Thursday, 5 January 2012

Democrats for Ron Paul?

Romney limps to a hollow victory, Santorum gets his anti-Romney surge, Bachman is gone and Perry might as well be, Gingrich cancelled his result watching party and some silly person voted for Cain. But among the many shenanigans at the Iowa caucus, we saw the strange phenomenon of normally Democrat voters registering Republican to vote for Ron Paul.

Although his final result was perhaps a disappointment compared to the indications of the initial exit poll, Paul still came third with 21 percent. Now, a lot of the (often incredibly zealous) support for Paul is hardly surprising; clearly for any Libertarian Paul is something of a dream come true.

But Democrats? People who support Obama in ’08? Going from voting for a man who was proposing an economic stimulus to a man who believes so much in the power of the free market he’d like to do away with loans for students and have universities operate purely on market mechanisms?

Paul won’t win the Republican nomination (It’s gonna be Romney. It was always going to be Romney. By the time he gets the nomination he’s going to look incredibly weak, but it’s still gonna be Romney). But it’s interesting to examine why people we would presume are progressive are lending their support to the Libertarian (and, potentially, what this says about their perceptions of and opinions on the Obama administration).

His any-war message is a big deal to a lot of his supporters; Obama being seen as pro-war because of his intervention in Libya (which I personally think was brilliant, but anyway…), as is his emphasis on freedom and civil liberties (while Obama signed an extension of the patriot act). This perception of him at the candidate of none intervention and freedom is one that understandably appeals to progressive voters.

And there’s no denying of his personal appeal; he seems to be a man of genuine belief and integrity (though I may not agree with his beliefs I would concede that he seems to be a good person who believes in the principles he preaches). This goes hand in hand with the perception of him as the candidate “not in the pocket of wall street”; exactly what this means to different people, and in what way Obama is in the “pocket of wall street” varies; but it has become a concept with significant weight and significant appeal to many, including the anti-banking and big business thinking of some on the left.

It should also be noted that his belief in states rights go someway to undermine some of his more socially liberal policies; he may believe in gay marriage or a more liberal policy on drugs, but as his belief would be that he, as president, should stay out of those issues, his presidency would not make such laws more likely. And his reputation as the incorruptable defender of liberty and peace is not entirely water-tight.

This, though, does not change the perception of him as the socially liberal and incorruptible alternative to Obama, whatever the flaws in this perception may be.

But what happened to “it’s the economy, stupid”? Is that not the key issue on which voters make their choice, in the majority of the cases? And in that case, why would Democrats make such a dramatic shift? Are we to assume that former Obama supporters supported him over social issues but were economically right wing, and now Ron Paul gives them a candidate who fuses those two values?

This still seems problematic in the implication that their support for the Democrats in ’08, then, was based not on the economy but on social issues.

So then, what? Perhaps it is that, though people’s primary reason for voting is on the economy, it is not on economic principles. Swing voters are most likely to vote for the incumbent if the economy is doing well, and for the opposition if it is not. And perhaps Ron Paul brings enough personal appeal while not being the often true stereotype of the crazy anti-gay, anti-contraception, creationist Republican to entice less ardent (and maybe less economically knowledgeable) Democrats to do the same.

This is just speculative; I still find it close to un-understandable that a supporter of the occupy movement would also support Paul. But I do not think support for Paul from progressives is a mark that they are suddenly opposed to medicare or anti-discrimination laws or really want the free market to rule supreme (of course, many of Paul's supports would like that, but I would argue this isn't true of those who normally support the democrats). This speaks more of a dissatisfaction with Obama's record on civil liberties (which I would argue is over hyped and largely ridiculous; getting rid of don't ask, don't tell anyone?) and a generalised feeling of a need for a change of direction in the economy, rather than actual support for the change Ron Paul would like to see.

And I still maintain that the real winner of the Iowa caucus was Obama; very little could have helped him more than the entire farce that has been the race for the Republican nomination so far. But the support from liberals for Ron Paul is still an interesting phenomenon, that may prove useful study for both the Democratic and Republican parties.

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