The Magazine

Among the Paultards

Even they are ashamed of their candidate's supporters.

Sep 15, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 01 • By MATT LABASH
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Minneapolis

While the press often considers the Ron Paul movement to be chock-full of cranks, wackos, and conspiracy theorists, I take a more nuanced view. For me, the Ron Paul Revolution is like a cozy winter fire. From a distance, the crackling flames of individual liberty and freethinking libertarianism take the chill off sterile two-party politics. But get too near the searing embers, and they will cause blistering, profuse sweating, and all-around general discomfort.

I've driven up to the Earle Brown Heritage Center, where leadership training is taking place for the Ron Paultards, as they are often called. The Texas Republican congressman's people have decided that, though the presidential primary is long over, the Paultardiness must go on. And so they have convened in Minneapolis, to conduct a three-day shadow convention, the capstone of which will be an all-day "Rally for the Republic." Though my Mapquest directions are sketchy, it's readily apparent I've arrived at the right place. The bumper stickers are the giveaway, saying things such as "I don't suffer from insanity, I enjoy every minute of it," and "My other car is a UFO."

More than 10,000 have made the Paul pilgrimage, arriving by plane, train, and "Ronvoy" caravans. Some stay in hotels, others under the stars at "Ronstock," which is being held in the middle of a farmer's pasture somewhere on the outskirts of town. (Attendees say it's like Woodstock, but with wi-fi connections instead of free love.) Or else they'll stay out at Camp Iduhapi, which, when I later stop by, I learn is the Lakota word for "campers who have unsafe amounts of political signage in their car windows." It's a testament to Paul's drawing power, considering he's no longer running for anything. To find this many people who've ever been this excited about John McCain, you'd have to go back to his press bus in the year 2000.

In the parking lot, I encounter Caitanya Dasa, a 15-year-old with braces who is getting something out of a van. It's the "Liberty Van," which is painted on the back of the Chevy Venture, along with "Truth is Treason In the Empire of Lies."

"That's a quote from Paul's book, The Revolution: A Manifesto," Dasa helpfully explains. He's in from Oregon after a 36-hour, near-sleepless trek with several people rotating driving duties, including his mom. Along the way, a swarm of gnats infiltrated their van, they were attacked by bees, and they ran over an entire bumper on the interstate. But it was worth the sacrifice. Because Ron Paul is here. "We were standing in the food line! And he comes up to us, and says, 'That looks pretty good!' " a breathless Dasa exclaims. "None of us knew what to say."

Dasa wastes no time in taking me to his leader. Behind the building, on the well-manicured grounds, there is indeed a buffet of bear claws, sticky buns, melon wedges, and fresh-squeezed juices. But Paul is the main attraction, standing there, having snap after snap taken by a photographer with a long line of admirers that he mows down one by one. He's like one of those Shaquille O'Neal cardboard cutouts you can have your picture taken with at the mall. Except Ron Paul is right here, in the flesh, right down to his black referee shoes.

I talk to the Oregon delegation waiting for my audience with Dr. Paul, the former obstetrician. Like most of the Paultards, and unlike most of the mainstream Republicans who are wringing their hands over whether to press on with their convention with Hurricane Gustav bearing down on the Gulf states, they are not going to let somebody else's bad weather get in the way of their gathering. "There's suffering all over every single day," one tells me. "So if I skip the sticky bun, the world would be better?"

Paul takes all comers, as he will at a Borders book-signing later that day, where I'm told he signs for no less than a thousand people. As I get a crack at him, he seems bemused by Republican skittishness over Gustav, and smells a rat. "They might've been looking for an excuse not to have the president speak," he says, "but I wouldn't accuse them of that. I've heard people say that."

He generally likes Sarah Palin, though is skeptical of her signing up with such a pro-war team. "When Bill Kristol says he loves her, it makes me wonder," he says. Since he knows my affiliation, I give Paul points for honesty. Then he hits me with a little more: "I wanna get [our interview] over with, because I wanna go eat breakfast." Like Dasa before me, I don't know what to say. "Try the sticky buns," I offer.