Day One of Ron Paul Fest: Jaded Conservatives, Libertarians Celebrate Liberty

By: Eric Giunta | Posted: August 25, 2012 3:55 AM

PAUL Fest 2012

Paul Fest attendees on Aug. 24, 2012 at the Florida State Fairgrounds | Photo: Jaime Roocke-Sherman - roocke.com

“I’m a conservative who’s fed up with the Republican Party, I’m not voting for Romney, I’m a homeschool mom, and all my children feel the same way I do!”

Television personality Vonabell Sherman seemed to speak for virtually every one of the 2012 Ron Paul Festival attendees who flocked to the Florida State Fairgrounds all day Friday for the first of three days devoted to celebrating the work of the 12-term Republican congressman from Texas.

The festival attracted a Halloween-coalition of disparate ideological and commercial interests, from traditionalist conservatives to disaffected Democrats, anarcho-libertarians to politically indifferent commercial opportunists.

Sherman’s daughter, also named Vonabell, just graduated high school. The youngest in her family, she shares her mother’s passion for constitutional liberty, and will be voting in her first general election come November, but her principal motivation for attending the festival seemed to be to jump-start her musical career. The former American Idol and X-Factor auditioner took to the stage shortly after vice presidential candidate Jim Clymer of the Constitution Party.

Eric Giunta at Paul Fest

Sunshine State News' Eric Giunta on Friday at Paul Fest | Photo: Jaime Roocke-Sherman - roocke.com

“Paul Fest,” as its supporters routinely refer to the event, got off to a slow but spirited start, as a couple of hundred libertarian and liberty-sympathizing enthusiasts trickled in to the Expo Hall while the opening speeches were delayed by a couple of hours.  

One attendee was overheard shouting, “I feel freer already!” upon entering the hall.

Paul is popularly considered to have been one of the more colorful candidates of the 2012 Republican primary season, distinguished from his more establishment-friendly rivals by his platform of laissez faire free-market economics, non-intervention in foreign conflicts, free trade, civil liberties, and decentralized government according to his traditionalist interpretation of the Constitution.

Devotion to those ideals was well-represented among the conference attendees and the vendors who filled the large space adjacent to the stage and speaker’s podium.

Vendors included the Libertarian Party (which is co-sponsoring the festival), the John Birch Society, marketeers of precious metal currency, liberty-minded political candidates running on Republican and third–party tickets, and the ideologically apathetic out to capitalize on the Paul franchise.

Sunshine State News interviewed several of the attendees, of all ages and backgrounds, and while our survey was by no means scientific, every single one of the interviewees vowed they would not support the Republican ticket.

Paul Fest 2012 Attendee

On the Paul Fest expo floor n August 24, 2012 | Photo: Jaime Roocke-Sherman: - roocke.com

"As far as I’m concerned, Barack Obama winning is a train-wreck; Mitt Romney winning is a ship-wreck,” opined Tom Rankin, 65, who came to Paul Fest with his wife Pam all the way from Morgan City, La. “One is a little faster than the other. And I’d just as soon as have it happen fast than slow because the clean-up is gonna be liberty.”

Asked whether they identified as conservatives or libertarians, the Rankins insisted on being called “constitutionalists.” Both are lifelong Democrats; Tom voted for John Kerry in 2004, and both he and Pam voted for Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996. They’re actually considering casting a vote for Democrat Obama in November, to speed up the projected “wreck” and “clean-up,” but both say they will likely stay home on Election Day.

J.C. Ogden of Atlanta, Ga., expressed similar sentiments. Ogden, 24, has voted Republican his entire adult life, and has been an admirer of Paul’s for a little less than a year: “I liked him a lot, but I couldn’t get over his foreign policy, not until I read [political analyst] Michael Scheuer.” Scheuer is the former head of the CIA's Bin Laden Issue Station, dedicated to tracking Osama bin Laden. Scheuer endorsed Paul during the primary, and supported the candidate’s position that U.S. foreign policy is a major instigator of Islamist terrorism.

Ogden prides himself in having persuaded his parents to vote for Paul, and says he will be voting for Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson in the general election.

