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Posts Tagged ‘american politics’

Here’s a great article by Tunku Varadarajan on the tea-party movement.

On right and left, “educated” people have given vent to their contempt for the Tea Party crowd, leading me to conclude that there must, surely, be considerable significance in a movement that has had scorn poured on it by such varied names […]

On the left, they are afraid that it will initiate a tidal wave that causes the loss of numerous House seats. On the right, the fear is that it will mount its own candidates and simply be a spoiler.

This fear would explain the sneering toward the Tea Partiers, the smugness with which they are looked down upon. As many in the movement note, you need only change the protesters ideologically and demographically, and you have merely another cool example of “community organizing.” […]

What bothers me, however, is that although ideological differences are at the bottom of the Tea Party assaults, the critique is almost purely aesthetic: The Tea Partiers, it is said, are crude, sloganeering, lemming-like, heartland Bible-Beltists who don’t understand policy or David Brooks’ subtleties. […]

It is hardly surprising that in times like these there should be a large, angry, populist movement. But populism does not conform to the standard left/right divide, and in different circumstances it can go either way. […]

Yes, the populists fear and hate the big businesses and Wall Street; but—and this is the heartening thing—they have not let this turn them against capitalism and the free market. They seem truly to have taken in the point, long emphasized by libertarians and others, that big business is not the same thing as capitalism or the free market, that it is in fact often their enemy. […]

[This video] makes me emotional, because this woman represents an America that Tocqueville would have lauded. I will take her any day over the “educated class,” the bureaucratic mollusks and the defeatist sad sacks in Washington. I do think the Tea Partiers are political amateurs, but the content of their politics is deadly serious. The professional politicians will dismiss them at their peril.

Read the whole thing.

Personally, I doubt if I’d ever attend a tea party even if I were in the States. Do their most frequently expressed sentiments reflect my political philosophy? No. Are they filled with a lot of nuts and weirdos? Yes. Do I think that the tea-part movement represents a positive change for America? Most certainly.

Let me be clear. The tea-party people are a hodgepotch bunch, a diverse mix of libertarians, fiscal conservatives, angry reactionaries, populists and social conservatives united by little else than anger at the state of the nation and contempt for those with power and influence. Yes, most of them are not primarily devoted to the cause of individual liberty, or any ideology in particular. But no populist movement can ever be truly for libertarianism, history has taught us that much. And the tea-party comes closer to the spirit of liberty than either of the two major parties.

It is true that some of their anger is misdirected, much of their political ideas naive; yet in their essentially grassroots opposition to the forces in power and their disdain for big government, they have created an environment which might lead to good things in the not too distant future. America today suffers from a near total political domination by the two main parties. And sadly, both parties represent entrenched interests and a desire to control you, in one way or the other.  A recent poll, however, found that the tea-party brand is today regarded more highly than either the Democrats or the Republicans. The spirit of this movement is just waiting to be tapped into by a serious, inspirational candidate with a real chance of winning. And maybe, just maybe, that candidate will be someone who will actually be able to affect some real changes in a positive direction.

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Ron Paul was perhaps the most interesting candidate from either party. A libertarian, his positions on the economy, the war in Iraq and the role of the government were refreshingly different from everyone else’s. He advocates a minimal government, abolition of most subsidies, immediate withdrawal from the war, repeal of the Patriot Act and legalization of victimless crimes like drug possession and prostitution, all positions that I strongly support. However, some of his other propositions were baffling. His prescriptions relating to monetary control (he would abolish the Federal reserve and return to the Gold Standard) and foreign policy (he wants the US to withdraw from international organizations and treaties) were isolationist and potentially disastrous. On the important issues of immigration (where he takes a highly nativist stance) and abortion, I was disturbed by his stands, which are a complete anti-thesis of the libertarian philosophy. However, despite these major differences, Ron Paul probably came closer to representing my political and personal ideology than any other presidential contender.

