What about Ron Paul?

This is a question Jon Stewart has asked lately.

He barely lost the straw poll! Stewart pointed out. Why are the media treating him like “the thirteenth floor in a hotel”?

“Pretending Ron Paul doesn’t exist for some reason has been going on for weeks,” Stewart noted, showing clip after clip of people seeing Ron Paul and then trying to walk through him as though he were as insubstantial as the air.

“Crazy Uncle Ron” has been dismissed for years.

I thought Santorum had difficulty getting attention? That’s nothing!

Paul is a strange breed of candidate, only visible to the pure in heart. Everyone can see Santorum. We just pretend not to because it’s fun to watch him raise his hand at debates. But Ron Paul is actually invisible to nonbelievers. He is the Isla de Muerta of presidential candidates — you can only find his spot on the ballot if you already know where it is. He’s the gold standard of candidates — and no one believes in the gold standard any more.

When I first heard Stewart’s complaint, I was elated. “You see him, too!” I exclaimed. “I thought I was making him up!”

For months I had no idea he was running, but one night I ate some expired yogurt and had a very vivid dream about the gold standard, and suddenly I woke up and saw that he’d been there the whole time.

Yet I read the coverage every day, and no one ever seemed to mention him. I thought that I was having a psychotic break induced by overwork and lack of sleep. I was annoyed that instead of seeing giant talking rabbits, all that happened was that I saw one more 2012 candidate than everyone else. And he wasn’t even that crazy! He was no Thad McCotter. He was just a mild-mannered old man with strong opinions about the Fed.

I got to the office. “Folks,” I said, excitedly, “there’s another choice! Ron Paul!”

“What’s a Ron Paul?” everyone asked, as if on cue.

“He came in just behind Michele Bachmann!”

“You mean Pawlenty?”

“No, the guy who was very, very close and nearly tied it!”

They looked at me, slack-jawed.

“He’s a Libertarian,” I began, and I sensed ice forming on everyone’s upper slopes. “He was in the debate, too! I didn’t believe it either until I rewatched it! I thought Huntsman just looked sort of under the weather and was shouting more than usual.”

Maybe that could change this time, though. He’s sparking interest. After the last debate, a lot of people seemed to be Googling him, perhaps to confirm that they were not imagining him either.

But the Paulites aren’t helping the cause any.

A new ad just emerged proclaiming that Ron Paul is the One.

Here is his commercial, which debuted this morning. D.C. is a lost city. Ron Paul is a slightly blurry area capable of saving that city! There is also film footage of the one time he was ever surrounded by a cheering crowd with signs, and it is being milked for all it is worth!

There is something about Ron Paul that speaks to people. I don’t mean his mouth; everyone has one of those.

It’s a certain folk heroism.

Ron Paul attracts a very specific demographic — small but passionate, like the man himself. For them, he is The One. He will lead the people out of the desert unto the Straw Poll, the only time they will ever coalesce, and then they will retreat whence they came, to the pursuit of liberty.

He has all the quirks common to cultish figures. He votes no on everything! Everything! He named his son Rand.

But the trouble with Ron Paul is that one always has the sense he’s preaching to the choir, and it’s not a very large choir.

He seems like a good option until you hear the laughter. He’s not caviar to the general. He’s Hawaiian pizza to the general. A few people like it overwhelmingly but not enough to prevent pepperoni from winning the larger groups, every single time. It doesn’t matter how passionate you are. It matters how numerous you are. “I’d rather be nine people’s favorite thing than 100 people’s ninth-favorite thing!” sang the cast of Title of Show, the musical. Well, I stand by my belief that Paul is simultaneously nine people’s favorite thing and 100 people’s ninth-favorite thing — it’s his blessing and his curse.

He’s a cult classic, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” of the candidates. People are willing, week after week, to show up at ungodly hours wearing strange outfits and cheer for him, occasionally tossing toast.

Of course he’s The One.

The thing about The One is that The One is usually some sort of messianic figure (check) who is intensely but not widely admired in the course of his lifetime (check). Centuries from now, we may all worship in his golden temple. But that doesn’t bode well for next year’s general election.