Being British, the GOP debates somewhat passed me by (my butler hadn’t fully ironed out that page of the newspaper for me, so I refused to read it). But now that I have been briefed on the matter, I can say that I, like 58.9% of people who voted in the MSNBC poll after the Reagan library debate, really like Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas).
I do not like him for his politics, most of which is (to use a very British euphemism) interesting, but more for the role he plays in American politics. It is a role that is more common in British politics – that of the principled maverick. All politicians claim to have principles, but for many in most times, power does indeed corrupt whatever good intentions they have. Their positions on matters change as they grow more concerned with maintaining and acquiring power. It is natural in its own way because it is easier and more profitable to be opportunistic and malleable. A select few take the hard road.
In Britain, we have had a few of these lone, persistent voices. The 20th century threw up such notable mavericks as Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, socialist Tony Benn, and the man who took maverickism to an art form, Enoch Powell. What connected them all was a desire to forge their own path through British politics without much, if any, concern for the party system.
In American politics, such mavericks are not as identifiable. Perhaps it is because American politics is more individualistic than its British counterpart, which is dominated by the party structure. Understandably, British politicians feel a greater need to rebel. Indeed they have something more potent to rebel against than American politicians (parties). It is this that makes them essential to British politics and means that America needs more of them.
Given that the American political system is becoming more and more partisan — illustrated by the petty attempts at political point-scoring over the debt ceiling debate — it is becoming more necessary for mavericks in the system to challenge the status quo of their own parties. Beyond that, with the financial crisis as it is, mavericks are needed to buck the trend and question the basic values of the American political system.
But history has taught us that popularity awaits those who dare to challenge. Churchill is often considered to be the greatest prime minister ever; Thatcher is loved and hated in equal measure; Benn has managed to be perhaps the only socialist with respect from all parties; and Powell, despite his controversial status (see his Rivers of Blood speech), managed to make it onto the 100 Greatest Britons list. Not bad considering: a) he was never prime minister and b) we have 2,000 years worth of Britons.
Beloved by the public, despite the extremity of his views and the media silence on him, Paul shows that there is something in this maverick malarkey. To compare him to another British institution, Ron Paul is Harry Potter, guided by his own Dumbledore telling him to choose what is right rather than what is easy. America needs to rethink commonly held beliefs, and it will take a few more mavericks like Paul to do that. It’s a treacherous path, but one that leads to glory if done correctly.
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore