I first saw Ron Paul on Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO) a few months ago. Ron is a dark-horse presidential candidate on the Republican side, a professorial-looking congressman from Texas. He doesn’t really get your attention until he starts to talk about his political platform – which includes truly disruptive elements like the abolition of the Federal Reserve bank and the IRS. He is more or less a Libertarian (he was their presidential nominee in ’88) in Republican clothes, and his politics are really interesting – definitely worth a look if not for any other reason than to hear a well-constructed alternative viewpoint on the hot issues of today.
But the more interesting thing about Ron Paul (at least, for the purposes of this blog) is that he is huge on the web. Denizens of the internet have taken up his banner and are promoting him wildly. Ron has turned a lot of techies into political activists – blogger Chris Pirillo, who is historically very tech-oriented on his personal blog, has suddenly turned uber-political because Ron inspires him. When Ron gets excluded from debates or gets bad press online, email boxes get pounded and websites go down.
I don’t think this is because Ron had some sort of revolutionary internet campaign strategy. I think this is more because of how his politics resonate with the type of people that are attracted to the internet and spend lots of time there – those who thrive on the freedom, lack of oversight, and anonymity that the web brings. The internet, right now, is “small government” – just like Ron.
Contrast this to Barack Obama’s campaign, which also thrives on grassroots support. He has a very progressive web approach – spear-headed by a very well-designed social network. Obama does very well, but doesn’t generate the kind of buzz online that Paul does. It’s not for a lack of web campaign savvy, it’s that his politics just don’t resonate with the online crowd quite as much. So although the web is incredibly democratic (small d), it’s important to remember when reacting to online polls that the political views of the web are biased – just as they would be in other demographically-slanted locations like rural Nebraska or urban New York.