As Romney-in-one-nation seems all the more sadly likely, GOP presidential contender Ron Paul continues the current phase of his campaign: the hugely attended speaking tour, extending and encouraging a movement dedicated to ideas that will resonate long past Tampa or November 2012.
After big events lately in Madison, Wisconsin, the University of Maryland, and Chico, California, Paul drew what was likely between six or seven thousand to UCLA's tennis court, fully packing the 5,800-seat venue with well over a thousand huddled outside. I watched from a tiny knoll overlooking it from outside with a couple of hundred packed fans, dozens of whom took to the trees for a better view. The publicity for it was largely internet based, social networking and the like, though tabling on and around UCLA's campus hyping it was also part of the promotional push.
The line to get in stretched fully around a soccer stadium, and took a good 12 minutes merely to walk quickly around. Dozens of volunteers walked the line registering people Republican so they could vote for Paul in the California primary in June. Robert Vaughn, a state campaign coordinator for the Paul team, says that over 600 people were registered last night, adding that he and his associate Matt Heath are "thankful and amazed by the work that Youth for Paul and the California volunteers do when it come to any task that is asked of them."
Well-dressed youngsters wearing volunteer badges were everywhere you turned; one student told me he wasn't even able to volunteer, so overpacked with willing volunteers was the event already. The registration efforts Vaughn was involved with wasn't the only one; in the grand decentralized tradition of the Paul movement, independent fans from Antelope Valley had their own uncoordinated registration booth. Almost everyone I talked to after Paul's speech says they try to make themselves walking ads for Paul in their day to day life and work (and many suspect that the apparent disconnect between Paul's visible fans and his vote totals might have to do with deliberate fraud).
The full panoply of the Paul machine, coordinated and uncoordinated, was there: Young Americans for Liberty activists, Youth for Ron Paul volunteers and staffers, activists from Los Angeles's "Liberty Headquarters" and local candidates for office and for GOP party positions, mavericks giving out homemade Paul T-shirts, and Paul enthusiasts from all of Los Angeles's surrounding counties, chanting and chatting.
The assembled throngs heard Paul deliver his usual rambly talk, 52 minutes worth. I've personally witnessed dozens of these now, and while they are never exactly the same they are rarely that different either.
However, there was a fresh strain last night among his usual exhortations about the dangers of our profligate monetary policy and foreign policy, the unified glories of individual liberty, and the criminal idiocy of trying to police people's personal behaviors that don't directly harm others and government invasions of our privacy: he hit some high-toned notes about the larger meaning of liberty as he sees it, fitting in with a larger vision of proper human flourishing.
Paul stressed more than once–he hits a lot of his points more than once in his talks–that liberty gives us the greatest space to become the "creative, productive people we are meant to be." He is getting closer and closer to delivering a full-service libertarian philosophical vision in his speeches, though he leaves the teasing out of the coherent shape of it all mostly as an exercise for the attentive listener. He remains the total libertarian, though, taking the trouble to mention after a couple of those references to the properly creative and productive best-practices of human life that of course if you choose not to be a flourishing creative and productive being, that's cool too as long as you aren't hurting anyone else.
Paul continues to deliver his libertarian vision in language and with examples that seems 90 percent designed and ready to appeal to a progressive leftist as well, condemning crony capitalism and wealth disparities that arise from special connections and favors and stressing the wealth-creating possibilities for the masses of a truly freed market, along with his usual condemnations of war and government management of personal choices.
Things that get a panoply of booing at a Paul rally: Ben Bernanke, the 16th Amendment, UN and NATO, nuclear-powered drones, the Patriot Act, the NDAA, emergency powers for the president, government attempts to manage our food intake, and the idea that "we are all Keynesians now."
Paul mocked a Fox News story from the other day that asked "Where's Ron Paul?" and suggested the media deliberately downplays the size and enthusiasm of his audience: "We are here, and they will hear from us!"
Some video from the UCLA event. My forthcoming book, Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired.