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Ron Paul Army Shows the Power of a Motivated Niche

BY Colin Delany | Wednesday, December 19 2007

Cross-posted on e.politics

Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul's supporters sure know how to make the media/industrial complex take notice: they've learned to speak the language of political professionals, which is money. By bringing in more cash in a single day than any other online political fundraising effort — $6 million — they've given their candidate the means to get his message across through advertising and paid organizing, which for better or worse is how our political system measures a candidate's viability. The challenge now is for his campaign and his supporters to win the hearts and minds of the many rather than the wallets and passion of a few.

Why do I say few? Wired's Threat Level has some great statistics about Paul's haul: 58,000 people contributed, with a median donation of $50 and an average donation of $103 (the handful of very large donors no doubt skew the mean as usual). As a percentage of the U.S. population, that's a tiny group, only .0001933% of the country according to my math (58,000 divided by 300 million). A niche audience indeed! But a group that now has the means to put its message out over television, radio and in print in addition to the 'net. Let this be an example to ANY marginalized group in society that wants the mainstream political system to pay attention: organize online, and start raising money. (Though according to Glenn Greenwald, Paul along with Edwards and Huckabee still aren't getting the recognition they deserve for reasons that reveal profound biases in our political system.)

For more on the Ron Paul movement, be sure to check out the the excellent Josh Harkinson profile of Paul supporters in Mother Jones. While some like Paul himself have been involved in Republican or Libertarian politics in the past, many have considered themselves political outsiders until this point. It's a tribute to the dogged consistency of Paul's beliefs that so many have devoted themselves to working for him — in some cases quitting jobs to do it. One fascinating observation: Harkinson notes the connection between the clarity and logic of computer programming and the internal consistency of much of libertarian theory, something that helps to explain why the tech world has been such a hotbed of libertarianism since the beginnings of the web.

Of course I like the article in part because he brings up a point similar to one made in these very pages:

Paul's revolution is a conservative one, by his own account — and thus all the more noteworthy for Democrats, who until now comfortably assumed that progressive bloggers, YouTubers, and ex-Deaniacs would give them, and only them, an edge online.

Note that some of us have talked about the political neutrality of online technology for quite some time, and more recently have specifically warned Dems not to get complacent. I must quibble with one minor piece of Harkinson's introduction, though, in which he describes Paul as having "improbably become an Internet sensation." Improbable? Only if you're not that familiar with the history of online activism — a candidate like Ron Paul is an online natural. Still, that's a minor issue with an otherwise excellent article. Follow-up question: what's the next political niche group to find its voice and roar?

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