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Carle, who has a firm grasp of the candidate’s positions, explains his love for Paul in measured terms. He gets emotional only once, choking up for a beat as he repeats his favorite of the fan-made signs you see at Paul rallies: “Dr. Paul Cured My Apathy.”
The talk at Ames draws an overflow crowd of more than 500 college kids. There are a few longhairs, a few punks, but it’s overwhelmingly a conventional gang of well-groomed Midwestern youth who happen to be wearing hundreds of “Ron Paul Revolution” T-shirts. The event got no free local or campus press. The crowd was gathered almost entirely through Meetup and Facebook, another online social networking site.
“I hear you’ve got a revolution going on,” Paul begins, “and it’s being led by the young people.” Then he recites his first big applause line: He’s not much for passing laws, but he might consider one requiring the next election to be held on the Internet.
Those are the only explicit nods to the crowd’s youth and online activity. From there on, it’s all classic Ron Paul: Get rid of the income tax and replace it with nothing; find the money to support those dependent on Social Security and Medicare by shutting down the worldwide empire, while giving the young a path out of the programs; don’t pass a draft; have a foreign policy of friendship and trade, not wars and subsidies. He attacks the drug war, condemning the idea of arresting people who have never harmed anyone else’s person or property. He stresses the disproportionate and unfair treatment minorities get from drug law enforcement. One of his biggest applause lines, to my astonishment, involves getting rid of the Federal Reserve. Kids have gathered, not just from Iowa but from Wisconsin and Nebraska, in classic hop-in-the-van college road trips, to hear a 72-year-old gynecologist talk about monetary policy.
He wraps up the speech with three things he doesn’t want to do that sum up the Ron Paul message. First: “I don’t want to run your life. We all have different values. I wouldn’t know how to do it, I don’t have the authority under the Constitution, and I don’t have the moral right.” Second: “I don’t want to run the economy. People run the economy in a free society.” And third: “I don’t want to run the world.…We don’t need to be imposing ourselves around the world.”
Paul does not mention abortion or immigration—areas where his views are more conventionally conservative and not of great appeal to this age group. He’s against abortion and thinks the fetus is a human life deserving of state protection, but he also thinks that like all such crimes against persons, abortion is a matter for states to decide without federal interference. He thinks that border defense is a legitimate function of government, and that government has been doing a bad job of it. He wants tougher border enforcement, including a border wall; he wants to eliminate birthright citizenship; and he wants to end the public subsidies that might attract illegal immigrants. Paul’s style of libertarianism includes a populist streak of distrust for foreign forces overwhelming our sovereignty, whether through the United Nations, international trade pacts, immigration, or a feared “North American Union” between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.
On the ride back to Des Moines, I meet, among other Paul fans, Bryan Butcher, a 50-year-old high school teacher and part-time drummer for a belly dancing troupe. He’s a pony-tailed former Marine who had thought of himself as a “social liberal” and an Obama fan. “I feel we do need to take care of people,” Butcher says. But Ron Paul has helped him see that “the socialist idea of government taking care of people hasn’t helped, that people need to take care of people, and that’s the smart way to go.”
The Paulistas delight in their independence and fervor. At a press conference after the Ames talk, a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter asks the candidate about all the Paul signs he sees around Pittsburgh. “You guys must have a big operation there,” he says.
“If we do,” Paul says with a small smile, “we don’t know about it.”
‘You Are Friends for Life’
Iowa and New Hampshire, which hold a caucus and a primary respectively in January, are the early-voting states where the campaign is concentrating most of its unexpected largess and where the unaffiliated revolutionaries are concentrating their energy. But more New Hampshire than Iowa. Iowans are perhaps too staid for the revolution.
I’m on Des Moines’ downtown drinking strip after Paul has spoken at a state GOP dinner, sitting with two Paul staffers and two Paul fans. A tipsy young Romney supporter approaches us. She actually likes Ron Paul, she grants. She could even call him her second choice. But Ron Paul fans? They’re outside agitators, she insists, almost scary in their intensity. Iowans don’t appreciate their shouting, chanting style of campaigning, or their insistence on sticking their huge, silly “Ron Paul Revolution” signs in places they do not belong, often violating both propriety and the law.
I ask Jan Mickelson of WHO-AM, a leading Des Moines talk radio host who describes himself as a Christian libertarian and a Paul admirer, where the classic Iowa Republican “values voter” stands on Paul. He first notes, with a mixture of admiration and disquiet, that Paul partisans are “crawl-over-broken-glass zealots. Fiercely devoted. Passionate. Wherever he appears they appear, wherever he’s on TV they watch, whatever poll they can participate in, they respond. If you get on their right side, you are friends for life. If you nuance even a little bit your support for him, they come at you.”
Iowa Republicans, Mickelson says, have “two impulses” toward Paul. “They find the limited government message very attractive,” he says. “They find his war policies confusing and irritating. They don’t understand how you can be a constitutionalist for limited government and be against the war and not be aiding and abetting both Al Qaeda and Moveon.org.”
So New Hampshire is where the Paulistas are hoping for a surprise victory. It’s happened before for radical outsiders with populist appeal: Pat Buchanan scored the state in 1996. (And see what it got him.)
Vijay Boyapati, an Australian immigrant, was a software engineer for Google who was running a 100-member Google-internal pro-Paul listserv. (Paul filled two rooms to overflowing at a July talk on Google’s campus in Mountain View, California.) Boyapati quit his job in November to devote all his energy to his project Operation: Live Free or Die. His goal: Recruit a thousand Paul supporters to relocate to New Hampshire for a weekend or even for weeks—he plans to rent a house and give up a whole month himself—doing retail canvassing and campaigning to push Paul over the top there.