January 22, 2008

Against Ron Paul's supporters

Now, this might seem an odd subject line to those who know me. I am in fact a very big supporter of Ron Paul and his bid for presidency. I admire the man greatly and agree with nearly his entire platform. I am especially enthralled with the pure grassroots campaign that has lit itself into a wildfire. It's things like the that demonstrate that there is still hope for our country. However, I have to take issue with some of the means that some of his supporters are employing to express their support of the man.

What I am talking about is a zealousness that I believe is beginning to hurt the credibility of the campaign. While things like spamming internet polls and Digg, helped in the beginning to create an awareness of Dr. Paul, they increasingly give the impression of a sheep with a mob-mentality. This then gives people, including media people, an excuse to simply disregard the Ron Paul support altogether. Over dedication may cause us to lose everything.

To help provide a better understanding of what I am talking about, I will reference a certain event that happened a while back that was related to me by my brother who goes to West Point. West Point, as you should know, is one of the United States' military academies (Arm to be specific.) At the academies they encourage a certain group mentality as a rule and for good reason, any military that is not governed by individual egos is not likely to be very effective. On the battlefield, this group mentality is essential, and highly effective; in the civilian world however, it leads to a certain interesting consequences.

Among these is the incident that my brother related to me not long ago. Dave Matthew's band had placed an offer that members of any college or university could vote on the band's website for their own college as the location for the band's next performance. The idea behind this, of course, was to appeal to the greatest number of fans. Now, not every cadet is a fan of Dave Matthews band, but at least a few firsties are, and they determined that West Point would be the place for Dave Matthew's band to perform. They voted and pressured their peers into voting as well. Very soon it became clear that this was a competition the West Point was involved in and it became a question of loyalty amongst the cadets vote in the competition. When Annapolis got involved in the same thing, any one who didn't vote risked getting hazed. As a result, nearly every cadet at West Point voted, some twice, to get a band for which not all of them cared.

The contest ended with West Point in the lead, followed closely by Annapolis and the Air Force Academy. Civilian colleges followed these by a significantly wider margin. When the band actually showed up, the turnout was actually quite a bit smaller than the vote count would have lead one to believe. Whereas at civilian colleges, only actual fans of the band voted, at West Point, everyone voted whether they liked the band or not, and this inflated the actual support for the band represented in the vote.

Needless to say, this certainly hurt civilian fans' of the Dave Matthews Band opinion of West Point. Many of them grumbled and complained and at least one of them made the mistake of saying something he really shouldn't have. He unfortunately caught the attention of the cadets and it quickly became a question of loyalty to email him and tell him what they thought of him. Some cadets figured out his contact information and quickly spread it around. Now, there are around 4,000 undergraduates at West Point, most of whom sent this fellow two or three emails. Many of them also called him or sent him conventional letters. This amounts quite a lot of hate mail. I have assurances from my brother that this is quite typical of how the cadets conduct business.

Now don't get me wrong, this is a good mentality for a military to have. It makes for a stronger and more functional fighting force, but you don't have to be a sociologist to determine that it leads to some very significant PR issues in the civilian quarter. Personally I think that sacrificing a few concerts is a small price to pay for a strong national defense. However, when applied to a political campaign, this kind of PR problem means the world.

When ABC, or NBC, or CBS, or whatever news group places a poll on their website, they are looking for the opinion of the regular followers of the website. Regular users tend to vote and leave. A good number of Ron Paul supporters however, vote, and then email all their friends, notify everyone in their Meetup groups, contact known supporters on Facebook, until just about every supporter of Ron Paul has had a chance to vote in the poll. The result is inflated results that the newsgroup just disregards. What's worse is when the Ron Paul supporters vote in his favor even when the situation does not warrant it; for example: voting him the clearest speaker at a debate when speaking is clearly his greatest weakness (I get the impression that he is trying too hard to express too much at once, and is thus succeeding in communicating less overall.) It's similar with Digg, where articles that even briefly mention Dr. Paul in a positive light get boosted to the top. As one anonymous forum goer once said, "I despise Ron Paul and his army of diggers." Clearly these tactics are winning detractors, not supporters.

Other problems occur when supporters pounce too quickly on objectors in forums and message boards and as a result, instead of winning over a convert, as they could if they were more judicious with their comments, they instead earn an enemy who will now likely vote for Romney or McCain just to spite them. This is hurting the cause.

In short, while I see signs of promise, libertarianism, constitutionalism, traditional liberalism are on the rise and and people are starting to see through the empty promises of statism, this particular expression of that is not going to help, either in the short or in the long run. Ron Paul supporters, chill out, before you screw things up for everyone.

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