Monday, July 6, 2009

The Other Candidate in the Pennsylvania Primary

The other candidate in the Pennsylvania Primary

Congressman Ron Paul returns to the city of his birth to continue his campaign for President. Aware that he will not win his party's nomination, it's more about the message and keeping the citizens involved.

While John McCain is the presumptive nominee for the Republican Party, there is still one candidate that has not officially dropped out of the race. Dr. Ron Paul, a Pittsburgh native - and like Jeff Goldblum and Bret Michaels before him, I always support the local kid - is currently a member of Congress and still campaigning for his party's nomination. With the Pennsylvania Primary looming, Ron Paul was the only candidate with the decency to schedule his appearance after typical business hours. A small detail that one would think candidates so aware of the working-class nature of this state would be more aware. A small University of Pittsburgh lecture hall became Ron Paul Revolution central as a major motion picture filmed a few blocks over.

There were about 700 people in attendance that night and the chatter in the auditorium before Dr. Paul's speech. In a terribly unscientific polling of the attendees, I asked the couple to my left and the mother and daughter to my right why they were supporting Ron Paul. The couple to my left was divided in thought; the young lady was undecided and open-minded while her male counterpart was adamantly for Ron Paul. He told me that he was "the most honest politician since George Washington," and that he agreed with almost everything he has said on the campaign trail. I followed up by asking their opinion of his thoughts on taxes and the economy. They were unaware of his positions exactly and stressed that this is why they were here. To learn a bit more about this candidate that had been completely marginalized by the media.

In the Republican debates, Ron Paul was asked significantly less questions than the other candidates and stood passively by as McCain and Romney argued over semantics. When he did get the floor, it was usually to answer an inane question. Still he conscientiously made his case to the American people and was very straight-forward and honest in his discourse. His words were often taken out of context after these debates. As the only candidate that opposed the war, often his analysis of United States Foreign Policy and its relation to our economic problems caught my attention. Yet, the important points he made were lost thanks to chest-thumping and flag-waving candidates stifling a point-of-view in the name of casualties of the attack on our supposed freedoms that our enemies despise. The media treated him no differently; he made appearances on many newsmagazines and effectively stated his case. However, the talking head before and after spent significant time marginalizing his comments as either the ravings of an isolationist kook or as with the conspiracy theorists.

To my right in the auditorium were a mother and a daughter. The daughter will turn 18 just before the general election and is instead planning to vote for Obama. She had done a lot of research on Ron Paul on the internet video sites, more so than the older, arguably more educated man to my left. She liked that he was for the decriminalization of drugs and no income taxes, although I am unsure if she was aware of the pros or cons of the replacement, Fair Tax. Her mother, like the woman to my left, had come to the speech for two reasons. The first is that she wondered what Ron Paul had to say because she was perfectly aware that he was unable to win the nomination, but believed his message deserved to at least be considered. The staunch supporters of Ron Paul tried to create a rally atmosphere with chanting of slogans and the candidate's name. We played along initially but it was unsustainable. It was as if that type of enthusiasm caused more pain than cheerfulness. The faithful would do their duty on April 22, but they seemed reticent to allow themselves to believe that victory in its traditional sense was all but impossible.

Diminutive in stature, Dr. Paul took the stage to uproarious applause and a standing ovation that lasted for well over three minutes. After this he began his speech. He had no prepared remarks, no prompter; it was just us, him, and his thoughts. He spoke of personal and economic liberty, that we are not beholden to the government but that they should be beholden to us. He spoke of abolishing the income tax, lessening the size of the government, and a plea for the voters to be politically aware. He said that the government has no business telling us what to eat or drink, prohibiting substances without a constitutional amendment, and interfering in sexual habits. A relatively unique perspective for a 21st century Republican - but more aligned with the original principals of the party than those calling themselves conservatives today. The crowd seemed to have mixed reactions to this message. The older, traditional Republicans felt that his talk of decriminalizing drugs and his tolerance of homosexuality a little disconcerting. He also delved into a deep discussion of monetary policy and while his general message was not lost on the crowd, looking around the room during some of the more detailed sections of his talk I saw confusion on more faces than not. This is the first time I have ever heard a candidate discuss his policy proposals in such details to his constituency.

He spoke of our fear of countries having weapons of mass destruction. We now will go to war with a nation to prevent them from obtaining these weapons. He pointed out that during the Cold War, we stood down the only other nation to posses nuclear arms such as we do. He then asked how could a nation that possessed maybe one or two of these weapons be such a threat when we survived the Cold War and the arms race that went along with it, by diplomacy and a little CIA subterfuge. The youth in attendance were very responsive to his calls for personal and economic freedom. The idea that a room full of mostly college students would cheer at the call for the disassembling of the Department of Education leads one to believe that perhaps this system is flawed and pumping more money into it may not be the answer.

Dr. Paul has been ignored by the media and marginalized by his own party. He still managed to obtain a significant portion of votes in his areas for the limited media exposure that he received. He attributed the strength of the movement to the people at the grassroots level and the internet as the great equalizer. He acknowledged that his campaign was greatly mismanaged and for that he apologized to us his supporters. He did not say that he wanted to leave the race, but he did say that the entire campaign was driven forward by his supporters and as long as people kept donating and asking him to speak he would oblige. He also talked about writing a "manifesto" for the "Ron Paul Revolution" and said that is available on Amazon(already so many have ordered it that Amazon has ordered a second printing and the book is not yet complete). Perhaps outside of the context of a Presidential campaign, Dr. Paul's message can find a wider, less skeptical audience. His understanding of monetary policy, the problems we have in the Middle East and across the globe, and his notion of freedom are consistent with the ideals we had as a nation in its infancy. He has been accused of being an isolationist, but is more accurately described as a non-interventionist. In a perfect world, we would be talking to everyone and warring with no one. Rather than forcing our ideals on other nations, Dr. Paul believes that if we tend to our own needs, we will become once again an example to the world and others will want for a government based on American Democracy rather than be coerced into adopting it. Now that the dollar is losing value , our military is increasingly strained, and our government is larger and more limiting of our freedoms than ever, perhaps his message deserves a second look.

Ultimately, this speech was a concession speech. Without saying it directly, he encouraged us to vote for him "to send a message." Unlike Mike Huckabee he is not in this to "win this," but to get the national discussion to the point where we are talking about the real issues. There was no pandering, only truth - and that is a bitter pill for many voters to swallow. Yet, his message was a hopeful one. That the movement started by his campaign should continue, calling on government to act and holding those we do elect accountable for the will of the constituency. When I asked him after the gathering what he had planned for the convention and beyond (before I asked him to pose for the fanboy picture you see above), he essentially said to keep fighting, to keep engaging the young voters, and to make America stronger. This is a man who ran for President not because he wanted to hold the highest office in the land, but because there was no one else he saw that was trying to do that. His unvarnished truth did not shine attractively under the lights of the mainstream media, but to the people who have met and heard the man's message, it was undeniably truth. Long Live the Ron Paul Revolution.

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