Ron Paul is done, almost

The idea of liberty with a capital "L" is animating young Americans in a way not seen since Obama's

Ron Paul isn't really quitting the race for the Republican Party's presidential nomination, but he isn't really campaigning for it anymore either.

That's the kind of hairsplitting you have to do when you run out of campaign cash but you have enormous support among young libertarians seeking political alternatives to partisanship-as-usual. So much, in fact, that the Ron Paul Revolution could end up barrelling on to the party's national convention in August even without its popular septuagenarian namesake.

Then again, maybe this isn't hairsplitting at all. Maybe Paul's announcement this week that he won't be campaigning in states that haven't held primaries yet is yet another kind of decoy. We've seen this before and it was scary!

While everyone else last month turned his attention to the general election after Mitt Romney's closest rivals dropped out, news broke that Paulites (or Paulbots, depending on one's point of view) were securing state and national delegates in caucus states. This terrified mainstream Republicans, who fear most the appearance of a unified front at the convention that's kind of squishy in the unified department.

Indeed, before making his partially-quitting-partially-not announcement on Monday, Paulites in Oklahoma heckled Romney surrogate and former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. They failed to place delegates but not before a Paul backer reported being struck in the back of the head by a Romney backer. Paulites had been shouting complaints that the convention wasn't following the convention's rules. And in Arizona, they booed Romney's son, Josh, off the stage during that state's convention. Paulites had reportedly said that his dad was just "a white Obama."

This is the sort of chaos the Republican Party hopes to avoid at the convention and that's probably why Paul spokesman Jesse Benton urged supporters to show decorum and respect in Tampa. Benton even said Romney is probably going to the nominee. "We recognize that Gov. Romney has what is very likely to be an insurmountable delegate lead," he said. He also said Paul is unlikely to endorse Romney and that Paulites would continue to bird-dog delegates in the run-up to the national convention.

So if Paul isn't campaigning (as much) and if he concedes that Romney is the party's de facto nominee, what are all the Paulites shouting so much about? And why are they bothering to stack up delegates. The math suggests there's no way he can win. The math also suggests Paulites are a relatively small contingent. Loud but small. Even if Paul were to force a floor vote at the convention, it would be soundly crushed. If Romney wins in November, Paul would be 84 by the time he had a chance to run for president again. What is the revolution's practical value?

Maybe I'm asking the wrong question (as are many others scratching their heads over the Ron Paul Question). Maybe there is no practical value. Not yet anyway. Ron Paul is, after all, more idea than man. That idea is liberty with an capital "L" (which is Paulian code for hardcore state's rights libertarianism.) And that idea is animating young Americans in ways not seen since Barack Obama's historic election.

I've said before that maybe Paul hopes to force a floor vote to create a backlash that would push him into a third-party position to take on Romney and the president. But that seems almost too myopic for a visionary like Paul. He's not running for president as much as he is running for the way he believes the US should be. Americans love winners but they love losers, too, when their loss is really a lost cause.

Ron Paul supporters at the University of Maryland. March 2012. Photograph: Getty Images

John Stoehr teaches writing at Yale. His essays and journalism have appeared in The American Prospect, Reuters Opinion, the Guardian, and Dissent, among other publications. He is a political blogger for The Washington Spectator and a frequent contributor to Al Jazeera English.


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America’s domestic terrorists: why there’s no such thing as a “lone wolf”

After the latest attack on Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, America must confront the violence escalating at its heart.

First things first: let’s not pretend this is about life.

Three people have died and nine were injured on Friday in the latest attack on a women’s health clinic in the United States. Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs was besieged by a gunman whose motives remain unclear, but right-to-lifers—who should really be called “forced birth advocates”—have already taken up their keyboards to defend his actions, claiming that women seeking an abortion, or doctors providing them, are never “innocent”. 

This was not unexpected. Abortion providers have been shot and killed before in the United States. The recent book Living in the Crosshairs by David S Cohen and Krysten Connon describes in sanguine detail the extent of domestic terrorism against women’s healthcare facilities, which is increasing as the American right-wing goes into meltdown over women’s continued insistence on having some measure of control over their own damn bodies. As Slate reports

In July, employees at a clinic in the Chicago suburb of Aurora, Illinois, reported an attempted arson. In August, firefighters found half a burning car at the construction site of a future clinic in New Orleans. On Sept. 4, a clinic in Pullman, Washington, was set ablaze at 3:30 a.m., and on Sept. 30, someone broke a window at a Thousand Oaks, California, clinic and threw a makeshift bomb inside.

