I am not a Ron Paul fan. I recognize that he is an intelligent and apparently principled man, who appears to hold and be able to articulate a consistent set of beliefs (which already makes him a rarity among contemporary politicians). Nevertheless, I have enough fundamental disagreements with enough of his political positions that I can’t count myself as one of his supporters.
But even as a disinterested spectator, watching Paul being ‘edited out’ of news coverage of the Republican candidates, like a disgraced Soviet commissar being airbrushed out of history after a purge, leaves me with my mouth hanging open in disbelief. Take for example, a typical report about the Iowa straw poll from CBS. The front-runners after the poll are Bachmann, Romney and Perry. Ron Paul? Oh, he gets a mention - mostly dismissive - way down towards the bottom of the page. The article doesn’t dwell on the fact that he nearly tied Bachmann and got twice as many votes as the next guy, eight or nine times as many as supposed ‘front-runners’ Perry and Romney. And as Jon Stewart has pointed out at greater length and more amusingly, this is pretty much par for the course where Paul is concerned. It always has been.
OK, perhaps the straw poll doesn’t mean anything - but where Bachmann is concerned, the media are certainly behaving as if it did. Well, perhaps the results don’t mean anything because Paul’s fanatical followers packed the house and skewed the results - but weren’t everyone else’s fanatical followers trying to do the same thing? Isn’t that how voting works?
Never mind. Ron Paul is not a serious candidate. It has been decided. Let’s not stop to think about that one too closely. If we’re living in a world where Ron Paul is not a serious candidate but Michelle Bachmann is, we may actually be living in Bizarro World and things are going to get a lot stranger before they start making sense again.
So why isn’t Paul a serious candidate? He’s a smart guy, and he seems to have a following. He’s certainly no less electable than anyone else. Electability is largely manufactured these days. Once a candidate gets the official blessing, the party machine and the advisors and analysts go to work, buff out the rough spots and cover up the weak points and generally get him or her looking presidential. The people who do it are pros. They can do it for anyone: some of them are probably already having sleepless nights at the thought that they might be called upon to do it for Michelle Bachmann.
But the word seems to have been handed down from whatever inner circle constitutes the actual fetid black heart of the GOP: don’t mention Ron Paul. He is not electable. That isn’t really what they mean, though. What they really mean is “he’s not manageable”. The real problem is that he won’t do what he’s told. Romney, Perry, Santorum, even poor crazy Michelle, they know who signs the pay checks. They can all be counted on to follow orders. But not Ron Paul: with him, there’s always the danger that he might say what he thinks or do what he believes is right. That makes him unacceptable.
OK, it’s their Party and they’ll connive if they want to. But the internal machinations aren’t the really scary thing.
What is wrong, really wrong, about this whole business, is that the media are going along with it. Even outlets with no particular ties to the Republican Party are following the official line: Ron Paul doesn’t matter. Ron Paul doesn’t count. Don’t mention Ron Paul. Pay no attention to the rather cranky little old man behind the curtain. The Republican Party may want to see their non-preferred candidates brushed under the carpet, but it’s the supposedly independent press and media who are actually making it happen.
That’s not their job. The job of the media isn’t to play favorites. It’s to report and to inform, not to repeat the party line whispered to them by the apparatchiks. Whether you agree with Ron Paul or not, he deserves to be treated as seriously as any of the other candidates (perhaps more seriously than some). When the media, with near-unanimity, decide to ignore or disparage a credible candidate, something is seriously wrong.
The British Labour politician Tony Benn, who also had an adversarial relationship with the press, once said that if he was seen walking on water to rescue a drowning child, the headline in the papers the next day would read "Benn doesn’t know how to swim". Ron Paul would probably be grateful for even that much attention.