Exactly when did New York turn into Ron Paul country? The ostensible front-runners for both parties are locals, yet when was the last time you saw a Rudy or Hillary button? Much less a Depeche Mode–style band like the Violets singing a tribute to one of them as part of their set in the dim East Village bar Lit, as they did a few weeks back? “The Ron Paul Campaign Song” goes: “Ron Paul! He’s the fairest of them all. Ron Paul! He’s got brains and he’s got balls. Ron Paul!” Mind you, this is inspired by a 72-year-old obstetrician turned Republican congressman known as the “Dr. No” of Capitol Hill. No to the Internal Revenue Service. No to the USA Patriot Act. No to the war in Iraq—Paul is the only Republican candidate to oppose the war from the beginning, and the only one who called for the troops to come home at the November 28 Republican debate. “Read the Constitution,” he likes to say. “I’m for the Constitution.”
Paul earned his cred sometime between May, when he and Giuliani sparred over the cause of the September 11 attacks during an earlier debate (Paul blamed our foreign policy; Giuliani demanded a retraction), and July, when George Stephanopoulos told Paul that he would bet his “every cent” that he won’t be president. Suddenly, it seemed, Paul found an audience, or an audience found him. Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Bill Maher slavered over him on their shows. Online his popularity has soared, and he’s amassed more MySpace friends, YouTube views, and MeetUp groups than the rest of the Republican field combined. His New York MeetUp group, with 957, is second only to Austin’s in membership, a fact that surprised its founder, Avery Knapp Jr., a 27-year-old radiologist who lives in Upper East Side. “This is Manhattan, for God’s sake!”
But should he be surprised? Paul was the Libertarian candidate for president in 1988, and while a quasi-Libertarian live-and-let-live attitude is common enough here, there’s both more and less to it than that. There’s a good amount of projection going on here—supporters see in him what they want to see. Because he can’t win, there’s something above the fray about him. (Says Roger Carmien, the Violets’ drummer, “He’s not the same poll-obsessed, power-hungry, ‘I’ll say anything to get elected’ kind of candidate who’s out there.”) He’s got a bit of Ralph Nader (the wonkishness) and a splash of Howard Dean (the yelling during the debates), with some Ross Perot minus the dough (he’s also Texan) thrown in. But ultimately, we all love an underdog, and Paul, at the moment, is the ultimate underdog. To quote the Violets song, “We’re making a stand … Can you hear our voices? Next to all the others, now the only choice is … ”
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