My first experience with voting in a presidential race was enough to turn me off the whole process pretty much for good. It was 1968, and I was in kindergarten in suburban New Jersey, about an hour’s train ride from New York. For some reason, my teacher insisted that her tiny charges cast a ballot for one member of the trilogy of terror then vying to become leader of the Free World: Hubert Humphrey, Richard Nixon, and George Wallace. Faced with such choices, each uniquely wretched in his own way, I like to think I uttered my first adult curse word that day.
Since we couldn’t write, she assigned each candidate a different color and instructed us to draw a circle in crayon in the corresponding hue on squares of paper. We folded the squares and then put them in a shoebox with a slot cut through the top. The result—a landslide for Wallace—visibly upset my teacher, who happened to be African American. But it wasn’t because we were pint-sized segregationists, it was simply that we all loved the color green.
I’ve never had much faith in electoral politics since then. The only time I’ve cast a vote for a major party’s presidential candidate was in 1984, the first time I was legally eligible to do so. (I pulled the lever for the sad sack Walter Mondale, for reasons as obscure to me now as his “Norwegian charisma” was then to the American voting public.)
This month’s cover story is about Ron Paul, the one person running for president who just might restore my faith in politics. In “Scenes from the Ron Paul Revolution” (page 22), Senior Editor Brian Doherty follows the 10-term Texas congressman to Iowa and reports on a candidate who actually talks like this: “I don’t want to run your life.…I don’t want to run the economy.…I don’t want to run the world.” Such talk is energizing donors—in November, Paul set a single-day GOP online fundraising record by hauling in $4.3 million—and is pulling people into politics who never cared before. As of press time, he’s climbing in the polls and is likely to have a significant effect on at least the early primaries.
There’s zero chance that Ron Paul will be the Republican nominee for president. And I must say that a number of his stances—his dogged support of “sound money” and a border wall, to name a couple—perplex me from a specifically libertarian, “Free Minds and Free Markets” perspective. But here’s hoping that many of the positions he’s taking—such as his principled opposition to an interventionist foreign policy, the PATRIOT Act, and the federal government’s drug war—have a major influence on how Campaign 2008 unfolds.
Certainly it is bracing to witness a candidate who takes the U.S. Constitution seriously and who draws support from evangelical Christians, aging punk icons such as Johnny Rotten, antiwar college students, and even exotic dancers (hence the group “Strippers for Ron Paul”). Lord knows I could have used another choice in kindergarten. As we move full steam ahead into that quadrennial disaster known as the race for the White House, Americans could use another choice now.