After all, I had been an active boycotter of Walmart. I initially protested the building of a Walmart in beautiful mountain valley in our small town. After that, I had heard all sorts of stories about how they only hired part-time employees to avoid paying for benefits, and how they had locked people in the store until they finished their duties, not paying them overtime, and about how they were being sued for racist practices.

Had I been duped by the liberal media?

Penn & Teller are Libertarians and Atheists. I found a number of articles and youtube talks they did about their belief in individual rights, and their rejection of the supernatural. They were extremely logical in their approach, and seemed to have an easy consistency in their belief system.

All I knew about Libertarians at that time was that they seemed to like the legalization of marijuana, and they didn't like paying taxes.

I watched Penn & Teller pretty religiously, and started to be swayed by their ideas. I was really excited about how they seemed to ascribe to ideas from both the left wing and the right. They were anti-death penalty, anti-the-Boy-Scouts-discriminating-against-gays, the verdict was out on climate change. They sure didn't like anything new-age, which they called sewage, and rhymed with sewage.

I had long since mourned the division between left and right in this country and, even though I had been a Progressive Democrat since the womb, was excited about this new way of thinking.

My next stop was the bookstore, where I picked up Ron Paul's "Revolution." There was a lot there I agreed with: I supported his anti-war stance, liked his idea that we needed to take care of our problems at home first, and look abroad later. When he challenged me to look at my life and see if it really changed when there was a Democrat or Republican in office, I had to agree that my life had stayed pretty much the same... I knew other people whose lives had been affected by Bush administration policies, but mine was not one of them... and, in true Libertarian form, I was beginning to see that it was about me and not other people anyway.

I had studied The Constitution and The Framers, and liked the reverence paid to them by The Libertarian movement. I had never been a Constitutional literalist, but why not try it on for size? I wasn't quite sure how we would pay for roads and what-not without paying taxes, but certainly knew that I never saw somewhere between a quarter and a third of my salary. And what about states rights? As a school employee, I agreed that more local control over schools had seemed to work better than the increasing number of mandates for education coming down from the Federal Government through No Child Left Behind - and why would this not be true in other areas as well? And what about that Federal Reserve? No one knew what was going on with it anyway...and didn't it make sense that our currency be backed up by something of real value, like gold?

And so I bought my ticket, and stepped aboard the Ron Paul Libertarian Express.

The next step was to start to find like-minded people, and it didn't take long for them to start to show up in my life. I started talking to these Ron Paul enthusiasts and better understood their world.

One of them thrust a CD at me. "Listen to this! This tells the real story of The Federal Reserve, and why we can't trust it!"

I listened to the CD, where the speaker wove a lovely yarn of the leaders of Wall Street, in heavy disguise, taking the train to Jeckyll Island. They did not, apart from their secret handshakes and subtle winks, acknowledge each other, until they arrived at their destination, where they secretly reconfigured the American economy, with all sorts of Masonic overtones, putting the fate of the free world in the hands of a secret Federal Reserve Bank that operated independent of the government. It was an intriguing conspiracy theory only loosely based in fact that was the very, crumbling, foundation of the Libertarian movement. (More about this can be found in this article.)

For the sake of storytelling, I am going to condense numerous conversations that took place over several months into a single, paraphrased conversation:

"Taxes are illegal," one of my new friends told me. "The Constitution is specific, that the government does not have the power to collect taxes."

"Doesn't Article I give Congress the power to collect taxes?" I responded (Article I; Section 8; Clause I; The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;) I had prided myself on spending most of my fourth grade year memorizing The Constitution. 

"No, no, no..." my friend replied. "That's one of those liberal myths. It is clear that there is no taxation..."

"What about the Sixteenth Amendment? That gives explicit power to the government to collect income tax."

"That's the thing. We don't believe in Amendments, just the body of the original Constitution... The Amendments aren't legal."

"I thought you guys loved the Tenth Amendment... power to the states."

"Yeah, that's a good one... and so is the Second Amendment... and also the first... but what about The Fourteenth Amendment? Did you know that that Amendment allows children who are born in The United States to foreign parents to be American Citizens? That's why illegals come here to have their babies! That's why we need to get rid of The Fourteenth Amendment!"

"That was so that children of slaves could get citizenship... and what about the Equal Protections Clause? Isn't that important?"

"The what clause...oh, never mind..."

As time went on, I began to learn that 'states rights' was really a dog whistle for getting rid of the Civil Rights Act and Voters Rights Act. The Ron Paul people were opposed to The Civil Right Act in the fact that it created an 'imposition' on private businesses by forcing them to equally serve people of different races and religions. 

"If I want to start a business and not serve Mexicans, let's say, how is it the business of the government to force me to serve them?"

As a staunch Civil Right Activist, since the age of two or three, my Ron Paul enthusiasm was quickly unravelling. 

I had lived in the Communist Soviet Union, and saw very quickly there how something that sounded very good when Karl Marx wrote about it was a disaster once ideologue people got ahold of it, and I was seeing the same thing in The Libertarian movement. 

The final straw for me was the obsession that people seemed to have with Ayn Rand. Ron Paul's son is named after Ayn Rand.

In Atlas Shrugged, the book that most of these folks seemed most obsessed with, Ayn Rand creates a utopian world in which laissez-faire capitalism is king. In this world, every person is out for themselves. Those who end up on top are there because they are the tough ones who deserve what they get. Those who end up on the bottom are weak, and Rand refers to them "savages" (or, in interviews as 'vermin' or worse.) 

