I think Ron Paul did a fine job on Tuesday night’s Leno broadcast — calmly, jovially explaining his intention to end income taxes altogether and end military involvement not just in Iraq but around the world, with the audience cheering. He humbly added that regardless of whether he has flaws, the philosophical message of liberty is sound, and he even plugged free-market “Austrian economics,” a term probably never before heard on the Tonight show.
But what made the broadcast magic — and Leno himself noted it was fitting — was the Sex Pistols singing “Anarchy in the UK” right after the Paul interview, with Johnny Rotten, after singing “I want to be in anarchy,” adding a characteristically menacing but implicitly supportive “Hello, Mr. Paul.”
And, as I’d hoped, the two of them shook hands just as the show ended. Since they’d implicitly bonded during the song, the moment avoided being awkward in the fashion of that famous Elvis-meets-Nixon handshake photo, which The Weekly Standard rightly put on its cover a decade ago to accompany an article on the idea that rock and conservatism, all wishful thinking aside, do not naturally mix.
(I can’t help thinking that if fellow libertarian punk fan Michael Malice — who also happens to love The Golden Girls — was watching the show, he got the added thrill of hearing a cameo-making Betty White answer the question “Why are you here?” with “To hear the Sex Pistols, of course.” And Betty didn’t flinch when they threw eggs at her in the subsequent sketch, either, which is pretty punk-rock.)
If only Tom Cruise had renounced belief in Thetans and the intergalactic overlord Xenu during his segment, resolving to exit public life permanently in order to study skepticism, it would have been a perfect night.
I’ll consider it all perfect in retrospect, though, if Paul shoots up in the polls. As he cautiously said of the spontaneous grassroots/Netroots movement swirling around him, if it keeps growing exponentially the way it has in recent months, “there’s a risk I could win.”
Paul’s old Austrian-economics-popularizing pals, Murray Rothbard and Lew Rockwell, surprised some of their free-market cohorts by supporting Ross Perot in 1992, on the grounds that he was at least a spanner in the works of the two-party system. How much more exciting, then, to have a candidate who is simultaneously spanner, libertarian, major-party-member, and well-timed beneficiary of a wave of popular conviction that government is incompetent and in need of humbling.
If Paul strikes some as low-key and low-energy in a field of bombasts and demagogues, I can only hope that America is about ready for an unassuming, mild-mannered president — sort of like the one I hoped we’d gotten with Bush, back in the pre-9/11 days, when he avoided speeches and press conferences and seemed content to host tee-ball on the White House lawn. Calvin Coolidge, I thought! Just the sort of do-nothing president we need. But now it’s far too late in the day to do nothing, I fear, so we need a president who will instead strive mightily and with principled consistency to get government to do less, which is much harder than nothing.