We are in the midst of another surge in Ron Paul excitement and notoriety. If you had offered me a large bet that Ron Paul would one day be in serious danger of winning the Iowa caucuses back in 1988 (or 1989?) when he spoke to our libertarian group at the University of Chicago, I would have happily taken the negative side of that bet and counted myself lucky to have run into a fool willing to take the other side.
What is going on? Two things I think. The first is bad times. Bad times push people to consider options outside the norm. You can see that on the left with the amount of interest in, and support for, the occupy movement, and on the right with the tea party and now with Ron Paul. Second, both the red team and the blue have no other really different candidates on offer. Mitt Romney is what you find if you look up "generic Republican" in the dictionary. Obama lacks the skills to pretend to be a populist. He just isn't one. And, moreover, many of the things that the blue team complained about during Obama's campaign have now been rendered bi-partisan via the actions of his administration: needless wars, gross violations of civil liberties, bailouts of well-connected corporations, huge expansions of the transfer system in a time of large budget deficits, and all the rest. That makes it harder (impossible) for Obama to appear anti-establishment or, indeed, to seem very different from Bush II.
So I think in an important sense it is not so much about Ron Paul as about the large vacuum in issue space left open by the two parties. Ron Paul fills that vaccuum and does so in a compelling way and in a way that appeals to populists of both left and right, as well as to anti-war leftists and the noble remnant of Americans who actually care about civil liberties. The fact that Paul is quite visibly not an intellectual helps too. He is not, at least based on our short interaction back in the 1980s and on his public output of speeches and books, the brightest bulb in the box. But he is sincere - his voting record matches his speeches, which is something only five or 10 congress-critters can credibly claim. And he is taking positions no one else is taking but that are pretty popular with large minorities of the voting public.
This is going to be an interesting election year, though I suspect we end up with Obama and Romney.
Oh, and just for the record, Paul and I disagree on lots of things, most notably abortion and the Fed.
In the meantime, some interesting bits about Ron Paul that I enjoyed:
1. Praise from the Nation (!) via portside.org. I think the Nation writer is right on target in explaining the fears of the Republican establishment.
2. Praise from Nick Gillespie at Reason.
3. An interesting piece from Yahoo! News on Paul's interactions with (suspicious) conservative Christians. Why do people care so much about what others do in their bedrooms?
4. A Ron Paul television ad. Try to imagine such an ad in Europe or Canada.
5. Left anarchist Gary Chartier at Bleeding Heart Libertarians on Ron Paul.
Who was my favorite student this term?
10 months ago