Why I Don’t Care About Ron Paul and Why He Has Nothing to Do with the Long Tail
Ron Paul* is the one candidate able to unite the diverse elements in the Long Tail. His supporters range from strippers to evangelicals, from gun-totters to peaceniks , and yet his message is as mainstream as the Constitution. His libertarianism and federalism will drive crazy the busy-bodies on the left and the right who want to impose their vision on the rest of the country, but these same laissez-faire ideals will unite those in the Long Tail who simply want the federal government out of their lives.
Wishful thinking, but completely incorrect. The idealism here is admirable and yet the epitome of what causes most movements to fail. It’s too “inspired” to talk about strategy, or to look at facts, or to win with the help of reality–they’d rather die in spite of it. And it’s just total misinterpretation of the Long Tail. Because of this, not matter how much money he wins, Ron Paul is doomed to fail.
First, the Long Tail only applies when the fundamental market constraints have been removed. There is a reason that the Long Tail was recently published: It didn’t apply until the internet came along and created a new way to sell products. But it didn’t change the actual stores themselves. The Long Tail doesn’t exist inside Borders, it exist on the infinite shelf space of Amazon. The internet is not “abound with examples with the long tail” as the author claims, IT IS the long tail.
American politics faces the same basic problem. That we have just two dominant political parties has nothing to do with information costs or media attention or lack of funding–it is the physical constraints of the market. We call this Duverger’s Law. The principle states that in any plurality based voting system, elections eventually funnel towards two parties. Because of the district basis of the system, it is impossible for minor candidates to collect their small stakes in many communities into a significant voting block. Candidates win based on how many individual districts they can tally together, not how much overarching support they can garner. Third Parties exist as aggregates of minor factions spread throughout multiple constituencies but the electoral system doesn’t care about percentage of the whole, only percentage of the local. It is innately compartmentalized, tied to the part to the point where the whole doesn’t matter. Sound familiar? This is exactly what prevents a long tail economy from thriving in Borders or at a Tower Records.
On Amazon, the one person in every town that likes Finnish Death Metal can be aggregated into a sustainable consumer subset. Borders, however, can’t afford to stock product for a single fan. This naturally guides them towards products that appeal to blocs of people much in the same way that Durverger guides us to just Democrats and Republicans and leaves no room for Libertarians.
What works on the internet does not work in US political elections. That is what Ron Paul supporters don’t understand. They’re so accustomed to the new dimension that they are trying to project the new rules back at the old. It’s not that easy. The internet has empowered your voices but the system still disenfranchises your votes. The Cold War Kids might be selling fantastically on iTunes, but that’s only because the internet has allowed them to connect and collect people all across the country. The laws of physical reality remain unchanged–touring efficiently is impossible. The internet allowed Ron Paul supporters to connect, but their votes still face the insurmountable limitations of a SMDP (single member district plurality) system. To quote Nicholas Carr “You can try to change the structure, but if you can’t change the economics your efforts will likely go for naught.”
I’ll say it again for the 1,000th time. There is no honor in fighting a battle you cannot win. Your job as a revolutionary is to see the world where it is and then take it to where you want it to be. For Ron Paul supporters that means understanding the massive opportunities the internet offers along with its fundamental limitations. The goal is not always obvious victory. The Spartans at Thermopylae went in fairly certain that they would lose at the Hot Gates but win as their efforts unified Greece. The Polish Cavalry that charged German tanks, all they did was lose. See the difference? One was part of a campaign, the other was desperation.
Ron Paul supporters should be leveraging the media coverage and ability to efficiently raise money not to buy votes, but to force change from the candidates who can win. You are not encumbered with typical burdens of having to schmooze large donors or barnstorm the country. To attempt to compete head to head with Hillary Clinton or John McCain is the worst strategic error you can make–it is conceding to the dynamic instead of controlling it. That money can achieve a far greater ROI if you fight on your own terms, as a light-weight, unified and mobile unit. One that understands that goal is not to win districts but to seed discontent within the electoral system.
But from what I have seen, this isn’t about change, it’s about ego. “Finally we can get back at those people who have ignored us for so long.” That kind of mindset is inherently problematic. It leads you into believing your own rhetoric, overextending, not knowing when to retreat, trading potential power for personality–-it does not breed victory in any form.
So fight this war on the terrain at which the battle has already begun on. Take the only victory that is possible on that field and use those gains to decide where you will fight the next war. In the case of Ron Paul, that means guiding the dynamic and opinion towards Libertarian policy as much as possible within the system. And then, maybe, you have a shot at changing the system; that is maybe, you can get rid of the Electoral College. Until then, it doesn’t matter. Your victory is literally impossible.
*I would like to note, however, that I don’t have any problems with Libertarian policy. I actually agree with most of his policies. But let’s be honest, he might be running in the Republican primary, but he’s doing it as a Libertarian, as a third party. So this isn’t a recycled argument or throwing your vote away, this is about analyzing the situation honestly and systematically. So even if he does win through some massive failure on someone else’s part, he hasn’t changed anything; a third party candidate would be no more viable four years later, all he’s done is change the guard in old model. He’s simply innovated instead of disrupted.