"Why are you folks so dedicated?"
The man who asked that question was genuinely puzzled. There I was, tired after the Citrus Bowl with my six-year-old by me, waiving a sign for Ron Paul.
I hadn't planned to do that. I had planned to just go to the game, but the Ron Paul supporters were out in force, we had time, and they had signs to spare. That seems to be the story of the Ron Paul campaign, people pitching in spontaneously when they see something needs to be done.
I thought about this grassroots dedication for days after my brief exchange with this man. Ron Paul supporters have a reputation of being extremely dedicated. The fevered swamps of online blogs like Red State and others even have pet names like u2018Ronulian' to denote the sign waiving, rabid Ron Paul partisans that they claim drink Kool Aid for breakfast and think Dr. Paul is the new Messiah.
That's all hogwash of course, but it is true that in any Republican gathering, online or off, the Ron Paul supporters will stick out for the intensity of their devotion. They literally seem like living people in a room full of Dawn-of-the-Dead extras.
To understand why this is, let's examine what Republicans at the grassroots level actually say they want. By and large, most Republicans want lower taxes, a secure border, an end to Roe v. Wade, restoration of more sovereignty to the states, less government, more freedom, and the return of fiscal sanity. Some Republicans want to stay in Iraq forever, others leave it, some chart some middle ground where we stay for now and then leave later.
But the composition of this wish list/Republican Party platform is exactly where the rub lies with this current election from the Republican standpoint. While average Republicans may back McCain or Romney or Huckabee, they are well aware that their guys will do less than nothing to turn any of those goals listed above into reality. Other than continuing to bleed money into Iraq, most average Republicans are too cynical to expect that their horse will enact anything like a conservative agenda upon getting into the Oval office.
After all, most of these Republican voters threw ballots for GWB in 2000 thinking they were getting the opposite of Bill Clinton, only to discover that they had elected his policy heir apparent where nation-building was concerned.
So the average Republican may be backing a guy, or might like a guy, but in reality he looks at this chosen candidate with a mixture of cynicism and contempt. Which is why the polls are so fluid. Most Republicans have more allegiance to their favorite brand of Peanut Butter than to their chosen presidential candidate. They see more difference in the choice between Jiff and Peter Pan than between Mitt Romney and John McCain. Which is why the choice of the moment often turns on inconsequential non-policy factors like John McCain being a former POW or Mitt Romney being presidential-looking.
"He's better than Hillary," is about all the consolation disaffected Republicans can afford themselves as they slouch off to the polls to vote for their guy. All the while, convinced that they are going to get ever-larger government, higher deficits, more lost jobs, higher oil prices, more rules, and more regulations for their trouble.
No wonder that in such a dejected and angry bunch, the Ron Paul supporters stick out. The Ron Paul supporters know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that things will be different if their candidate wins the presidency. They have complete confidence that Dr. Paul will indeed restore Constitutional government, sound fiscal policy, and a rational defense policy that emphasizes the security of America first rather than that of foreign nations.
The Ron Paul campaign is the campaign that millions of angry, disaffected, and disheartened conservatives have waited decades to see. The problem is that these voters have been damaged by decades of lies and deceit. They have no idea that any candidate could possibly be worth getting excited over.
They look at a bunch of young, happy, exuberant people holding signs and campaigning for one man and they immediately associate them with some kind of cult. Ron Paul supporters must, the thinking goes, surely be nuts because everyone knows that all politicians are lying snakes in the grass. They must be drinking the Kool Aid. They must be off-their-meds. No other explanation could be possible.
"Come on over," the grizzled Republicans call, "Join the Huckaboom and be as lukewarm and unsatisfied as the rest of us! That's the normal thing to do!"
The heart of the Republican Party contains a lot of good, wholesome people, who have lost hope. The enthusiasm generated by Ron Paul inspires some of them, but many others are positively frightened by it. They look at the intense support for Ron Paul, and see something nefarious at work.
Republican voters want change. They believed in the Republican Party platforms of years gone by. But many now don't believe that the return to Constitutional governance Ron Paul espouses is even possible. They can't dare to dream anymore, after all the betrayals of past Republican presidencies. And they look askance at anyone who dares to do so.
But to win this election, Ron Paul supporters have to break these traditional Republicans out of their malaise. This is possible, but it has to be done gently. Be polite, be firm, be enthusiastic but be professional. Your enthusiasm will pique the interest of those around you, but overplayed it makes many of them nervous.
Ron Paul doesn't need nerves, he needs votes.
If we can get burned-out Republicans to believe that Constitutional government is possible, then we can change this country for the better. It's a historic time we live in, let's not have to tell our kids and grandkids that we had the chance to fix things, but we just didn't get it right.
January 16, 2008