Sunday, 6 November 2011

The Media's Strange Relationship With Ron Paul

Ah, Ron Paul. I can think of very few political figures who inspire such bat-$h!t, unwavering (and some would say myopic) devotion in his followers. It's a curious phenomenon, one I'm not sure I understand completely. Paul doesn't have the gift for oratory or good looks of Barack Obama, or the fiery, off-the-cuff populism of Chris Christie.

Yet there they are, the "Paulites," at Republican events, at town halls, at protests, wearing their Guy Fawkes masks (lately and clumsily co-opted by #OccupyWallStreet), holding up signs clamoring for a "Ron Paul rEVOLution" (see, they put the backwards 'love' in revolution - which sounds kind of ominous to me, frankly).

Even Ron Paul looks kind of confused and distressed by this sentiment

The media also doesn't seem to know quite what to make of Paul (I'm actually watching Congressman Paul on Fox News Sunday right now - it's been a very strange program). Take today's Reuter's story: "Ron Paul declared winner of Illinois Republican straw poll:"

Ron Paul was declared the winner on Saturday of a weeklong Republican presidential straw poll in Democratic President Barack Obama's home state of Illinois.

That's quite the lede, Reuter's. Ron Paul, libertarian-except-when-it-comes-to-abortion, riding high in the Socialist home state of our Usurper in Chief!

Before you move your retirement into gold and run Old Glory up the flagpole in preemptive celebration of a new Red (state) Dawn in America, however, read a little closer (emphasis mine):

Texas Congressman Paul won 52 percent of the combined 3,649 online and in-person votes cast between October 29 and Saturday evening. He won 66.5 percent of the votes cast over the internet and 8 percent of those cast in person. 
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney earned 7 percent of the online votes cast and 35 percent of the in-person votes cast at 22 locations, the party said.

So, to parse: Paul won a landslide of online votes and virtually no polling-place votes, while Romney won the polling-place voting by a fair margin while collecting a microscopic quantity of internet votes.

On a planet populated by organisms with large brains and the ability to transmit information by reading and writing, a media outlet like Reuters might choose an "angle" for this story such as; there is an interesting disparity between online support and polling-place support for candidates in the Republican primary. Why is this?

It's a good question. Ron Paul is widely considered President of the Internet: his online support is so deep and well-organized that his followers invented the moneybomb, a new, weaponized form of online fund-raising that was first deployed back in 2007.

Maddeningly, the media still repeats each Ron Paul "victory" that involves online polling as though it represents a phenomenon that would or could translate into actual, physical-world electoral victory. Perhaps this is at least partially because of the media's other fixation with Paul - a fixation in which Paul plays the role of eyeball-grabbing circus freak.

That would explain the "Ron Paul's Fake Eyebrow" $h!tstorm that briefly rendered the Republican primary debates marginally entertaining (normally Hermain Cain would fulfill this function but something about him gives me a sour stomach). This is a role I've seen libertarians play frequently in national politics, which is unfortunate, since I admire at least some libertarians' philosophical gravity and consistency. However, the role of jester is probably theirs to enjoy as long as they keep turning themselves blue with colloidal silver like Montana libertarian Stan Jones:

I don't know. Most of us enjoyed the Smurfs as kids - maybe an internet-fueled libertarian insurgency DOES stand a snowball's chance. Stranger, more awful things have surely happened.

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