I was once very active in the Libertarian Party. I ran a libertarian/objectivist computer bulletin-board service called the John Galt Line from 1983 to 1990, attended state LP conventions, and helped out during campaigns.
In 1988, I worked for the LP's presidential campaign. The ticket was Ron Paul for President and Andre Marrou for Vice President. Dr. Paul, an obstetrician/gynecologist from the Gulf Coast of Texas, won three terms in Congress as a Republican, making him the closest thing to a mainstream politician the LP had yet been offered. Marrou spent one term in the Alaska state House of Representatives, but he'd been elected as a Libertarian, which was also unusual at the time.
It was a pretty small, informal campaign. I was Paul's chauffeur when he visited Miami, FL; Marrou spent the night at our house during his visit to save the cost of a hotel room.
The LP's campaign was designed to help spread the word of the party more than to elect its candidates. In fact, Paul and Marrou attracted only 0.47% of the popular vote, but that was enough to help the LP retain its #3 position among US political parties at the time.
Paul returned to the US Congress in 1996, once again as a Republican, and in 2006 was elected to his tenth term. Now he's running for President again. Perhaps because there is no clear front-runner for the Republican nomination-- as there was in 1988 with Vice-President George H. W. Bush-- Paul is running as a Republican. (Click here for his campaign website.)
Some people say Paul has no chance to be nominated by the Republican Party. He has voted against the PATRIOT Act, the war in Iraq, and all of the Republican budget increases since President Bush took office. On the other hand, Paul supported the war in Afghanistan, so he can probably persuade voters that his opposition to the Iraq war is a matter of principle and practicality. I feel that if Paul were nominated, and had the support of the Republican Party, he would have a better chance of winning the general election than any other current Republican candidate because the other half of the electorate-- that is, Democrats-- probably won't tolerate any Republican who wants to continue the Iraq war.
But Paul doesn't have the support of the Republican Party. In fact, it looks like they'd rather ignore him entirely. Paul's unexpectedly strong showing in the first Republican debate apparently made Party leaders uncomfortable; there was talk of banning him from future debates. Fortunately, they backed down, and Paul went on to draw a lot of attention in the next two debates.
It's a little surprising that the oldest Republican in the race today is getting the most support of any candidate on the Internet. Paul's page on YouTube is the second most popular among all Presidential candidates, trailing only Barack Obama's. Paul has frequently demolished the other Republican candidates on Internet polls on ABC, CNN, FOX, MSNBC, and other sites.
Critics say Paul's campaign is simply doing a better job of ballot-stuffing, but I don't buy that. Paul's campaign is small and simply overwhelmed; I don't think they've had the resources to do anything of the kind. And if there's been an organized effort to rig these results, there's little evidence of it online; do Paul's critics think these Internet conspiracies have been orchestrated over the telephone?
No, I think Paul is just the most popular Republican among the Internet's heaviest users-- young people. The older supporters of traditional Republican candidates such as Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Mitt Romney aren't as likely to be hanging around Digg, waiting for ways to express their political beliefs.
The other Republicans are also harder to tell apart. They differ in how they want to change the course of the Iraq war, but they all want it to continue. They differ in how much they want to cut taxes, but they're all in the same ballpark. They all oppose certain policies of the Bush administration, but only in details.
There's also the fact that Paul is arguably the most tech-friendly of all the candidates. He topped the House and Senate rankings in CNET's own Technology Voter Guide last year (see the story here). There's little doubt that drastically reducing Federal spending, shutting down the IRS, eliminating the costs of the Iraq war, and restoring the gold standard would be a boon to industry. How these changes would affect ordinary consumers would make an interesting (and necessary) discussion, of course.
But we can't have this discussion unless Paul gets his chance to reach the American people with his message.
Paul has been on some of the major talk shows, including some of the most trendy, and he's also doing a series of talks, rallies, and campaign dinners around the country. He'll be speaking at a private Google event in Silicon Valley on July 13, and at a public rally the next day (at Charleston Park in Mountain View, CA; click here for details).
As much as I'd like to see Paul win the election next year, I can't really spend much time working on his campaign this time around. But I do want people to know that Ron Paul is a serious candidate and worth listening to. Whether or not you agree with his positions, at least it's good to have meaningful discussions of the issues.