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08/25/2007 Archived Entry: "Ron Paul and the county fair"

POLITICKING AT THE COUNTY FAIR. I grew up in one of California's megalopoli, where the county fair was one monstrous commercial exhibition/carnival filled with anonymous strangers. The entertainers were the Beach Boys and Wayne Newton, who performed in an auditorium-sized arena. If anybody ever entered their apple pies or their 4H lambs in that fair (and I'm sure they must have), I managed to spend days there and miss them.

So I find it a weird trip to roam around our local mini-fairgrounds -- the size of a small horse pasture -- running into people I know and congratulating them on their ribbons for gladioli, fudge brownies, quilts, and horsemanship. It's just too damn quaint for words. But nice, in a way that the mega-fair never was.

Every year, the one small barn with the commercial and community-service exhibits is laid out exactly the same. The animal-rescue group I work with managed to snag the biggest prize booth just inside the doors. Our nearest neighbor is the local drug task force, which seems to think mug shots and close-up color photos of "meth mouth" (our latest moral panic) are highly entertaining. Outdoor associations rub shoulders with church groups. Banks inveigle people to save while the Cookie Lee jewlery-party lady and a western artist ask them to spend.

Every year the Republicans and the Democrats have back-to-back booths -- out of each other's sight, but rubbing each other's butts (which is such a good metaphor for the political reality). Every year, I walk past both booths with eyes averted. But this week I chanced to look up briefly as I passed the Rs. And there was Ron Paul. Well, his picture and bio posted on the wall. Other, less-important Rs, were there, too.

Noticing a box for a presidential primary straw poll, I grabbed a ballot and a pen and put an X next to Paul's name, muttering, "There's only one candidate up there who's worth a dime."

To that point, I hadn't looked at the two women behind the table (Rule of Thumb: Never make eye contact with anybody at a political booth if you value your freedom). But when I added, " ... And it's Ron Paul," I was suddenly swooped upon.

Both women rushed from the other end of the booth. "You know who Ron Paul is?" one cried in disbelief.

When I looked up and said, "I've known that for thirty years," I finally noticed that both women were wearing "Ron Paul 2008" buttons. The one nearest me looked as if she were going to cry. She swung around to my side of the table and wrapped herself around me. Meanwhile, her companion reached under the table and emerged with handfuls of Ron Paul bumper stickers, buttons, and DVDs.

We stood there for a while and talked -- about what a good man Paul is, about how shamefully the media is ignoring him when he's got such a passionate following and is making such a hit in straw polls and online voting, how Paul is the only candidate from either party who's not a warmongering opportunist, about the illusory nature of our "strong" economy, and about how the Rs have become even a worse welfare-warfare party than the Ds -- and about how these two women were trying to staff that booth with reasonable neutrality while actually pumping hard for Paul.

Then we philosophical parted ways. Both women believed, with a passion, that their job -- and mine -- was to "take back" the Republican party. No way and no effing way, I said, never again after the screw job of 1994. They understood that and quit trying to shove an R-Party mailing-list signup at me. But I did take their buttons and stickers and pass them around to friends as I congratulated them on their prize-winning oil paintings and cala lillies. (Those poor women at the booth might not have encountered many Paul supporters, but I know plenty of 'em.)

The saddest (yet not surprising) part of the conversation at the booth was that until I wandered up, those women were having a dismal time. It wasn't just that people weren't supporting, or even recognizing, Ron Paul. I'm sure they expected that. They were discouraged by the mindlessness of the support for every other candidate.

"They come up and say, 'I'm for Fred Thompson' or 'I'm voting for Mitt Romney,'" one of the women told me. "But when you ask why, nobody has an answer. They're just names they've heard most often on TV. They're going to choose the next president of the United States without knowing anything about him."

If they were discouraged by the unthinking support for lesser candidates, they were downright scared of the people who came up to the booth to heap praise on George W. Bush, his wars and his acts of tyranny. They described glassy eyes and a complete detachment from reality -- a virtually religious belief in Bush the Son.

I know what you're talkin' about, ladies. And I wish you and Ron Paul luck. But when those are the attitudes you're up against, you're going to need a lot more than bumper stickers.

Posted by Claire @ 01:19 PM CST

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