Why I Don’t Care About Ron Paul and Why He Has Nothing to Do with the Long Tail

November 21, 2007 — 23 Comments

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.

Ryan Holiday

I'm a strategist for bestselling authors and billion dollar brands like American Apparel, Tucker Max and Robert Greene. My work has been used as case studies by Twitter, YouTube and Google and has been written about in AdAge, the New York Times, Gawker and Fast Company.

23 responses to Why I Don’t Care About Ron Paul and Why He Has Nothing to Do with the Long Tail

  1. So I recently discovered that I never actually learned how to write an “academic” paper. The way I wrote in response to prompts allowed me to be blissfully ignorant of this, but I recently began working on a fairly large research project and the lack of a structured prompt made it impossible for me to outline my paper without going off on tangents. Although I still believe people could learn more and get more out of their schooling if they didn’t stick to rigid compositional structures, there are times when they are unavoidable and in those cases your “Spartan Paper” metaphor is useful. So thanks for that.

    Also, a side note:

    “The Polish Cavalry that charged German tanks, all they did was lose.”

    Although it’s a pretty funny image and serves to illustrate your point, the Polish Cavalry was actually largely successful. That the Poles were militarily incompetent is actually a myth propagated by German and Soviet authorities, and probably deserves to be burned out of the collective mind.

  2. I havn’t decided for sure, but I may very well vote for Ron Paul. I won’t go into it, but I have my reasons why I like him and other reasons why I believe he’d not be good as our next president. If I vote for him, I’ll do so knowing that he probably (although I don’t think it’s impossible) will not win. But by voting for him, it would be my way to kind of say to the world, “hey, I’m not happy with the way the country is being run.” I see a vote for Ron Paul as a vote for change. If enough people vote that way, even if he doesn’t “win”, maybe he’ll get enough votes to create a headline or two and make people stop and think.

    Could that be considered a sort of victory? I don’t know, but I think that is better than not fighting at all.

    The hardcore Ron Paul supporters have shown a lot of skill in organizing themselves ($4 mil in a day is pretty impressive). They could easily disband after this is all over, but it’s not inconceivable to think that maybe some of the thousands will work together in other ways to change the system.

    Who knew that the small number of Spartans could challenge the hundreds of thousands to millions (I know it’s a hotly debated figure) of Persians? Leonidas and his men were brave enough to go and fight and atleast believe that they could do enough to make believers out of others to create that ultimate victory.

    It seems to me that your piece was taking a shot at the stereotypical naive Ron Paul supporter (and not attacking Paul himself), but because you consider voting for him, you must agree that there is merit to giving Ron Paul your vote. And doesn’t that lend legiticimy to his bid even if he’s a long shot to win?

    So I would think it’s too late to change the system for this election cycle, and donating money and support out of desparation is all that is left. So is it really that misplaced?

  3. It’s a mistake because he’s running TO WIN the election. Which is stupid, because he won’t.

  4. I just took that line out because frankly it will cause too much confusion.

    The Spartans at Therm had NO intention of winning there. The Oracle told them that a Spartan king must fall for Greece to be free. But look, they absolutely lost there. It was Themistocles months later at Salamis that was the ultimate defeat of the Persians–and Therm was very much intended to set up that victory. So no, these are two very different things. Ron Paul is in it to win it, which is stupid and misguided and ultimately is going to cause a lot of disillusionment.

  5. The only reason he won’t win is if you don’t vote for him thinking that he won’t win. This isn’t just about your life, it’s about the lives of our children. Your supposed to vote for who you want and who represents you, not who you think will win.

    “There is no honor in fighting a battle you cannot win.” Sometimes when you fight based on whether or not you NEED to win and not on whether or not you CAN win you actually end up winning. See USA circa 1776.

  6. No doubt the Internet is increasing political efficacy in demographics formerly uninterested in an increasingly stagnating system, but doesn’t this just mean that the Long Tail will catch and replace the current guard?

    I see the Internet as an enabling device in this sense, as I think you also do. Yes, current users see it as a platform in and of itself and are so adapted to it that we blindly operate within this new institution while others operate outside of it. But the base using this platform is expanding exponentially as time and technology move on just as the old guard desperately struggles to maintain its old institutions.

    Seriously, isn’t it just a matter of time at this point? Perhaps it is bias, and it probably is, but the system just does not seem sustainable in its current form. I want another X years of agony as much as the next person, but won’t the process will eventually correct itself with natural societal progress?

  7. Thanks for the post Ryan.

    Yes, Mr. Snyder blew the Long Tail concept in his lewrockwell.com piece and didn’t help his credibility.

    I believe both things (a strong Ron Paul showing and strategic internal efforts to change policy) need to happen to bring about real change.

    The further Dr. Paul can go in this election, the more likely the chance of similar efforts succeeding in the future. Barry Goldwater helped Reagan in that way. That visable amount of success goes a long way with the general public and it’s also making more people aware of critical issues (current foreign policy, monetary policy, etc.)

    Working strategically within the system to create change in policy is also required, as you described. Dr. Paul already has quite a record of proposing this type of legislation and I’d like to think it will begin to get the traction it deserves the more success he has moving forward.

