Ron Paul was perhaps the most interesting candidate from either party. A libertarian, his positions on the economy, the war in Iraq and the role of the government were refreshingly different from everyone else’s. He advocates a minimal government, abolition of most subsidies, immediate withdrawal from the war, repeal of the Patriot Act and legalization of victimless crimes like drug possession and prostitution, all positions that I strongly support. However, some of his other propositions were baffling. His prescriptions relating to monetary control (he would abolish the Federal reserve and return to the Gold Standard) and foreign policy (he wants the US to withdraw from international organizations and treaties) were isolationist and potentially disastrous. On the important issues of immigration (where he takes a highly nativist stance) and abortion, I was disturbed by his stands, which are a complete anti-thesis of the libertarian philosophy. However, despite these major differences, Ron Paul probably came closer to representing my political and personal ideology than any other presidential contender.
Yet, I never really went crazy over his candidature. Of course, I supported him, but it was a qualified support, not an enthusiastic embrace. Part of it had to do with the policy differences quoted above but the rest had to do with the man. I didn’t think he was the right man for the job. He was simply not presidential enough. He seemed more an angry uncle than a statesman who could convince a country of the value of individual freedom. Besides, some of his supporters and associates were obvious bigots and I wasn’t sure how these associations would play out in the long run. To put it bluntly, I was afraid that his candidature may do the cause of libertarianism more harm than good. I was also disturbed by his strange practice of voting ‘no’ to bills that improved upon the present scenario, but didn’t quite realise his ideals of perfection. That struck me as revealing a certain unreasonable aspect of his personality that was quite incompatible with the demands of the job he was aspiring for. Still, I was willing to overlook these deficiencies … till that fateful day when the newsletter scandal broke in the New Republic. That was the day when he lost the support of most of the sane world.
But this post is not really about Ronald Ernest Paul and his failed presidential bid. It is about his campaign and his support – the effect they had and the truths they revealed. That, to me, was the most uplifting aspect of the entire episode and Ron Paul’s greatest gift to us.
The Ron Paul campaign, while it lasted, wasn’t just a movement, it was a revolution. From Montana to Texas, California to Maine, his supporters were a passionate, galvanised bunch, overwhelming the message boards with their opinions, marching on streets in support of their leader, waving signs that screamed “Ron Paul cured my apathy.” With a few exceptions, they were all young, internet-savvy, and deeply committed to the cause of libertarianism. Occasionally they were loud and boorish – many a blogger has been inundated with hate-mail from passionate Paulites for daring to criticize Paul. But without a doubt, most of them were sincere to the core. This was a grassroots campiagn if there ever was one. Paul’s level of support in the opinion polls never crossed 10% of the general population but it was impossible to realise that by scouring the internet. Unlike the major candidates, Paul had little backing from the mainstream media or big businesses, yet his legions of small supporters raised incredible amounts of money, including $6 million on a single december sunday, an all-time American record.
And that brings me to my point. What could have electrified these young people, ‘cured their apathy’ in their own words? Paul, while intelligent and sincere, wasn’t the most charismatic candidate nor the best speaker around. In fact, as I’ve noted, some of his policy offerings didn’t even make sense. If he could galvanise all these young people who had never before cared about politics, they must have been attracted to the message, not the messager. And Ron Paul’s central message was liberty. Fiscal discipline. Non-encroachment into others’ lives or money without their consent. Live and let live.
In other words, libertarianism is not just alive and well, but in fact strikes a deep chord with those of the facebook generation. It is just waiting to be tapped into by a serious, inspirational candidate with a real chance of winning. That is perhaps the best news that we will learn out of election 2008.