Politics is admittedly a depressing affair these days. I can hardly think of any normal people who are enthusiastically supporting either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. The misguided progressives who plan to vote for Obama on Tuesday do so primarily out of party loyalty and a fear of crazy Republicans.
Curiously, the last time I saw heartfelt passion in politics was at the Republican National Convention in August. One literally could not walk 20 feet in the convention center without spotting a Ron Paul button — on delegates, guests, even media. Strangers would break into grins and bear hug one another to the astonishment of wide-eyed neoconservatives, taken aback at how every other young person in attendance seemed to be a supporter of a 77-year old obstetrician from Lake Jackson, Texas.
During the roll call of the states, cheers broke out throughout the hall when Ron Paul’s delegate wins were announced. Although the party did everything in their power to prevent Paul’s name from being mentioned on the floor, it inevitably was, and no less than 26 times — one for each state where the campaign won delegates.
“You have to give Ron Paul credit for bringing all these young people into the party,” one Romney delegate told me. “It’s a shame the party hasn’t been more welcoming.”
The Maine delegation, unseated at the last minute since it contained too many Ron Paul supporters, led a walkout off the floor and marched on Level 3. As the march grew louder, chanting, “As goes Maine, so goes the nation,” it struck me: the vitality and passion I saw in the Ron Paul movement was unlike anything I had ever seen in modern politics. This was the difference between a spontaneous grassroots movement and an artificial establishment-choreographed sideshow.
When Ron Paul came to Tampa, he brought with him the youngest delegation in the history of the Republican Party. They weren’t lawyers or political hacks or millionaires — they were college students, actors, teachers, techies, and hipsters. They were ordinary kids who had a dream that they could make a difference.
The Ron Paul supporters outside the convention center were equally fascinating. I met a guy with a delightful accent who organized midnight literature drops at the delegate hotels. Then there was the quirky blonde California girl passionate about machine learning and cadence recognition who held a prayer vigil for delegates to vote their conscience (call me maybe?). Their ideas may have seemed fanciful, but in these devotees I saw far greater innovation and dedication than anything I witnessed on the stage.
“Lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for,” said Clarence Darrow. The type of people who are attracted to such causes are usually dreamers, visionaries who refuse to comprmise their principles, Americans for whom the “audacity of hope” is not a marketing slogan but a way of life.
Ron Paul is the most successful antiwar politician in modern American politics, winning over 2 million votes, bucking the establishment of the Republican Party and exposing the hypocrisy of the pro-war liberal elite. He stands as a lone voice against the most insidious of government policies that are almost entirely bipartisan in nature — “covert endless wars, consolidation of unchecked power, the rapid growth of the surveillance state and the secrecy regime, massive inequalities in the legal system, [and] continuous transfers of wealth from the disappearing middle class to large corporate conglomerates.”
While in many aspects of life, young people are encouraged to “dream big,” such visionary thinking is all but forbidden in political life. I’m especially struck by otherwise intelligent people who stupidly explain that they don’t vote because their vote won’t make a difference. The self-assured arrogance of those who hide behind “rational voter calculus” is especially jarring, and one suspects that beneath it is concealed an utter failure of imagination and an inability to dream.
It’s the same affliction that prevents some highly analytical men from approaching beautiful women — “what are the odds that anything will come out of it?” This type of self-handicapping is as devastating in politics as it is in love.
“Simply going by statistics alone, it may be irrational for individuals to assume they can paint a masterpiece, make a breakthrough in science, or marry for life. And yet humans are not all so rational that they avoid putting paint to canvas, a lifetime into scientific inquiry, or a ring on their beloved’s finger…The greatest achievements of humankind come not strictly from rational thought, but from rational thought carefully applied in pursuit of sometimes irrational dreams."
Love and politics are not as different as one might think. The impetus for both pursuits stems from a deep human yearning for transcendence, a recognition that material reality is insufficient to satisfy the demands of the soul (what the Germans might call Weltschmerz).
In love, we seek to transcend the inescapable solitariness of our reality by attempting to form a genuine connection with another human being. In visionary politics, we recognize that the status quo is deeply corrupt, and have the courage to envision a better brighter future for our children, one without war and oppression, where the protection of individual liberty is paramount. They are both high-risk propositions, unsuited for narrow-minded, boring people. They are best left to those who dream big and believe in the power of their dreams.
“I love Ron Paul very much,” I confessed recently to a friend. “I could never see myself voting for Obama or Romney so I might as well write in Ron Paul out of my dedication to his principles.”