Time to hunker down

No, I haven't had much to say about the economy or the markets for well over a week.  What's to say, really?  Every asset class is still getting hammered.  I wrotesome about the Russo-Georgian war, which is at bottom a struggle for energy resources, but I'm guessing that's going to die down for a while — foreign investment is suddenly fleeing Russia and the ruble is getting whacked.  Ol' Vlad and Dmitry will probably pull back until Washington pulls another stupid provocation.

So today, even though Election Day is still 60 days away, it's time to put bookends on this year's campaign.  My musings began more or less with Ron Paul's June 2007 appearance on The Colbert Report.  They shall end — barring something unusual — with his appearance on the same program last night.

What exactly did his campaign accomplish?  If Gandhi was right when he said, "First they ignore you, then they mock you, then they fight you, then you win," Paul clearly reached the mockery stage during the primary-season debates, what with the guffaws of the other candidates caught on their mics.  But given the meager attention his Rally for the Republic "counter-convention" got this week (and despite the despicable police-statetactics accorded to Paul's delegates on the floor of the actual convention), I daresay things have reverted to ignorance.  All Paul could promise Colbert last night was "a better year next year," whatever that's supposed to mean. 

No more do Internet searches for "Ron Paul" rival those of "Paris Hilton."  These days, it's "Sarah Palin."  Which says a lot about where we're going, little of it good.

Until Hurricane Sarah blew through this week, I held out some hope that Americans were starting to throw up their hands over politics, give up on the notion that government could fix their problems.  Oh, they might think it's government's role to do so, but they would give up on the notion that it was possible.  Hey, progress comes in small steps.

More specifically, it appeared that movement conservatives and liberals alike might have stayed home in significant numbers and perhaps even reversed the voter-turnout trend that's been climbing since 1996.  Conservatives were never much jazzed about John McCain, and liberal support for Barack Obama drifted downward through the summer as he triangulated on warrantless wiretapping and a host of other issues.

No more.  With the governor of Alaska on the Republican ticket, both sides of a divided polity are newly energized.

The conservative base is pumped up again.  Even Dr. Dobson, the evangelical leader who might hold more sway now than Pat Robertson ever did, has reversed himself and said he can vote for McCain with a clear conscience.  Liberals are equally galvanized — sending $8 million to the Obama campaign in the 24 hours after Palin's speech.   The reaction she elicits from the left blogosphere is nothing short of visceral hatred.  Sarah Palin may go down in history as an even more polarizing political figure than George W. Bush.

What can one say about a candidate for national office who evidently believes the Pledge of Allegiance dates back to the nation's founding?

When the story about her teenage daughter's pregnancy broke last weekend, it occurred to me that if nothing else, Palin would prove an eloquent spokesperson for the cause of federally-funded abstinence education.  "My own family situation is living proof that parents can't handle this enormous responsibility on their own.  They need the hand of a benevolent big-government conservatism only Washington, D.C. can provide."

And thus the nation stands at this ugly crossroads:  One group of world-improvers who believe it legitimate to seize money from red-state taxpayers for the purpose of sex education, and another group of world-improvers who believe it legitimate to seize money from blue-state taxpayers for the purpose of abstinence education.  The notion that such matters should be left up to parents, and leave the poor taxpayer out of it, is now fringe.

Which gets me back to Paul's appearance on Colbert 15 months ago.  Back then, I wrote that he blew an opportunity to explain his philosophy in a way that would appeal to both liberals and conservatives in explaining why he wants to do away with the Department of Education.  I wished he'd have said the following:

“You know, there was once a time when most Republicans wanted to abolish the Department of Education. But a funny thing happened. When Republicans won political power, they realized, 'Hey, we can use this Department of Education to push our own agenda on the rest of the country.' And that's why you have these endless fights now over how our kids are supposed to be educated, Republicans and Democrats each wanting to impose a one-size-fits-all solution on the entire nation. It's crazy. If they want to teach creationism in Oklahoma, fine, let them. If they want to teach condom use in New York City, that's fine too. Why should this all be imposed from Washington, D.C.? You know, there isn't one word in the Constitution about education, and that's because the Founders knew that education was something best left to states and communities and parents and teachers. But what do we have now? We have this crazy No Child Left Behind law where every kid in the nation is getting drilled in how to pass standardized tests and they're not actually learning anything. And don't forget, that law is the brainchild of Ted Kennedy every bit as much as it is of George W. Bush.”

15 months later, and this concept of devolved power has been utterly drowned out by the noise of two factions competing to impose their world-improving vision coast to coast and beyond.

So where does this leave Paul's movement?  I've heard vague talk about electing more freedom-minded members of Congress, but I haven't heard it boiled down to an ambitious-but-achievable goal with a number and a deadline.  Nobody's saying, "We will elect five freedom-minded members of the House in 2010."  (Update:  Paul's Campaign for Liberty organization is promising a "major announcement" next week.  We shall see.)

Which leaves us with a bitterly-divided nation, an overstretched empire, and overwhelming debt.  As I've written before, we're right on schedule with an every-four-generations cycle of major crisis.  Paul gave a commendable effort to turn things around.  Now it is time to hunker down, reduce debt, and keep the gas tank more than half-full at all times.  More precautionary measures here.

The Daily Reckoning