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Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2007 01:48 am

New patriots and the old politics of Ron Paul

Anti-war conservatives organize for liberty

Untitled Document “The founding fathers warned you!” proclaims the 16-by-8-foot sign that Garret Jordan has erected in his yard on Sixth Street, just south of Springfield Clinic’s construction site. The sign lists some of what Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, and Madison warned against: Foreign entanglements. Enslaving taxation. Mainstream media. Open borders. Government secrecy. “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance,” the message concludes, hoping to jolt sunshine patriots into joining the Ron Paul for President campaign.      Jordan, a middle-aged store worker and real-estate investor, has found meaning in the hard-right message of Paul’s supporters. In the past six weeks he’s given up following sports, instead taking up religion and politics to sound the alarm about what’s really going on in the United States. “Most Americans don’t realize how many rights George Bush has taken away from us,” Jordan says. “He’s not upholding any of the Constitution.”
     In late September he was among the 12 Paul supporters sitting under a pavilion at Southern View Community Park, talking about how to get their candidate’s name on the ballot in Illinois. Election laws and petition rules seem daunting, but these political neophytes are determined not only to get Paul on the ballot but also to spread the message of their mostly unknown candidate, a soft-spoken Republican congressman from Texas. “That’s why the elite have taken over this country, because ordinary Americans are intimidated by all the rules,” says the meeting’s leader, 24-year-old Greg Bishop, who hosts a radio program on WMAY (970 AM). “People don’t know they have a true conservative alternative. We plan to tell them.” Currently there are 41 members in the Springfield-based Ron Paul online “meetup group,” the beginnings of a movement.       This is as grassroots as politics gets. The meeting proceeds with plans for a Nov. 3 cookout and rally that those in attendance first call “Ronvemberfest” before deciding to change the name to “Patriots’ Picnic.” They discuss campaigning door to door in the small towns around Springfield, like Southern View, Riverton, Chatham, Virden, and Pawnee. Someone suggests getting Paul literature to every gun show in central Illinois. There is a reminder to keep in touch through ronpaul.meetup.com/528, the group’s Web site. They talk about how to ask for money. “Won’t you donate $100 today?” is the preferred phrasing. “It’s an investment in our children’s future. Help Ron Paul take back the country while there’s still time for America.”
     The most striking difference between Paul’s “true conservative” supporters and today’s mainstream Republicans is opposition to the war in Iraq. “We believe in national defense, but we don’t believe in preemptive war,” says one of the leaders of the Springfield group. “There’s no need for us to meddle in other people’s affairs,” says another. “We’re not the police of the world. We do better trading with people rather than invading them.” A quiet participant in the organizing meeting explains, “The current administration wants to spread democracy with a gun. Historically that’s a Democratic platform. Republicans are traditionally the ones who say isolationism is a good thing. Republicans were elected to get us out of wars.”
    Paul supporters teach newcomers that their banner is the Constitution and its idea of limited government. They say that much of the power asserted by modern presidents has been usurped from Congress, and much of the power asserted by Congress has been usurped from the states. It is on the Constitution that Paul and his supporters base their opposition to gun control and foreign-policy adventures and their support of state sovereignty. They oppose the Patriot Act as government snooping and warn against national ID cards as an invasion of privacy. This brand of conservatism has the neatness and patriotic decency, anchored in principle and idealism, that I found so appealing when I read Barry Goldwater’s The Conscience of a Conservative in the early 1960s. Supporters say that Paul is its first real champion since Goldwater.      Conspiracy theories swirl through the Paul campaign, giving it a dark side. True believers claim that the Council on Foreign Relations, a Washington think tank, has a secret plan to form a North American Union by abolishing the U.S. borders between Canada and Mexico. Bankers and the elite are out to make us their slaves. The dropping of the Twin Towers was an inside job.     Yet much of the message is American love of liberty, distrust of government, and wariness of concentrated power, old-fashioned conservative values shared by many who identify themselves as liberal. At the Paul gathering, discussion ranged from getting the U.S. out of Iraq to abolishing the World Trade Organization and not trusting the mainstream media. I went directly from there to another meeting in Springfield that night, where a nationally known peace advocate exhorted his audience of liberal activists to help get the U.S. out of Iraq, abolish the World Trade Organization, and not trust the mainstream media. On the meeting ground of discontent, the far right almost joins the far left.
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