Talk to any supporter of Ron Paul, the Republican presidential candidate, and in the first three minutes you’re likely to hear that he is A) principled, an attractive trait in current presidential politics; B) pro-Constitution; or C) the victim of a crass brand of corporate censorship brought to you by mainstream American media, which collectively demands capitulation from every benchwarmer in contests like these, game face notwithstanding.
The Republican congressman from Texas has been cast by most media as a “radical” for no apparent reason other than not being a cheap and pliable plastic tool like the others his party coughed up — hell, like all of them, save Dennis Kucinich, the other overly complex underdog too short for stature or the attendant media attention.
Not that his support base, a respectable subset of which operates in Kentucky, needs it.
Like Kucinich, Nader or Dean before him, the 72-year-old Paul, a former physician and 30-year veteran of the House of Representatives, has turned over a weird mix of people to his cause, most of which has coalesced online. The impressive grassroots movement behind his quixotic candidacy is actually a decentralized morass of disenfranchised Republicans, anti-war Democrats, self-avowed Libertarians, cagey independents and political novices, ranging in age from newly draftable to nearly dead. Their common trait is the steadfast belief that Paul — who has flourished in straw polls, pulled 6 percent more of the vote in the Iowa caucuses than Rudy Giuliani and raised almost $20 million in a fourth quarter surge last year — is a politician worth believing in, a sentiment born of the vile mixture of extreme cynicism and naiveté that often comes alongside coalitions like this.
“There’s never been a candidate I’ve wanted to support (like Paul),” Sheri Quinn told me while holding a large “Ron Paul Revolution” sign at a rally on Monday afternoon, on the corner of Eastern Parkway and Bardstown Road. Quinn was there with her husband, Tim, and their two young daughters.
The group of about 20 held signs and gave out DVDs and literature to cars and people passing by on an unseasonably pleasant January afternoon. The Louisville-based collective organizes through Meetup.com, along with 1,509 other groups in the United States and, oddly, Canada. There are nearly 100,000 people affiliated with Ron Paul Meetup groups in more than 1,100 cities; that dwarfs all other candidates.
The Louisville crew is part of a broader grassroots apparatus across the state, and at 251 members, is Kentucky’s largest pro-Paul group. It began more modestly in May, with about a dozen members, said founder Chris Hall, a 22-year-old Republican who, like many of Paul’s disciples, eschewed politics until recently.
“If you follow this, you’ll hear a lot of people say Ron Paul cured their apathy,” he said in a recent telephone interview.
Raymond Davis is one of those people. The 61-year-old Democrat heard about Paul on AM talk radio, and although he’s always been averse to politics, he figured the maverick Republican was worth his time.
“I think he stands for individual freedom, and we’re losing our Bill of Rights, and we need to get it back,” he said at Monday’s rally.
Amy Poston has been a registered Republican for a decade, but she, too, was never much for politics. The 29-year-old is a research technician at the University of Kentucky and head of the Lexington Meetup group, which has 192 members. Joined by groups from Northern Kentucky and Elizabethtown, among others, that group led a pamphlet effort last weekend outside Rupp Arena, before the U of L-UK basketball game.
“I don’t know that I’d say we’re a loud minority, but I’d say we’re a people trying to be loud because we’re not being heard,” Poston said in a recent phone interview.
While Paul’s sheer popularity may be enough to attract some to the party, his program — which many supporters recite with surprising precision— brings in the haul. He voted against the Iraq War, and has never voted to raise taxes. He urges small government and wants to return to the gold standard, fearing that foreign investment in the dollar will only advance its current decline. And while some of his positions on social issues would turn off many Democrats, his strict interpretation of the Constitution and advocacy for states’ rights seems to absolve him from the responsibility of those beliefs, at least for some. For instance, he’s against abortion but believes it’s a state issue, not a federal one.
“Even if you don’t agree with everything he personally stands for, he’s got a vast cross-section because he is for you having liberty,” Quinn said.
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