Freedom Loves Company
By: Chris Stirewalt
April 15, 2010
Three years ago, the Republican establishment piled scorn on the presidential candidacy of Ron Paul.
Today, he is in a statistical tie with President Obama in 2012 polling. His son, an ophthalmologist who has never run for elective office, is well ahead of not only the GOP's handpicked candidate for Senate in Kentucky but also both Democratic contenders -- all statewide officeholders.
What happened? Did America suddenly develop an insatiable appetite for 74-year-old, cranky congressmen from Texas? Is the gold standard catching on?
Paul will not likely be the next president. And his son still faces the most arduous part of his journey as Democrats spend millions to paint him as soft on defense, lax on drug enforcement and too radical on welfare programs.
But there's no doubt that hating the government and the powerful interests that pull Washington's strings has gone from the radical precincts of the Right and Left to the mainstream.
It turns out that watching Goldman Sachs, the United Auto Workers, public employee unions and a raft of other vampires drain the treasury at America's weakest moment in a generation will make a person pretty hacked off.
After Barack Obama's election, Democrats assumed that the American people were battered, bruised and ready for a morphine drip of European-style socialism. Republicans, shocked by their stunning reversals, figured the Democrats were right and started looking for technocrats of their own.
And in a political system fueled by special-interest money, it was hard for the leaders of major parties to imagine anything other than an activist government. After all, if you pay for someone to get elected, you don't expect him to just sit there.
Just 18 months ago the leaders of both parties were quite sure that Obama would be the popular, transformative president he aspires to be. The Republicans who emerged from the wreckage of November were certain to look a lot more like Charlie Crist and Mitt Romney than Marco Rubio and Ron Paul.
But Crist's embrace of Obamanomics seems to have utterly destroyed his chances at a Senate seat that was once his for the taking. Romney, considered a near lock for the 2012 Republican nomination, has seen his candidacy badly damaged by a populist revolt against the passage of a national health care plan that looks like the one he designed for Massachusetts.
Obama, who said that passage of his health plan proved that Washington could still do big things, finds himself deeply at odds with an electorate that is not confident of government's ability to do anything at all.
His election has turned out to be not the result of a national lurch toward government intervention but his own skill at disguising his policies, the failures of the Republican Party and the bursting of the lending bubble.
A year ago, the tea parties caught most everyone by surprise.
It was a conservative flash mob and hundreds of thousands of Americans took to the streets.
Republicans scrambled to get to the head of the parade and Democrats claimed that it was all a put-up job by their enemies in the special interest wars. The press tried to treat what had been a spontaneous outburst as if it were a traditional political party and asked all the questions they teach in journalism school: Who's in charge? Who are they opposed to? Is it racist?
This year, the political parties and the press will not be caught off guard. Republican politicians will address tea party rallies, Democrats will denounce the supposed puppeteers of the movement and the press will look for hate speech.
But few will glean the real meaning of the protests or the booming support for Ron and Rand Paul.
It's not about the Paul’s themselves or the guys with the "Don't tread on me" flags. It's about the people at home who might not be willing to march in the park or join the next Paul money bomb, but who don't blame the folks who do.
Libertarian sentiment has finally gone main stream.
A movement that said that people should do whatever they wanted as long as it didn't hurt anyone else couldn't compete during the culture wars that began in the 1960s.
But after two wars, a $12 trillion debt, a financial crisis and the most politically tone-deaf president in modern history, Americans may have finally given up on big government.
Chris Stirewalt is the political editor of the Washington Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.