A raucous Iowa caucus

The Wizard of Odds: Iowa begins the road to the Republican National Convention in St. Paul

But there's another reason. Standing before 300 or so student volunteers, the crazy bastard actually said the following:

"The War on Drugs has hurt more people and created more harm than individual use of illegal drugs. As for medical marijuana: People debate whether it has medicinal value or not. As a physician, I'd have to say that yes, it probably does. But that's not the point. The point is, who should have a right to make that decision? The individual who's dying of cancer or some do-gooder in Washington who wants to put you in jail regardless?"

There's a simple reason why most other candidates don't engage in this level of intellectual honesty: It amounts to political suicide. You're much safer pulling a Mitt Romney and saying something to the effect of, "As president, I'd double the incarceration rate of non-violent drug users," and then proceed with a fear-mongering anecdote about how some foaming-at-the-mouth dope addict on parole once snuck into your home, pissed on your Jesus fish, and raped your bedridden grandmother.

In his latest role, Fred Thompson plays a former senator lethargically shuffling toward the White House
Matt Snyders
In his latest role, Fred Thompson plays a former senator lethargically shuffling toward the White House
Iowa conservatives, just minutes before saddling up Fred Thompson and riding him around the room like a show pony
Friends of Fred Thompson
Iowa conservatives, just minutes before saddling up Fred Thompson and riding him around the room like a show pony

I wandered around the cavernous ballroom looking to speak to student volunteers about this. Paul's rousing speech had ended 15 minutes earlier and most of them were standing in a massive line patiently awaiting their chance to shake the hand and get their picture taken with the doctor.

I spotted a tall guy sitting alone in the corner, his nose buried in a book. "Excuse me," I said. "Can I ask you a few questions?"

He looked up from the paperback and saw that I was a reporter. "No," he snapped, and turned his attention back to the book. It was Thomas Paine's Common Sense.

His reaction wasn't surprising. Ron Paul devotees are notoriously skeptical of the media. And in some ways, it's hard to blame them. Paul's image problems (specifically the conspiratorial nutjob thing) are exacerbated by the ADD-addled nature of the American media. In this, the golden age of five-second sound bites and snappy print quotes, the nuances of Paul's intellectually complex positions are often trampled for the sake of brevity. Just a day earlier, the New York Times Magazine had retracted an absurd post linking Paul to a white supremacist group. By the Times' own admission, "The original post should not have been published with these unverified assertions and without any response from Paul."

I approached another reader, this one lost in Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers. His name was David Wright, a senior at Valparaiso.

"I come from a very Republican family and consider myself to be a hardcore fiscal conservative," said Wright, who voted for Bush in '04 and whose general aura evokes Alex P. Keaton. "That's what attracted me to Paul: his fiscal conservatism."

"But what about his social positions, like what he was saying about the War on Drugs?" I asked.

"I'm the son of a Lutheran pastor. I've never touched a drug in my life. So my view on drugs didn't initially mesh with his. But in hearing his logic, I can now better understand where he's coming from."

The Paul phenomenon appeals to a very specific breed of cat, one utterly unconcerned with petty ideology or party cleavages: people fed up not just with the political parties, but with the political system itself. This has resulted in a strange polygamous marriage of minarchists, paleoconservatives, libertarians, centrists, even 9/11 Truthers. It was a wild party.

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING to know about Willard Mitt Romney is that his national security adviser is Cofer Black, vice chairman of Blackwater Worldwide—a fact the national press is evidently too busy to report. You would think a mercenary army of ill repute attempting to ride a political prodigy into the executive branch would be somewhat newsworthy. But the mainstream media has its head so far up its ass that if you Google the words "Mitt Romney Blackwater," the first hit that comes up is a Media Matters essay lamenting the fact that the major newspapers and networks have kept mum on the issue. The implications are grim.

Back to the dog-and-pony show: Desperate to reclaim his lead, Romney had gone negative on Huckabee, unveiling a 30-second TV spot essentially calling Huckabee a pussy for pardoning 1,033 criminals during his tenure as governor of Arkansas.

But on the stump that day in a Missouri Valley bar and grill, the oil-slicked Mormon from Massachusetts kept the gloves above the belt for the most part, pummeling the packed room with an awesome array of empty platitudes and ball-less bromides.

The first thing he did was trot out his automated wife, Ann, to recite stories of raising five boys. This appealed to the Good Housekeeping set. You could almost read the campaign strategist's notes scribbled in her doe-eyes: "Make sure the mothers in the audience can relate to your stories, Ann. And remember to keep it folksy."

Romney eventually took the mic. Looking like the teacher's pet standing before class for show-and-tell, he enunciated the following turds of hypnotic vagueness:

• "Our greatness comes from the fact that we're a good nation and we're a strong nation."

• "I want to make America stronger. I believe our strength is in our people and in our homes."

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