Ron Paul, a 12-term congressman from Texas, is attracting an intense and dedicated cadre of voters in the 2012 primary election season. But, to date, at least, their numbers suggest he is not a viable presidential candidate. The lack of a large-enough following to get even the chance to face President Obama in November has prompted national pundits to speculate on other goals Paul may be pursuing, such as landing a speaking role at this year’s Republican National Convention.
Such notions strike a group of five local Ron Paul enthusiasts I speak with on a Saturday in early February as absurd. Paul’s single-minded goal, they insist, is to become president of the United States. Several have found in Paul a libertarian soul mate. He has radically changed the minds of others, leading them to reject previous allegiances and join his camp.
What gives? Who are these people? Why are they so committed? What are they thinking?
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“I’d say there are similarities in Occupy to what I believe,” says Normal Heights resident Mario Perea, who attended Occupy San Diego several times over the past year. “But spending time there also allowed me to understand people’s fascination with socialism. The built-in hatred toward capitalism, I think, it comes up from our schools. And a lot of television makes it seem that capitalism is the problem.”
Perea, 32, works for a granite company. “I put in countertops,” he tells me. “That’s what I do for money. For fun, I’m an artist and a researcher.” His wife of a little more than a year is a nurse.
For a long time, Perea tells me, he felt alienated from politics. But instead of trying to find a way to participate, he took refuge in informal communities of graffiti artists. All along, however, he was reading a wide variety of political materials, including the works of Karl Marx and the Latin American revolutionary Che Guevara. When he soured on each of them, friends asked if he no longer cared about the social ills they protested. Of course he did, but why did Marx need to introduce a socialist state to run things? And “why,” asks Perea, “did Che say that killing some people had to be part of the solution?”
So, Perea says he turned in another direction, eventually finding much in common with Tea Party partisans, especially their enthusiasm for capitalism. “Then, as we talked, they always came around to wanting to attack Iran, and that turns me off.”
The agreement with the Tea Party had mainly to do with capitalism, although Perea says that unabashedly pursuing his self-interest used to make him uneasy. Then he read Ayn Rand’s The Virtue of Selfishness. Finally, an ideal he felt could become the guiding light for his life emerged. In the writings of Ron Paul, he discovered “liberty.”
Perea sat out the 2008 election, but this year he is working on his own as an informal volunteer for the Ron Paul campaign. “I go out to places like in front of the USS Midway Museum. I’ll pass out flyers and brochures and just talk to people.”
“The last book I read by Ron Paul was End the Fed,” says Perea, “which gives reasons as to why the Federal Reserve is immoral.” Perea had already been drawn to conspiracy theories of the 9/11 attacks, and after doing some research on his own, he admits that he leans toward some of the “conspiracy-orientated” interpretations of the Federal Reserve Board. “You know, people trying to run the world on the sly.” But it was Paul, he says, who led him to believe that “central banking plays favoritism to certain groups of people and that it’s an unconstitutional institution. Money is not something that the government should be controlling.
“I was at Occupy San Diego on the first day, and it was an amazing sight to see two or three thousand people marching to protest the federal government’s bailouts of huge corporations and the cronyism that is going on. But I think they fall short, because it wasn’t that they were against the bailouts. They just thought the money was going towards the wrong people. It was a surprise to me that the Federal Reserve wasn’t being called out by name at the Occupy because that’s why the Federal Reserve was put into place, as a bailout mechanism, as a lender of last resort. So it’s been one of my goals while I’m at the Occupy to summon the central banks and expose them to folks and to also be a promoter of capitalism, because I believe that it’s through capitalism that the individual is able to achieve.”
These days, Perea has been focusing on another issue, the intrusion of government, in the name of national security, into the lives of citizens. “My feeling on government snooping,” he says,” is that it sets a dangerous precedent. We saw the Patriot Act, and now we see the National Defense Authorization Act. Once, they could snoop on you; now, they can swoop you up and hold you indefinitely. The government’s solution is always more of what was wrong. And we see that in this particular situation, where the solution was the invasion of your privacy. ‘Well,’ they seem to say, ‘our solution is now to pile on more.’”
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“If you’re in the media,” says Jaclyn Koehl (pronounced Kale), “and you want to blow the whistle on some bad government activity, [law enforcement] could tap and say, ‘Hey, this is subversive to our national security,’ and they could quiet down that reporter.”
Koehl, 33, grew up in Indiana and currently lives in Santee. She says a good friend turned her on to Ron Paul close to six years ago. After that, she started reading Paul’s writings and material about him by other writers. She also looked at a few videos. “With lots of lies coming at you from other politicians,” she says, “it has been pretty easy to become a follower of Paul’s presidential candidacy.” Koehl thinks of him as having great integrity for relying on lots of small donations instead of money from huge special interests. She currently distributes Paul literature in her neighborhood and plans to walk precincts for him for the California primary election in June.