Ron Paul and America’s Sea Change.

December 23, 2007

Ron Paul and America’s Sea Change.

Sunday, December 23, 2007
Every Sunday CUIP’s president Jacqueline Salit and strategist and philosopher Fred Newman watch the political talk shows and discuss them. Here are excerpts from their dialogue on Sunday, December 23, 2007 after watching “The Chris Matthews Show,” “Meet the Press” and “The McLaughlin Group.”
Salit: As the pollsters and analysts on Meet the Press put it, we’re on the eve of the voting and there’s no clear front runner on either side. I was thinking about some of the discussions that you and I had months ago about Hillary’s vulnerability. Before Obama had made his mark, when Hillary had so much organization and so much money and so much political strength and was projecting her inevitability, there was still the idea that she might be vulnerable. The voting hasn’t started yet, but the polls are showing that she is and that Obama or Edwards might just take her. Has there been a sea change in the Democratic Party?

Newman: I think there is a sea change in the country. I don’t know about a sea change in the Democratic Party. That’s another matter. I think it’s fascinating that there’s no decisive front runner. I think that’s an expression of the sea change.

Salit: What’s the connection?

Newman: Things are less controlled and the American people are OK with that. They want things to be less controlled. They like things to be more open. Whether that will carry through to the actual voting is another matter, because voting can be a very conservative activity. Whether they revert to a more conservative perspective when they actually vote remains to be seen. But there’s been a big change. I think it goes back to Ross Perot, it goes back to Jesse Ventura and voters being more willing to take a risk, to step outside of the box. Ron Paul’s popularity is an example of that. Huckabee’s rise is an example of that. Certainly, Obama is an expression of that.

Salit: And Hillary isn’t.

Newman: In some ways, Hillary has to deal with the fact that she should have been able to articulate a message of “take a risk, put a woman in the presidency.” But she couldn’t because she chose to shape the campaign around the idea of being the inevitable nominee, as it were. Those two don’t fit together. You can’t put those together. I think that Howard Wolfson and Bill Clinton and the people who put her campaign together put her in a bad spot because they didn’t position her as part of the sea change. She was actually anti-sea change. And that’s turned out to be a tough spot. I know the official line is that her biggest chance of winning is being the most experienced. But I don’t see yet that’s been proven right.

Salit: Just a minute ago you said voting can be a conservative activity.

Newman: Yes.

Salit: What do you mean by that?

Newman: People tend to vote habitually. They vote for the parties and the candidates that they’ve voted for in the past.

Salit: The known quantity.

Newman: Yes. But that’s changing. When I wrote about the Ventura victory in 1998, I said that what was utterly amazing about that Minnesota election was the number of people who did a different thing on Election Day. They came out, registered to vote using same day voter registration, and voted for Ventura, the independent. It was a strange one-day phenomenon – and more significant, in my opinion, than the fact that Ventura got elected governor. That same fervor for someone outside of the box didn’t carry over for Howard Dean, who was hoping that it would. But then Dean was a somewhat centrist New Englander who was against the war in Iraq but was otherwise somewhat of an establishment guy. Today you can’t find anybody in the Democratic Party who’s not anti-war. The whole Democratic Party is anti-war. There is a sea change in America. There is a greater openness, a more libertarian attitude. But the rate at which that’s going to transform different institutions is going to vary from institution to institution. And we don’t know the extent to which it’s going to impact on the presidential selection process. In two months, we will see some things.

Salit: When you say we’ll see how that sea change affects different institutions, the sea change that you’re describing is something that’s broader and deeper than simply a sea change in political sympathies and choices.

Newman. Surely. I don’t know if there is such a thing as a sea change only in political choices. No, it’s a cultural sea change.

Salit: What are some of the features of that change? You just mentioned the country being more libertarian in outlook.

Newman: And less traditional. America is a very traditional country. But you see changes in that traditionalism. You see it in politics with the rise in political independence. You see it with the new directions in how black voters are aligning. Every year brings a new form in popular music. You see it in how people dress. I think that’s all part of the sea change. Yes, it’s generational. It’s also technological. And again, think of a sea change as sort of amoeba-like. It moves different things at different times in different ways. You don’t know what it’s going to hit. I think it’s been very present in the electoral season so far, which has been a very different kind of electoral season up ’til now. Will that carry over into the voting? Hard to say. Voting is like when you sign the contract, so there’s something different in the actual voting. Voting is when you finally buy the car. You say all kinds of things before you buy it. But when it comes time to actually buy the car, you ask yourself: What do I do when I buy the car? I did all this research. But when push comes to shove, I kick the tires. Because that’s what I’ve always seen people do when they buy a car. You kick the tires. You want something reliable. So I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m certainly going to be pleased if it carries over. But we’ll see.

Salit: Ron Paul was on Meet the Press today. I thought he was very good. His message is radically different from that of any of the other Republican candidates…and also very different from the Democratic candidates. You can see why he’s attracting such significant support. And he tries to project radicalism and traditionalism at the same time. He says: My message is returning to what true Republicanism is about. I’m a genuine constitutionalist. My message is radical, but I’m really a conservative choice because this is the foundation of what our country is supposed to be about. How do you react to his message?

Newman: I think it’s refreshing and very interesting. He’s an independent. And I’d call him a left wing conservative. In some ways, however, I think he’s made his breakthrough too late. What I mean by that is if there were another two or three months to go, I think Paul could conceivably do a quasi-Huckabee. But the receptivity to him, to new ideas and his framings of the issues, is part of the sea change. Ron Paul’s been around a long time. The Libertarians have been around for a long time. But this is the biggest response he’s ever gotten. Part of it is that he is running in the Republican Party primary. That makes good sense to me. But part of it is that there’s an openness to these kinds of ideas.

Salit: Who do you think is the most radical voice in the Democratic primary?

Newman: Probably Dennis Kucinich. I think he has a spirit of progressivism. I think he’s the most radical voice in that primary. Obama is radical in some ways too, although Obama has worked hard to look as much like a centrist as he possibly can. I suspect that he’s actually more on the left than he projects himself to be. But this is how he’s chosen to run his campaign. Kucinich is a genuinely independent-minded progressive person. Clearly, he’s anti-war because that’s what he believes in.

Salit: Can I ask you for some year-end awardees, per the McLaughlin Group? Who do you think has been the best politician in 2007? That was a McLaughlin Group category.

Newman: I think the Obama people have to get that award. It’s been an extraordinary campaign and they’ve been right on lots of things, timing-wise. I would give it to them, to that whole staff – not just to Obama, but to the Obama people.

Salit: Who do you think has been the worst politician in ’07?

Newman: Rudy Giuliani has not run a good campaign at all. He took the lead but didn’t do very much with it. I think he could have made some interesting shifts to humanize himself and his campaign. But he hasn’t done it.

Salit: I agree with that.

Newman: He got locked into his own position.

Salit: And who would be in your category of “Enough Already”?

Newman: Maybe the talk shows.

Salit: That’s a good answer. On that note, we wish our readers happy holidays.

Newman: Indeed we do. Happy independent holidays.