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Dispatch From Tampa

Among the Paulites in Tampa

by JEFF TAYLOR

Tampa.

I’m a delegate to the Republican National Convention.

First, two disclaimers:  (1) In writing about proceedings in Tampa, I’m speaking for myself, not for my state delegation, state party, or any other group.  (2) Any criticism of Mitt Romney should not be interpreted as praise for Barack Obama.  I have no use for Obama.  I don’t support his reelection.

While convention managers might prefer that delegates act as mere props in a carefully-choreographed production—our role limited to clapping for approved speakers and two minutes hate for Democrats— I don’t believe any of us have forfeited our minds or our consciences by becoming delegates.

I support the Ron Paul wing of the Republican Party.  Admittedly, it’s not perfect.  The message of the “Liberty Movement” is often lopsided.  Liberty is wonderful but it’s not everything.  There is also community.  And democracy.  And morality.   And justice for all.  Thankfully, the movement includes at least portions of each and a large helping of peace.  I contend that Congressman Paul was the best candidate for president, in either party, in 2008 and 2012.  Obama backers who notice a splinter in Paul’s eye should worry more about the beam in Obama’s.  Obama is far worse.  His views have been much more harmful and most of his actions just plain wrong.

There’s no need for me to apologize to progressives for liking Ron Paul.  He’s closer in spirit to Bob La Follette than any major Democrat today.  (La Follette the Republican founded the magazine that became The Progressive.).  Unlike anyone in the Obama administration or the Democratic congressional leadership, Paul condemns crony capitalism and the military-industrial complex.  He exposes the crooked and immoral game.  That’s why the GOP establishment hates him.  That’s why Fox News addicts are bewildered by him.  He doesn’t fit into the script.  He’s not Faux enough.  In his promotion of the above-mentioned views, he’s in the tradition of Republican heroes Robert Taft and Dwight Eisenhower, respectively, yet most Republicans refuse to acknowledge their own heritage.

Labels mean little nowadays given semantic confusion and historic mutations.  Many “neoconservatives” are really Humphrey liberals in their statism, corporatism, and imperialism.  Many “liberals” are really as conservative as Alexander Hamilton and Elihu Root—men who believed in big government, big business, and big empire.  The demonization of everyone who identifies with an opposing party is unfair and unhelpful.  It plays into the divide-and-conquer strategy of those with the actual power who are content with the bipartisan status quo.

On Sunday, in Tampa, Ron Paul held a rally, dinner, and beach party for his supporters.  The celebration lasted over 12 hours.  Thousands of citizens came from across the country, at their own expense, to attend.  There were interesting speakers and great musicians.  It was refreshing to notice that there was even ethnic diversity—not huge but considerably more than with your average Republican gathering.  Because of the schedule of my plane flight, I arrived late to the rally.  I missed seeing Barry Goldwater Jr., whose presence could dispel the myth of GOP conservatives that Paul isn’t a conservative…if only they knew, or could remember, some U.S. history before 2009.

Of the parts I saw, I especially liked Aimee Allen, Jimmie Vaughan, Carol Paul, and, of course, Ron Paul.  In this speech, and in a smaller speech the next day, Paul criticized war and big business, and argued that the federal budget could be better balanced by taking money from the Pentagon than from food stamps (contra Romney and Ryan).

Security around Tampa is heavy.  Law enforcement and national guard are all over.  Troops in uniform on deserted downtown streets make it look like a war zone or a police state of some sort.  It seems like overkill (no pun intended).  I’m not afraid of protestors.  Obviously, I don’t want to be hurt or have injury come to anyone else connected with the convention, but there’s something wrong with the militarization of our political process.   Commercialization of the process adds to the malady.  By the way, I hope the anti-war, anti-corporate protestors also show up in Charlotte.  If not, their efforts can’t be taken seriously.  Even if they are bipartisan, as they ought to be, the tactics of some protestors are so silly or strident that it’s hard to see how they can change minds or hearts.

The past few days, there has been a controversy at the convention over changes proposed by the Romney campaign and approved by the convention Rules Committee and the Republican National Committee.  The most egregious change would strip state parties of the power to select their own national convention delegates in the future, giving that power instead to the presidential candidates.  It is a power grab and an example of overreach.  It has sparked anger in Paul delegates, Religious Right delegates, and even more-principled-than-average Romney delegates.

