Ron Paul is the greatest anomaly ever witnessed in American politics. The man is 76-years-old, thinks America should have never left the gold standard, and gets his kicks from talking about Austrian economists born in the 19th century. And yet 20-year-olds love him. They really, really love him.
Ron Paul only needed two days to draw a crowd of around 4,000 students and Austinites to the lawn of the LBJ library on the UT campus Thursday evening. His supporters are loyal. They are intense. And most of all, they are outside the norm. In more ways than one, Austin is the quintessential Ron Paul city.
From hippies in need of a cleaning to Oxford clad frat boys in neon polos, the crowd was young and inspired, waving banners with peace signs and hawking artwork with the septuagenarian's likeness. An hour before Dr. Paul — as his supporters refer to him — arrived, chants were spreading across the crowd. “President Paul” was a favorite, but nothing compared to “End the Fed.” Most Americans would be hard pressed to give you a brief summary of the doings of the Federal Reserve, but these fervent Longhorns could give you more than you ever wanted to know.
But the most telling slogan of the night, scrawled in paint on a small white sign, simply read, “RAW MILK.” For all the philosophical peculiarities of the evening, none summed up the mood as aptly as the desire to drink raw milk.
In a Republican presidential race that was eventually brought to a laborious capitulation by the bland platitudes of Mitt Romney — the well coifed, well coached technocrat from Massachusetts — Ron Paul was the voice of one calling from the wilderness. While not as easily ridden off as he was in 2008, he was clearly an outsider from the beginning.
And rightly he should be. If the presidential election is about who will become the president, Ron Paul should not be involved. Even with four years of, essentially, continuous campaigning, Ron Paul is the sort of candidate that will never receive more than 20 percent of the Republican primary vote. As much as his followers may argue this point (and they will), this is a fact.
But what’s more of a fact is that Ron Paul’s campaign — the “revolution,” as he calls it — has nothing to do with Ron Paul becoming president. The man is a peddler of ideas; just as long as he can talk about sound money, limited government, military non-interventionism and individual freedom, Paul will be campaigning until he is 102.
Which brings us back to raw milk. After a cute introduction from his eldest son, Ronnie Paul (no, not the Senator; that’s Rand Paul) — a former longhorn himself — Paul gently took to the stage, looking especially petite in front of such a large sea of people. Striking a tone more playful than powerful, Paul started making his case, anecdote by anecdote.
“The media indicated that we are somewhat different than some of the other politicians. If someone would come from outside our campaign and come visit, these campaign events are a little bit different too. Earlier on I saw something and thought, 'I bet that never shows up in another campaign.' Somebody holding up a sign that says, 'Raw milk!'"
To understand Ron Paul is to understand his conception of liberty. Not a sentence goes by where the ultimate thesis isn't liberty in one of its many forms. “The idea is that we as individuals make our own decisions," said Paul. "We should decide if we smoke, drink, or whatever we do. Even as a physician and knowledgeable enough to know that there are some benefits from raw milk, that isn’t the issue for me as a politician. The issue: Should you not have the right to make your own decision if you want to drink raw milk?”
In Ron Paul’s world, great individual freedom comes with great individual responsibility (a small 19-year-old girl held a sign that simply read “self-ownership”). If you want to drink raw milk, you can make that decision yourself and deal with any potential consequences yourself. Under Paul, the whole country would function on this philosophy. Safety nets such as social security would be retracted, publicly funded medical insurance such as Medicaid wouldn’t exist, and marijuana (amongst other drugs) would be legalized.
But here’s the real kicker: Ron Paul openly campaigns for marijuana legalization, but he freely admits he’s never even seen the stuff. His position on the issue isn’t based on personal preference but rather on his all-encompassing philosophy of liberty. If more liberty just so happens to mean that college students in Austin should be able to smoke more weed, then don’t expect to hear any complaints from the student body at UT.
Paul rambled on casually for another 45 minutes, hitting topics as disparate as internet privacy, ending the wars and bringing American troops home from around the globe (a major platform point that often gets him in trouble with the rest of Republican party), and his chief enemy number one, the Federal Reserve. What better celebration, said Paul, of the 100th anniversary of the national bank than to end it?
His speaking style is folksy and unfocused, noticeably lacking the sort of build and drama that makes great speakers great. Ron Paul is not a great speaker, nor is he a great leader. But through a lifetime of consistency and conviction, he finds himself as the leader of a movement. We may not be seeing the gold standard reinstated any time soon, but it's hard to argue that Paul's message hasn't shaped the national conversation.
“The issue is big government or individual liberty. It is the issue of liberty that can bring us together. Not so much that we would agree on how to use our liberty, but precisely because people are different. People want to use their liberties in different ways. It is not confrontational if we all get together and say, ‘We want to be free people, we want to run our lives as we choose, our lifestyles should be our own decision, our money that we earn should be our own, and the government should be out of it.'”
How can 20-year-olds not like this? It’s the repudiation of everything that is seemingly corrupt in the current system while replacing it with a single, clear cut philosophy, a philosophy that promotes peace and refuses to mandates morals. If Ron Paul polled as well with the over 30-year-old crowd as he does with the under 30-year-old crowd, the chants of "President Paul" wouldn't be so far fetched.
For most of the 4,000 students, it will be their last chance to see the tiny congressman from Texas with big ideas. Paul is not running for reelection in the house this year, and, while healthy, it is doubtful an 80-year-old Paul will be able to handle the campaign trail come 2016. So what will happen to the Ron Paul Revolution?
Ultimately, the Ron Paul phenomenon isn't about Ron Paul at all. His consistence, honesty and humility make him the perfect harbinger, but the movement is clearly about the ideas behind the candidate rather than the candidate himself. It's for this reason that Paul won't be bowing out of the race anytime soon.
Each new rally is another chance for the Ron Paul supporters to have their voices heard as they continue their passionate quest for a smaller government and more individual freedoms. There is a long journey ahead of them.
To quote Dr. Paul: “In a revolution, you have to be high spirited; you have to really strive for what seems to be impossible. As I describe Washington, it seems like an impossible situation. And yet we have to strive for that, we have to strive for the ideal. Not that you think the ideal will be on our doorstep tomorrow, but you have to know what the ideal is.”