They are young—so young. Impossibly young for attendees of a political rally that does not happen on a street. The slowest moving of the thousand or so streaming into the Minneapolis Convention end up standing for Ron Paul's address on the eve of the Minnesota caucuses. But they're young enough to handle it.
A Ron Paul rally is an experience every cynical, bedraggled, politics-reporting cur should take in at least once in a career. Plus, in the GOP 2012 field, Ron Paul supporters easily hold the title of most bangable.
The event was set to begin at 7:00 p.m. The first "End the Fed!" chant started at 7:03 p.m.
When Gingrich, Santorum and Romney voters are all dead of old age, and when the current Tea Party's core has moved to a senility where the only bailout that concerns them is the one in their pants, Ron Paul supporters will still be, like, 43. The Tea Party desperately needs to recruit younger, fresher members. This realization was certainly why the first pre-Paul speaker is Walter Hudson, chair of Minnesota's North Star Tea Party Patriots.
The current mainstream of self-identifying Tea Partiers loathes Ron Paul because he's the guy who shows up with Jack Daniels to a party of 12-year-olds who are pretending to be drunk on O'Doul's. Paul's very presence makes a mockery of every Sarah Palin Tea Party "liberty" t-shirt, every Eric Cantor "freedom" bumper sticker and every bedazzled bald eagle. Paul's events expose the mainstream Tea Party for the fundamentally Christian conservative organization it really is—the kind of "party of the Constitution" that nonetheless wants to legislate bedrooms and can pretzel its reasoning into supporting the likes of Gingrich and Santorum, who are exactly those career political tumors of the D.C. system that the movement claims to despise.
Not that the religious right was absent at Paul's event. One man discreetly passed out business cards advertising "Live Christian Talk Radio" from the Liberty Broadcasting Network: "Can you handle the truth?"
But Paul didn't evoke the Lord at any time during the address. He didn't once mention "faith." Paul's rally speeches are unique not in what they mention, but in what they skip.
A Ron Paul for President rally is unlike rallies for other GOP presidential hopefuls in that, surprisingly, it is about the candidate himself. Bachmann. Gingrich. Those attending their rallies are often anti-Obama, not pro-candidate. Mitt Romney's very existence is a testament to this. There is almost no such thing as a truly pro-Romney conservative. Romney's the Rumsfeld candidate: you go to the election with the candidate you have, not the candidate you might want or wish to have at a later time.
Paul's full address only mentioned Obama's name once. Once! And that was a passing slam of "Obamacare" as a big government program. One breath later and Paul was back to landing blows on "both parties" and how "we need to clean house."
"It all comes down to the next 24 hours!" said Ron Paul's Minnesota chair, just before Paul came on. The campaign knows Minnesota's February 7th caucus could be its biggest day ever. Paul is out-fundraising the other candidates in Minnesota, and the Texas congressman must be giddy that polling during Nevada's Saturday primary demonstrated that those looking for the "conservative alternative" to Romney had passed over Santorum and Gingrich for Paul. What's more, Minnesota's wear-your-neighbors-down caucus system is the perfect composter for the vocal vim and vigor of Paul's supporters.
This is certainly why Paul's state chair passed up idealist talk of liberty or the Constitution in favor for a simple point a first-grader could understand. She even rammed it home by talking about "my favorite Youtube," which, it turns out, is Pacino's "inch by inch" speech from Any Given Sunday. (A damn good speech.) The crowd was charged.
Her only message was to make all present promise to, immediately after leaving, call one other person and convince that person to caucus tomorrow. Just one. Call one person, make him or her go with you. Got that, stupid? One person. One person to the caucus. All cheered. I bet every one of the thousand or so were determined to make that call.
I would have expected to see more doctor puns at a Ron Paul event.
There are 19 medical doctors in Congress (three senators); that's an increase from 15 in 2009. (Trivia: Five doctors were among the 56 people who signed the Declaration of Independence.)
Five of the 19 are Obstetrician-Gynecologists, and two of them are from Texas. They are Tom Coburn (R-OK), Phil Gingrey (R-GA) Michael Burgess (R-TX), Phil Roe (R-TN), and, of course, Dr. Paul (R-Atlas Shrugged). For some reason, Republican obstetricians abound. (My daughter was delivered by Grand Forks, North Dakota mayor and Ob-Gyn, Mike Brown—a Republican.) In fact, all but one of the 19 doctors in Congress are Republicans. The lone Democrat is Jim McDermott (D-WA)—and of all of the Congressional medical professionals, McDermott is the only psychiatrist.
