Manchester, NH -
The last time I was in Veteran's Park in Manchester it was for a Barack Obama rally on Labor Day, complete with Secret Service and a $75M campaign operation. This time it was merely Ron Paul, with his single digit million dollar payroll and service coming only in the way of volunteers and hardcore supporters, of which there were fewer than for Barack. This isn't a knock on either candidate, just a noted difference.
The next thing I noticed was the sweet smell of cigar smoke. Yes, a Ron Paul rally is possibly the last place you will see in the politically correct world of the campaign trail where you will see smoking allowed. It turned out to be a common thread of the day. Before I left I counted at least four people smoking some form of tobacco, be it cigar, pipe or cigarette. As is the case with the perpetual nature of smoke, it made a much bigger imprint than just the four people. I smelled it, sweet from the pipe or sour from the butt, all morning long.
It wasn't just the smoke that set Paul's event apart, it was the attire. At a Ron Paul rally, there is a good chance that whoever you look at will be wearing some kind of Ron Paul t-shirt, whether it is homemade, campaign endorsed or otherwise.
Homeschoolers for Ron Paul whose back says vote Ron Paul, win a free Republic. Blaze orange Gun Owners for Ron Paul. And my personal favorite, One Nation Under Surveillance.
Next thing I knew, as I was looking around for new t-shirts, there was Ron Paul freely mingling among the people signing shirts and posing for pictures. He made his way toward the stage where the introductions took place. The campaign manager announced that there was a food drive being held at the back of the park, since "private charities are superior to government." He then introduced two of Paul's grandkids to sing the national anthem, which they performed followed by a family-written song called The Ballad of Ron Paul with lines like, "Uncle Sam you're just too fat/you've got to lose some weight." It was a folksy start to things, to say the least.
Speaking of songs, the intro music was entirely composed of songs by a fellow named Steve Dore, who is in the process of writing an entire album of tracks about Ron Paul with names like President Man, Hope for America and Message of Freedom. They can all be heard on the website. And by the way, Dore sounds like a mix between Kenny Rogers and Randy Newman.
Singing aside, Paul came on stage after an introduction from his son, Rand, whose remarks included rough digs at Giuliani for the cell phone thing and, more pointedly, a claim that "he doesn't have any family members who will volunteer for his campaign." The remark was especially prescient because thirty members of Paul's extended family were on hand to support their patriarch and canvass the streets afterward. None too interested in politics, most of the youngsters could be found playing tag in the back of the park throughout the speech.
Paul's speech was very bullet pointed. He touched on most of the tenets of his campaign, each one to great applause from the crowd of two or three hundred. Adding to the rowdy atmosphere, a bugler tooted his horn at the end of each stanza.
"Freedom is popular," Paul said, and in front of this crowd of anxious supporters it certainly was.
Dr. Paul, a gynecologist by trade, discussed the removal of the IRS, and consistently railed against what he said was "a standing army of bureaucrats" in the US government. At one point he claimed there were 100,000 federal agents with guns whose sole purpose was to harass citizens. "It should be the other way around," Paul quipped to thunderous applause.
He also spoke of the dangers of universal health care due to the potential for excessive health regulations by an interested government, and praised the few remaining states (New Hampshire included) that don't have mandatory seat belt laws. There were also rants against the Federal reserve system, and in praise of a gold standard. Unfortunately, he lost me on those but luckily he also spoke about America's role in the world.
Dr. Paul exasperatedly pointed out the folly of our path in Iraq, and the absurd amount of spending on the military today. He touched on the military-industrial complex and even the health insurance-industrial complex. Better still, he poked holes in the argument that we are making the world safer for democracy by fighting abroad, calling it "nonsense" and predicting that the more we intervene abroad the more that proud citizens of other nations will feel the need to come and attack us here.
"Maybe there are some imperfections in this country."
Those were the words that Paul spoke halfway through his stump speech as he was discussing the pitiful state of diplomatic relations today, and how they are hurting trade. The words particularly struck me because of their humility. It wasn't just that point, either. Paul finished his speech by spending a few minutes thanking everyone who was involved, implying that he had been invited to New Hampshire by a group of supporters who had done all of the organization not forced to go andby a know-it-all consulting group. He also thanked the people in the audience for "inviting me to this revolution."
It was as if he was downplaying his own role in the campaign in spite of the massive presence of signs displaying his name all over the crowd. He sounded like a simple country doctor, knowledgeable in all sorts of remedies, but not one to go boasting around the town. He had mentioned on numerous occasions the non-judgmental views held by his campaign toward such a diverse group of supporters - gun nuts, free staters, potheads, econ students. I kid about the demographics, but its true. Nowhere else will you find such an eclectic group of Republican supporters. They lead the league in facial hair and ponytails, at the very least.
And here I am, nearly a week removed from the rally, and it was the unpretentious nature of the event that still strikes me. They were organizing carpools, selling t-shirts, and gathering food not necessarily in the name of a candidate, but in the name of an ideology. They were there for the revolution and Ron was just the mouthpiece, and potentially a reluctant one at that. After eight years of an arrogant Bush administration, this country could use a dose of humility. Maybe Dr. Paul is the right physician to administer it.