Day One of Ron Paul Fest: Jaded Conservatives, Libertarians Celebrate Liberty
Around the State
“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.
“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.
"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 firstname.lastname@example.org or at (850) 727-0859.