Ron Paul is an internet phenomenon. On any given day, stories about Ron Paul represent roughly half to two-thirds of the most popular links on any of a dozen or more link-aggregation sites. Ron Paul has the most YouTube subscribers. Ron Paul is the top search engine candidate. Ron Paul set a single-day fund-raising record. Given how often Ron Paul's name comes up, one might think that Ron Paul was a shoe-in for President in 2008, or at least for the Republican presidential candidate for 2008. Instead, Ron Paul is dead last, where he belongs.
Ron Paul isn't the first example of online fever failing to translate into real-life success. We can call him the Snakes on a Plane candidate, or go with my label: the one-trick pony candidate. Ah, but what a trick!
The appeal of Ron Paul is as simple as his message. He wants to take the United States back to the "good old days," before we started essentially unprovoked wars against foreign powers that were no imminent threat to us, before we spent money on things like social security, welfare, or public schools. Who among us hasn't felt the tug from that siren call of simplicity? Who hasn't recognized problems in the federal government? Paul is clearly no friend of big government. In fact, Paul has earned the sobriquet "Dr. No" as a result of his consistent "No" votes in Congress. He votes "No" on everything, except when he votes "Yes." Come to think of it, why did he vote for $70 million on Section 8 housing vouchers? Or on federal funding for health providers who don't perform abortions? Or on an expensive fence separating the U.S. from Mexico? Agree or disagree with each of those positions, each involves a vote for increasing federal spending, something I keep hearing he's never done. Oops!
I'm not out to "get" Ron Paul. Let American Thinker raise questions about Ron Paul, racism, and 9/11 conspiracies. I'm concerned less about those possibilities than about the obvious: Ron Paul is simple-minded, supplying sound bites to complex problems. He's not a credible candidate, and shouldn't be. No amount of attempting to redefine "credible" will change that.
Let's step back a moment and realize that we're talking about a man who seems to believe that the U.S. President has the power to set the federal budget all by himself, and dissolve department after department of the government single-handedly. Health and Human Services? Gone! Education? Gone! Energy? Homeland Security? Gone! Feel a little thrill? Excited that someone is finally talking about reducing government, and getting the fed out of our lives? Not worried about where all those ex-federal employees are going to work? Not worried about a little number-fuzziness when it comes to a few hundred billion dollars here or there? Ron Paul just might be your man! Apparently all it will take are a few strokes of his pen, and then he'll apparently spend the remaining three years and 51 weeks of his first term in office vetoing attempts by those silly congress-people to spend money that isn't there to spend, since Paul will have eliminated the federal income tax. Not bad for a man currently in last place in the race to see who will concede the 2008 election to the Democrats!
Newt Gingrich garnered a few laughs when his science fiction alternate history novel surfaced. Ron Paul has created what could be an even more ambitious alternate history, one in which we avoided Taliban "blowback" by not arming or training the Taliban against the Soviet army, but at the same time somehow still manage to win the Cold War so we're not all speaking Russian. Given that he also advocates not sending U.S. troops anywhere around the world, he's exercising a truly impressive creative imagination, if an irrelevant one, and I think there could be a real future for him as a best-selling science fiction writer if he gets tired of delivering babies. The beauty of writing alternate histories is that you only really have to deal with one side of the equation. Real life just isn't that simple. Unfortunately, some folks seem to actually be taking his fictional scenario seriously.
At heart, I'm still at least a little of that Reagan conservative who watched sadly as Reagan washed up on the rocky shore of the beltway and rolled back out to sea leaving a larger federal government and higher taxes than when he crashed in. I like the idea of a true conservative working to remind the party of its conservative roots, especially in an election year that might just see a liberal so-called Republican take the party nomination. Unfortunately, Ron Paul's supporters seem to have forgotten the role Paul is meant to play, and have engaged in a little fantasy writing of their own. They've rewritten the script and elevated Paul from a walk-on role in the first act to the daring romantic lead who slays the two-headed dragon of federal encroachment and illegal immigration, rescues the princess (who really just wants to home educate her children, but is forced into the workplace by high taxes), and rules the kingdom in peace forever.
Paul supporters tend to be like that guy you avoid at parties because he only ever talks about one issue, and simply won't shut up. He follows you around, showing up at all your favorite haunts, until all you want to do is stay home, just to avoid the constant talk about that one issue. Then he starts calling you. On your mobile phone. It's fine to believe whatever it is, you tell yourself, but such fanatical devotion is discomfiting to see. You start to wonder, is he "all there?" Is something wrong with him, that he fixates so easily?
There's always a Goldwater, a LaRouche, a Perot, a Nader or Buchanan, a Paul. Let's not kid ourselves: they don't win. They shouldn't win. They're all one side of the equation, but not the other. Their only appeal is as the opposition candidate. Elected, they'd be Reagan at best, sticking to his ideals enough to irritate ideological opponents, while compromising them enough to disillusion supporters. At worst, they'd be Ron Paul.