Ron Paul's Progress

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
April 21 2011 11:05 AM

Ron Paul's Progress

AdWeek posted an e-mail exchange between me, their reporter, and Wonkette editor Ken Layne, which seems to have ended yesterday's furor over a Wonkette post about Trig Palin. Layne pointed out -- actually good-naturedly, although you can't always tell on e-mail -- that while I'd said it was "gross" to use a particular word to describe the young Palin, he'd stuck up for me in 2010 when a leaked e-mail from the JournoList listserv found me using the word "Paultard."

This comes up a lot, because I cover the Pauls and the libertarian movement. And the old e-mail has offended a lot of people. I still get e-mails from people angry to see the suffix "-tard" every used, because they have mentally disabled relatives. I'm really sorry about that. It's a term that was tossed around by people with a lack of class -- including, at one point, me.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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So when I sent an e-mail to the old listserv referring to "Paultards," what did I mean? I was using a term that had been coined at some point in 2007 -- possibly by Wonkette -- to refer to the most intense supporters of Ron Paul. At the time, Paul's support seemed to come out of nowhere, and his fans took over the Internet in a way that mystified a lot of Republicans. Paul would win every online poll, and every post-debate poll. By late 2007, news networks that ran the polls were dismissive of their own results. Who were these people who could get 40 percent in an online poll for a candidate running at 5 or 6 percent? They preferred to be called "Paulites" or "Paulians." But the derisive "Paultard" term was unkillable.

Checking my e-mail archives now, I see that I used the word in an e-mail to JournoList only once -- September 12, 2009. That was the day of the big FreedomWorks protest in D.C. At one point in a conversation about the protest, a Lister (whose name I'll leave out) wrote:

I think more people were there on Saturday than voted for Ron Paul in all the primaries combined.

Here was my entire response.

Just to address [Lister] and this comment: "I think more people were there on Saturday than voted for Ron Paul in all the primaries combined."

More 1 million people voted for Ron Paul in the GOP primaries. That said, many of those votes were cast in primaries held after the nomination was sewn up. But just in Pennsylvania, Paul polled 129,247 votes against McCain. And that's more people than showed up on Saturday.

It's all very amusing to me. Two hundred screaming Ron Paul fanatics couldn't get their man into the Fox News New Hampshire GOP debate, but Fox News is pumping around the clock to get Paultard Tea Party people on TV.

I think that's enough context to make it clear, but just in case -- the point I was making was that the network that did the most coverage of the Tea Party event that day (and a lot more coverage besides) did not take Paul's supporters seriously when they were saying the same stuff in 2007 and 2008. And this Lister didn't take Paul's supporters seriously. In 2007, someone yelling "End the Fed," or hoisting a "Who Is John Galt?" sign, or talking openly about socialism in the Democratic Party, couldn't get arrested. In 2009, he was leading the conservative comeback. The people who ignored Paul in 2007, or laughed him off, failed to notice that a lot of what he was seeding was taking root. Now, in 2011, Paul is one of the most-visible Republican members of Congress, and his son is, arguably, the most-quoted member of the GOP's Senate freshman class. (Last week, I noticed that the covers of both free Capitol Hill dailies led with photos of Rand Paul, who was talking about filibustering the budget deal.)

Because I voted for Paul in the 2008 primary and I worked at Reason throughout the election, I didn't see a problem with my ironic use of the derisive "Paultard" term. The people in this conversation knew where I was coming from. Needless to say, it's not a term I use anymore. The friends and relatives of mentally disabled people are right on this one.

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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