One Ob-Gyn offered me a theory on this breakdown, in two parts. First, doctors are really just small businesspeople in a heavily regulated industry. As such, they are especially vulnerable to government meddling and the kind of mandates born of drop-ceilinged conference rooms, campaign donations and ideology, not blood-on-the-Danskos experience. This small-business ideology also ties into a hate for taxes. While most doctors make a good living and some make a wildly good living, often doctors make that income sweet-spot that's high enough to attract the worst rates, but not so high as to allow for fuck-you money. Guess who often makes just over that $250,000-a-year mark Democrats like to use in talk of raising taxes on the wealthy? Your doctor.
Second, the Ob-Gyn suspects that the specialty—unlike, say, orthopedic surgery—is most exposed to the vile parts of the nation's entrenched social welfare system, where many Randians see the proverbial bootstraps sold for cash to buy drugs. It's hard, the doctor argues, to not get just a little bit Ayn-Randy when facing a spirit-crushing daily grind of the tragedy that happens when pregnancy meets deep poverty. The doctor added that these are the Ob-Gyns that see abortion used repeatedly as a birth control measure—and then become activists about it.
Paul is very anti-abortion. But as an Ob-Gyn he's also characteristically "in limbo" about it. Grilled about performing abortions even in the case of rape, Paul's answer to Piers Morgan was one many Ob-Gyns who work without the luxury of it being a theoretical argument would agree with: "It is absolutely in limbo. Because an hour after intercourse or a day afterwards… there is no legal or medical problem. If you talk about somebody coming in and they say, I was raped and I'm seven months pregnant and I don't want to have anything to do with it…. It's a little bit different story."
But Paul's pro-life bona fides were not on display at the rally. Unlike the t-shirts and bumpers at many other conservative candidate events, there were no "If You're Pregnant, It's a Baby," "Abortion: Be Glad Your Parents Chose Differently," "Choose life. Your Mother Did," or "Kill the Rapist, Not the Baby."
Then there is tort reform. Outside abortion, nothing makes a physician want to go into politics more than having been needlessly sued two, three or ten times.
Here are the things, in order from least to most, that got the loudest boos during a Ron Paul rally:
4) Rick Perry
3) The National Defense Authorization Act
2) The "War on Drugs"
1) The Patriot Act
In a way, the worst enemy of a Ron Paul rally is Ron Paul. Paul had been speaking for somewhere around a half hour and the crowd was whipped into a Liberty lather, all ready to rush out into the unbelievably warm Minneapolis winter night and do exactly what Paul needs more than anything: GOTV (Get Out The Vote).
Instead, Grampa Ron continued talking for another 25 minutes or so. It's like a TED talk about the Constitution, after which a person just kind of wants to go watch some goddamn "Jersey Shore," because, Jesus, can you stop lecturing for, like, ten minutes? That Paul isn't the GOP field's multiple-divorcée is maybe the most surprising story of the 2012 primary. Maybe Mrs. Paul is deaf. [Editor's Note: Carol Wells Paul, Ron Paul's wife since 1957, is not deaf.]
So all of the momentum the event had going for the first half hour was then sponged up by Paul droning on about 9/11, the conspiracy of the Iraq War, SOPA and every other recent affront to Constitutional freedom and personal liberty.
Maybe Ron Paul just isn't used to being in a position to actually win a state. Maybe the Congressman's message has sat under the heat-lamp for so long even he doesn't really believe it's going anywhere in his lifetime.
Still, at the end, the crowd went bonkers again. Paul waved a bit but scurried offstage immediately. For an indie rock act determined to maintain an aura of anti-fame cool, this might be a good approach. But this is politics, where painfully begging adoration and support is pretty much the name of the game.
On his way off stage, Paul was glitter-bombed by a man desperate to prove that even the politically progressive can be miserably uninformed assholes.
Leaving the convention center was a little like leaving a mall movie theatre after the stores were all closed.
Young men and women signed clipboards, took photos together and grabbed complimentary copies of the Ron Paul Family Cookbook. It's a merry group that, despite Paul's final desperate attempts to rob them of their crazed energy, just might caucus the Congressman into the national conversation today. From down the hall, one of a foursome yelled, "Come on, let's go spread some liberty."