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When Democrats Demand War

Betrayed by Obama's party, the antiwar left turns to the Ron Paul movement.

I stumbled out of the Democratic National Convention on the final night in a disoriented daze. What seemed like every last delegate — the majority of them earnest and well-meaning, presumably — had eagerly joined the vice president’s exhortation to cry out, in unison, “Osama bin Laden is dead!”

This was a major thematic refrain of the convention. Osama bin Laden was dead! Barack Obama deserved all Americans’ gratitude for courageously making The Call! And therefore, the muscular Obama-Biden team deserved a second term (also, Mitt Romney is a big wuss and insufficiently reverent of our military). John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, posed the challenge: “Ask Osama bin Laden if he is better off now than he was four years ago!”

Outside the arena, I spotted the Rev. Jesse Jackson — himself a former presidential candidate who once inveighed eloquently against state violence. I thought I would seek spiritual counsel. What guidance could he offer? “The cycle has to be broken. Militarism must subside,” Jackson told me. “But at the same time, we are at war.”

Then I encountered David Brooks, the reliably moderate New York Times columnist. He was in a rush, heading toward a waiting car. “I’m late for something,” Brooks said when I approached. How about just a brief comment? Please? Did he share at all in my revulsion to the bin Laden chant? “I had a little of that reaction,” Brooks allowed, hopping quickly into the vehicle.

I thought of Dennis Kucinich. The previous day, I had interviewed the outgoing congressman, who has long been the brunt of jokes and jabs for being fixated on peace. I asked what it meant that both he and Ron Paul, probably the two most unwavering opponents of war, would no longer be serving in the House come January.

“When you look at some of the issues where my supporters and Ron Paul’s supporters tend to agree,” Kucinich told me, “civil liberties, getting rid of the Patriot Act — when you look at that, you’ll see there’s starting to happen in America an alliance — informal however it is — between liberals and conservatives on issues that are fundamental issues in this country. Such as freedom, civil liberties, war and peace, America’s overreach abroad, monetary policy and the Federal Reserve… these are fundamental issues!”

I noted Kucinich was the only Democrat to vote last month against imposing “crippling sanctions” on Iran. (Paul joined him in doing so, naturally.) “The young people involved with Congressman Paul are real,” Kucinich said. “They come to politics out of principle, and that’s great to see. They ought to be encouraged.”

“How about the militarization and federalization of police?” I asked.

“Well, that’s a problem,” Kucinich opined. “And you know, the privatization of our Army is a problem…”

I interjected: “So you have the Department of Homeland Security giving these huge grants to local police departments so they can purchase SWAT gear, heavy weaponry–”

“Or drones,” Kucinich added. “No, I don’t approve of any of that. We have an increasing militarization of our society. And that really is against the basic freedoms of America.”

When the Paul-Kucinich tandem is gone, I wondered — while ambling around downtown Charlotte that night — who will stand against the “increasing militarization of our society”? In his speech at the “We are the Future” counter-rally preceding the Republican National Convention, Paul denounced America’s “very violent culture,” including “police violence,” and defended both Bradley Manning and Julian Assange by name.

Earlier that day, I happened upon another outgoing congressman, Barney Frank, who — like Kucinich — has been a regular cross-ideological ally of Paul’s. I asked what Frank made of the plight of the Paul delegates at the Republican National Convention–did they have legitimate grievances?

“Clearly, yeah,” Frank told me. “They won the delegates fair and square and the rules committee denied them.” And what accounted for this, I asked? Why did it happen?

“Why are you asking me why the Republicans do things? I can’t explain anything they do!”

“Because you’re a very insightful man, congressman!”

“But I’m also no abnormal psychiatrist!” Frank quipped.

Since the Ron Paul phenomenon began in 2007, liberals and establishment Republicans have tended to mock the more eccentric characters associated with the movement. They scorned Paul when he denounced Goldman Sachs and the Israeli occupation of Palestine and stood up for Occupy Wall Street protesters while his rivals for the Republican nomination slimed them. Paul’s role in American politics, these sneering critics contend, can be reduced to hackneyed jokes about “Paultards” and Ayn Rand.

Such critics would do well to meet Catherine Bernard, a public defender from Dublin, Georgia, former Democrat, and passionate Ron Paul delegate whom I interviewed in Tampa. I was encouraged to find her by two fellow Ron Paul delegates from Georgia — there were only three — who told me she “stood up, boldly” at an introductory brunch for their state delegation. Sue P. Everhart, the Georgia GOP chairwoman, had desired that all delegates vote as a bloc for Romney on the floor of the convention. Or in other words, Everhart wanted delegates bound to other candidates to suck it up and support the presumptive nominee.

“The Georgia Delegation is a pretty large delegation,” Bernard told me. “Third largest in the country. So Reince Priebus was there. Our governor was there, a bunch of dignitaries….

“Chairwoman Everhart went ahead and had all the delegates stand, all 76 of us, and then she said, ‘Is there anyone here who doesn’t support Mitt Romney?’ That’s when I raised my hand.

“She looked at me and she said, ‘Well–who are you going to support?’ And I said, Ron Paul ma’am.”

People in the room started clattering; somebody yelled, “He’s nuts!”

“Everhart began to question me on why I wanted to vote for Ron Paul,” Bernard recalled, “which in retrospect was inappropriate for her to ask. But I’m a public defender, so I’m used to judges and prosecutors asking disrespectful questions of me all the time.”

She laughed. “Several other people have characterized it as a berating.”

I found Everhart on the Tampa convention concourse and took the opportunity to ask about the “berating” incident. “If you want to ride with the big boys,” the chairwoman told me, “and that’s what this is — if you can’t do it, don’t saddle up!”

Sure enough, the Georgia delegation’s three votes for Ron Paul were registered when it came time for a roll call. Bernard and her colleagues did not back down.

There was no comparable discord at the Democratic National Convention. Everything felt more scripted and predictable. I could not shake the feeling that night in Charlotte, as legions of teary-eyed Democrats chanted about the killing of bin Laden, that we were all in for some kind of reckoning. That we had ignored at our peril the wisdom of Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich (and Ralph Nader), who warned about militarism infecting every facet of society. And now it was too late.

A week later, crisis hit. The American embassy in Egypt was sacked, our ambassador to Libya murdered. Angry protesters took to the streets everywhere from Tunisia to Yemen. The entire region seems teetering on the brink of calamity. Mitt Romney cravenly accused President Obama of “sympathizing” with the Egyptian attackers and of not being aggressive enough in defending American interests; Obama then ominously intoned that “justice will be done” as warships headed for the Libyan coast.

I felt the same sinking feeling as I did the final night of the Democratic convention, like we had finally reached the point of no return. I don’t know that there’s anything left to do — other than, I suppose, pray. But I do know one thing: come November, I will write-in Ron Paul.

Michael Tracey is a writer based in New York. His work has appeared in The Nation, Reason, Mother Jones, and other publications.