The Appeal of Paul

Understanding Ron Paul's enduring popularity in the Inland Northwest

Although Ron Paul trails in the presidential race for Republican delegates nationwide, hundreds of North Idaho Republicans showed their enthusiasm for his brand of libertarian conservatism at the March 6 Super Tuesday caucuses.

The Texas Congressman came out on top in five of the Idaho Republican northern-county gatherings. Congressman Paul’s supporters outtalked, outnumbered and outvoted fellow caucus attendees in Bonners Ferry, Sandpoint, Moscow, Lewiston and Grangeville.

In like manner, Paul’s appeal to Republicans living in the northern-tier states across the country has been shown to be widespread. In Washington state, Paul carried the caucuses in five of the six counties that border British Columbia. From Washington to Maine, including the Live Free or Die State of New Hampshire, Ron Paul earned second place in the Republican primaries or caucuses of the states along the Canadian border.

It has often been observed that the Idaho Panhandle is the jumping-off place for individuals seeking freedom — from neighbors and government regulations — with the wilderness of Alaska just a road trip away. We’re imagined as the last outpost of the rugged Old West, where real men wear guns in their belts and cowboy boots on their feet.

Paul’s showing in the northern border states suggests that North Idaho is not unique. The entire stretch of rural land from coast to coast on this side of the Canadian border exudes the lure of space and wild country and the promise of a life of independence.

And Paul’s campaign strategy has played to that allure.

Obviously, candidate Paul’s pitch sells best in rural America and catches conservative voters who hold individual freedoms close to their hearts. Ron Paul’s personal visits have targeted caucus states. He made several visits to Idaho: one stop in Sandpoint, two in Moscow.

Zooming in on North Idaho, I’ve looked for answers to the question: What has Ron Paul got to offer small-town Republicans in North Idaho that Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich do not have?

First off, I’ve read all the position papers posted on the Ron Paul official website. Freedom and individual liberties are highlighted throughout.

Dr. Paul is anti-abortion and claims to have delivered 4,000 babies during his years as a practicing obstetrician. While he strays from a true libertarian position by not supporting a woman’s right to choose, there is some comfort in recognizing he isn’t talking, as rival candidate Santorum is, about the evils of contraceptives.

Paul holds sacred the Second Amendment’s protection of gun ownership. He supports so-called “Right to Work” laws. He champions families choosing to home-school their children. If president, he would repeal the hard-fought Affordable Care Act.

All of the above are standard Republican positions. As far as I know, Congressman Paul is the sole candidate who wants to return the country to the gold standard and to do away with the Federal Reserve System.

The story is told that Paul’s passionate concern about fiat money and the Federal Reserve System got him into politics. After he ran out of family members, friends and patients to listen to his views, he decided to run for office and talk to people who hadn’t heard him before.

Although supportive of national defense, Congressman Paul has opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His platform states the United States should “send our military into conflict with a clear mission and all the tools they need to complete the job and then bring them home.”

I talked with University of Idaho student Stephen Burleigh, an active Ron Paul supporter from Berkeley, Calif., who named Ron Paul’s anti-war position as the No. 1 reason he signed on as a volunteer. Hooked and proud of it, Burleigh lauded Paul’s humble demeanor as an admirable trait in Paul’s favor. He’s impressed with Paul’s long allegiance to the cause of freedom. No question of flip-flopping there.

Timothy Fry, Ron Paul coordinator for Sandpoint’s Bonner County, responded spontaneously to my question: “Why Ron Paul?” Fry said he watched a video of Ron Paul in 2007 and was immediately taken by Paul’s advocating for individual freedom. Fry likes that Ron Paul appears to be a non-slick, non-politician kind of guy.

Fry says his allegiance to Ron Paul boils down to agreeing with a principle of limited government based on the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. “Humanity seeks freedom,” Fry said. “And respect for each individual.”

I personally shudder at the thought of any of Ron Paul’s positions ever being put in place, with the exception of his opposition to extraneous foreign wars. He’s way too libertarian for me. But I certainly can admire the spirit of his campaign and the recruitment of young followers to his camp.

And I enthusiastically applaud all young voters who are excited about the presidential election, even after (or maybe especially because of) this long season of Republican presidential debates.

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