Ron Paul is still as scary as ever -- or maybe I should scarier than ever -- for the GOP. This has absolutely nothing to do with his unsurprising landslide win in the Conservative Political Action Committee's annual presidential straw poll. It was hardly the win of the ages, since the CPAC convention was stacked with tea party zealots, and young zealots at that. More than half of those voting for the likes of Paul were under age 25.
Paul mania poses a quandary for the GOP. The young and not so young, and there are millions of them, are still true believers of his off-beat views, from paring government down to virtually nothing to his controversial off beat quips on race matters. During the 2008 presidential campaign, they rabidly defended Paul against all comers even after he was unceremoniously dumped from the ballots. This created a huge problem not for the Democrats, but for the GOP. The millions that went into a swoon over Paul were in no mood to mob the polls to vote for another placid, corporate, Beltway insider GOP presidential candidate. John McCain was that candidate. No Paul around, no vote. Many stayed away from the polls in droves. Despite the scoffs at Paul's win at CPAC, and GOP assurances that it will have absolutely no impact on the 2012 presidential election, the scary Paul phenomenon could do just that.
Paul's fanatical backers are enthralled that Paul is the lone Jeremiah crying in the wilderness against big government, big taxes, big corporate domination, and big wars. But that's not the only thing they like about Paul. He fans anti-immigrant flames. In a 30 second TV spot that ran in New Hampshire during the 2008 campaign, he demanded that students from alleged terrorist countries be denied visas into the U.S. Paul offered no proof that there are hordes of students pouring into America to commit terrorist acts. The ad was more than just a cheap ploy to fan terrorism fears. This reinforced the worst in racial and religious stereotyping and negative typecasting. The stereotype is that anyone in America who is a Muslim with a non-white face is a terrorist.
Paul's topped that with the infamous slavery quip that he made on Meet the Press. He claimed the Civil War was an unnecessary bloodbath that could and should have been avoided. All Lincoln had to do was buy the slaves. Other slave promoting countries, asserts Paul, didn't fight wars and they ended slavery peacefully. Paul's historical dumbness could and should have been laughed off. It wasn't. It was intently debated, and defended. The scarier point was that it was taken seriously at all.
Paul's legions were unfazed by the controversy; they reveled in it. Paul gave them plenty more ammunition. He asserted that blacks are criminally inclined, political dumb bells, and chronic welfare deadbeats. There was also the alleged Paul hobnob with a noted white supremacist. Here's what Paul on his campaign website ronpaul2008.com had to say about race. In fact he even highlighted this as "Issue: Racism" on the site. "Government as an institution is particularly ill-suited to combat bigotry." In other words, the 1954 landmark Supreme Court's Brown vs. Board of education school desegregation decision, the 1964 and 1968 Civil Rights Acts, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and legions of court decisions and state laws that bar discrimination are worthless. Worse, says Paul, they actually promote bigotry by dividing Americans into race and class.
Paul's views are a corn ball blend of libertarianism, know-nothing Americanism, and ultra conservative laissez faire limited government. But this hardly makes him an American political oddity. In fact, any politician that can rev up enough frenzy to get hundreds of wildly cheering supporters to cram into the ballroom so tightly that the doors had to be shut 30 minutes before he took the stage to speak is a force to be reckoned with.
Paul's snorting speech at CPAC, complete with his stock call for a debt free, bare bones government, and a neo-isolationist foreign policy, sprinkled with a pinch here and there of racial baits, is guaranteed to stir the juices of the frustrated, angry, and naive flock. This makes him as scary as ever, especially to the GOP mainstream.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is, How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press).