PAUL’S PAC? The recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) promised to give Washington a sense of the sentiments energizing the angry right-wing populists who are supposedly transforming not just the GOP but the American political landscape. And it did. But the signal sent by the conferees wasn’t the one pundits and Republican elites expected. Asked to name a favorite candidate for the presidency in 2012, the delegates voted by a wide margin (31 percent) for Ron Paul, who opposes the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, the Patriot Act and Wall Street’s "free trade" agenda, and who is perhaps best known as a relentless critic of collusion between central bankers and the elites of both parties.
Paul, the Republican-Libertarian hybrid who so upset former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani during the 2008 Republican presi- dential debates, easily beat Mitt Romney (22 percent), Sarah Palin (7 percent) and the rest of the 2012 prospects. Paul’s no liberal; he would actually shut down most of the federal government. But neither is he a talking-points conservative like Palin, who has owned the spotlight over the past few months. He’s an outlier within the mainstream conservative movement and the GOP.
The CPAC straw poll, which attracted 2,395 participants (by far the highest number at any CPAC session), contained no good news for Barack Obama. Only 2 percent of those surveyed approved of the president. But the news wasn’t all that great for the GOP establishment, either. Thirty-seven percent disapproved of Republicans in Congress. And a plurality–44 percent–rejected Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele.
The results are telling. The anger on the right won’t necessarily translate into excitement about Republicans like Romney, Palin or Steele. Even CPAC keynoter Glenn Beck was disapproved of by 27 percent of those present. Yet, for the most part, coverage of the CPAC gathering focused on tried-and-true Republicans. An Associated Press report on presidential campaigning at the conference failed to mention Paul; the USA Today story published after the release of the straw poll results was all about Romney. The real headline, missed by most of the media, is that the anger of the populist right is complex, nuanced and directed not just at Obama but at a lot of mainstream Republicans as well. JOHN NICHOLS
PUBLIC OPTIONS: In loose concert with similar groups across the nation, on a brilliant sunny Saturday in February a line of healthcare reform-minded New Yorkers marched across the Brooklyn Bridge flaunting signs and chanting calls for action on legislation stalled in Congress. There were only about 400 of us, ranging from toddlers on shoulders to seniors on canes, and many 20s and 30s in the middle. (So where were you?)
The marchers, who represented twenty-five organizations, including Healthcare for America Now, SEIU, MoveOn, National Physicians Alliance and many New York-based groups, headed for the downtown Manhattan headquarters of WellPoint, the nation’s largest health benefits company, which was recently in the news for imposing staggering rate hikes. Chants and signs included "Get it done/Get it right" and "Let’s finish Teddy’s fight/Healthcare is a human right." A MoveOn guy we talked to during a comfort stop at Starbucks said his organization and others have been meeting with members of the state Congressional delegation and are buoyed by recent expressions of support for the public option by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer.