Anatomy of the Ron Paul Nation
"Ron Paul is no laughing matter." — David All (GOP strategist) AOL News, October 11, 2007
I have never had much enthusiasm for following politics; I found that a blanket condemnation of the whole subspecies Officeseeker stood me in good stead and saved me time to focus on more useful things, such as Lindsey Lohan's current status. I have never willingly given money to any politician, never pitched a chirpy phone call to a fellow citizen reminding them that today is election day, never joined any political party whatsoever, feeling that those who do missed the whole point of the Federalist Papers.
Admittedly, every four years I'd do my civic duty and throw my vote down the Libertarian Party's maw. That's as far as my active support for the libertarian crowd went until last Friday night, when I wrote a relatively large check in support of Ron Paul, allowing me entrée into a private reception held at a fabulously gorgeous penthouse in New York City.
I drank the red, surrounded by fifty or so other donors.
Naturally I had a nice time hanging with the Four Figure Donor Crowd, which like any such event gets you a handshake, a few words, and a picture with the candidate. Nice speech, nice time, nice man. Ron Paul holds the distinction of being, in my opinion, probably the only member of Congress our Founders would not find cause to shun.
His ideological outlook towards power is frozen in 1776, leading to a remarkable consistency in his actions and words despite a 30-year public life. My little brother Tommy — yet another 20-something newly minted fan — is reading Mr. Paul's A Foreign Policy of Freedom. His admiring review: "He's been giving the same speech since 1976."
But despite Ron Paul's books, speeches, and meeting the man in person, what really opened my eyes to what his campaign is all about was in meeting the supporters who gathered at a Chelsea location afterwards, in drinking and smoking with the Decidedly Less Than Four Figure Crowd. Show me your friends, show me yourself; so I believe. Ron Paul represents something, and the man is just a conduit for what a nightclub full of earnest young people represent, for what they believe. Among these young supporters is where I met the real Ron Paul, or, more to the point, the Ron Paul movement.
The Kids Are Alright
"One thing only has been lent to youth and age in common — discontent." — Matthew Arnold
From what I've read on the web, Ron Paul attracts a rather … umm … oddball sort of crowd, so to speak. From the attractive brunette bartender who, along with drinks, served warnings of a "one world government" to our new friend Casey Holland telling us, in amazing detail, how 9-11 was a set-up, be forewarned that when Ron Paul supporters gather, conspiracy theories will fall like manna from heaven. Since I've read Harvard professor Bernard Bailyn's Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, in which he devotes an entire section to our Founder's unshakable belief in conspiracies, I found this trait more admirable than amusing. Judging by our history books, which are littered with politically sponsored bloodbaths, viewing the political class with extreme suspicion and distrust seems only rational.
Having been refused accommodations by the New York Republican Party, about two hundred Ron Paul supporters found their own space, a cavernous hall that featured the standard bar, couches, nooks and crannies to hide in, and, according to one participant who'd been there before, was used on occasion as a sex club. The oddball nature of the venue fit the crowd like a glove.
P.J. O'Rourke once wrote that if you want to see which way the wind is blowing, follow the pretty girls. If this is so, then from the Ron Paul Girl to the aptly named Angel who I spoke to at the after party, Ron Paul is the wave of the future. But the most striking feature of the crowd was not looks, but youth.
Most of them seem to be web savvy, with the ability, at minimum, to hack into any news studio's voting system, be it text or Internet based. My wife warned me to keep an eye on my Blackberry, lest it fall into evil hands. You couldn't turn around without seeing a video camera perched on someone's shoulder. While the crowd's attachment to the Internet was on display (the event was put together in four days via the net) what they really seem to love is video.
In one of the hall's nooks, a video interview room was born, and if you search the web I'm sure the results are on there somewhere. The Ron Paul campaign's attitude towards recording and disseminating their events and literature reminds me of the Grateful Dead's: feel free. The entire night — hell the entire movement — seems rather unscripted and spontaneous.
So why do they all support Ron Paul? Doubtless, the war plays a part, but MoveOn.org couldn't pull this off — I've been to some of their events and the turnout wasn't even close. I asked Jessica, who was leaning on a bar with her friend Chris, what it was about Ron Paul that attracted them, and she gave me the same answer I would hear all night. "You know," she said, "it's about freedom, and having rights." Like almost everyone I asked, they had only known about Ron Paul for "a couple of months," yet were willing to pay $100 each to drink to his health.
His hold on this crowd goes deeper than merely being antiwar. One flyer given to me by a young bearded kid read, "Who is Ron Paul?" and listed his beliefs, as expressed by his voting record. Pro-gun, antitax, for freedom of the Internet, anti–Patriot Act — his opposition to the war was listed near the bottom, almost like an afterthought. The people I spoke to were more about how Ron Paul matches their urge for "freedom and rights" than on any specific issue he stands on.
Between the informational handouts, bumper stickers, the ubiquitous video cameras, a promotional CD mixed by a Brooklyn based duo called The Statue of David, and the crowd's radical feeling towards the establishment, the after party had all the markings of the '60s, without that sad generation's lust for and admiration of power. Whatever the traditional media polls say, this man has struck a chord among quite a few of the young. The night was a happening, as much as a tired forty-year-old can make it out to be.
