It’s hard to tell if the idea that Ron Paul cannot win in 2012 is more ignorant, in its complete lack of historical sophistication, or more arrogant, in its claim to certainty amid all the complexity of 300 million lives and the myriad issues that affect them.
Sometimes, perhaps once in a few generations, a nation can undergo what a mathematician or physicist would call a “phase change.” The classic example of such a thing is a pile of sand. Every grain you add makes the pile slightly steeper and slightly higher without moving any of the other grains inside the pile, until eventually one grain is added that causes an avalanche of sand down the sides of the pile, moving thousand of grains and changing the shape of the pile.
Such behavior can be exhibited by all complex systems, and a nation — it should be obvious — is much more complex than a pile of sand.
The important point for those who would presume to make such grand predictions as “Dr. Paul cannot win” is that no examination of the pile of sand before the point of avalanche would tell you that, or when, the avalanche will eventually happen.
But happen it does; indeed, happen it must.
We cannot see past a phase change. I don’t know if the U.S.A. will have undergone one at the time of the 2012 election, but the necessary conditions for one are all in place, as far as I can tell.
One has to reach back a good way in American history for a time of such rapidly rising sentiment that not only are our leaders unable even to think of real solutions to the problems of greatest concern (rather than just making expedient changes at the margin), but also that the prevailing political and economic system is structurally incapable of delivering any long-term solutions in its current form.
The sheer range and interconnectedness of the problems that the nation faces are such that any permanent solution to any one of them will require profound systemic change that will necessarily upset many economic, political and cultural equilibria. And that is nothing more than a definition of a national phase change.
The average American may not know what is to be done, but she can sense when the system has exhausted all its possibilities. At that point, not only does the phase change become reasonable; it becomes desirable — even if what lies on the other side cannot be known.
As anyone can find out just by talking to a broad cross-section of Ron Paul’s supporters, his base is not uniform in its agreement on the standard issues of typical American party-political conflict. In fact, Paul supporters vary significantly even in their views of what in the old left-right paradigm were the “wedge-issues.” Rather, they are united around concepts that could almost be called meta-political: whether left and right really exist, and, if they do, whether they are really opposed; whether centralized government should even be the main vehicle for political change, etc.; and whether there are some principles that should be held sacrosanct for long-term benefit, even when they will hurt in the short-run.
For those with eyes to see, such realignments and re-prioritization may even be glimpses of America after its next phase change.
If Ron Paul has committed support from 10 percent of the adult population, and most of that 10 percent support him precisely because they believe he represents a whole new political system, an entirely new political settlement, then we may be close to critical mass — just a few grains of sand short of the avalanche.
Another piece of evidence that the nation is close to a phase change and a gestalt switch is the very fact that the prevailing paradigm (from which the mainstream media, established political class, etc., operate) has to ignore huge amounts of data about Ron Paul and the movement around him to continue to make any sense. The studied neglect of data as “irrelevant” is invariably indicative that the neglected data are hugely important. If information doesn’t really matter, why go to all the effort of ignoring it?
Specifically, on all the metrics that a year ago everyone accepted as useful indicators of political standing, Ron Paul is not just a front-runner but a strong one.
First, and most directly, he does extremely well in polls. The organization of his grassroots support is not just excellent; it is remarkable, by historic and global measures. His ability to raise money from actual voters is second to none. His appeal to independents and swing voters is an order of magnitude greater than that of his competitors. Secondarily, he has more support from military personnel than all other candidates put together, if measured by donations; he has the most consistent voting record; he has the magical quality of not coming off as a politician; he oozes integrity and authenticity, and, as far as we know, he has a personal life and marriage that reflects deep stability and commitment.
To believe that Ron Paul’s victory is a long shot in spite of all standard indicators that directly contradict this claim is to throw out all norms with which we follow our nation’s politics — and that is a huge thing to do. The only way it can be done honestly is to present another set of contradictory reasons or metrics that are collectively more powerful than all those that you are rejecting. I am yet to find them.
If it is true that the studied neglect of data to hold tight to a paradigm is the best evidence that the paradigm is about to collapse, then the massive and highly subjective neglect of all things Paulian is specific evidence that the country is moving in Paul’s direction.
Of course, none of this means that Paul will definitely win. But it does mean that a bet against him by a politician is foolhardy and by a journalist is dishonest.
If Paul wins, it won’t be because he is the kind of candidate Americans have always gone for. It will be precisely because Americans have collectively decided on a dramatically new way of doing business — a new political and economic paradigm — and then he’ll not only have ceased to be a long shot; he’ll be the only shot.