"This is a very diverse crowd," the woman behind me in line for the Ron Paul rally said in an approving tone. I looked around the lobby of the SeaTac DoubleTree Hotel. There were dozens—hundreds—of Ron Paul supporters walking around us in their Ron Paulaphernalia, but "diverse" isn't a word I would use to describe them. Basically: They were all white. But not just Seattle white. Let's put it this way: The Rick Santorum rally on Monday was markedly more diverse than this room.
Unless, I guess, she meant the crowd was age-diverse. Because that was certainly true. There were Vietnam vets, satisfied-looking 50-year-olds with receding hairlines and ponytails, a lot of men who probably dressed as Steve Jobs last Halloween and, mostly, tons of young white men in their 20s and 30s. It looked like the staff of every tattoo studio in the greater Seattle area was at the DoubleTree, as well as quite a few scary-looking muscular shaven-headed men (most of them in some variation on the "Don't Tread On Me" t-shirt) who weren't dispelling any rumors about the Paul movement's ties to white supremacist groups.
The conversation in line was dumb. One man said he didn't personally want to exercise the right to bear arms, but he heard that "they want to ban knives now," and he clearly understood that we were on "a slippery slope." Another supporter explained that his friends didn't want to vote for Ron Paul because of his advanced age. "His age is a plus," the man said, because "an 80-year-old man probably isn't looking for world domination." Another man said he tried canvassing his neighborhood on behalf of Paul, but he got frustrated when his neighbors told him they were diehard Clinton fans who couldn't wait for Chelsea to run for something. "Can you believe that?" The would-be canvasser ultimately felt bad for his Clinton-loving neighbors: "They're Vietnamese, so they're Democrats. They probably need what the government's giving them."
Despite the unmitigated idiocy of the hundreds of people in line, the Ron Paul campaign was remarkably well-organized. They handed out buttons, stickers and, if you promised to canvass for them, elaborately printed yard signs. They made sure everyone in line provided their information for the e-mail list. They handed out free information about how to caucus on March 3rd. They made the Santorum campaign's rally staffers look like total, pathetic amateurs. After what seemed like a century (but was probably more like an hour and fifteen minutes) in line, hundreds of us packed into the Grand Ballroom of the DoubleTree for the rally, which started, as promised, exactly at 7:30. Staffers had placed campaign materials on every chair in the ballroom—a couple of pamphlets, and a sample of the Ron Paul Family Cookbook, featuring pot pie recipes, a few recipes whose main ingredient was Oreos, and something called "Impossible Pie." A speaker introduced Ron Paul supporters to former Justice Richard Sanders, whom he called "a fighter for liberty and the Constitution." Sanders gave a completely forgettable little introduction to Paul, but the crowd rabidly applauded the suggestion that he was "considering another run for the state supreme court." "We gotta get his guy back on the bench," the next speaker said, before finally introducing Ron Paul.
What is there to say about Ron Paul's stump speech? We all knew what he was going to say, and everyone applauded at the right times and booed at the right times. Here are the things the audience booed: The UN, NATO, Goldman Sachs, the Fed, inflation, military drones, the military arresting American citizens, spending 12 years in Afghanistan, and bailouts. Here are lines and ideas the audience applauded: "The president is not supposed to be a king"; "we shouldn't try to run the world, we have a hard enough time running our lives"; "gold and silver"; "liberty brings people together"; the "perverse" way our government has interpreted "this whole idea that we are an exceptional nation"; "friendship and peace"; the fact that Vietnam was "a biggie back in the 1960s"; "war is a negative, it is always a negative;" the suggestion that the US government should not be allowed to borrow money; the fact that the only regulations business should follow should be "don't steal and don't rob"; and the suggestion that "we have hyphenated our liberties because we belong to groups," even though we "shouldn't get punishments or benefits because you belong to a group." All through the speech, Ron Paul's wife stood off to the side of the stage in a pink top, her arms crossed and scowling implacably.
"You are the greatest American, Ron Paul," someone in the audience yelled. There was applause and a semi-awkward pause. "I'm delivering the greatest message," Ron Paul finally replied. As the speech neared its end, a background roar gained in volume. At first, we all looked around, thinking the other half of the room was chanting while we remained silent. But it dawned on everyone at the same moment that hundreds of people who couldn't fit in the room were out in the lobby, chanting "We want Paul!"
Finally, the speech ended, and half the audience lunged to the front of the room, swarming around Paul. I joined the other half of the room who were trying to leave, but we were met at the door by the hordes of Paul fans in the lobby who were trying to fight their way into the ballroom. It was a bottleneck, smelly and loud. Paul staffers handed out reminders of the March 3rd caucuses. I was on the phone with a friend as I tried to fight my way through the mob. They were getting angrier and ruder, shoving at me with their elbows. I explained to my friend, "It's like I'm a salmon, trying to fight my way upstream in the river of liberty."