“Every generation needs a revolution.”
— Thomas Jefferson
Armed with bumper stickers, DVDs, literature on civil liberties, a few Bush-bashing marketing tools, and copies of the United States Constitution, local supporters of 2008 presidential hopeful Ron Paul aren’t acting like their candidate is a long-shot to become the next leader of the free world. They actually think he can win.
Their confidence has risen over the last few weeks as Paul continues to impress voters on the cyber front. From his YouTube videos to iPhone platforms, people are beginning to believe the 72-year-old Congressman from Lake Jackson, Texas, is more than a second-tier also-ran. His status soared on November 5 when grassroots supporters raised an astonishing $4.2 million in only 24 hours during a “money bomb” online campaign, breaking Mitt Romney’s one-day fundraising record this year for Republicans.
Campaign signs in hand, supporters around the world, including some in San Antonio, took to the streets to deliver Paul’s message. Some wore Halloween masks of the 17th-century British Catholic conspirator Guy Fawkes, the inspiration behind the 2005 film V for Vendetta. Some chanted, “Remember, remember the fifth of November,” invoking a new American revolution. Now, local Paul campaigners are looking to build on the momentum and promote a candidate they consider groundbreaking.
“I feel like this campaign is the most important thing I’ve ever done,” said Erick Malsbury, 29, one of the 230 members of the local Ron Paul meetup.com group. “Since `9/11` what has been done to our Constitution and our Bill of Rights is sickening to me. I’ve never been active in politics, but I believe in what Ron Paul stands for.”
With 68,000 members in more than 1,100 meetup.com groups around the world (the biggest is in Austin with 975 members), Paul’s popularity is evident on the web. He towers over his competition with six times more internet group members than Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Rudy Giuliani, John Edwards, and Mitt Romney combined.
While this might not mean much to people who don’t know the difference between blogs and vlogs, internet-savvy individuals like San Antonian Monica Leal understand the importance of online political networking, especially during an era controlled, she says, by big media.
“The whole revolution idea is about rising up and saying, ‘We’re not going to accept whatever the mainstream news tells us,’” said Leal, who admits she has never voted for a Republican in her life but will make a exception for Paul. “We’re going to stand and demand a candidate that we truly support.”
“The system is so biased towards Republicans and Democrats, it’s just the way the media is,” said Dirk Davidek, 41, the organizer of the local
Meetup.com group. “If you are running as a third-party, you’re not going to get any coverage. The consolidation of wealth and power basically controls most of the major press in the U.S. and is set up to eliminate certain viewpoints.”
Strategically speaking, Paul’s backers think this is why the candidate has crossed political lines (he ran for President of the U.S. in 1988 as a libertarian) and is vying for the GOP nomination. He wants to give himself a viable chance to compete in a two-party system. Although Paul has been elected and re-elected to Congress as a Republican, there’s no overlooking the major differences between him and his fellow party members, the most obvious being that he is the only Republican candidate who voted against the war in Iraq.
“He’s running as a republican but is much more libertarian-minded — a constitutionalist,” said Davidek. “He’s just so different from all the candidates that have been force fed to the public. He is actually someone that is a real alternative.”
Paul’s platform is based on small-government ideals, including unconventional ideas like eliminating the Federal Reserve System and withdrawing from the United Nations.
“Ron Paul is not a Republican, Democrat, or Libertarian; he is a statesman that cares about people,” said Matt Williams, 20, San Antonio College’s student-government president. “People have loss their sense of responsibility and everyone feels that without government, they would be incapable of doing anything. They think the government being here gave us those rights when, in fact, the government is supposed to facilitate our rights.”
The major challenge facing Paul’s network of grassroots campaigners, Davidek says, is proving to those voters who have sworn off the Republican Party because of the last eight years that Paul, a former U.S. Air Force flight surgeon, is not from the same gene pool as fellow Texan and GOP member George W. Bush.
“Some people might not want anything to do with the Republican party today, but their mistake is believing that the Democratic Party is their salvation,” Davidek said. “The same is true with the Republican Party. If you vote Clinton, Giuliani, Obama, Edwards, Romney, or Thompson, you’re going to lose because they’re all hand-picked candidates. It doesn’t matter which one is elected because they’re taking us in the same direction.”
Even those who find some of Paul’s ideas too conservative (he’s pro-life, pro-gun, and pro-border fence) seem to respect his stance on giving power back to individual states and letting them make the ultimate decisions for their citizens. It’s a first step, they say, to get the nation back to one of the people, by the people, and for the people.
“This is way bigger than just the 2008 presidential election,” Davidek said. “This is a revolution to get the government where it needs to be. The Constitution is slowly eroding. We have to reverse the course and get back to our roots before we lose it all together.” •
Paul in context
Six months ago, Ron Paul made an appearance on Bill Maher’s HBO talk show, Real Time. The response was staggering.
Maher’s reliably liberal studio audience — which only moments earlier had been underwhelmed by the presence of actor Ben Affleck — screamed for Paul like teenagers with front-row tickets at a Justin Timberlake concert, and spent much of the show’s final half-hour chanting “Ron Paul! Ron Paul! Ron Paul!” Maher could barely believe what he was hearing. This was the warmest greeting, he told Paul, that any Republican had ever received on the show.
While Paul persuasively argues that he’s the most conservative candidate in the Republican presidential field, he’s managed to attract progressives and moderates because he’s widely perceived not as an ideologue, but as a truth-teller. The excitement he’s stirred is reminiscent of the effect Ross Perot initially had on the presidential race in 1992, before Perot’s personal eccentricities started scaring off voters. To those who jumped on the Perot bandwagon, the Texas billionaire offered the possibility of a candidate who refused to be chained to any party’s set of assumptions.
To a lesser degree, John McCain tapped into the same hunger in 2000 with his much-hyped Straight Talk Express, and Howard Dean built a powerful grassroots, internet movement four years later with a similar promise.
Paul’s appeal to progressive Democrats and independents is astonishing when one
considers that he’s not only a fierce opponent of Roe v. Wade, but also such a strict constitutionalist that he openly talks about eliminating federal funding for education (viewing it as the responsibility of the states) and the federal income tax. But his eloquent condemnation of the Iraq War (infinitely more forceful than anything offered by the Democratic candidates) counts for a lot. Not since the early days of Jimmy Carter’s administration has an American politician commanded a national stage with a historically based critique of U.S. foreign-policy aggression. Paul astutely argues that the hatred now directed against America in the Middle East is, in large part, “blowback” for America’s meddlesome history in that region: uprooting Palestinians by backing the creation of a state of Israel in 1948, overthrowing the Iranian government in 1953, propping up Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in the early ’80s, and arming Saddam Hussein during the same period.
In a sense, Paul is a throwback to the pre-Cold War, Robert Taft brand of Republican conservatism. Taft not only opposed the ambitious social programs of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, he also urged the U.S. to stay out of the brewing war in Europe. Taft’s concept of small government included a small military and a non-interventionist foreign policy. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, a few prominent Republicans, such as Pat Buchanan, have lobbied for a return to that semi-libertarian approach. Even George W. Bush ran a 2000 campaign based on a stated commitment to create a “humble” foreign policy that avoided “nation-building.” The subsequent 9/11 attacks turned Bush around on the military issue, however, just as the Cold War did to Republicans a half century earlier. But Paul refuses to bend, and that’s why his message is resonating.
IRAQ WAR TOLL
as of 11:15 a.m., CST, November 13, 2007
U.S. Military deaths: 3,859
Civilian casualties: 76,701-83,571
Cost in U.S. currency: $468,290,000,000