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Ron Paul and Sarah Palin: The Ross Perot moment

The most startling statistic to come out this month is the latest Washington Post/ABC poll that shows 43 percent of Americans now consider themselves to be independents.

Much of the celebrity thrill seems to be gone, as Wall Street Journal commentator Fouad Ajami said it would, with the hip new president who gives such charming speeches. Could be that hip is not what you want in a president when the only difference between Cheney’s war in Iraq and Obama’s war in Afghanistan and Bush’s missile defense program and Obama’s is the better cut of the new commander in chief’s suit. On the two main fronts, the economy and the war, majorities oppose, and he has even lost 10 percent of the young'uns since July. Twenty-two-year-olds consider themselves to be immortal. They don’t want health insurance.

Change is about, without question, but Obama himself may only be the harbinger, not the change. We could be approaching not a Kennedy or a Roosevelt or a Lincoln moment, but a Ross Perot moment.

Ross Perot came out of nowhere back in the early 1990s and with a kooky Texas freshness, a crateful of his own cash and a bunch of charts, he took almost 20 percent of the vote in 1992. At one point in the summer he commanded a lead with 39 percent. What the Perot moment indicated was that World War II or Elvis or the Beach Boys or something had freed Americans from their old constraints. But Ronald Reagan really turned the sea. Prior to Reagan you could with accuracy count on good Boston Irish going to the Catholic Church and voting Democrat every time. You could count on New York Jews and Southern Baptists to do the same. But when Reagan took 49 states in 1984, it was all over with that. Americans were free. With 43 percent claiming to be independent today, they apparently still are free.

This week Arianna Huffington, the liberal doyenne, and Ron Paul both appeared on "Morning Joe." They seemed to like each other and to be in increasing agreement on economic issues. But what was striking was the new legitimacy that Rep. Paul (Texas) has gained since Obama’s bailouts have taken hold. Given the high disapproval ratings on both the economy and the war, it could be said today that the country is moving to Paul’s positions by osmosis. Paul opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He opposed the bailouts. He opposed the entire Keynesian perspective that the Obama administration has adopted lock, stock and barrel. Morning Joe — no radical libertarian — pulled out an old script to read in amazement how the housing crisis had played out exactly as Paul said it would back in 2003. Paul advocates Austrian economics, and as he gathers continuing respect, Austrian economics gains a new authenticity as well.


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