Sometimes you write the stories, and sometimes they write you. I awoke this morning to a big, blazing Drudge headline about Texan pop starlet and American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson having endorsed Ron Paul for president. As it happens, I’m probably the only conservative political writer in America who has taken Clarkson seriously at some length (see here, here and here; I still follow her on Twitter and Facebook and the like), while at the same time following Leon Wolf’s magnificant series on the lunacy of Ron Paul and his campaign (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here for lots of gory details), and for that matter I’ve written about the intersection of music and politics with an exhaustive look at the culture and politics of my favorite musician, Bruce Springsteen, so this story has my name written all over it. There’s actually some lessons to be drawn here, whether or not you have any interest in Clarkson per se.
The first point up is how Clarkson’s tweets about Paul are revealing of the mindset of a lot of ‘soft’ Ron Paul supporters. Those of us who write about politics on the internet tend to assume that all of Paul’s support comes from hard-core Ronulans, of the sort who will swarm you on the web with the kinds of barrages of talking points and – often – ALL CAPS and hate speech (or just rambling email manifestos) that carry an overpowering stench of political fanatacism. (This is a major reason why RedState has banned the Paul supporters for years; en masse, they make reasoned discourse impossible).* Even the more polite, otherwise reasonable people who support Paul in web discussions tend to be absolutely immovable in their support, to the point where there’s no realistic chance they could support any other Republican.
But when you do polling and casual discussions with people not following politics all that closely, you discover a fair number of people who have gotten the whitewashed version of Paul and aren’t aware of the full depth of his crazy – people I have to believe are still persuadable that Paul is toxic. And that’s exactly what Clarkson sounds like here. It started with this tweet
I love Ron Paul. I liked him a lot during the last republican nomination and no one gave him a chance. If he wins the nomination for the Republican party in 2012 he’s got my vote. Too bad he probably won’t.
we shouldn’t try & help/tell other countries how to solve their issues w/the poor when we can’t even solve our own.
I am about progress. Ron Paul is about letting people decide, not the government. I am for this.
All of which sounds reasonable enough; Paul is certainly in favor of more liberty at home and a less vigorous American role abroad, and while I regard his brand of isolationism as deeply dangerous, the general concept of getting out of the UN and the ‘world policeman’ role is attractive to an awful lot of people who are not crazy. This is the sort of thing why I run into people – friends, family – who tell me “you know, Ron Paul has a lot of good ideas.” It’s also why some of the saner people in the GOP who have some overlap with Paul’s ideas – from the more conservative types like Mike Lee, to Paul’s son Rand, to the more libertarian types like Gary Johnson – might be better spokesmen for some of those ideas.
Unfortunately, you buy Ron Paul, you buy the whole batty package: the flirtations with 9/11 Trutherism and other conspiracy theories, the “we had it coming” view of anti-American terrorism, the anti-Semitism and pro-Palestinian bias, the racist newsletters, and whatnot, all of which you can find at length in Leon’s posts. And Clarkson, with nearly a million Twitter followers and nearly 3 million Facebook fans and a prior record of trying to keep herself out of political controversies, got inundated with hostility she clearly wasn’t expecting for backing Paul, ultimately complaining about the volume of “hateful” attacks. Thus, the backtracks:
I have never heard that he’s a racist? I definitely don’t agree with racism, that’s ignorant.
I love all people and could care less if you like men or women. I have never heard that Ron Paul is a racist or homophobe?
I have never seen or heard Ron Paul say anything against gay people?
I am really sorry if I have offended anyone. Obviously that was not my intent. I do not support racism. I support gay rights, straight rights, women’s rights, men’s rights, white/black/purple/orange rights. I like Ron Paul because he believes in less government and letting the people (all of us) make the decisions and mold our country. That is all. Out of all of the Republican nominees, he’s my favorite.
(There’s a longer story here, which Dave Weigel has covered, as to why Paul still has apologists among gay liberals despite the content of his newsletters)
Most entertainers tend towards knee-jerk leftism, and even the more thoughtful ones – like Springsteen, who as I’ve discussed is in some ways a culturally conservative figure in his music despite his leftism – are often hard-core liberals or leftists. And the exceptions are sometimes no better; John Mayer came out as a vocal, hard-shell Paul supporter in 2008, and in Mayer’s case that seemed to dovetail with some of his own more unsavory characteristics. One of the reasons I like Clarkson, aside from her music, is that she thinks for herself and is frequently a lonely voice for sanity in the insane world of pop music. Her words on the death of Amy Winehouse was one example of this:
Sometimes I think this job will be the death of us all, or at least the emotional death of us all. Maybe that is why as a little kid in sunday school I learned that God didn’t want false gods or idols. I thought it was terribly selfish of God as a child but I think I get it now. He didn’t want us following people or things that are imperfect and not so much for the followers but for the gods and/or idols who will never be what everyone wishes or needs them to be because we are made imperfect. He knew we wouldn’t be able to handle the pressure, the shame, the glory, or the power the spotlight brings.
Her background ought to make her the kind of swing voter the GOP can reach: raised poor among strict Christian Texas Democrats, Clarkson is something of a stubborn holdout for decency and modesty in pop music, refuses to describe herself as a feminist, owns 9 guns and sleeps with a Colt .45 for protection, and is a self-described Republican but one who voted Obama four years ago:
I just want someone that’s about change, and that’s what [Barack Obama] campaigned on, and that’s what I’m hoping happens. I’m very much a Barack fan.
How’d you celebrate the inauguration?
I was actually with two of my friends here in Texas — we were in my kitchen watching it on TV. We were crying — all three of us. Seeing Aretha Franklin — who in her lifetime has seen oppression and now seeing a black man become President — sing … that in itself is such a beautiful message to the rest of the world.
A lot of people felt that way about Obama in January 2009, but the thrill is long gone, even in Hollywood.
Political coalitions, of course, inevitably involve picking and choosing positions that alienate some people you might otherwise reach. Ron Paul, now 76 years old, will be gone from the stage after this election, but the challenge of how to appeal to people who like some of the themes he projects but aren’t fans of more conventional Republican ideas – people like Kelly Clarkson – will persist.
* – We at RS are by no means the only people in the political sphere to notice this. For a flavor from Twitter across every stage of the political spectrum of horror at the nuttiness of both Paul and his fans, see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.