Reason staffers Mike Riggs and Katherine Mangu-Ward were on the television yesterday to discuss the media's response to what might be called "The Riddle of Ron Paul": Why do major newspapers, broadcast shows, and cable news outlets seem hell-bent on ignoring a 12-term GOP congressman who came in a tight second in the Iowa Straw Poll? Indeed, the results of that hokey quadrennial exercise in corn-dog politics was used to talk up Michelle Bachmann's legitimacy. Yet, none of that seemed to rub off on Rep. Paul (R-Texas), who seems to be getting the Voldemort treatment from just about everyone with the exception of Jon Stewart.
First up is Associate Editor Mike Riggs, talking on the Thom Hartmann show on RT.
While pooh-poohing Hartmann's conspiracist take on the matter - the left-wing host suggests that media outlets tightly controlled by interlocking boards of directors have put the kibosh on covering Paul - Riggs agrees that Paul is not getting the respect and credibility he deserves. Paul, says Riggs, has been a consistent opponent of promiscuously interventionist foreign policy since the early days of Afghanistan.
The country, says Riggs, is done with war, including the new one that President Obama plunged into in Libya without so much as a congressional by-your-leave. And Paul is the only candidate apart from former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (an enormously under-covered candidate, in my opinion) who was also unambiguously against the budget-busting excesses of the GOP Congress and Bush White House back in the day.
That very consistency, says Riggs, runs afoul of "GOP kingmakers" who give the mainstream media its cues and talking points: "Mostly, I think it's a lazy mainstream media saying, if the consultant or the guest I have on my show three times a week says Ron Paul isn't worth paying attention to, then I'm not going to devote any coverage to him." The GOP establishment - who tried to kneecap Paul's return to Congress in 1996 by throwing support behind a different primary candidate - rightly worries that Paul will split votes and show up the disturbing lack of consistency in folks such as Mitt Romney, who is fast becoming the India Rubber Man of electoral politics.
As Matt Welch and I note in our new book, The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America, only 38 percent of folks who voted for Ron Paul in 2008 GOP primaries went on to vote for John McCain in the general election. Indeed, between 1992 and 2008, only 46 percent of self-identified libertarians voted for the GOP presidential candidate. Between 1972 and 1988, that percentage clocked in at 69 percent. Ron Paul articulates many of the differences between libertarian principles and how the supposedly small-government, pro-capitalist Republican Party has chosen to govern. Of course candidates such as Ron Paul and Gary Johnson discomfit the GOP establishment. They not only show how actual, electable Republicans could choose to talk and govern, they show how compromised most GOP candidates are when it comes to truly believing in small government.
Senior Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward appeared on Fox Business' The Willis Report.
Mangu-Ward provocatively states, "I think Ron Paul is getting a tremendous amount of coverage for someone who is never going to be president." Additionally, she says that everyone, including Paul and his campaigners, know that. She continues that Paul " is bringing some great, overlooked issues into the debate" and wonders more why Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) is taken seriously rather than Paul marginalized. As one might imagine, such plain-speaking has brought down upon Mangu-Ward and Reason a Texas-cyclone-sized storm of email questioning our libertarian bona fides, moral certitude, and, strangely, personal hygeine habits. We've fielded more than a couple demands that Mangu-Ward be fired for her remarks, which seems to be a strange request of an organization that trades in "Free Minds and Free Markets." Reason staffers disagree on a wide range of topics, including the current issues of whether and why Ron Paul is getting the coverage he deserves and just how likely he is to win the GOP presidential nod, much less win the general election in 2012. These are conversations worth having, but they are not the stuff of vendetta.
Intrade, the site that makes crowd-sourced predictions about political events, supports Mangu-Ward's pessimism when it comes to Paul's electability. Right now, Intrade figures that Texas Gov. Rick Perry has a 37 percent chance of being the GOP nominee, followed by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at 30 percent. Just a few days after Iowa, Bachmann gets a meager 5.3 percent shot at being the nominee, and Paul shows up at 3.2 percent. Over at RealClearPolitics, Paul is pulling a bit less than 9 percent in aggregated polls, behind Romney, Perry, Palin, and Bachmann.
That can't be heartening to Paul supporters, for sure, but fretting over electoral probabilities misses, in my opinion, the far more important point raised both by Ron Paul's candidacy and the studied non-response to it: Paul is saying things that are wildly resonant with the American public and that are equally wildly out of step with establishment pols and media types. This is a guy who managed to storm the New York Times best-seller list with books about the founding of the country and ending the Federal Reserve, after all. Virtually alone among members of Congress, much less members of his party, he opposed the warfare state from his first days in office. He was against TARP and the bailouts, against Bush and Obama stimulus spending, has brought new scrutiny to the nation's central bank.
Which helps explain why Paul is, for too many partisans and press people alike, to tough to tangle with. To engage the issues that he raises would require too much recalibration for most Republicans, and a total brain transplant for most Democrats and members of the press (who aren't ideological as much as they are fundamentally unserious).
That's a damn shame, but it's one the is surely on the decline. Ron Paul may not be getting the coverage he deserves, but he is getting more of it than he did the last time around and, as the issues he pushes become ever-more central to what voters care about, his views and ideas will be right at the center of the moment, regardless of whether he wins, shows, or places in New Hampshire and beyond.
That is the real story and it's one that won't be going away despite the best efforts of establishment types who wish otherwise.
For further reading: Reason.com's voluminous Ron Paul topic page.