For those who don’t know, Ron Paul is a Republican candidate for president. His “netroots” are bigger and stronger than any other Republican candidate, perhaps stronger than any other candidate. Any positive story about Ron Paul that makes it to Digg or Reddit is almost certain to make the front page.
All of this begs the questions: Who is Ron Paul? And why are people supporting him?
In the shortest form, Ron Paul is a conservative libertarian, a former obstetrician, and a Congressman from the state of Texas. He’s the only Republican running against the war in Iraq and he’s for the abolition of about as much government as people want him to kill.
All of that’s interesting, and certainly rare among Republicans. But how did Ron Paul raise over $4 million in a single day–more than anyone but Hillary Clinton? After all, most count him as unlikely to get the Republican nod, his support is well under 10% in both the early primary states and across the nation. This turns on its side the notion that a candidate only gets money for being electable.
In seeing all of this, I can’t avoid the feeling that Ron Paul’s supporters like him mostly for what he’s not. His supporters seem to thrive on news of every “mainstream” slight of their candidate–most recently Fox New’s Sean Hannity has been fueling their ire. They also love to rail against the fact that when he wins after-debate polls, they’re regularly dismissed as hacked. Though such stories would seem to validate the idea that Paul is a non-electable non-entity, they actually energize his “netroots” and help him to raise ever more money.
So let’s make a short list of the things Ron Paul isn’t: (1) he’s not a “neoconservative” hawk–in fact his foreign policy is probably the most isolationist of any candidate; (2) he’s not a mainstream candidate–validated by the repeated stories of scorn; (3) he’s not a traditional Republican–he’s unaffiliated with and unsupported by the “Religious Right,” and doesn’t seem troubled by that; (4) he’s against the IRS and most other government entities–whether or not he’s for the FairTax, people like that he hates parts of the government as much as they do.
I can’t avoid the feeling that this list of the things Mr. Paul is not does more to empower his support and fund raising than anything he is. Nowhere do we see reasoned defenses of his isolationist foreign policy, or validation for the idea that the federal government should be made as small as possible. And his supporters seem to thrive on that very fact, they never seem to find it odd, or uncomfortable.
Ron Paul’s support seems to be both diffuse and uninformed. As just one example, Daniel Meissler who calls himself “a serious Ron Paul supporter” came to a shocking realization in September: “Ron Paul is Seriously Flawed as a Candidate: We’re Just So in Love with Him that We’re Not Paying Attention.” Though I’m tempted to say that the headline alone points to the fact that few supporters know much of what he stands for, a quick list of some of Mr. Meissler’s grievances:
- He doesn’t believe in the separation of church and state
- He’s not for federally funded public education (federally subsidized college loans)
- He not for national health care
- He would abolish consumer protections
- He would abolish the EPA and other environmental safeguards
- He would overturn Roe vs. Wade
All of these “flaws” are things that one would legitimately expect from a libertarian Republican, but Mr. Meissler (and many who commented on his post) were unaware. Seduced by what he was not, they had–and Mr. Meissler still does–supported him regardless of his positions.
In a country satisfied with neither its president nor its legislature, Ron Paul allows people something to turn to and support that is clearly not of the tradition of those institutions. He’s been adopted by the disillusioned and the distracted, satisfied by what he’s not, untroubled by what he is. The successes of his campaign are, to me, the perfect illustration of the independent voter’s malaise with modern American politics. But that hardly means he’d make a good president.