One evening in mid-June, 86 members of a newly formed Ron Paul Meetup group gathered in a room in the Pasadena convention center. It was a varied crowd, preoccupied by the war, including many disaffected Democrats. Via video link from Virginia, Paul’s campaign chairman, Kent Snyder, spoke to the group “of a coming-together of the old guard and the new.” Then Connie Ruffley, co-chairwoman of United Republicans of California (UROC), addressed the crowd. UROC was founded during the 1964 presidential campaign to fight off challenges to Goldwater from Rockefeller Republicanism. Since then it has lain dormant but not dead — waiting, like so many other old right-wing groups, for someone or something to kiss it back to life. UROC endorsed Paul at its spring convention.
That night, Ruffley spoke about her past with the John Birch Society and asked how many in the room were members (quite a few, as it turned out). She referred to the California senator Dianne Feinstein as “Fine-Swine,” and got quickly to Israel, raising the Israeli attack on the American Naval signals ship Liberty during the Six-Day War. Some people were pleased. Others walked out.
Others sent angry e-mails that night. Several said they would not return. The head of the Pasadena Meetup group, Bill Dumas, sent a desperate letter to Paul headquarters asking for guidance:
“We’re in a difficult position of working on a campaign that draws supporters from laterally opposing points of view, and we have the added bonus of attracting every wacko fringe group in the country. And in a Ron Paul Meetup many people will consider each other ‘wackos’ for their beliefs whether that is simply because they’re liberal, conspiracy theorists, neo-Nazis, evangelical Christian, etc. . . . We absolutely must focus on Ron’s message only and put aside all other agendas, which anyone can save for the next ‘Star Trek’ convention or whatever.”
But what is “Ron’s message”? Whatever the campaign purports to be about, the main thing it has done thus far is to serve as a clearinghouse for voters who feel unrepresented by mainstream Republicans and Democrats. The anti-government activists of the right and the antiwar activists of the left have many differences, maybe irreconcilable ones. But they have a lot of common beliefs too, and their numbers — and anger — are of a considerable magnitude. Ron Paul will not be the next president of the United States. But his candidacy gives us a good hint about the country the next president is going to have to knit back together.