Perspective on the RNC and MA Ron Paul DelegationSubmitted by Michael Nystrom on Mon, 09/08/2008 - 01:17
Devastation does not begin to describe how I felt about the Massachusetts Ron Paul delegation. Until earlier today, I'm certain that I was suffering from a mild case of PTSD from the convention, especially the events surrounding Wednesday's vote. After five years of being a non-smoker I smoked like a chimney throughout the week. Following the roll call vote, my heart had gone dark, my head spinning with the events that took place. My wife didn't recognize me, moping around the house, lost in thought, a frown on my face. Until I wrote what follows this afternoon, I could barely generate a coherent thought. That's how bad it was.
As we all know, the Massachusetts delegation cast a unanimous vote for McCain at the RNC. It has long been all over the net - on the Forums, Lew Rockwell, and here on the Daily Paul, not to mention the mainstream news. I was a member of that MA delegation, and prior to last week I felt proud of it. Of around 80 delegates and alternates (I had mistakenly written earlier that there were only 60 total), Ron Paul supporters took 22 seats - over 25% of the total. MA is one of the bluest states with a weak Republican party, which helps explain how we were able to dominate the caucuses the way we did with only minimal organization. Unlike the stories we heard from other states, the Mass GOP was fair in their dealings with us. My friend and fellow alternate delegate Todd Fay has more perspective on this in his post here.
In Massachusetts, there was no way to run as a Ron Paul delegate. As such, Ron Paul supporters had to sneak into the party as either being for Romney or McCain. We all knew that McCain delegates were bound by Massachusetts state law, and by the covenant they made with the people who elected them, to cast their vote for McCain. The focus of this vote was therefore on the Romney delegates who became unbound when Romney dropped out of the race.
As a Romney alternate (District 7), I was not able to vote, and did not participate in the deal that took place, other than to voice my opposition to it. I was not on the floor and did not hear the rules, but my understanding is that there was no way for delegates to vote for Ron Paul or anyone else. The choice for Romney delegates was either to vote McCain or abstain. What follows is my view of what took place. As a free individual, not bound by party or other loyalties, I speak only for myself.
From the start of the convention, national Ron Paul delegates were meeting amongst ourselves - both at the state level and as much at the national level as possible. Todd points out that this effort was courageously spearheaded by Chris Blanc. My friend Matt Davidson also has good perspective on what happened at the Forums. The initial goal was to try to get Ron Paul the nomination, and failing that, a speaking role, or at least acknowledgment from the stage. The plan was to use our size, and the fact that the GOP didn't know what we were up to as leverage points. It was clear from the security measures taken at the convention that they were afraid that we would somehow upstage their carefully scripted convention. Rumors flew all week that Ron Paul delegates were planning something crazy. One rumor I heard directly from John Tate, Executive Director of the Campaign for Liberty, was that there was a plan for Ron Paul supporters to rush the stage and burn their credentials! (None of us had heard anything of the sort, though we immediately began propagating the rumor by asking if anyone else had heard it!)
When it became clear that there was no way to get what we wanted from national negotiations, each state went to work with its own party. In MA we were looking to trade our "good behavior" for acknowledgment of some kind. Prior to the day of the roll call vote, we never, ever discussed trading our votes. It never crossed my mind to bring it up in any of our meetings because, as far as I was concerned, that wasn't on the table. It wasn't anywhere near the table. That, I thought, was non negotiable.
I was not on the floor, but the story that follows is what I heard from one of my fellow delegates who did not support the deal. A few hours before the vote on Wednesday, a couple of Ron Paul delegates who were known to be planning to abstain were approached by members of the Mass GOP, who began pressuring them to change their vote to "show unity" for McCain, so as to avoid making the MA delegation "look bad." In an instant, they were joined by members of the McCain Campaign, and by Republican congressmen from other states, and other unknown individuals. The whole group was surrounded by secret service men / goons with ear pieces and mics listening in. The delegates were told that they they had to change their vote.
At this point in your reading, it might be easy to say to yourself, "So what? They should have stood their ground. What could those guys have done?"
I am not here to justify anyone's behavior. But please allow me to paint a picture of what it was like in St. Paul. The Xcel Center is a hockey stadium that seats 18,000 people. It was full of rabid, war mongering McCain supporters. To say that most of those delegates in the stadium did not look kindly upon Ron Paul supporters is an understatement. Many of us wore our Ron Paul buttons proudly, but were shunned as a result. All of our Ron Paul alternate delegates were seated in a single back row (right near the doors, I assume in the event that we were to make trouble, we could be hustled out quickly.) There were two secret service men on either end who were watching every move we made. They were dressed in polo shirts and baseball caps, so it was impossible to tell exactly who they were working for. Stadium ushers? McCain people? Secret Service? Goons they were - all of them.
