There is no There There — Ron Paul's Loud, Thin Base

Writing in today’s Times, Richard A. Oppel asks, “Whatever happened to Ron Paul?”

Ron Paul has fans, in the traditional sense of the word–fanatics. They foam over this small and strange man, whose career in Congress has largely been ineffectual. Thousands go to his rallies, but as Oppel observes, “A Feb. 27 event at Michigan State University drew 4,000 people. But at polling places the next day, Mr. Paul finished third — with 3,128 votes — in Ingham County, where the campus is. Mr. Romney got more than three times as many votes.” Paul’s supporters attribute this to a failure in conveying the urgency to vote.

Paul is emblematic of the larger libertarian movement, if it can even be called that. Paul’s supporters are loud and able to manipulate the levers of public spectacle and the media. They seem omnipresent in Washington, DC, on policy panels and the like, but support for their ideas is not widely shared. In general elections, libertarian candidates routinely capture less than 1 percent of the vote. Perhaps that is a reflection of the power of our two political parties. But Ralph Nader, representing the complete opposite of the libertarian canon, captured over 2% in 2000.

The Ron Paul people remind me of the Lyndon LaRouche supporters who used to plague the Berkeley campus. They typically were good looking young people who would accost others with a message that might be popular on the campus: “Impeach Dick Cheney.” That might be a conversation starter. But once one looks at the spectrum of where that conversation goes–in both LaRouche’s case and in the case of the libertarians–one might be turned off. All sorts of crazy is on parade, from years-long campaigns against global warming, bluster about the stimulus, and hysterical attacks on Obama’s healthcare plan.

One cannot just cause a spectacle and win an election. It takes people, investment, and time. Once one takes the time, invests in people, and actually organizes, one sees that the world is a complex place and perhaps is less likely to vote for the likes of Ron Paul.