During the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, the candidate with the most devoted core of supporters was undoubtedly Ron Paul.
Yes, Barack Obama was capable of drawing out large crowds to chant his name and various slogans, but the Obama volunteer corps paled in comparison to the unorthodox and often bizarre coteries which traveled the country to propound Ron Paul’s message. Because no one other than Ron Paul himself could be relied on to effectively convey the Ron Paul message, however, this sometimes produced mixed results. Republican Primary voters who might have otherwise been amenable to Paul’s candidacy often expressed annoyance with his supporters’ antics — namely, their habit of making as big of a ruckus as possible during putatively inappropriate moments. I can recall the day before the 2008 New Hampshire primary, when Paul supporters bearing huge homemade posters inundated Anderson Cooper‘s CNN set, forcing their way into the TV frame. I welcomed their agitation, but it was easy to see how others could be irked.
Part of what made the Ron Paul phenomenon so interesting was the wildly disparate strains of supporters who found themselves one the same “team.” Dreadlocked hippies would volunteer side-by-side with home-schooling Evangelicals and weirdo hacker types. Atheist libertarians formed alliances with Evangelical preachers. No two Ron Paul devotees, it seemed, were alike. Everyone from Ralph Nader to Newt Gingrich has, at some point, offered praise (if qualified) for the man.
The strain of supporters most difficult for outside observers to grok were those who regarded Ron Paul not merely as a presidential candidate, but a vessel for advancing collective human consciousness. You read that right. Often, I found, these views were informed by supporters’ use of psychedelic drugs. Because Ron Paul’s campaign structure was so unorthodox — even the campaign itself had zero control over most of what supporters said or did — it was perceived as a sort of self-fulfilling venture, a profound success even notwithstanding the candidate’s electoral fortunes. These proponents of consciousness advancement were invariably weaned on the Internet, and believed Ron Paul’s limitless well of online support bespoke his potential to forever change how society functions. To call this “politics” was to undersell the significance of the enterprise, they insisted.
I encountered several Ron Paul supporters who viewed his rise as an inevitable byproduct of human civilization’s intractable progression toward “The Singularity,” an idea conceived by futurist Ray Kurzweil about an event foretold to occur in 2045, during which technology will reach the point of exceeding human comprehension.
Kurzweil has been roundly criticized for sometimes appearing more like a self-styled prophet than a scientist, and his followers are known to veer perilously close to “New Age”-like spirituality. Ron Paul’s most committed supporters imbued the Congressman with similar attributes.
It might be easy to scoff at these folks, but they were correct in that Ron Paul has indeed advanced human consciousness. When he extolled the virtues of heroin legalization during a Republican primary debate, or mounted a vigorous defense of Wikileaks from the floor of the U.S. House, or expressed support for the Occupy movement, he implanted new, relatively radical ideas into the electorate. Being a plainspoken, humble, kind country doctor gave Paul legitimacy even in the eyes of those who might be hostile to his platform.
While Mitt Romney fades from memory, Ron Paul’s imprint on American politics only continues to grow. He will retire from Congress on January 3rd, having been first elected in 1976.
Ron Paul is a religious man, but always disliked the public pronouncements of faith commonly associated with the modern Republican Party. I interviewed him about the subject in August 2011:
How sharp is the divide on social issues between progressives and Paul’s more conservative supporters? I ask for his opinion on the central role religion has seemingly taken in the Republican presidential contest, something that has distressed progressives and libertarians alike. Texas Governor Rick Perry preceded the announcement of his bid with a massive Evangelical prayer rally in Houston, just miles from Paul’s congressional district.
“It certainly is his judgment call,” Paul says of Perry’s decision to convene a stadium-sized worship event. “There’s nothing that says he should not do it. But whether it’s the wisest thing to do? For me, I would consider it unwise.”
Paul is typically demure about his own belief in Christianity—willing to speak about it when prompted, but never ostentatious. “It might be the way I was raised. We weren’t ever taught to carry religion on our sleeves.” He references New Testament admonitions against going “out on the sidewalk” to “make a grandstand.” “You’re supposed to go quietly into your closet to pray,” Paul says, “and not be demonstrating in any particular way. So I think I have followed that more than others.”
There will be no heir to Ron Paul. He is too unique a figure. In time, I predict, history will look quite favorably on his contributions.