To give you an example of the goon squad at work, a couple members of our delegation got some free anti-Obama t-shirts on the way in. They were rolled up and sitting on a little ledge behind our seats, and a goon came over to ask if he could see it. He took it, looked at it front and back, then turned it inside out to look inside before giving it back. I wonder what would have happened if it had been a Ron Paul t-shirt? Lew Moore spent a considerable amount of time in the hallway behind our delegation, wearing his McCain pin, talking to the goons.
Outside the stadium, security measures were designed to project total control. There were two layers of security to pass through before getting into the arena. The whole stadium was surrounded by 8-foot high heavy duty wrought iron / steel fences. Outside the fence was a much more aggressive paramilitary squad, dressed in full black riot gear, helmets, and sporting three foot long billy clubs on their belt. I witnessed one violent take down and arrest of a protester who was 1) no threat, and 2) did nothing wrong. Three big guys wrestled the protester to the ground and hauled him off.
Oh the stories that are yet to be told! One day after making it though the two layers of security and walked into the green zone carrying a paper notebook with a Ron Paul sticker on the outside. A security woman goon grabbed it out of my hands and said, "You can't bring this in here!" Why not? It is only a notebook I told her, holding back my rage as she rifled through my papers. She started talking into her collar mic and called for assistance, refusing to give my notebook back. As a crowd of other Ron Paul supporters gathered around us, she finally relented and released it.
The entire experience of the RNC was intimidating, disgusting and emotionally disruptive. "This is America?" I found myself asking again and again. Although I was in the stadium, I didn't even hear Sara Palin's speech - I just couldn't concentrate on it after her line about how John McCain would rather lose an election than a war. That line (like every other) brought down the house with chants and cheers. Watching this on TV may have been one thing, but being trapped inside the Borg mind was something altogether different. The zingers she cast at Obama were funny, and some were true, but what I could not fathom was how this could possibly help put our "country first." It was like two grade school kids trading barbs from opposite ends of the schoolyard, and the crowd was eating it up like it was Hate Week from Owell's 1984.
One final aside before getting back to the vote: For all of you watching on TV who saw the sea of "home made" signs in the audience... um, yeah. Those signs were not home made, but were somehow painted by the RNC (prison labor?) and passed out by the ushers/goon squad. They tried to give me one, but I asked for a Ron Paul sign and they didn't have any. The entire event was completely scripted for TV. There were cheerleaders running around at the lower levels, instructing people when to cheer, when to jump gleefully from their seats, and when and what to chant. This was the GOP in its full glory - a big, glitzy, phony show made for TV. Part of making the phony show grand was to create a show of unity.
I am not here to justify anything, but please understand that the MA delegation vote took place in the context of what I've described above when people were in an extremely vulnerable emotional situation.
On the night of the vote, the floor delegates who were being pressured to vote McCain called a meeting of the entire Ron Paul delegation. We had a text-messaging system set up that would get the word out to everyone. A large group of delegates and alternates assembled in the outer causeway. Members of the Mass GOP were there. The goon squad was there. Lew Moore was there. We argued back and forth. Todd Fay was the most vociferous opponent, but like me he was an alternate and couldn't vote. Chris Blanc who took the lead in the negotiations said we'd come so far that he didn't want to come back home empty handed.
Chris is a lifelong GOP member who wants his party back. For me, I was only in the GOP for one reason - to support Ron Paul. As such, my position was that there was nothing to be gained, only our integrity to be lost.
What would Ron Paul Do?
This was a question that came up during our debate. To me it was clear as a bell. Dr. Paul had already spoken with his actions - he would not, did not and will not endorse McCain. What is a vote if not an endorsement? We had come all this way, worked so hard for so long to support Ron Paul, and this was our chance to do it, even if the only statement we could make was to abstain from voting.
But it was not my decision to make. The pressure on the delegates was intense, both from inside our group, and from outside. In the heat of the moment, the stronger argument basically boiled down to: "If you don't vote for McCain, you're going to ruin everything for everybody forever, and it will be all your fault!" There was no time to separate the emotions from the truth. All of this came down right at the last minute like a hammer. The delegates were blindsided and completely unprepared. Most of those delegates who didn't agree with the prevailing sentiment of 'going along to get along' passed their delegate credentials on to alternates who were willing to vote for McCain. After the vote, some of those in our ranks were happy. It was a great compromise, they said. Many others, like Todd and I were crushed.
