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The Intersection

[Politics] The idealistic appeal of Ron Paul

Why is this 72-year-old drawing apathetic youth into politics?

Joshua Longobardy

Ron Paul’s praise thus far has been for his appeal to the youth (and to the vigor and brazenness they embody), and it is an even more noteworthy thing here in Las Vegas, where apathy among the young flourishes. And so when the dark-horse Republican candidate for the 2008 presidency swept through Southern Nevada on Monday, November 19, speaking at a private Las Vegas home in front of 80 guests and holding rallies at UNLV and Pahrump’s Bob Rudd Community Center, the big question was, What makes him so popular with young people?

It, in all certainty, is not his persona. At 72, Paul is an old, humble man with an unimposing presence and without command over his oratory, and even onstage at the podium he seemed more like a bystander to the revolution tagged to his name than a leader of it. Before serving as a congressman from Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives, he was an OBGYN physician, and at UNLV it was as if he once again had on his white jacket, focusing the attention not on himself but on the people to whom he was attending, more than 1,100—loud, boisterous and predominantly young—inside Artemus Ham Concert Hall.

“I’ll tell you how,” Paul later explained to the older crowd in Pahrump: “It’s the Internet.” And that’s true. The work his supporters (not even those associated with his official campaign, but mere subscribers to his message) have done on the web—through YouTube, MySpace and above all, the meet-up groups, now totaling more than 1,000 nationwide, the seventh largest of which, at 530 members, proliferates here in Las Vegas—is unprecedented. As was what happened on November 5, when they, independent of the official campaign, called for donations of $100 apiece and ended up with $4.3 million. “And that,” Paul said, “brought publicity worth three times as much.”

Paul, who’s in his 10th term in the U.S. House and who has once, in 1988, run for president under the Libertarian party, told the crowd at UNLV that the conflagration of popularity spread by the Internet has changed the paradigm in politics, so that now, for the first time in his experience, parents are not introducing him to their kids but just the opposite: Kids are introducing him to their parents.

Youth are quick to spot hypocrisy and slow to forgive it. At UNLV the crowd was never more invigorated than when Paul mentioned his congressional vote against going to war in Iraq, against the Patriot Act, and against storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain (an issue on which he was in the severe minority, the Nevada representatives his only allies in the House). Regarding the latter two, Sarah Kulkin, a senior at UNLV who is starting a Ron Paul student group on campus, told me, “If Hillary Clinton spoke about these things, she’d be unbelievable—based on her voting record.”

But above all it appears to be his language that appeals to the young. For his ideas, concepts and shibboleths are those of idealism and the absolute refusal to be afraid. “They are joining in leaps and bounds,” he told the folks of Pahrump, “and I can’t take credit for it. The message deserves the credit.” It could very well be, because throughout his speech Paul continuously referred back to those old universal verities on which this country was founded that have always resonated indiscriminate of age or era: freedom, peace, individual responsibility. “Don’t legislate virtue,” he said; and, “Nobody should tell you how to spend your money.” At UNLV, it was as if Paul was merely providing articulation to what the young crowd already knew and wanted, intuitively; hence, the explosions he ignited not when boasting about what he would do as president, but when stating the rights, liberties and responsibilities his audience deserved as individuals. Ask any parent: the peace and freedom (the opportunity, that is) to show that they can make it on their own has always been the cause at the heart of youth rebellion. Paul’s message seems to feed into it.

During his visit to Southern Nevada Paul attracted the youth in Las Vegas and tried to explain the miracle to Pahrump. And his Southwest regional campaign coordinator, Jeff Greenspan, attempted to put it all in perspective:

“The Republicans are stunned, the Democrats are stunned, and the media just doesn’t know what to do with us.”

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