The RNC reconsidered the rule on Monday.  I heard that it was withdrawn in the face of criticism.  On the other hand, according to the Associated Press, the rule was amended so that “the candidates would have to consult with state parties in selecting the delegates.”  If the latter is correct, it does not fix the problem.  “Consult” does not change the balance of power.  The national delegates could still be dictated from above.  And who are the “state parties”?  The grassroots delegates to the state conventions or the more-elite state party leaders?

In making, or even proposing, such changes, the GOP establishment reveals for the umpteenth time its contempt for tradition and its hypocrisy in regard to professed opposition to power grabbing by centralized authorities in Washington.

In an interview with CBS News on Monday, Governor Romney disagreed with his party’s proposed platform and revealed that he favors legalized abortion in the case of “rape and incest and the health and life of the mother.”  The health exception is well known as a large loophole.  It can mean physical, mental, or emotional health. This was the loophole used for “therapeutic” state abortion law changes in the late 1960s, including California and New York.  This was the loophole favored by liberal Republican/Planned Parenthood types like Romney’s parents and Romney himself during the pre-Roe period.

In the 1990s, Mitt Romney was still an abortion enthusiast.  Today, he poses as an opponent, but he can’t keep his words straight.  Smiling, Romney told CBS that the Democrats try to make abortion a political issue but he didn’t see it as such.  Instead, it’s “a matter in the courts” and “it’s been settled for some time in the courts.”  Not exactly a rallying cry for the anti-abortion movement.

As an opportunist, Romney might be pushed as president in a pro-life direction but it’s far more likely that he’d move in a pro-choice direction in everything but rhetoric.  If you see legalized abortion as being linked to equality or liberty, you can take solace.  Neither major candidate is going to disrupt the status quo.  Personally, I don’t see this as a good thing.  Romney is no feminist or libertarian.  His overt-then covert-now semi-overt support for abortion rights comes out of the upper-class milieu that spawned the population control movement of the twentieth century.  Supposedly benevolent, definitely elitist.

The roll call of the states to formally nominate Romney was moved up from Wednesday night to Monday afternoon, presumably because the control-freaky and ham-fisted Romney campaign was afraid of giving Ron Paul delegates too much time to collaborate in Tampa.  It was a sign of weakness, not strength, and it was one more repudiation of tradition.  The hurricane threat cancelled Monday’s proceedings so the roll call will occur on Tuesday afternoon.  Safely out of prime time.  Reportedly, there will be great pressure on the Paul delegates, and perhaps the recently-released Santorum delegates, to vote for Romney for the sake of “unity.”

As I’ve noted elsewhere, Mitt Romney’s father was placed in nomination for president in 1964 and 1968 despite having no chance to win either time.  Romney’s father refused to endorse the 1964 nominee before or after the convention.  Romney’s father was even placed in nomination as a challenge to the handpicked vice presidential candidate in 1968.  Mitt Romney himself received a couple votes for president from loyal supporters at the 2008 convention.

This year, Romney won’t allow Paul to be placed in nomination.  He won’t allow him to speak in the convention hall.  He doesn’t even want him to receive any votes during the roll call.  It’s silly.  It’s self-defeating.  Why should Romney begrudge the Paul campaign an appropriate conclusion at the 2012 convention?  His refusal to do so makes little sense, considering how it contradicts tradition — both political and personal.   It’s not unique.  Governor Bill Clinton did the same thing to Governor Jerry Brown at the Democratic convention in 1992.  The establishments of both parties operate in similar fashions.

If boat-rocking is going to occur at the Republican convention this week, it will probably happen on Tuesday in response to the Rules Committee report or during the roll call for president.  Sometimes boats need to be rocked.  Peacefully and respectfully . . . but rocked.  If nothing else, to borrow a Brown ’92 phrase that still applies to both parties, sometimes we need to Speak truth to power.  Coupled with voting and activism, speech turns into power.  In their own, not necessarily contradictory ways, that’s what the Ron Paul Revolution, the Tea Party, and Occupy Wall Street have been doing for the past few years

Jeff Taylor is a political scientist and a delegate to the national convention from Iowa.  He is the author of Where Did the Party Go?: William Jennings Bryan, Hubert Humphrey, and the Jeffersonian Legacy (University of Missouri Press).