This presidential campaign's hippest candidate, perched right on the cutting edge of radical, is a 72-year-old grandfather who complimented his suit with a pair of black sneakers.
No Grand Visions, Please
"If you're going to plan something, go ahead and plan it…just don't do it." — Lewis Black, comedian
In political science, a guy much smarter than I am once said, "There is much to learn and little to do." Ron Paul's Big Plan is that there is no Big Plan. That is what Ron Paul stands for, and more importantly, what the club full of 20-somethings stands for. They don't want any grand visions rammed down their throats and, more importantly, they don't want to ram them down anyone else's. They lack the egotistical arrogance that socialism requires for its implementation.
Ron Paul's people, his "fanatics" (or at least the few score I sampled) understand the concept that underlies all civilized people: a respect for your neighbors' property. These kids I talked to were untouched by America, despite growing up within her cocoon. Not one spoke about how much we needed to fund whatever agreed-upon vision had stuck fast this news cycle; nobody was riding a high of painless charity paid for with Other People's Money.
A tolerant bunch, they weren't looking to prevent their fellow Americans from eating, drinking, or smoking whatever they wished. And they were all college-age kids or very recent grads, from 18-year-old Brian from Florida, clutching a Ron Paul flag for a car he didn't yet own, to 29-year-old Jessica, who has taken two Middle Eastern holidays courtesy of Uncle Sam, to a 19-year-old kid wrapped in an American flag whose name was drowned out by the DJ.
I was reminded of an old MTV "Rock the Vote" feature that I watched years ago. The MTV journalist roamed from sea to shining sea, asking my fellow stoners What They Wanted The Government To Do For Them. Of course, a Christmas list was presented from each young voter when questioned. But the people I spoke to at the after party aren't of that type; they understand where Santa Claus gets all that loot.
Buying Hope, One Donation At A Time
"America, when will you be idyllic?" — from the CD "Ron Paul 2008" by the Statue of David
The most difficult part of the night was finding the person or persons who organized the event. No matter who I asked the answer was always a shrug and a reference to the Internet; one drunken girl shouted "Everybody!" and spun about in circles. Eventually, I located someone who was involved, Brad Tirpak, a gentleman who helped organize the after party over a four-day span. He believes that this campaign is just taking off, that eventually "People will wake up to the truth." Maybe he's onto something.
If in this day and age so far down the road from the New Deal my city can produce this many liberal-minded youth, maybe all isn't despair. All the silence about Ron Paul on the evening news and the newspapers that ignore him mean far less than in the past because the Republican pundits have Internet connections and so do millions of young Americans. They, too, can see the cash-raising ability of Mr. Paul, how he crushes their anointed successors in the online polls, and the large crowds he draws — which is why Mr. Paul, and only Mr. Paul, was specifically asked in the Detroit debates whether or not he'd run as a third-party candidate.
"If the Republicans are worried, maybe that's a good sign," I shouted to my wife over the music.
In a moment of euphoria, I turned and drunkenly advised Ed, a Newark, New Jersey native clad in Mets gear, "Go ahead and dig up yer' gold!" but I doubt he heard me. He was too busy saying that if it wasn't for Ron Paul, he'd vote for Hillary Clinton.
Ed considers himself "sort of a socialist."
So I sobered up and came back down to earth. In the early stages of the party, before the names and conversations blurred with fun, I spoke to a gentleman from New Jersey — Jason was his name — more of my age and far more sober minded. We both agreed that Ron Paul's chances of becoming president are slim to none, forget what the Vegas odds makers say. Recognizing him as a Four Figure fellow, I asked him why then did he hand over so much money to Mr. Paul's campaign.
He thought about it and gave me the answer to the same question I'd been asking of myself: "I'm buying hope," he shrugged.
As Carl Menger would agree, hope has a price, too. Water can be more costly than a diamond under the right circumstances, and so can hope. Yet, despite a wife who deserves diamond earrings but instead gave them away to the longest of long shots, despite the fact that when I mentioned his name at a business dinner a week prior every single person at the table knew who Ron Paul was, and despite the large chunk of cash I handed over to buy it, I will admit I still don't have a lot of hope.
But considering the future — as embodied by a mob of college-age kids willing to spontaneously party to benefit a 72-year-old grandfather who promises them nothing other than to leave them alone — maybe, just maybe, I should have a little more.
 Sober, sort of.
 If you've ever taken out a singles ad that reads "SM looking for SF, must be attractive, believe in the Trilateral Commission" then this event was custom made for you.
 At least according to the conspiracy theorists at Fox News.
 So much so that I received a late night call from the gentlemen who organized the private reception. It seems that even there someone took videos of Mr. Paul and posted them on the web.
 One day you wake up and MTV is no longer talking to you; you walk, gray hair hanging, into the realm of VH1 Classic.
 Four days. I've attended meetings that lasted longer. When the levees broke, where the hell was Brad when we needed him?