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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Ron Paul Pity Party

It is not unusual for politicians who don’t get a lot of headline-style media attention to whine about it–if only to get attention! But the complaints about Ron Paul’s alleged mistreatment by the news media have gone beyond the candidate himself, and beyond the ranks of his intensely loyal supporters, to observers with all sorts of grievances about the media and the political system.
The immediate cause of action was Ron Paul’s failure to be properly feted for his very close second-place finish in the Iowa GOP Straw Poll on August 13. Instead, the actual winner, Michele Bachmann, and someone who was announcing his candidacy halfway across the country, Rick Perry, got all the attention. And that’s because–you can then fill in the blank with your favorite beef, from superficial and small-minded horse-race coverage of campaigns, to a Very Big Conspiracy aimed at thwarting unconventional politicians.
Paul himself and his loyalists seem to be going for the latter explanation, suggesting he is too big a threat to the “Establishment” to receive fair media coverage.
Roger Simon of Politico seems to consider Paul’s meager press clippings as mainly the product of skewed and incompetent political reporting.
Salon‘s Glenn Greenwald offered a greatest-hits screed on the subject earlier this week, arguing that the disrespecting of Paul reflects both idiotic political campaign coverage and a conscious effort to marginalize anyone who challenges the status quo on Glenn’s own personal priorities, civil liberties and anti-militarism.
Greenwald’s Salon colleague Steve Kornacki pushed back against this meme pretty effectively, pointing out that Paul’s strong if not-quite-enough performance in Ames didn’t tell us anything about his candidacy that we didn’t already know: the man and his supporters are very good at packing rooms where unrepresentative straw polls are held.
But I’d go a bit further than Kornacki and defend political media shirking of Paul on broader grounds: they are covering the 2012 Republican presidential nominating contest, and Paul has something very close to a zero chance of winning it. I’d say he had a zero chance if not for the fact that his party has moved decisively in his direction on fiscal and monetary policy since the last time he ran. But this time around, Paul has chosen (as was made very evident in last Thursday’s Fox News/Washingon Examiner candidates’ debate) to make his foreign policy and national security views front-and-center. And today’s GOP, elites and votes alike, are not about to nominate a man who passionately defends Iran’s right to obtain nuclear weapons. Indeed, if the media were actually giving Paul the kind of attention he and his supporters demand, extended discussion of his riff during the debate about America’s perfidious involvement in the coup to depose leftist Iranian prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh in the 1950s would have more than likely destroyed his appeal to Republicans outside libertarian circles.
The real clincher in this argument involves a simple thought-experiment: suppose Ron Paul was devoting his resources not to a doomed candidacy for the GOP presidential nomination, but to a serious third-party bid. If that were the case, you’d better believe he’d be getting a lot more media attention, for the simple reason that his views are attractive to a small but significant minority of voters in both major parties, and outside them. In a hypothetical close 2012 general election, his kind of candidacy backed up with his established name-identification and some serious money could have all sorts of powerful and unpredictable effects on the outcome. He’d be Nader 2000 on steroids, with genuine trans-partisan appeal. He still wouldn’t have a prayer of being elected president, but he’d be taken seriously all right.
Perhaps Paul and the Paulists will move in that direction once his Republican gig predictably crashes and burns. But until such time as that happens, the whining about his lack of media love is unmerited. Nobody made him choose to compete in the presidential nominating contest of a party whose leaders and followers alike strongly favor precisely the kind of truculent foreign policy and pro-military culture that Paul attacks in the most corrosive manner possible. But he did it anyway, and political reporters can be excused for failing to hype his relative success in yet another straw poll as an epochal event.

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