Ayn Rand, in her real life, became enamored with a serial killer who she praised for being entirely consistent in his philosophy. She saw him as strong, and representative of The Superman (taken from Nietzsche) in our society - someone we should all strive to emulate!

The Libertarians took this philosophy, as they did with all philosophies, out of context and to an extreme, and used it to justify a life of selfish focus, where people should not care for others, and where people who could not make it on their own, and depended upon the government for anything were weak, dependent, and should be cut off. (despite the fact that some of these same people had medicare and collected social security... as did Ayn Rand, under an assumed name.)

And so I pulled the brake on the Ron Paul express, and jumped back on the Progressive Democratic train in time to enjoy the slugfest between upstart Senator Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Over the next several months, The Libertarian Movement had a strange fusion with fundamentalist Christianity and became The Tea Party. They became known for their often eccentric costumes and patently misspelled, racist and inaccurate  protest signs.

The Tea Party was built on a multitude of conspiracy theories, from the Jeckyll Island story, to the birther movement, to the many who called Obama a Socialist and a Communist, but who, when asked what Socialism or Communism meant were typically unable to define these words.

In 2010, a  number of Tea Party favorites were swept into Congress, into governorships and into state legislatures running on the idea that the deficit was our number one enemy, and on job creation. Once in power, these individuals routinely blocked all legislation that had to do with job creation, and instead introduced the largest number of pieces of anti-abortion legislation to be seen since Rowe v. Wade. They engaged in an embarrassing attempt to close down the government over funding for Planned Parenthood and succeeded in lowering the nation's credit rating through a stand-off over raising the debt ceiling and the creation of a looming fiscal cliff that could result in further limiting our current economic recovery.

In 2012, there was a rejection of The Tea Party in local and national elections, and mainstream Republicans were left astonished by the defeats that seemed to come mainly from a right-wing media bubble they had created that was based, in large part, on these conspiracy theories.

During my brief interlude with the pre-Tea Party enthusiasts, I witnessed their magical thinking, which was based on a lack of actual information; which was based on stories they, themselves, had created to try to explain away the problems they perceived. The obsession with selfish interests came to a head during the 'let him die' moment in the GOP debates.

The racial undertones of the movement became apparent early, and, over the next four years, seemed to come to a head, as The Tea Party took radical stands on immigration. The signs seen at Tea Party Rallies often were racially derogatory, and following Obama's election, a barrage of racist tweets went out through the blog world (An interesting and disturbing study about the racist tweets.)

I am not surprised by the direction this movement took. My experience with The Libertarians was that these were people who felt alienated by the government. They fell into a category of people who were victimized by their own mediocracy: They were white, lower middle-class, uneducated people who fell above the poverty line, so did not qualify for any help, but felt pinched by the cost of living. They were often people who struggled to stay employed, and saw people who were different from them having some more economic success. They were people who saw the world changing, but not championing them, after they had been raised in a world where white people had been the traditional success stories. They were people who wanted to go back to a non-existent simpler time. In order to justify their rage, they created stories and conspiracies about how The Federal Reserve and illegal tax systems and immigrants had destroyed the ideal world that had been created by The Constitution. They loved The Constitution and The Framers, yet had no real understanding of The Constitution (probably limited by their lack of education) except what other had told them about it. The stories they had about The Framers and early America were similarly twisted to support their views.

I believe The Tea Party movement was all put into perspective by the comments of self-proclaimed Tea Party sweetheart Michele Bachmann, who stood up in front of the CPAC conference and stated "If our forefathers thought taxation without representation was bad, then what would they think of representation WITH taxation?" Clearly she, and the others in this movement, misunderstood the significance of when the tea was thrown into Boston Harbor because the colonists had no say in the tax structure that was being imposed upon them by a King and a Parliament an ocean away. "Don't Tread on Me" was the saying then, as colonists requested a say in what they paid, rather than having to foot the bill for wars being raged by their mother country that did not directly benefit them, symbolized by a snake that would bite when stepped upon. After the Revolution, we got what we wanted, and control our own fate. These symbols are now being used by a group of people who misunderstand this history, and seem to believe that our country was founded on the principle of paying no taxes.

I believe, however, that recent history has given us a valuable lesson: The GOP became consumed with these Tea Party practices of the ends justifying the means, and revising history to justify your own predicament and tactics. We have listened, endlessly, to Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck concoct twisted yarns of revisionism to explain how Obama is trying to end America as we know it. We listened to right-wing pundits who revised the math through the elections season's polling to prove that Romney would win the election in a landslide. And now we see the retractions, the embarrassment and the finger-pointing as they recoil in horror that these new and convenient ways of thinking, provided by The Libertarian movement, failed them almost completely.

While the staunchest among the conspiracy theorists shout that the solution is to have more conspiracy theories and be more conservative and more racist and more government gridlock, it seems like a lot of people are looking for a way to get out of the bubble and move back toward reality. We will see what direction it goes.

Furthermore, most of these Libertarians, or Tea Partiers have learned to use the government as a scapegoat. They do not realize that in our form of democracy, the government is anything we make it out to be, as evidenced by this week's election when clear messages were given about the role of women and minorities, marriage equality and the legalization of drugs. A good article about how Americans have been taught to hate their government.

In the meantime, it would appear that Ron Paul's Revolution, that led to the rise of The Tea Party and the collapse of the GOP was nothing more than a vastly expensive experiment in magical thinking that ended in utter failure. 

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