Ron Paul in Detroit

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 27 2012 1:30 PM

Ron Paul in Detroit

DETROIT -- The Little Rock church never came close to capacity. Nobody really expected it to. Ron Paul was campaigning in a poor part of this city where Republicans rarely pull many votes, and most of the people in the room lived outside the city. A pick-up truck decorated with Gadsen flag and "END THE FED" signs incongruously circled the block as some curious locals joined the diehard Paul people.

"I usually vote for the Green Party," said Jennifer Wallisch, a new Paul supporter. "We disagree on unions; I don't know why he's so much against them. But 90 percent of what he says, I'm for." She actually lived in Detroit, too. "There's a freedom here you don't have in some other burg. You can get 1500 square feet here for what you'd pay for 450 in New York."

Inside the church, Rev. Dr. Jim Holley introduced Paul by reminiscing about the confused reporters who'd asked him why Paul was here. Paul, unlike other candidates didn't just "use Detroit" to make glib points about liberalism. He wanted to listen. "He is the watchman on the wall," said Holley.

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Paul hardly changed his message for the audience. "Why do we have inflations and depressions?" he asked, rhetorically. "Is it natural for people to have these problems?" America's crises, he said -- he didn't get specific about Detroit -- were all traceable to government intervention. He got a loud ovation when he attacked the PATRIOT Act, and a more isolated ovation when he defended the rights of states to decriminalize drugs. "Drugs are very very dangerous," he said. "Of course, the drug war is even more dangerous!"

Paul only took three questions, all from African-American students. (A more typical-looking crew of Paul voters was urged away from the mic.) Every question had a libertarian answer. What would he do to fix schools? "I don't think the federal government has helped in one way," he sid. "Charter schools help. Choice helps. But the Federal and state governments have caused most of these problems. There's a burden on we as individuals, to escape them, by working harder, studying harder."

What would Paul do for urban America? Paul didn't understand the question -- literally. He struggled to hear through the questioner's mumble, and only after Holley translated it for him did he suggest that urban America needed the government to stop distorting wealth. "The 1% is real," he said, but the part of the 1% to worry about was the "the part that's in the the military industrial complex, the part that gets the bailouts -- that needs to stop!"

A crowd milled for 20 minutes or so after Paul was done. Doug Miller, an independent African-American voter, hung around to try and talk his peers out of backing Pauk. "How do you support someone like him, with the stuff he's written in newsletters?" he asked. But he hadn't been winning many converts. They'd told him they were disappointed in Barack Obama, and looking for someone new.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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