Most of Paul Fest’s more famous speakers will be taking to the podium on Saturday; Friday’s highlight was Clymer, who spoke on behalf of his running-mate, Constitution Party (CP) presidential candidate Virgil Goode. Goode served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1997 to 2009 (where he was a member of Paul’s Liberty Caucus), and before then in the Virginia Senate. Clymer is the CP’s former chairman.

Clymer’s speech served as an introduction to his party’s political platform. The CP is considered fairly libertarian in its political orientation, though the party’s platform pays robust homage to what it considers the “Biblical foundations” of American jurisprudence.

"The Constitution does not need to be scrapped; it needs to be abided by!" Clymer thundered to applause from the crowd. A little over a hundred people sat for his speech, and Clymer’s articulation of his party’s various policy prescriptions met with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

Just about everyone in the audience cheered his criticism of Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s budget plan, which does not balance the federal budget for a couple of decades, and doesn’t so much as cut federal spending as it does slow its growth. The crowd also applauded Clymer’s promise to abolish several executive departments he insisted were unconstitutional -- for example, the Department of Education.

One of the loudest bouts of applause came with his vow to end all foreign aid. “No more foreign aid; we need to put America first. Why are we spending money on helping everyone else?” he asked.

Applause was mild during his appeal for “protection for all innocent life, beginning with the unborn,” though it gained more traction when he went on to draw a link between abortion and what he said would be the inevitable rationing of care to the elderly under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known as “Obamacare” among its critics.

Positive response from the crowd was most boisterous when Clymer promised a full audit of the Federal Reserve, “before we completely abolish it.” The audience also responded positively to his defense of the Second Amendment right to bear arms. “What is it about ‘shall not be infringed’ don’t they understand?” he asked, about advocates for greater control.

Response from the crowd was virtually nonexistent during his call for tougher immigration laws and making English the official language of the United States, though the crowd seemed to receive positively his insistence that the federal government should not be compelling states to publish ballots in multiple languages.

The small crowd quickly regained its enthusiasm when he vowed to “end all unconstitutional wars; and I don’t mean in the future, I mean now! Bring our troops home!”

During Clymer’s speech, most of the festival attendees remained in the main Expo Hall, visiting the various vendors. Though festival organizers had told Sunshine State News they expected about 10,000 to attend Paul Fest, one unofficial estimate put the number at about 1,500 by about 5 p.m. Friday. More are expected to show up on Saturday and Sunday.

Reach Eric Giunta at egiunta@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

Comments (15)

John Mills
2:39AM AUG 27TH 2012
Like the Black contingent of the Democratic Party, the libertarian component of the Republican Party has, for years, been unwilling to leave even when ignored or beaten up. Until they show a willingness to actually leave, the Republicans don't have to take them seriously or even listen. Hopefully, after Ron Paul is once again thrown under the bus, this year libertarians associated with the Republican Party will actually grow a pair and walk away. That is the only way they will ever get respect from the Republicans.
William in Tampa
10:12AM AUG 25TH 2012
Let me SIMPLIFY our voting privileges - It's ALMOST a "BINARY" selection sheet (meaning two-way). To this you could add "write-in candidate" or SKIP VOTING. Four choices. That's it.

Our prez, a "D" has not floated my boat in a long time, and he seems to basically IGNORE the Constitution.

I'm Conservative - but there are are not enough 'Constitutionalists' to get an "L" (Libertarian) on the ballot - so no three-way there. I'm registered Republican. Do I love 'em all? That's a big -N-O-.

So I WILL VOTE - REPUBLICAN, basically. Obummer has truly done great harm to America, and has in no way EARNED MY VOTE.

If you choose NOT to vote, you're basically rolling over, and saying the Little King deserves another four years - SORRY -UNACCEPTABLE!!!

PLEASE don't be 'stupid' enough to let him run rough-shod over us for another term - Ya gotta go with Romney if you want any hope of getting America back on course. If you don't - it's OBAMA.
10:43AM AUG 25TH 2012
Nothing like demonizing another human being, is there.

