The Republican primaries are fast approaching and so far it's quite the war of the words over who can act like the most outrageously psychotic extremist. One candidate, at least according to what seems like half the internet, stands above all that. Any discussion related to politics online is almost inevitably going to include a plug for Ron Paul's presidential campaign. These mentions happen even in contexts apparently incongruous with Paul's political positions-- any YouTube video of a statement by a left-wing intellectual like Noam Chomsky or Howard Zinn will have a comment by some well-meaning radical suggesting we vote for Paul.
Of course, internet comments are probably not the best indicators of anything other than the fact that it's far easier to click "post" than it is to think for a few seconds, but in this case they're particularly revealing, as Ron Paul is well-known as a candidate with a strong internet-backed campaign. Presumably, this would reveal his support base is comprised mostly of the generation born in the 1980s and 1990s. This generation gap is striking-- Paul is old enough to be the grandfather of most of his supporters. Not that there is anything wrong with being 76, but one would think that somebody whose support is so concentrated in one generation would somehow be in touch with the values of that generation, which Congressman Paul, who appears to be an extremely intelligent and conscientious public servant, certainly is not.
Paul is a traditional conservative Christian: pro-life, anti-gay, anti-science creationist. All positions that are completely inconsistent with the views of the average college-aged voter. Paul's trick for getting around these issues is a bizarre fetishisation of the power of state governments. He seems to have a somewhat irrational hatred for the federal government, but does not extend that to state governments-- a possible consequence of representing a Texas district in congress. What reason does one have to believe that state governments are going to be any less tyrannical than the federal government? Paul justifies this by invoking the constitution, the following of which is clearly more important to Paul than actually opposing authoritarianism. And he uses this method to deflect concerns about social issues. Yes, he is anti-gay, he'd say, but it's okay because he supports dealing with it on the state level. Sometimes, he gives this a bizarre spin, such as his stated opposition to sodomy laws but finding the technical issue of which court challenges the law more important than removing the unjust law itself.
From this it's clear that Paul is more of a radical decentralist than an anti-authoritarian. He is also a strict constitutionalist, but that seems to take a backseat, as he is perfectly all right with state law violating the constitution-- he supports allowing states to perform religious tests for public office candidates despite the fact that this is a gross violation of the First Amendment.
Then there are some positions he takes that serve to highlight why Paul should be relegated to appealing to a certain anarcho-capitalist fringe rather than the wider voting public. Paul's semi-unique glorification of state governments reaches the level of impractical extremism In a 1988 interview with noted conservative William Buckley, Paul outlined his view that the fbi should be abolished and states should handle criminal matters in the same way sovereign nations do, suggesting a criminal crossing state lines would have to be extradited to the state in which they committed the crime. This would be a logistical nightmare. This position, among others, shows a resistance to pragmatism, which is the real reason behind a lack of popular support for Ron Paul. His positions on issues of education and health care, albeit sincere, also showcase his leanings towards extremism. Despite Americans' general conservatism, most voters are not prepared to eliminate the Department of Education, Medicaid and Social Security.
The main reason that Paul is an odd choice for the current generation is his ignorance over many internet issues that are going to be major debates in the near future. Namely, Paul opposes legislating net neutrality, giving the inexplicable reason that it would increase internet regulation. He has admitted that he doesn't understand the issue-- this in itself isn't a concern, but given the demographic that backs Paul, it's a salient point to make about his supporters.
Paul's certainly a straight-shooter who can hold a consistent and principled opinion. Additionally, he has a number of "hooks" for younger voters, like liberalisation of drug laws. However, he is also far from a pragmatic candidate for all Americans and more closely resembles a radical representative of a small libertarian niche. Were he elected president, not only would the country be deadlocked for four years with a series of vetos, but many of his policies would end up being hugely unpopular. The point is not that nobody should vote for Ron Paul, it's that only a small sub-section of libertarians should be voting for him and there's no reason people who do not support his extremist economics should be supporting a Paul presidency.
If the Republicans want to stand any chance at defeating Obama in 2012, they should be looking in the opposite direction from the current crop of candidates-- and that includes Ron Paul.