Ryan Holiday Doesn't Care About Ron Paul

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A couple of
weeks ago, Joshua Snyder had an article on LRC entitled
“Ron Paul’s Long Tail."
In it, he argued that “Ron Paul
is the one candidate able to unite the diverse elements in the Long
Tail. His supporters range from strippers to evangelicals, from
gun-toters to peaceniks, and yet his message is as mainstream as
the Constitution." Snyder argued that “Ron Paul’s Long Tail
will propel him to victory."

“Wishful thinking,”
writes Ryan Holiday several days later, in a piece entitled
“Why I don’t Care About Ron Paul and Why He Has Nothing to Do with
the Long Tail,"
“but completely incorrect. The idealism
here is admirable and yet the epitome of what causes most movements
to fail. It’s too ‘inspired’ to talk about strategy, or to look
at facts, or to win with the help of reality – they’d rather
die in spite of it. And it’s just total misinterpretation of the
Long Tail.
Because of this, not matter (sic) how much money he wins, Ron Paul
is doomed to fail.”

To his credit,
Holiday points out that the Electoral College is no Amazon.com.
“The internet has empowered your voices," he argues, “but the
system still disenfranchises your votes.” And he is right. But
the reasoning by which he travels from this important distinction
to arrive at the conclusion that a Ron Paul presidency is “impossible”
is seriously flawed.

Holiday is
absolutely right in claiming that the electoral system is not the
kind of “market” that serves the long tail, as he explains:

“Because of
the district basis of the system, it is impossible for minor candidates
to collect their small stakes in many communities into a significant
voting block. Candidates win based on how many individual districts
they can tally together, not how much overarching support they can
garner. Third Parties exist as aggregates of minor factions spread
throughout multiple constituencies but the electoral system doesn’t
care about percentage of the whole, only percentage of the local.
It is innately compartmentalized, tied to the part to the point
where the whole doesn’t matter. Sound familiar? This is exactly
what prevents a long tail economy from thriving in Borders or at
a Tower Records."

Holiday then
goes on to assert that because the electoral system is not an example
of the Long Tail business model, Ron Paul cannot possibly win. I
suppose this might be true if we accept that Ron Paul truly is a
“Long Tail candidate” – that is, if the market for what he is offering
is very small in each geographic locale but very large nationwide – however this is quite a substantial assumption to be making. Even
Joshua Snyder was arguing that Ron Paul could unite diverse
elements within the Long Tail – not that he represented an isolated
commodity within the Long Tail. But regardless of what Joshua Snyder
believes, I personally am not pinning my hopes of a Ron Paul victory
on the idea that he is a “long-tail candidate." And the fact
that the US presidential elections are not a “Long-Tail” serving
market is simply not enough to prove that Ron Paul cannot win in
those elections. Holiday bases his assertion that it is on the false
premise that Ron Paul can only be a “Long-Tail candidate” which
is the first problem with his argument.

The second
flaw is one I run into frequently with those whose focus is on “strategy”
rather than principles. It is a failure to understand the importance
of principles. Not of the principles themselves, but of the notion
of having them.

Mr. Holiday
writes: “Ron Paul supporters should be leveraging the media coverage
and ability to efficiently raise money not to buy votes, but to
force change from the candidates who can win.”

(This is already
happening, by the way – at least in lip-service terms –
by virtue of Ron Paul’s supporters propelling him towards the Republican
nomination. I’m not sure it could happen any other way.)

Ryan misses
out on one important point: This is precisely what many libertarians
have been trying to do for years: convince politicians that they
should support liberty and smaller government. Maybe he hasn’t noticed
that it has not worked very well.

The reason
it hasn’t worked very well is that systems don’t generally reward
those who aim to diminish the system. Our political system thrives
by pitting groups against each other, robbing from some to give
to others; restricting the freedoms of some for the benefit of others.
With rare exception, those who succeed in the system are those who
restrict freedom and increase spending. They may spout rhetoric
about free markets and limited government, but they almost never
follow through.

The real flaw
in Mr. Holiday’s suggestion is that he doesn’t seem to recognize
what a rare exception Dr. Paul is. The idea that we can simply “force”
the other candidates to become defenders of liberty by dangling
our votes in front of them misunderstands the nature of the game
and of the players. Ron Paul has spent 30 years demonstrating that
he is committed to liberty. When he says that he will do everything
in his power to diminish the role of government in our lives, he
means it, and those who support him trust him to do exactly that.
The same cannot be said about any of the other candidates
who are running. The very fact that Mr. Holiday believes their positions
can be dictated by pressure from voters is proof that he already
knows this.

Finally, Mr.
Holiday says “Take the only victory that is possible … that means
guiding the dynamic and opinion towards Libertarian policy as much
as possible within the system. And then, maybe, you have a shot
at changing the system; that is maybe, you can get rid of the Electoral
College. Until then, it doesn’t matter. Your victory is literally

Mr. Holiday’s
hubris-laden claim that Ron Paul “cannot win” is based on the false
premise that Ron Paul is necessarily a “long-tail candidate” and
that victory requires the presidential elections to be a “long-tail
market." He isn’t, and it doesn’t. Further, the idea that we
can somehow guide the system towards libertarian policy with the
assistance of policymakers who don’t believe in liberty is deeply

I’ll be voting for Ron Paul not because I think the odds favor him
but because I believe he is the only person who has any intention
of stripping back government. If he doesn’t win, are there other
victories that can be had by the movement? Sure there are. But they
aren’t likely to be at the voting booth.

3, 2007

Bretigne Shaffer
her mail
] is a writer and filmmaker living in the Bay Area.
She also directs the Free
World Media Center
, the media production center of the non-profit
Liberty and Privacy Network. The views she expresses here are her
own and do not reflect the views of the Free World Media Center
or the LPN.

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