On the bus ride back to the hotel it so happened that Jean Inman, Chair of John McCain's campaign in Massachusetts was on the bus. Her spokesman made a spontaneous announcement that, "There are many Ron Paul supporters here and we want to thank them for being on their best behavior. And I heard directly from John McCain backstage that he is very pleased at the unanimous outcome we in MA were able to achieve." The bus gave up mild applause. I felt sick at being praised by John McCain.
The next morning at the MA hotel delegate breakfast, the Ron Paul supporters in attendance received a very warm welcome from the chairman, and a booming standing ovation from the rest of the group. Everyone who was there said it was absolutely wonderful finally to be recognized. I didn't go, neither did Todd and many others.
As I saw it, this was our first real test at working within the structure of the GOP. Were we going to play by their rules, or would they play by ours? Would we stand for what we believe in, or would we give in? As RP said in his interview on Colbert the following night, he too could have spoken at the RNC. All he would have to do is sacrifice everything he believed in. "Just like everybody else," Colbert replied.
What would Ron Paul want us to do?
This second question that came up has a more interesting and complex answer, and I have an interesting story to illustrate it. At the after party following the Rally for the Republic, a Daily Paul member gave me a box with 500 of the McCain/Paul War/Peace fliers to distribute at the RNC. I managed to get into the VIP section at the bar and show them to Dr. Paul himself. I told him that the plan was to distribute them somehow - maybe throw the whole stack from the rafters.
He looked at them for some time. His head went around in kind of a circle - not a yes, or a no - and finally he said with a little laugh, "Well, I can't control what people do." The crowd that had gathered around us all guffawed. Someone said to me, "that means yes." But I didn't see a yes in his face. I recognize that Ron Paul is a wise man, and I replayed that scene over and over in my mind. "I can't control what people do," is what he said.
Dr. Paul, as he tells us again and again, is the messenger. The Message he is delivering is one that has been long forgotten: freedom, personal liberty and individual responsibility. These are not just slogans. He doesn't want to control the world, or the economy, or other people. And that includes delegates who are trying to figure out the best way to vote.
What would Ron Paul want us to do? I speak only for my own interpretation of his message. I believe that Dr. Paul would want nothing more for a person in such a position to fully realize that he or she is a responsible individual, free to make up his or her own mind, and free to make mistakes, understanding full well that decisions have consequences that must be lived with. If someone is truly free, he won't make decisions based on fear, or what he has to gain or lose personally, or what people will think of him, or whatever. A truly free individual will make that decision based on eternal, guiding principles that will not be compromised. True freedom cannot be enforced at the point of a gun, physical or emotional.
It is this understanding - that we are all free - that allows me to look lovingly upon my fellow delegates who made decisions other than those that I would have. With freedom comes great responsibility, and that is a great burden to bear. I was terribly disappointed with what happened, and for a brief few days, crushed. However, I will gladly choose freedom any day, with all its pain and suffering, over the false unity that the GOP attempts to display.
The most important thing now is to learn what we can from this experience for next time. The takeover of the GOP - for those who choose to pursue it - will be a long, slow process. On that road, patriots will face many more issues and tests like this one. The most important thing is that though this process, we maintain our principles the whole way through. As Dr. Paul said in his speech at the Rally - even if you make what you think is just one little exception, just one time, you've sacrificed 100% of the principal. It is a slippery slope.
Greatness is often lonely, and it is never easy to oppose colleagues or the statist special interests who wanted Ron Paul to act as their errand boy to the Treasury. They were all amazed, then aghast, at his refusal to play their game.
New Congressmen are always advised, in shady Sam Rayburn's words, "To get along, go along." They're told, "Don't make waves. Vote for the other guy's spending bills, and he'll vote for yours. Do as you're told and you'll be taken care of."
How easy to become part of the system and reap the rewards of power. For virtually every Congressman, there is not even a pause before he plunges into the trough. But that ws not why Ron Paul went to Washington. He sought a great rostrum for freedom, and he never sold out.
After seeing the tremendous pressure put on people in real politics, live and in person, it puts me in flat out awe that Dr. Paul ever made it this far. He talks a tough game but he walks it courageously and unwaveringly. This past week I saw first hand exactly why Dr. Paul is so special. Standing for what he believes in takes the kind of courage that most people simply have not yet developed.
That kind of courage takes practice. This was a first test, and it will only be a failure if we learn nothing from it.