When Ron Paul ends his presidential bid - during the primaries, at the Convention or on Election Day - he'll also likely end his tenure in Congress, depriving the Republican Party of a uniquely passionate and idiosyncratic perspective. While Paul's views might live on the edges of the mainstream ideology in Washington, his commitment has helped inspire insurgent energy, and while you can rarely say that he himself changed the debate, you can certainly argue that he held a persistent and important sway that tugged at his party.
How will the GOP feel losing that voice? Well, they just need to look at the Democrats who will say farewell to Representative Dennis Kucinich, after he lost his primary to fellow incumbent Representative Marcy Kaptur on Tuesday evening.
In opposition to the Iraq War and the Patriot Act, Kucinich and Paul have shared a few critical and underrepresented positions. But the more important commonality is their role in voicing opinions that "serious" politicians in their party are afraid to speak. Kucinich's '04 run may have had even less pull on the eventual Democatric nominee than Paul will have on his own party's choice, but Kucinich's impact wasn't primarily in the presidential primary process - it was in inspiring progressives around the country to remember they can find, support and elect politicians who are willing to take courageous stances.
Kucinich's loss was not a referendum on his liberal positions so there is no larger morality tale on the danger of standing on your convictions. Kucinich was the victim of a redistricting - and gerrymandering. The former is the natural process by which seats need to shift to where the population has moved. The latter is the political manipulation of that process. In pitting Kucinich and Kaptur against each other, the Ohio GOP, with the backing of Speaker Boehner, constructed an unlikely district designed to diminish Democratic representation. Gerrymandering is not a uniquely Republican affair around the country; but, as this case proves, the right-wing often does manipulation better than the Left.
I never voted for Kucinich and never worked for him. I was one of those progressives that thought, right or wrong, I needed to be more pragmatic in presidential politics. But I admired the feisty fight he brought to the House. I saw him as an ally to the organizations and causes I most respect. And he was a useful reminder for friends who would get disillusioned with politics that we can elect uncompromising, principled representatives.
As Tuesday shows, they can also be unelected. But when a former Mayor of Cleveland is passed over by Toledo voters, that's not a rejection of his politics. He was taken out by a system beyond his control; and while he often willingly wrangled with forces larger and more powerful than him, this time there was no road to victory. For a politician who disillusioned supporters less than most, the gerrymandering that brought him down is the most disillusioning fact of all.
Somehow I suspect Kucinich will keep rallying the Left from outside of DC. Maybe he and Ron Paul should start a movement against the Patriot Act together. We can only hope that others inside the Capitol take up both of their roles as loudly and proudly.