The real horror here is not just that a forced-birth fanatic attacked a clinic, but that abortion providers across America are obliged to work as if they might, at any time, be attacked by forced-birth fanatics whose right to own a small arsenal of firearms is protected by Congress. 

The United States is bristling with heavily armed right-wingers who believe the law applies to everyone but them. This is the second act of domestic terrorism in America in a week. On Monday, racists shouting the n-word opened fire at a Black Lives Matter protest in Minneapolis, injuring three. This time, the killer is a white man in his 50s. Most American domestic terrorists are white men, which may explain why they are not treated as political agents, and instead dismissed as “lone wolves” and “madmen”.

Terrorism is violence against civilians in the service of ideology. By anyone’s sights, these killers are terrorists, and by the numbers, these terrorists pose substantially more of a threat to American citizens than foreign terrorism—but nobody is calling for background checks on white men, or for members of the republican party to wear ID tags. In America, like many other western nations, people only get to be “terrorists” when they are “outsiders” who go against the political consensus. And there is a significant political consensus behind this bigotry, including within Washington itself. That consensus plays out every time a Republican candidate or Fox news hatebot expresses sorrow for the victims of murder whilst supporting both the motives and the methods of the murderers. If that sounds extreme, let’s remind ourselves that the same politicians who declare that abortion is murder are also telling their constituents that any attempt to prevent them owning and using firearms is an attack on their human rights. 

Take Planned Parenthood. For months now, systematic attempts in Washington to defund the organisation have swamped the nation with anti-choice, anti-woman rhetoric. Donald Trump, the tangerine-tanned tycoon who has managed to become the frontrunner in the republican presidential race not in spite of his swivel-eyed, stage-managed, tub-thumping bigotry but because of it, recently called Planned Parenthood an “abortion factory” and demanded that it be stripped of all state support. Trump, in fact, held a pro-choice position not long ago, but like many US republicans, he is far smarter than he plays. Trump understands that what works for the American public right now, in an absence of real hope, is fanaticism. 

Donald Trump, like many republican candidates, is happy to play the anti-woman, anti-immigrant, racist fanatic in order to pander to white, fundamentalist Christian voters who just want to hear someone tell it like it is. Who just want to hear someone say that all Muslims should be made to wear ID cards, that Black protesters deserve to be “roughed up”, that water-boarding is acceptable even if it doesn’t work because “they deserve it”. Who just want something to believe in, and when the future is a terrifying blank space, the only voice that makes sense anymore is the ugly, violent whisper in the part of your heart that hates humanity, and goddamn but it’s a relief to hear someone speaking that way in a legitimate political forum. Otherwise you might be crazy.

American domestic terrorists are not “lone wolves”. They are entrepreneurial. They may work alone or in small groups, but they are merely the extreme expression of a political system in meltdown. Republican politicians are careful not to alienate voters who might think these shooters had the right idea when they condemn the violence, which they occasionally forget to do right away. In August, a homeless Hispanic man was allegedly beaten to a pulp by two Bostonians, one of whom told the police that he was inspired by Donald Trump’s call for the deportation of “illegals”. Trump responded to the incident by explaining that “people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again.”

But that’s not even the real problem with Donald Trump. The real problem with Donald Trump is that he makes everyone standing just to the left of him look sane. All but one republican governor has declared that refugees from Syria are unwelcome in their states. Across the nation, red states are voting in laws preventing women from accessing abortion, contraception and reproductive healthcare. Earlier this year, as congressmen discussed defunding Planned Parenthood, 300 ‘pro-life’ protesters demonstrated outside the same Colorado clinic where three people died this weekend. On a daily basis, the women who seek treatment at the clinic are apparently forced to face down cohorts of shouting fanatics just to get in the door. To refuse any connection between these daily threats and the gunman who took the violence to its logical extreme is not merely illogical—it is dangerous.

If terrorism is the murder of civilians in the service of a political ideology, the United States is a nation in the grip of a wave of domestic terrorism. It cannot properly be named as such because its logic draws directly from the political consensus of the popular right. If the killers were not white American men, we would be able to call them what they are—and politicians might be obligated to come up with a response beyond “these things happen.”

These things don’t just “happen”. These things happen with escalating, terrifying frequency, and for a reason. The reason is that America is a nation descending into political chaos, unwilling to confront the violent bigotry at its heart, stoked to frenzy by politicians all too willing to feed the violence if it consolidates their own power. It is a political choice, and it demands a political response.

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.