Yet, I never really went crazy over his candidature. Of course, I supported him, but it was a qualified support, not an enthusiastic embrace. Part of it had to do with the policy differences quoted above but the rest had to do with the man. I didn’t think he was the right man for the job. He was simply not presidential enough. He seemed more an angry uncle than a statesman who could convince a country of the value of individual freedom. Besides, some of his supporters and associates were obvious bigots and I wasn’t sure how these associations would play out in the long run. To put it bluntly,  I was afraid that his candidature may do the cause of libertarianism more harm than good. I was also disturbed by his strange practice of voting ‘no’ to bills that improved upon the present scenario, but didn’t quite realise his ideals of perfection. That struck me as revealing a certain unreasonable aspect of his personality that was quite incompatible with the demands of the job he was aspiring for. Still, I was willing to overlook these deficiencies … till that fateful day when the newsletter scandal broke in the New Republic. That was the day when he lost the support of most of the sane world.

But this post is not really about Ronald Ernest Paul and his failed presidential bid. It is about his campaign and his support — the effect they had and the truths they revealed. That, to me, was the most uplifting aspect of the entire episode and Ron Paul’s greatest gift to us.

The Ron Paul campaign, while it lasted, wasn’t just a movement, it was a revolution. From Montana to Texas, California to Maine, his supporters were a passionate, galvanised bunch, overwhelming the message boards with their opinions, marching on streets in support of their leader, waving signs that screamed “Ron Paul cured my apathy.” With a few exceptions, they were all young, internet-savvy, and deeply committed to the cause of libertarianism. Occasionally they were loud and boorish – many a blogger has been inundated with hate-mail from passionate Paulites for daring to criticize Paul. But without a doubt, most of them were sincere to the core. This was a grassroots campiagn if there ever was one. Paul’s level of support in the opinion polls never crossed 10% of the general population but it was impossible to realise that by scouring the internet. Unlike the major candidates, Paul had little backing from the mainstream media or big businesses, yet his legions of small supporters raised incredible amounts of money, including $6 million on a single december sunday, an all-time American record.

And that brings me to my point. What could have electrified these young people, ‘cured their apathy’ in their own words? Paul, while intelligent and sincere, wasn’t the most charismatic candidate nor the best speaker around. In fact, as I’ve noted, some of his policy offerings didn’t even make sense. If he could galvanise all these young people who had never before cared about politics, they must have been attracted to the message, not the messager. And Ron Paul’s central message was liberty. Fiscal discipline. Non-encroachment into others’ lives or money without their consent. Live and let live.

In other words, libertarianism is not just alive and well, but in fact strikes a deep chord with those of the facebook generation. It is just waiting to be tapped into by a serious, inspirational candidate with a real chance of winning. That is perhaps the best news that we will learn out of election 2008.

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The most telling moment of Mike Huckabee’s campaign came a month ago, when he told a conservative gathering why he wasn’t giving up yet.

“I know people say that the math doesn’t work out,” the Baptist pastor politician said. “Folks, I didn’t major in math. I majored in miracles, and I still believe in those too.”

In many ways it summed up Huckabee’s case. He rose from nowhere in late 2007, attaining national prominence and even topping the polls for a brief period. Simple folks were attracted to his innate likeability, his funny one-liners, his impression of a guy they can trust. Evangelicals were attracted by the fundamentalist message beneath the ruddy exterior, his denouncement of evolution, his extreme pro-life stance, his background as a pastor.

But the same qualities that zoomed Huckabee up the charts were going to be his unravelling once he became known to a wider audience. In the debates, he came across as a caricature of various unflattering images, a bizarre cross between a jovial simpleton and an anti-science crusador. All through Februrary, Huckabee continued to get a significant proportion of the votes — proof that his appeal to his most fervent supporters was undiminished. But in the end, Huckabee learnt the hard way what everyone knew all through — a core constituency that consists of born-agains and McCain haters is not enough. Despite the occasional media report to the contrary, Mike Huckabee was never a serious contender for the nomination. And we are all better off for that.

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