By Martin Bosworth
When Kos , Jerome Armstrong and other Dem blogger heavyweights discuss the need for a political infrastructure that’s built on small individual donors and “people-powered,” I doubt that Republican/libertarian darling Ron Paul was the first guy they thought of as a new leader using that model. And yet, the news that Paul has more cash in the bank than failing and ailing John McCain is another example of how the democratization of politics via the Internet has led to some very strange outcomes.
To be sure, the Paul numbers are being disputed, and he’s got a long way to go in the polls before he can even spit on putative GOP frontrunners like Giuliani, Romney, Thompson, etc. But a look at Paul’s career campaign fundraising shows that the vast majority of his financing has come from individual donors, not PACs or campaign committees.
It also shows that he’s taken money from seriously twisted right-wing agitator groups like Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, which should be yet another warning signal to anyone who thinks Paul is some kind of libertarian hero.
Looking at the comments on any news article about Paul, it strikes me how much the Paul groundswell is a twisted, funhouse version of Barack Obama’s own rise. Both men are running personality-based candidacies, positioning themselves as outsiders who are bringing new ideas to the conversation after years of the same old crap. Both men are raising incredible amounts of money that is disproportionate to their polling–though it has to be said that Obama has a much better chance of winning his party’s nod than Paul does his. And both are selling their candidacies using returns to ideals classically held by their parties–Obama the Kennedyesque appeals to hope, good government, and principle, and Paul the belief in low taxes, less government, etc. Whether or not they support these principles isn’t the point–it’s how they’re selling the principles, and people are buying.
It fascinates me to watch how disruptions like Obama and Paul have thrown the expected trajectories of the races off script. Clinton, acting for all the world like the nomination was hers for the taking, is now in a real fight. McCain, who was the media and punditry darling for years due to his so-called “straight talk,” is now despised as a panderer and cynical opportunist. The GOP is pinning its collective hopes on a B-list actor, unaccomplished Senator, and lobbyist because he’s tall and has a deep voice. How did it come to this?
People have been bypassing traditional media and party channels and making their voices heard. When you can see and hear your candidate speak right on his Web site–and donate immediately to him or her–why do you need some pundit gasbag to “interpret” what he said? Of course, you don’t. This has led to a tremendous revival of activism and interest across the board–people feel like they can directly contribute to and shape a candidate’s success. The hunger for Americans to feel like they matter–like their desires and voices can be counted–has never been stronger, and never more viscerally reflected.
Of course, the downside of that is the people may end up not making the right decision, or their decision’s a real headscratcher (Ron Paul?!! More cash than McCain?!!), but that’s the great thing about democracy–when it’s the people making the decisions rather than corporations and lobbies, you get a lot more opportunity to correct screwups.