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Posted at 05:13 PM ET, 05/15/2012

What will we do without Ron Paul?


So long, sir. (Jay Janner - Associated Press)
He disappeared in the dead of May:

The screens were frozen, the forums almost deserted,

A hush fell over the YouTube comments;

The mercury sank in the mouth of the caucus crew.

E’en mainstream media agree

The day Ron Paul stopped was a dark cold day.

That’s probably a bit much, especially the “e’en,” but the departure of Dr. Ron Paul from the presidential race — he announced Monday that he wasn’t competing for any new delegates, and clarified the statement on Tuesday — left a distinctly autumnal feeling in the air. It was the sort of news that gave you the urge to march around attempting ineptly to adapt Auden’s poem about the death of Yeats to the occasion.

What are we going to do without Dr. Paul?

All the strange uncles of the 2012 race have been lopped off. Thanksgiving dinner is bound to be quieter, but it will not be nearly so amusing. There will be no 9-9-9, no End the Fed, no sweater vests. We are left, on the right side of the aisle — depending on how exciting the week of news is — with either the Worst Man Ever, a Wealth-Addled Menace to Both Dogs and Humans, Who Is a Vampire and Predator and Destroys Businesses and is a Terrible Cultist, although possibly not all at the same time, or A Man So Bland That It’s Impossible to Finish This Sentence Without Drifting Off to Sleep. This is the trouble with our two-party system. It has a tendency to weed out strange uncles.

I’m going to miss Ron Paul. He was — to say the least — a consistent presence.

Paul spokesman Jesse Benton noted that the campaign was “emphasizing decorum.” He admitted: “Our supporters are going to get an excessive amount of blame for problems that arise at heated conventions.” This is not entirely fair.

Then again, in my admittedly limited experience of caucus speakers, it is not entirely unfair, either. The Ron Paul speaker at the caucus at first would make a great deal of sense, and then you would keep listening, and then he would start to tell a parable about a shepherd and a giant — “These giants, they were real. They dig up their bones every day. They had two rows of teeth. They practiced modern-day sacrifice and cannibalism” — and you would lose the thread.

But at least they showed up at caucuses.

Now what is the Internet going to do with its time?

The best and worst that can be said of Dr. Paul is that he was the candidate of the Internet forum commenter. Internet commenters are brilliant and ruthless by turns. They notice the slightest error in grammar or geography. They engage in long, painstaking harangues on certain recurring themes. They can be cruel. They can be kind. You have the sense that, if they were at dinner with you, they would keep adjusting the silverware and mumbling to themselves, and that they might be startled by the sunlight.

I have a healthy love for Internet commenters. My livelihood depends on them. But not nearly so heavily as Dr. Paul’s livelihood did. (Please don’t vivisect me, commenters! I don’t mean you, personally. You are the exception. Your comments are uniformly well-spelled, completely rational and varied in theme. I was speaking in general.)

Nobody, I mean nobody, had a more vibrant and ruthless Internet presence. Mention Ron Paul, or slightly misspell RuPaul, and suddenly you were deluged with comments from far and wide.

I’m going to miss the awkward moment when, 10 minutes into what I thought was a slow-starting viral video, I noticed that I was watching a Ron Paul ad.

It was almost a chicken-and-egg problem. Was there something about being a Ron Paul supporter that gave you the urge to go hacking your way through the impenetrable underbrush of Internet forums and comment zones? Or was it that the natural impulses of Internet commenters were best expressed by supporting Ron Paul?

One thing all the candidates for president up to this point had in common was the unswerving conviction that the media were not portraying them quite correctly.

But the camp that had this conviction the most loudly was that of Ron Paul. There was a halycon week or so when Jon Stewart noticed. But after that it was all downhill. The Huffington Post billed Paul’s announcement that he was going to stop campaigning under Things You Thought Had Already Happened.

But for someone so neglected, he made a tremendous splash, hoarding up delegates and stockpiling supporters. And every time you mentioned him, the Internet roared.

Everyone always talks about the Obama campaign’s skillful use of social media. But that was all surface, the photogenic Facebook side of the Internet. Ron Paul was all over the traditional forms of anti-social media — the comment boards, the YouTube comments, the caucus crowds. On the surface, nothing changed — a slightly increased delegate total, a few web videos.

And these Internet commenters are like more articulate, better-looking cockroaches — they endure.

I’d say I’d miss them. But no doubt, I will see them in the comments pages. And just wait until 2016.

By  |  05:13 PM ET, 05/15/2012

 
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