While twitchy cops and party hacks congregated in St. Paul for the Republican Convention, 12,000 Ron Paul supporters assembled for the Rally for the Republic in Minneapolis. The counter-convention featured a dozen speakers—from libertarian luminaries Bill Kauffman and Lew Rockwell to ex-governors Jesse Ventura and Gary Johnson—plus musical acts Sara Evans and Aimee Allen (the freedom movement’s answer to Avril Levigne, with more talent and less tolerance for the Bilderberg Group). Barry Goldwater Jr. introduced Paul’s keynote.
John McCain’s big tent across the river brought together hawks of all persuasions, from Joe Lieberman to Sarah Palin to Rudy Giuliani. The Connecticut senator, as staunch an advocate for military adventurism as abortion, got a prime-time speaking slot. A certain pro-life, antiwar Texan was persona non grata.
“We offered our services. We would have been glad to have an opportunity, we would have been pleased to participate,” Paul said. But “that wasn’t available to us.” McCain did not want his primary challenger even to be seen. “We had thought we would be able to go over, but my floor privileges have been strictly limited,” Paul revealed. “They’ve given me a pass that is second class.”
That pass required that the congressman enter and leave only by a certain door, be chaperoned by a McCain flack, and not bring any staff. Paul had no intention of attending under those conditions. Yet he didn’t get mad—he got even. “We still have enough freedom in this country to get involved and become the party,” he said, “and that’s been our approach rather than complaining about it.”
“The Republican Party ought to be welcoming me because I appeal to young people,” Paul contended. Indeed, one of the most remarkable things about Paul’s presidential campaign was its ability to energize youth around the unlikeliest of causes: “One of the most exciting issues that we talk about with young people is monetary policy.”
Even more than the Iraq War, the Federal Reserve stokes the passions of Paul’s supporters. During his keynote, the Target Center shook to chants of “End the Fed!” Months earlier, during a Paul appearance at the University of Michigan, students burned Federal Reserve notes—money, or Uncle Sam’s facsimile thereof.
Impressive as the rally was, even more portentous may have been the 600 activists who turned out for training put on by Paul’s new organization, the Campaign for Liberty, in the days before. They sat through ten-and-a-half hours of political boot camp on Aug. 31 and another eight hours the next day. This was a promising start for the Campaign for Liberty, which aims to do for the small-government, antiwar side what the Christian Coalition did for religious conservatives in the early 1990s.
Yet it has tensions at the philosophical level. One activist observed that there seemed to be many “paleoconservatives” in the group’s leadership, while much of the grassroots were “anarcho-capitalists.” Paul recognizes the fault line. “I have many friends in the libertarian movement who look down on those of us who get involved in political activity,” he acknowledged, but “eventually, if you want to bring about changes … what you have to do is participate in political action.”
The Campaign for Liberty’s organizers emphasized that though there might be few candidates Paul supporters can get behind, there are always ballot issues and legislation that the grassroots can organize to stop—tax hikes, gun registration, municipal bonds. Yet the great causes that animate the Paul coalition—war and monetary policy—are national. Paul is 73. If he doesn’t run in 2012, where will his supporters go?
One man eager to take up his banner is former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura. “I wrote the book Don’t Start the Revolution Without Me. Well, I’m here,” he announced, hinting that “in 2012 we’ll give them a race they’ll never forget.” The former pro-wrestler was charismatic—and kooky. He teased the 9/11 “truther” contingent in the audience by asking why Osama bin Laden had not been formally charged with the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. That way lies madness. If Ventura is the future of the Paul movement, it will go the way of the Reform Party.
A better prospect for 2012 might be the rally’s other ex-governor—Gary Johnson of New Mexico. He doesn’t have Ventura’s presence, but he’s witty. Describing his opposition to mandatory-helmet laws for motorcyclists, he said, “We have an organ donor shortage. If you want to ride your motorcycle without a helmet, go ahead.” Johnson is even more of a non-interventionist than his admirers had suspected. “We have a military presence in 155 countries,” he said, “We need to embark on a process of getting those 155 countries unoccupied, à la Ron Paul.”
The Rally for the Republic made plain that Ron Paul Republicans will have no truck with McCain or Obama. But is there any other politician they can support, besides Paul himself? More than just their movement is at stake: Paul’s revolution might be the last chance in a generation for sound money and a non-imperial foreign policy.
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