    These two concepts should go hand in hand. That said, I know where my vote is going.

    Aside from electibility, etc. I believe Dr. Paul’s stance on terrorism goes along more with the concepts discussed/brought up by Robert’s last post than any other candidate.

  8. Completely agree with Chris here. Ron Paul will be getting my vote, not because I expect him to win, but so that future candidates will see all these votes that have gone toward him, and recognize that there is a demand for these kind of policies that he is putting forth. If that leads future candidates to see that there is a huge niche of these type of voters to capitilize on, then maybe they will modify some of their policies with us in mind. Because let’s face it, in a two-party system, you can never really get what you want, just a candidate whose policies you are more in agreement with. Besides, if I were to vote for one of the big candidates, its not really going to change anything, it’s just another vote lost in the crowd that says “I fully support all of the policies of this candidate,” and won’t change anything.

  9. You are too damn smart for a 19 year old.

  10. I guess my point is, in this particular situation, what does it matter what his exact reason is? Whether he is in it to win it or in it to garner as much support as possible for his views or whatever, wouldn’t the end result pretty much be the same?

    I mean I agree with the principle of not engaging in battles you are sure to lose, but Ron Paul is almost 80; I don’t think he has the time to pass up this election cycle to try and change the system in his favor before he makes his attack. I basically see it as, what does the guy have to lose by trying? Many people are already disillusioned with the system so in that sense it’s a good time for an ‘outsider’ to take a swing at it. And if Paul loses, what has he lost? I think he has inspired a lot of people that will carry on pushing for his cause even if/when he loses. How many people knew of Ron Paul before his campaign? He has already made himself sort of a legend among his followers.

    I think you are being a little to literal with the “don’t fight battles you can’t win” mantra. I think that is more applicable to a situation where you will be worse off than before you started.

  11. This statement makes me cringe: “There is no honor in fighting a battle you cannot win.” I’m sure the bookmakers would have laid odds against Washington and his rag-tag group as well. What you don’t realize is that heaven is on the side of right. Whether it’s time for miraculous results is yet to be seen. What matters is that those who understand truth stand up for it . . . even when it looks like it might not win . . . and especially when it’s unpopular.

    Ron Paul is making people think. This isn’t about ego for him. I’ve never once heard him say this was about getting back at anyone. He’s educating people … he’s making a significant impact on thought processes in America.

    And if anything’s living in a dream world, it’s thinking that any of us could sway what Hillary, Obama, or Guilliani would do after they were elected. They’re gonna do what they wanna do. There’s no using our “influence” to sway them toward better policies. Ron Paul has infinitely better odds of winning than we’d ever have influencing these people who sold out long ago.

  12. You’re right, Ron Paul’s campaign is EXACTLY like the American Revolution. And thankfully, that non-existent God is on his side.

  13. I’m voting for Ron Paul because I want change, but also because I wholeheartedly believe that he *will* win. Sounds crazy – I know. But so did rag tag farmers fighting against the well trained Red Coats. It was a stark minority of men who would dare stand up to the tyranny of England, but that minority ended up changing the world.

    What the author fails to consider is how amazingly organized the Ron Paul movement is thanks to the Internet. Not only are they organized, but they’re educated. Not only are they educated, but they’re active. They are people on the cutting edges of society… They’re what Ed Keller and Jon Berry term “The Influentials.”

    “One American in ten tells the other nine how to vote, where to eat, and what to buy.” -Ed Keller and Jon Berry

    Influentials are such because of a few key traits, but the two most important here are the following:

    -A clear sense that “this matters.”

    -A belief in growth and change.

    In my own life, I’ve witnessed these two traits in myself affecting those around me. People are attracted to passion when it’s coming from people they love and trust. They might not trust the guy in the Guy Fawkes mask who is throwing a V into the air. They will trust their son, friend, or neighbor who is passionate and asking for their help to change the system.

    Debunking “the long tail” and boring us with Duverger’s law ignores the personal nature of politics. I can tell you right now that I am working on lining up 20 people who have never even considering participating in a caucus to do so for the first time in February. The general response is “if it means that much to you, then you bet, just tell me when and where I need to be.”

    “In a democracy, an organized minority is a majority.” -Jesse Jackson

    Hear me now and believe me later: Ron Paul is going to produce numbers in the primaries and the caucuses that the traditional scientific polling firms never anticipated. This is because there is no accurate science for measuring motivation to get people to the caucus. There is no measurement for personal influence.

  14. Sigh. I don’t even know what to say.

  15. Why don’t you start by sharing who you plan on voting for? I’m curious, because you seem to be a “cynical for the sake of cynicism” kind of guy. That’s cool. That’s what I was when I was 20. But eventually, I learned that this stuff actually matters, and that individuals actually can make a difference.

    So I’m wondering if you went through this process of sharing why you don’t care about Paul, only for us to find out that you don’t really care about anything.

    What do you care about, and what are you doing about it?

