By Dennis Myers – “Against the Grain”
At the state convention of Nevada’s Republican Party in Sparks last weekend, the proceedings were dominated by backers of a perennial presidential candidate who came in third in the Nevada GOP caucuses in February with only 18.7 percent of the vote.
Party leaders were freaked out by Ron Paul’s followers, who four years ago — after Paul came in second in the caucuses with 13.7 percent — did the best job of getting their people to the state convention and took control. The leaders adjourned that convention before national convention delegates were selected, turning the job over to a party committee.
At that 2008 convention, the Paulists were accused of arrogance and self-righteousness, which was quite true though irrelevant. One of Paul’s adherents told me that, to avoid similar problems in 2012, they were given classes in “convention etiquette, on how to be respectful of everybody and make sure people get heard and follow the rules…” They also went through workshops on parliamentary procedure.
Some Paulists wore buttons reading “I follow the rules,” which both made them look civil and made the subtle point that in 2008 it was the party regulars, not the Paulists, who broke the rules.
But even though they were on their best behavior, there was no concealing the dogmatism and smugness at work in the Paul campaign. One of the pieces handed out at the Sparks convention was a card with a quotation from Paul — “Truth is treason in the empire of lies.” It’s anyone’s guess whether the empire referenced is politics generally or the Republican Party in particular. What was clear was the tone of smug certainty of rightness in a province where so much is subjective. Assigning truth to oneself means assigning lying to one’s opponents. It also suggests those opponents are without good intentions. And a term as strong as “treason” has little place in a civilized dialogue.
The Paulists are also being accused of using the GOP as a vehicle for their issues. The Nevada Republican Party is full of people who used the party as a vehicle and, once they got inside, denounced longtime party activists and veteran leaders like William Raggio as RINOs — Republicans in name only. Now those once-insurgent folks are being challenged by new groups, including tea partiers and Paulists.
But political parties ARE vehicles. To argue otherwise is a contradiction in terms, particularly in the GOP. The Republican Party was created as a vehicle for those who wanted to curb slavery. The Democratic Party was used as a vehicle by opponents of the Vietnam war in the 1960s. The Republican Party was a vehicle for social conservatives and evangelists beginning in the 1980s and some of those who used the party that way then object to the Paulists doing the same thing now.
Ron Paul left the party once before, becoming the Libertarian Party presidential nominee, and he returned to the GOP to get back into the U.S. House. Those are not indictable offenses. Neither is being insufferable, a charge leveled at Paul’s followers in both 2008 and this year.
Older, more established Republicans object to the tea partiers and Paulists not giving more loyalty to the party. But the party is just an administrative structure. If it is unresponsive, it serves little purpose for anyone except those already inside. Why would anyone be loyal to an organization for its own sake? The Democratic Party has been drifting away from its historic economic populism for decades, into an alliance with corporate power. As a result, many Democrats have little allegiance left to the party. “Sometimes party loyalty asks too much,” John Kennedy once said.
Dennis Myers is an award winning journalist who has reported on Nevada’s capital, government and politics for several decades. He has also served as Nevada’s chief deputy secretary of state.