A Tea Party Conservative's Defense of Ron Paul...and His Supporters
I want to state at the outset that this essay is not intended to be an endorsement of Ron Paul. While I respect and admire many of his positions and his fidelity to the Constitution, I have strong misgivings about some of his stances on national security. If you could hear the debates between myself and my 20-year-old son, a passionate Ron Paul supporter, you would readily accept the sincerity of my disclaimer.
That said, as the political season has heated up, I've been surprised at the tone of the discourse as it relates to Ron Paul. In fact, I can hardly believe what I'm seeing and hearing from my fellow Tea Partiers and conservatives. My assumption that conservatives are more thoughtful and logical than my emotion-driven liberal friends has taken a bit of a hit.
Of course, honest debate is imperative in a presidential campaign, but name-calling is counterproductive. Most confounding is how quickly the debate on Ron Paul has degenerated from a discussion of alternative ideas to name-calling ("crazy old fool") and distortion ("he's a Jew-hater"). These represent the very same type of attacks that conservatives rail against when they're directed toward conservatives themselves and people we admire like Sarah Palin, George W. Bush, Michele Bachmann, Ronald Reagan, etc.
Conservatives have forever endured unfair characterizations and false charges. This happens solely because our ideological opponents seek to marginalize and invalidate us. When did it become acceptable for conservatives to direct that same type of thoughtless vitriol toward their own?
I will admit that I was prone to many similar assumptions about Ron Paul as my peers harbor. Only after my son began sending me excerpts from Paul's books and website did I understand his ideology in greater detail.
I still disagree with a good many of his views, but I have come to realize that Ron Paul is most definitely a patriot. I believe that many of his PR problems stem from an inability to express his ideas effectively in a sound-bite world. He appears impatient and unwilling to suffer fools who do not share his level of understanding of the Constitution and the Founders' intent. An effective executive must exhibit great skill in communicating ideas and building consensus. This, in my opinion, is not one of Ron Paul's strong suits.
But what conservatives in general need to understand and appreciate is that Ron Paul's message about small government, individual freedom, free markets, and the Constitution is connecting with the younger generation in ways that the Tea Party has not been able to imitate. Admittedly, passion can sometimes manifest in obnoxious ways. Some of Ron Paul's supporters can be over the top, but so can some Tea Partiers. The majority of his base is young, and I'd argue that youthful exuberance is at the core of this in-your-face activism. Yes, it's obnoxious on the one hand, but it's exciting and hopeful on the other! That the next generation could be turned on by these ideas is what I call true "Hope and Change."
What I fear more than a Ron Paul presidency is the possibility that his supporters will become disillusioned and alienated by conservatives who are hell-bent on destroying the man personally, rather than debating his ideas thoughtfully. It is imperative that Paul's young followers feel as though their voices can be heard and our debate can be civil. We stand to gain nothing as a movement by destroying Ron Paul personally and marginalizing his supporters. Our country is crying out for a new generation of leaders to grab the baton and restore constitutionalism after decades of destructive policies by corrupt politicians.
With regard to Ron Paul and his supporters, I appeal to my conservative brethren to raise the level of debate and avoid the urge to use the same unfair tactics that our adversaries employ. We will need Ron Paul and his constituency to get behind another conservative in the race, in the probable event that he doesn't win the GOP nomination. The majority of our viewpoints are in agreement. We can debate the rest and in the meantime work together toward restoring our Constitution, economic health, individual liberty and our superpower status...together, one step at a time.
Russ Paladino is a small business owner who has been active in the Tea Party movement since its inception. He has served on the staff of the Staten Island Tea Party and is the co-founder of the grassroots group Staten Island LiberTEA.