  16. Read the blog, patriot.

    Ever heard of Ross Perot? He took 19% of the popular vote and didn’t get a single electoral college vote. Do you think Clinton or Dole or Bush would have changed their policy for a crack at that voting block? No fucking question. Do you think McCain or Clinton or Obama would do just about anything to placate Ron Paul’s supporters for a shot at their votes or their case? Without a doubt. But of of course it doesn’t matter because by actually believing that Ron can win (what we call delusions out here in reality) you take your only bargaining chip off the table.

    But forget that because that strategy is clearly above your head. What about getting rid of the Electoral College? What are you doing about that? Have you bothered to think that perhaps the whole reason that Paul is having to scream for attention and spam the entire internet just to get someone to notice is because the system itself is broken? And that even if he wins in that system, we all lose?

    Ron Paul is a joke and so are you.

  17. I must have missed it. Did you answer my question?

  18. Apart from Marnie’s God-is-on-our-side take, I think she makes a good point about there being no way other candidates would implement RP’s policies.

    Maybe they pay them some lip service if it helps get them elected (and we’re dumb enough to believe them), but once in office do you really think they’ll follow through on those promises? I don’t think it’s a legitimate bargining chip if they’re not going to adhere to the message once in power. The special interests just won’t let it happen.

    I’m more willing to see Ron Paul continue to wake people up to the issues that won’t go back in the bottle after this campaign than put hopes into another paid for candidate saying they’ll adopt the message and not follow though. The campaign’s bottom up style lends itself to this message as well so if it’s not Ron Paul now, it will be someone similar later, whether the system is changed or not.

  19. Ron Paul is a joke and so are you.

    Ahh, I love watching some self-important smartass get backed into a corner and resort to simple a ad hominem attack to put the exclamation point on his ignorance.

    Well done, Ryan. A thousand plus words boiled down into “Ron Paul’s a joke and so are you.”

    What an over-educated retard.


  20. Well now a month since all other comments were written…

    The Ron Paul campaign is a $50 milllion media campaign for laissez-faire. A year ago, who would’ve thought such a thing was even possible?

    CATO, REASON, MISES, and all the rest of the libertarian think tanks are a niche market–will the Paul campaign help to expand the libertarian cause beyond the Tail to a wider audience? Somewhat, but how much?

    Maybe some Paulistas need instant gratification in this election, but far more have a long-term desire to create a lasting libertarian majority. Contrarily, President GW Bush’s strategy for electoral victory was an effective short-run strategy for him, but a bankrupt long-term strategy for his party and conservatism.

  21. Democracy fails because most people are stupid, as evidenced by the comments to this post. It amazes me just how many people completely failed to understand what Ryan was saying. Most of the comments are essentially just repeating points which Ryan addressed in the original post.

    But the thing is, I remember reading this post when it was originally posted, and back then I didn’t really get it either. But that was before I’d read The Long Tail, before I read Robert Greene or Sun Tzu or all kinds of books and blog posts and articles on related subjects, and now I understand perfectly.

    If I was American and of voting age, I’d still have voted for Ron Paul, but it’s just sad that the only candidate I’ve seen recently who isn’t full of shit was still clueless on how to actually get things done. Sigh…

  22. Thanks Admin. Good Post

  23. It’s clear from Ryan’s post that when he writes, “There is no honor in fighting a battle you cannot win,” “battle” takes on the meaning of “war” (the “larger battle”). So, pedants, take note: Of course the Spartans and their allies had no chance of winning at Thermopylae; but their fighting at the Hot Gates (along with the Athenians and their allies’ simultaneous fighting at Artemisium) helped translate into a victory in the Greco-Persian War. (See: Salamis.) That’s Ryan’s point.

    Find fault with his semantics, whatever. You obviously aren’t going the strategic route: rejecting Herodotus’ reliability.


    This statement makes me cringe: “There is no honor in fighting a battle you cannot win.” I’m sure the bookmakers would have laid odds against Washington and his rag-tag group as well.

    “There is no honor in fighting a battle you cannot win.” Sometimes when you fight based on whether or not you NEED to win and not on whether or not you CAN win you actually end up winning. See USA circa 1776.

    C’mon, David and Marnie, your arguments both evince the same internal contradiction. Losing that cred, man. Take, “There is no honor in fighting a battle you cannot win,” and insert “an American Revolution.” So we have, “There is no honor in fighting an American Revolution you cannot win.” Given that the US won the war (alas, the contradiction)—I don’t even need to bring France into the equation here—your analogy is already false, logically invalid, etc.

    Ron Paul, on the other hand, had ZERO chance of winning. He’s not an underdog; he’s hardly a competitor. Do you know who also had ZERO chance of winning? I did, and I was 19 years too young when this post was published. That should tell you something.

    Sure, the Americans were underdogs in the Revolution—write a narrative about it. But to call the Revolution unwinnable is wrong on myriad levels, starting with the whole winning and losing part.

    And to defend indefensible logic? There’s no honor in that.

    Isaac—learn the basics of electoral politics. Maybe try Abramson, Aldrich, and Rohde’s CHANGE AND CONTINUITY? Some Rosenstone? Some Bartels? Y’all may not be idiotai , as the Greeks would say, but you sure are idiots.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Text formatting is available via select HTML. <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>