7:36PM AUG 26TH 2012
This particular human being did enough to demonize himself through his actions, unfortunately. No need to add anything on top of that.
9:44AM AUG 27TH 2012
Your words betray you - more politics of the "Big Lie"; truthiness on demand.
9:07AM AUG 25TH 2012
I appreciate folks opinions about any of the candidates. That being said, in this crucial election year, unless libertarians and independents get behind the conservative candidate, we will ALL have 4 more years of a dictator-like Obama administration. Is it really worth voting for your "favorite" when there is no possibilty of winning, but a definite possibility of losing the whole election? Even though I am a conservative and Republican, if Ron Paul had won the primary votes, I would have voted for him rather than have another 4 years of watching our country's values and constitution continue to be denigrated and ignored. We ALL need to get behind Romney/Ryan...there is no other viable option at this point....the country has already taken sides....either Obama or Romney....by voting for Paul (or anyone else), you are actually voting for Obama.
10:44AM AUG 25TH 2012
Dictator, really? More "Big Lie" politics from the right.
8:24AM AUG 25TH 2012
Really? So don't vote for Romney. Shades of Ross Perot. Thanks all you Ron Paul Libertarians for helping to elect Obama. How stupid
9:51AM AUG 25TH 2012
How stupid? If a party does "not" accept "all" factions of their party, and run on the "comprised" values of those factions-then said party doesn't deserve the support of its disparate factions...it's not stupid to not support someone who could give a crap about views of the party's normal constituents..if GOP libertarians were such a defining force in this election, maybe Wrongney should of played more to our values instead of adopting Obama's principles...better yet the GOP should of chosen the other REPUBLICAN candidate Ron Paul (yes he is a republican!!!) and not alienate his support but also carry the rest the GOPers who normally vote party blindly every time after watching MSM and not on their actual values, because those people are the only ones carrying Romney right now even though Romney is against everything they normally stood for..Support your views without compromise and you will never be called a flip flopper or liar and you will never have to take back what you said or support someone just for the sake of a party or reelection...yeah so you might lose. That's what the convention was originally for...narrowing down candidates and accepting various values of your party to gain the most support...it was never supposed to just be a coronation of one candidate their views only...this rule changing used to be a way to get different views together on one platform and not a way to eliminate people of your own party...that is what is stupid...
9:42AM AUG 25TH 2012
you can thank the GOP for re-electing Obama. Paul is the only candidate that ever had any sort of chance and we've always been clear that we won't just vote for the republican nominee simply because they were the republican nominee. principles over party. never the lesser of two evils. and every step of the way, we've been shunned, cheated, and ignored, despite massive support and amazing feats. and now you want us to just vote for the same people who've screwed us over and over again?

the GOP can burn slow. i'd rather have 4 years of Obama than 8 years of Romney anyway.
7:49PM AUG 26TH 2012

I actually vowed one year ago to support any Republican candidate who wins the nomination - except if it is Mitt Romney. There are really a lot of half-reasonable Democrats that are well to the right of that damned socialist RINO.

If we are having one of those two commies ruin this country, I'd rather have the blame on the Dems.
9:34AM AUG 25TH 2012
Yep! I was an idiot and voted for Perot the first time! I truly thought there would be a "Runoff". Clinton assumed the Presidency with 43% of the vote. Next time I knew better and tried my best to convince people not to vote for Perot, but enough did to put Clinton in with what 48/49%??

Now he's claimed to be the most popular President ever! What utter HOGWASH! He never won a majority.......
10:50AM AUG 25TH 2012
Guess that makes Barack special with 52.9% of the popular vote.
7:41PM AUG 26TH 2012
Nah. Hitler got 90% support on the vote to merge the offices of President and Chancellor, and assume it himself. Obummer has some way ahead of him before he matches that.
9:59AM AUG 27TH 2012
Great! Perhaps Obama can get 90% just to rub it in.

Oh, by the way, Hitler NEVER won an election, just in case you're confused about German politics of the 1930's. And even the Enabling Act only got 83% from the Reichstag after its burning, and with one party oulawed and prohibited from the vote.

In the future, correct facts would be nice, but then that would conflict with politics of the "Big Lie", wouldn't it.

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