Despite some early unfounded hopes, there was never likely to be much in a Palin selection that would satisfy Ron Paul supporters, and a fair amount from what we do know about her that would create cause for serious concern. Here is one account from a Republican who supported Ron Paul in the Iowa caucuses that describes his dissatisfaction with the convention, John McCain and Sarah Palin. I am less put off by some of the shots at Obama than this man was, but two things do stand out in his complaint about this past week that I think are quite important:
The worst, for me, was repeated harpings on the idea that Barack Obama was somehow “bad” because he was a community organizer.
I know what community organizers do. I have friends and family who are involved with social work and community organization. They register people to vote. They get people involved with the political process. They know the real, day-to-day problems of the people in their community like the back of their hand. They help people with their life problems, helping elderly folks keep the lights on and helping gro ups with a significant problem get organized enough to get the attention of an alderman or city hall. The people on the ground, the “community organizers” and very local politicians, do a ton of good work for the people of this country. And through that process, they gain a deep understanding of the real problems and thoughts of everyday people.
One of the oldest, and still one of the best, retorts against supporters of the welfare state and centralism has been that private institutions and local communities are often better suited to the work that the central government takes over from them, and they help ensure that power is not concentrated in distant and unaccountable bureaucracies. They create intermediate institutions that can shield the people from the power of the state and provide support from fellow citizens on a local level that frees people from dependence on the state. Conservatives may have reasons in specific cases to object to the goals or the agenda of particular organizers or groups, and I can see why conservatives would be suspicious of anyone who makes activism into a career. Another reason why so many conservatives seem to react to the phrase “community organizer” with such bafflement and amusement is that so many of the people engaged in the work of conservation, historic preservation and local community life are not self-styled, much less movement-oriented, conservatives. As Jeremy Beer said in the TAC symposium from 2006:
The conservers, preservers, savers, and protectors—conservatism once stood for such folks, and such folks were at one time conservatives. But they make bad apparatchiks. They aren’t ideologically motivated and aren’t “thinking big.” They are simply concerned, if often locally prominent, citizens. They may also be sentimental saps, but that’s understandable. As normally functioning human beings, they have formed dear attachments to their social and physical worlds. They like their communities, want to see them thrive and prosper, want to see them made or kept beautiful, want to preserve (or reinvigorate) their sense of their places as unique, and prefer to interact daily with people they know and love—or even hate.
Here is where Russell Kirk was truly exemplary. He ought to be remembered not as “the principal architect of the postwar conservative movement,” as the quasi-official adulation has it, but because he went home. There he restored an old house, planted trees, and became a justice of the peace; took a wife (and kept her) and had four children; wrote ghost stories about census-takers and other bureaucrats getting it in the neck; took in boatpeople and bums; and denounced every war in which the U.S. became involved—especially the first Gulf War, which he detested. And he also denounced abstractions because he knew they were drugs deployed to distract us from the infinitely more important work of the Brandywine Conservancies of the world.
No doubt there are some, indeed many, community organizers who are co-opted by parties and are turned into GOTV agents for politicians, and I can understand not being sympathetic to this kind of activist, but at some point there ought to be some recognition that these people are engaged to some extent in local self-government, which is something that we are supposed to consider important and vital to our political system. I can understand the critique of Obama here on the grounds that, by his own admission, his time as a community organizer was largely a flop, but surely the point here would be that Obama was not successful at what he tried to do rather than that the sort of work he was attempting was inherently worthless.
The other objection this Paul supporter makes is more important, because it reflects how readily Palin recites the lines she has been given on major issues:
There was one line at the end that really twisted things for me. “Al Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America … he’s worried that someone won’t read them their rights?”
This is a fundamentally misleading framing of the issue of providing detainees with the ability to challenge the charges against them through a judicial process. There is no one proposing that Miranda warnings be given to members of Al Qaeda, and it is an insult to the audience’s intelligence to claim that this is the issue. The question is whether the government has the right to seize someone, whether a foreigner or a U.S. citizen, accuse him of conspiring with terrorists, strip him of all legal protections and keep him detained indefinitely without access to due process. The McCain/Palin position is apparently that the government can and should do this–remember that McCain regards Boumediene as one of the worst Supreme Court rulings in history–and meanwhile it is going to be the practice of the GOP to misrepresent the opposing view in the most absurd way. Unlike this Iowa Paul supporter, these things do not inspire me to vote for Obama, much less to send him money or change my registration, since Obama has shown elsewhere that he has equally little respect for constitutional protections, but they do confirm me in my view that McCain/Palin represents nothing but continuity with the policies of the Bush administration. I think it is clear for these and other reasons that dissident conservatives have no business lending this ticket any support.