I was watching Gandhi recently, as I do every year or two. It is inspirational to me. It tells the story of a man who could not possibly win the battles he chose to fight, but did anyway. There is no doubt that it is a propaganda film, funded in part by the Indian government. It scrambles his chronology. But, on the whole, it got the story right. Mohandas K. Gandhi, a lawyer, was able to transform Indian politics. He did this through force of moral character and shrewd tactics that made every official response either "Damned if we do; damned if we don't." I read "The Gandhi Nobody Knows" when it was published in 1983, a year after the movie was released. I know the strange side of the man. But he mobilized a huge nation without recourse to violence. That was his great legacy.
I also like the movie because it is the story of a failed empire. By 1945, the British Empire had spent itself into near bankruptcy because of two wars. It was a pale shadow of itself. It would soon grow much paler.
There are many scenes in the movie that have long grabbed my imagination, but none so much as the one in which Gandhi is seated at a table with a British military official. The official asks rhetorically, "You don't really expect us just to march out of India, do you?" Gandhi replies, "Yes, that is exactly what I expect you to do." In 1947, they did.
What has this to do with Ron Paul, who is running for President? At least this much: he also opposes violence, he also opposes empire, and he also believes in the long run that justice will prevail. So, he does what Gandhi did. He keeps telling the story of how a better society can be built, must be built, and will eventually be built when men reduce their commitment to violence as a way of shaping the world. This includes violence committed by the civil government.
They called Gandhi the mahatma: the great self. Ron Paul is the mahatma of self-government.
He gains applause from the anti-war Left, small as it is. He gains applause from free market advocates, who are weary of government interference in their lives. And he drives the muddled middle crazy.
Note: he doesn't wear a loincloth.
THE WEB PHENOMENON
After the first debate among the ten Republican candidates, the mainstream media's polls ranked Giuliani, McCain, and Romney as the front-runners. But the on-line polls were blow-outs for Ron Paul.
What was going on?
After the second debate, on May 15, broadcast by Fox News, the Fox News website allowed viewers to vote for the nominee. These presumably were hard-core Fox News viewers. Over 40,000 voted. Romney got 29%. Paul got 25%. Giuliani got 19%.
Fox News has been supportive of the Iraq war from the beginning. Paul in 2003 voted against the funding of the Iraq war, one of the handful of Republicans in Congress who did. So, how could it be that Paul, an outspoken critic of the war, could receive that high a percentage on Fox News' own website?
He had done even better on MSNBC's website poll after the first debate, broadcast by MSNBC on May 3. The results were amazing. He overwhelmed the others in the four positive categories.
The two networks that hosted the respective debates drew audiences above a million – close to two million. In both cases, Ron Paul did extremely well on the networks' web polling pages. Yet he is invisible in the general polls, which are based on random sampling.
I believe the general polls are correct. The public does not know who Ron Paul is. But TV viewers who were politically active enough to go to the websites of the broadcasting networks are big supporters of Paul.
There is a disconnect here. The Establishment's pundits offer various explanations, but none has any scientific support. One of the least plausible explanations after the May 3 poll was that Paul's supporters are so sophisticated digitally that they found ways to overcome the designs of the two web polling sites: MSNBC's and CNN's. A few libertarian geeks somehow made it look as though there is a large army of Paul supporters out there.
This argument is bizarre. There is a huge problem with it. Where did all the other voters go? Paul got half or more of the CNN voters in some categories. There were around 75,000 votes recorded. Somehow, the voters who were for the Big Three had their votes sent into cyberspace by Paul's nefarious genius computer programmers, who then substituted votes for Paul. The Establishment candidates' supporters did not have their votes recorded. I call this the "hanging electrons" explanation.
In the case of the CNN poll, the number of votes cast was closer to 70,000 per question, which were not the same questions as the MSNBC poll offered. Yet the results were much the same. The libertarian programmers somehow beat the protective designs of two separate polling pages.
I think there is better explanation. About half of the viewers who were enthusiastic enough to go to the networks' web pages to vote were Ron Paul's supporters. The logic of my explanation rests on the percentage of viewers who voted, compared with the 1.76 million people who watched MSNBC's broadcast. The audience size figures are here.
This means about 4.3% voted on CNN's site. That is slightly over 4%. It was just under 4% for MSNBC's site. We've seen this percentage before: Pareto's 20/80 law. Twenty percent of 20% (4%) voted on-line. This is exactly what I would have predicted. In other words, the poll was a faithful reflection of predictable responses. More than 6% voting would have been a remarkable statistic, one indicative of deep and wide interest in national politics. There was no such enthusiasm. That is why so few people tuned in.
This means that there were no missing votes for the Big Three candidates. It also means that Ron Paul's supporters are hard-core fanatics. They were the driving force of the web polls.
There are statistically inescapable facts governing the Republican election campaign so far. First, most people don't care and are not watching the debates. Second, among those who watched, a normal Pareto percentage of them went to the trouble to vote on-line. These are the elite of the Republican Party's ideological activists: 20% of the elite 20%. About half of these people support Ron Paul.
When I say "activists," don't mean people who write checks, knock on doors, stuff envelopes, stuff ballot boxes, and generally do the grunt work of political campaigns. I mean people who care enough about political ideas to sit through hours of political piffle and then take the time to go to a website and vote.
These people are presumably the wave of the digital future. Like Gandhi's supporters in 1915, they are not numerous. They will not determine the outcome of the Republican primaries. They will not attend the Republican Party's convention. But they are out there, and they are unlikely to go away.
