Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Portrait of a Ron Paul Supporter

Ron Paul, the energetic septuagenarian who first ran for president in 1988, smirked at one of his favorite lines to describe how he views the media bias toward him — "they think we're dangerous," adding "that's one thing they are telling the truth ... because we're a danger to the status quo!" Mr. Paul may be a victim of the paranoid delusions that fuel his candidacy and his fanatical supporters if he broad-brushes the media in this way; most of their antagonistic coverage is justified by Paul's self-inflicted wounds and his controversial history of racist and anti-Semitic newsletter writings as well as his continuing embrace of conspiracies involving the UN, one-world government, FEMA, the Council on Foreign Relations, and "the coming race war." (This is only a partial list of conspiracy theorists' preferred boogiemen.)

But, as the saying goes, "just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you." One of the unexpected benefits of Paul's candidacy vis-a-vis the media is that it outed longtime Republican embed posing as a CNN reporter, Dana Bash. Watch this blatant example of manifest media bias toward Ron Paul:

If anything, the media has given Ron Paul less complete coverage and scrutiny than it has the other candidates. Most of the media has written Paul off as a fringe candidate with a ceiling around 20%-25% of the Republican primary electorate, who by his own account isn't serious about winning the nomination. When asked whether he could see himself as president, Paul shrugged and replied, "not really." Perhaps that explains the delusional shouts of his supporters — "President Paul! President Paul!"— at the second-place speech last night following his customary 23% of the vote, good enough for second in New Hampshire.

It's unclear how "dangerous" Ron Paul and his supporters are, and to whom, beyond those right wing opponents to his left who harbor waning hopes of becoming the "conservative alternative" to Mitt Romney. Democrats hope Ron Paul will prolong the Republican primary process, though so far he has been a stalking horse for Mitt Romney. They have a tenuous non-aggression pact, which helps Mittens. How long it lasts will depend on which as yet nebulous strategy Paul elects to pursue. According to this WaPo profile of a Ron Paul supporter in New Hampshire:
"It is a dark if oddly energizing vision that has especially resonated with a young, male demographic. According to exit polling, 40 percent of Paul’s Iowa backers were men younger than 45, and 46 percent earned $50,000 a year or less. Roughly nine in 10 Paul supporters are white, similar to the racial makeup of Republicans overall, according to Washington Post-ABC News polls. Anecdotally, Paul’s backers tend mostly to be disillusioned Republicans, although his crowds these days routinely have a smattering of disillusioned Democrats, too, a group that now includes Christopher Way."
A young demographic of roughly nine in 10 white males hardly constitutes a movement or growth beyond its narrow appeal, despite Ron Paul's exaggerated claims stated as hope: "It's no longer that irate tireless minority that is stirring up the troops. Now that irate minority is growing by leaps and bounds, it's going to continue growing by leaps and bounds." Their electoral strength is steady-state and predictable, having yet to crack 25% of the Republican primary vote. Only a financial calamity of Great Depression proportions could grow Paul's base of support. So, in this sense, Ron Paul is a broken clock harbinger of doom and gloom whose success depends on total economic collapse.

It's fascinating to consider how much Ron Paul's supporters have in common with the 'Tea Party'. While Tea Partiers are older and more affluent, both groups are drawn to the conspiracies peddled by fringe carnival barkers like Alex Jones who has hosted Ron Paul on his radio show on numerous occasions, and to the same 'literature'. I recall a New York Times article from two years ago profiling Tea Partiers whose stories and twisted path to 'enlightenment' began from being largely uninvolved in politics to, like the profiled Paul supporter —“Once you see the truth, it can’t be unseen anymore”— becoming "steeped in the details of monetary policy, economic bubbles and national security issues, all of which for him add up to an increasingly bleak picture of America." Glenn Beck is their pied piper. Alex Jones is a common link.

A similar disaffection among young people struggling to find jobs and pay off their crushing college loans gave rise to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Do they have intersecting concerns? Some. But only superficially. OWS, it is fair to say, sprang from the Left as a reaction to the economic war waged on 99 percent of the American population by the Wall Street tycoons who brought our economy to its knees and were bailed out by the taxpayers. OWS is not wedded to any party or candidate, and more importantly, is grounded in diversity and reality, not paranoia, fundamentally rejecting bigotry and racism.

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