Ron Paul Reaches Out to the Youth of Occupy Wall Street

Why the Texas Republican attracts young voters


Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) may have placed third at the Iowa caucus on Tuesday, behind a tied-up Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney, but he did so while pulling 58 percent of caucus goers under the age of 30, according to MSNBC. 

Paul's popularity with young people is legend, and last night's showing reveals that it extends to conservative Iowa. (Students at West Des Moines Valley High School, where an appearance by Paul yesterday morning nearly brought down the house, elected the Texas congressman president in a mock election last month.)

Less well-known is Paul's sympathy for young people whose political concerns only slightly overlap with his own: namely, the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement.  

At a campaign event in Iowa last week, Paul spoke of forging common ground between Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party. "There's a lot of people unhappy, and they're not so happy with the two party system," he said. "So in many ways, I identify with both groups."

Compare these statements to Newt Gingrich's advice to Occupy Wall Street demonstrators that they, "go get a job, right after you take a bath;" to Michele Bachmann's spin that OWS is "the Obama re-election team"; or Mitt Romney's declaration that OWS is "dangerous."

"In many ways, it's a very healthy movement," Paul observed on December 5. "I'm not one to say, 'Why don't you get a bath and go get a job and quit crybabying.' I don't like that at all."

Paul's success with OWS is understandable, considering that a youth-driven movement has bolstered his own candidacy since his first GOP presidential run in 2008. Devotees of the rEVOLution have been visible at Occupation sites throughout the country. "The Strange Odyssey of the Ron Paul Tent" was well-documented by local press at Occupy Philadelphia, while "End the Fed" advocates were a prominent fixture of the original OWS encampment in Zuccotti Park in Manhattan. College-aged libertarians even organized frequent "splinter marches" to the nearby New York Fed building. One of them, Chris Savvinidis, became a mini Internet celebrity by virtue of his spirited soliloquies.

And when the NYPD arrested 730 people on the Brooklyn Bridge in October, a few "Ron Paul 2012" placards were sprinkled among the crowd. I first asked Paul about OWS before the Brooklyn arrests at a New Hampshire townhall. "If they were demonstrating peacefully," Paul told me, "and making a point, and arguing our case, and drawing attention to the Fed—I would say, good!" He put a conspicuous, enthusiastic inflection on the word "good"—as if to add, "and it's about darn time!"

This comment proved typical of Paul, who subsequently heralded the movement in televised debates. At times, he has even adopted OWS's nomenclature. "If you listen very carefully, I'm very much involved with the 99," Paul said at a November campaign event, after being "mic-checked" by members of Occupy New Hampshire. "I've been condemning that 1 percent, because they've been ripping us off. So, we need to sort that out. But the people on Wall Street got the bailouts and you guys got stuck with the bills, and I think that's where the problem is." Paul's statement echoed the OWS mantra, "Banks got bailed out, we got sold out."

Predictably, Paul's overtures to OWS have rankled big-government conservatives. "Praising the left-wing Occupy Wall Street movement is an unusual move for a Republican presidential candidate," clucked John McCormack of The Weekly Standard, "but Ron Paul is, of course, an unusual Republican presidential candidate."

Lately, Paul's electoral fortunes have been bolstered by increased backing from independents and disaffected Democrats. By emphasizing foreign policy, civil liberties, drug policy, and corporatism—in a November debate, he suggested that bailed-out firms "deserve taxation"—Paul has evinced awareness that his candidacy would require substantial support from non-Republican sources. Monday night, Public Policy Polling noted the distinct possibility that he could place third among Republicans and still prevail in Iowa; Lynda Waddington reported in Salon that members of "Occupy the Iowa Caucus" are largely deciding between "uncommitted" and Ron Paul. "If the Occupy Wall Street movement sends a message this week, it may be via the libertarian Congressman from Texas," she concluded. 

Michael Tracey is a writer based in New Jersey. His work has appeared in The Nation, The Guardian, and The Washington Post.