“Tonight John McCain will be in St. Paul, but St. Paul will be in Minneapolis.”
That was a line spoken yesterday by Doug Wead at a political convention in Minnesota. The first “St. Paul” he mentioned was the city where the G.O.P. is holding its convention; the second one is Ron Paul, leader of the “constitutionalists” who convened in his name yesterday in Minneapolis for a counter-convention.
The two gatherings couldn’t have been much more different. The G.O.P. convention, where the candidate has a good chance of winning the Presidency, felt more anxious than triumphant. The Paul convention, meanwhile, felt like a celebration even though its candidate got only a sliver of votes in the Republican primaries and wasn’t even invited to speak at his own party’s convention.
Paul himself was more dour than his supporters. “The American Republic hangs by a thread,” he reminded them, “and a thin one at that.”
The G.O.P. convention has been a tribute to not only “country first” but, primarily, to government itself. The Paul convention, representing “the revolutionary wing of the Republican Party,” was as anti-government as a political convention could be. Arguments were made against nearly every task that government carries out, including taxation (not surprisingly) and regulation (of just about any sort), but also the funding of education.
The Paul convention was upbeat, heartfelt, and a bit on the wild side. If you didn’t know better, you might not have known their candidate had lost.
His supporters rallied with a vigor seeming to suggest that they felt their concerns represent the hearts and minds of the majority of Americans — whereas in fact, if they really did, Paul would have gotten an awful lot more votes. Paul supporters see themselves as the true G.O.P., representing the best intentions and true will of the American people; the big-biz G.O.P., meanwhile, seems to see Paul supporters as a lunatic fringe.
What were the biggest applause lines of the day at the two gatherings? At the G.O.P. convention, the delegates responded mightily to 9/11 references, “country first,” the stories about McCain’s captivity in Vietnam, and the protection of unborn children.
The big applause at the Paul convention went to lines about abolishing the Federal Reserve, getting the U.S. out of the U.N., and being left alone by the government. Grover Norquist, president of the Americans for Tax Reform and a board member of the National Rifle Association, summed up the prevailing view succinctly: “Taxes bad, guns good.”
One of the very biggest applause lines of the day, believe it or not, came upon a mention of the Austrian School of economics, which was followed by this line: “And by the way, free markets do not cause housing bubbles and mortgage crises.”
That’s easy: Government.
[Note: Here’s my discussion of the Paul rally on The Takeaway.]