I was part of such a group in 1960: the "Goldwater for Vice President" movement. I was on the geographical fringes. I was not in Chicago in 1960, nor did I get in the floor demonstration. But I was for it. That group eventually grew. It got Goldwater nominated in 1964 and got Reagan elected in 1980.
What happened immediately after the debates in May is bad news for the Republican Establishment. They have dismissed this as irrelevant. They will forget about it when Ron Paul fails to win the nomination. But there is no question in my mind that the Republican Party will move toward the right – the non-interventionist, limited-government Old Right – over the next three or four decades. This will take place at the bottom, i.e., at the local level, not at the top: New York City's financial district and Washington, D.C. The move toward the Old Right will accelerate when the checks from Washington don't buy much because of inflation. That day is coming.
Meanwhile, Ron Paul is building a digital mailing list.
This is the sleeper fact of the Great Debates.
The inventor of the political mailing list is forgotten today. His name was Charles Bryan. His brother, William Jennings Bryan, is well remembered. So valuable was that mailing list and the support it represented that the Democrats nominated Charles Bryan for Vice President in 1924. Charles Bryan had used that mailing list in three Presidential campaigns: 1896, 1900, and 1908.
In early 1965, in the wake of Goldwater's electoral defeat, Richard Viguerie sat down in the office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives and began writing down the names of people who had donated $50 or more to Goldwater's campaign – the equivalent of about $300 today.
By law in those days, federal political campaigns had to turn over to the Clerk the names and addresses of donors of $50 or more. Goldwater's campaign had filed 15,000 names and addresses. Viguerie planned to write them all down and create a mailing list with them.
After a few days, he realized that he could not get the job done by himself. He hired some women to do this grunt work. Then, after they had copied 12,500 names, the Clerk decided that he did not like all this and forbade them to do it. Viguerie says he should have told the Clerk to contact his lawyer. But he was young and inexperienced back then, so he complied.
Those 12,500 names became the basis of a mailing list empire that changed American conservatism and, through Ronald Reagan, the world.
A similar result took place in 1972. It was George McGovern who first spotted the potential of direct mail in a Presidential campaign. More accurately, his direct-mail operative, Morris Dees, spotted it. The pre-convention McGovern campaign was made possible by Dees' direct-mail skills.
As far as Presidential politics goes, three technologies have undermined the Establishment's monopoly: the mass-produced paperback book (1964), direct mail (1972), and the Internet (2004). The Presidential candidate who first made the Internet work for him was Howard Dean, whose pre-convention campaign in 2004 was entirely based on the Internet. He raised over $40 million, but then squandered both the money and his lead by a lack of local organization in the primaries.
On all media fronts except direct mail, liberals are falling behind. Network news shows have steadily declined in popularity. Cable TV is replacing the networks, which includes network news. Newspaper readership has fallen like a stone since 1993. In 1993, 58% of Americans said that they had read a newspaper "yesterday." In 2002, this percentage was 41%. Three-quarters of Americans under age 30 do not read a newspaper daily. In the 30–49 age group, it is 37%. Liberals have bet the political farm on capital-intensive technologies and government regulation of the communications industry. They are losing the bet. The best book on all this is by Richard Viguerie and David Franke: America's Right Turn: How Conservatives Used New and Alternative Media to Take Power.
Now Ron Paul is assembling a digital mailing list, or multiple lists, that will be used to educate and motivate hard-core supporters. It is under the radar of the Establishment.
It is clear to all sides that Ron Paul is the most ideologically committed politician in the country. There has been nothing like him since Howard Buffett retired in the early 1950's. Nobody remembers Howard Buffett today except hard-core libertarians and his son, Warren.
It is Ron Paul's uniquely consistent voting record that gets him on liberal-left television talk shows like the Daily Show and Bill Maher's show. The hosts are willing to give him time on camera because he opposed the Iraq war when nobody else did. He has also voted to shrink the state ever since he was elected in 1976. While they don't share his view of domestic policy, they are respectful to find any politician who just will not toe the Party line.
For years, he had a narrow but highly committed audience. Now, after three decades, he is beginning to expand that audience. He speaks his mind, and his mind is informed by a consistent philosophy of limited government, meaning Constitutional government as understood in 1788. The kinds of voters who sit through an evening of bloviating politicos and then go to a web page to vote are the kinds of people he is attracting.
These mailing lists, if used to educate people to the principles of limited civil government and expanded self-government, will begin to affect the next generation of voters.
It does not take postage to mail e-letters. It does not take printers, ink, and paper.
He has been committed to a worldview. No other politician is to the same degree. By being committed at the cost of risking electoral defeat, Ron Paul can now attract people who are looking for their own areas of commitment.
If he gets this message to his subscribers, he can help them become active in a movement to shrink the strangling hand of tax-funded bureaucracy.
Ron Paul is convinced that self-government is the wave of the future. Empire isn't. That was Gandhi's message in 1915. It did not seem plausible back then. By 1947, it did.
It has taken until quite recently for India to move economically more toward self-government and away from Nehru's Fabian socialism. Sadly, the U.S. economy seems to be moving back toward Nehru. The state keeps getting bigger in the visible affairs of this world. But a great decentralization is taking place: in education, on the Internet, and with technology generally. The wave of the future is not toward Fabianism and its legacy. Ron Paul's campaign is proof of this.