I’ve spent most of my political life on the margins. This was largely my fault. My brand of conservatism was considerably different from the big government Republicanism of the George W. Bush-era. And so my political existence throughout the 2000s was primarily that of a news junkie scouring the headlines for any morsel of hope that a more genuine, constitutional conservatism might reemerge.
And it did in the form of Ron Paul.
Within a GOP still largely defined by war and debt, Congressman Paul ran for president on the platform of reintroducing the small government conservatism of old to the world again. For millions, Ron Paul was a breath of fresh air. For me, he was air. I could breath again. Conservatism was back.
During this period, I ended up working for Paul’s presidential campaign and later with his son, Sen. Rand Paul. I also began promoting other emerging candidates who were far more constitutionally conservative than anything the Republican Party had seen in decades. Many won their elections. Most importantly, I championed this new mass movement of Americans who were enthusiastically promoting these ideas and candidates, and who volunteered their time and dollars toward this renewed cause of liberty. I was finished with helplessly scouring the headlines. I finally belonged to a movement that was now making them. We would not be ignored.
These days, one of the criticisms I get from some people within the self-described “liberty movement” is that I’m too politically engaged — that I’m willing to promote or “propagandize” for candidates who, while they might be fairly solid on many issues, are not pure enough. This criticism is usually followed by a certain posturing from the critic that he is somehow morally superior because he has maintained a purity that I have not.
I’ve always respected that different people have different temperaments and many are not cut out for politics. People are diverse, as are their interests, talents, and preferred focus. But what I don’t respect is this notion that those who snarkily refuse to engage politically are somehow morally superior. Most of them are actually cowards.
One of my favorite passages from C.S. Lewis is his description of the necessary risk involved in love. Lewis wrote: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one … avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
Lewis is basically saying love is messy, that without the necessary risk of heartbreak there can be no reward. I’ve had my heart broken in politics and expect it will happen again. Politics is far messier than love.
The task of taking America from its current political status quo and restoring it to its origins as a constitutional republic is messy. And the idea that this transition would take place perfectly through ideologically pure people is rather insane. Is not the idea of politics to convince others that you are correct? Does this not mean that in order for them to come your way politically, there will necessarily be a period in which they are less pure? Do you dismiss them for siding with you, and if you do, what, exactly, did you ever hope to accomplish in the first place?
There are lines that must be drawn for the sake of intellectual integrity and those limits should be debated. But taking personal pride in shirking politics is not strength. The easiest thing in the world someone can do is “not care.” Risking nothing is cheap. Self-marginalization is not a badge of honor; it is the refuge of a wimp.
Not caring has never been an option for me. I already cared about these ideas when it seemed no one else did. Now that so many do, I aim to help promote them at every possible level. The idea of going back is intolerable. I find no pride or solace in remaining marginal for its own sake.
There are no guarantees. Constitutional conservatism might fail. I might fail. But I’m willing to take that risk.
Jack Hunter was the official campaign blogger for Ron Paul and co-wrote Rand Paul’s The Tea Party Goes to Washington.