In July, Paul flew to Silicon Valley to speak at the Mountain View headquarters of Google. He spun through the Googleplex, past the life-size Tyrannosaurus rex and the corporate organic garden and into an auditorium overflowing with workers balancing laptops on their knees. Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and John McCain had appeared here, but none had drawn a comparable crowd, nor as many questions—or manifestos—emailed in advance from Google staffers. "When John McCain and Hillary Clinton were standing up ready to stamp their approval on the Patriot Act, you're one of the people in Congress who said, 'No, absolutely not,'" a worker who'd flown from Seattle told Paul during the Q&A. "And that really impressed me." There was a webcast, and a rockumentary; Bill Dumas, Paul's official videographer and a member of the band Blonde Furniture, provided the soundtrack's chant, "If you Google Ron Paul...," an homage to the idea that all you need to know about Paul is on the Internet. A few weeks later YouTubers produced a Ron Paul rap ("Yeah we know our Homeland Security and FEMA / Just look at how they protected us from Hurricane Katrina"), and then a Ron Paul folk ballad, a synth-pop track, and a riff on the Scarecrow's "If I only had a brain."
By then, roughly 10 percent of Paul's donations over $200 were coming from tech workers. No business sector has raised more for Paul; in Google's hometown, Paul logs more contributions than all the Republican front-runners combined. He has garnered links to his donation page from a broad array of websites—troublingly broad, in fact: In November, he refused to return a contribution from avowed white supremacist Don Black, or to block the donation link from Black's website. McBride's favorite, dailypaul.com, has more daily viewers than the official John Edwards website (albeit according to the notoriously skewed Alexa ratings).
This is all the more remarkable because, though tech wealth has historically supported libertarian causes, the industry's money in recent years has shifted to buying political firepower in the major parties. For example, since the 1990s, McBride's libertarian-inclined boss, Intuit founder Scott Cook, has more than doubled his donations to Republicans and Democrats, giving the maximum last year to mainstream politicians such as Mitt Romney and Harry Reid.
Still, the romance of libertarianism endures for Silicon Valley's rank and file. Scott Loughmiller, a partner in a six-man dot-com startup in San Carlos, says he has converted all his coworkers to the Paul credo. "You can argue all you want, and they did for a month," he said, "but eventually they caved, because you have to give in to logic." Paul's name shows up hand-stamped on dollar bills, emblazoned on freeway banners, and on roads across the valley via a big white delivery truck known as the Liberty Van. In August McBride changed his voter registration from "Decline to State" to "Republican" so he could vote for Paul in the primary.
In the techie brain, self-interested antigovernment leanings—many Valley libertarians are furious about the investor-protection rules of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, a law they blame for driving Wall Street IPOs to London—cross-pollinate with the yearning for a reassuringly Cartesian political philosophy. "Techies think of life as like code," says Peter Leyden, a Democratic strategist and former editor of the Valley's original libertarian-leaning tech bible, Wired, "so you just find where the bug is and fix it." Capitalism and democracy are seen as self-regulating systems that bureaucrats can only screw up. And Paul is the only candidate who understands these killer apps. "What the other candidates say isn't backed by rational thoughts or facts," McBride contends.
Libertarianism might be a simple ideology, an aversion to big government in all its forms, but don't tell that to libertarians: "Like any movement of any size," says Nick Gillespie, editor of the libertarian magazine Reason, "it is an endless operation of trying to figure out more and more ways in which people who agree on 99.9 percent of everything can really hate each other's guts."
Anarcho-Capitalists: The most radical of the lot, they want to abolish government entirely (though, unlike regular anarchists, they do support private property rights). "The state acts like a band of thieves and killers," explains Lew Rockwell, the best-known exponent of this strain. "The private sector doesn't do that."
Minarchists: Archrivals to the anarcho-capitalists, they support a minimalist version of government: Let the state handle roads, policing, and defense—but nothing more. Many, including Ron Paul, view the Constitution as the ultimate minarchist document.
Cosmopolitan Libertarians: Term used by the minarchist editors of Reason to describe their embrace of world citizenship and deride rivals as hayseeds
Economic Libertarians: Worship free-market absolutists like Milton Friedman
Hippie Libertarians: Worship freedom-loving freaks like Larry Flynt
Religious Libertarians: Worship deities of their choosing, care about politics primarily as it affects religious freedom. In 17th-century England they were Puritan Roundheads. In 21st-century America they're Mormons.
Gold Bugs: Advocate a return to the gold standard, or some equivalent, as a way to diminish the fiscal powers of the state; dismiss foes as "inflationists"
Objectivists: Followers of philosopher Ayn Rand who love morality tales, hate anarchy, and endorse a scorched-earth foreign policy. If "flattening Fallujah to end the Iraqi insurgency will save American lives," Ayn Rand Institute director Yaron Brook has written, "to refrain from [doing so] is morally evil."
Neolibertarians: Libertarian neocons; big supporters of the Iraq War
Paleolibertarians: Old-schoolers who despise the neolibertarians for selling out to the system. Also think atheism is overrated.
Technolibertarians: Extropians, transhumanists, sci-fi-fans, they strive to transcend humanity's meat-puppet limitations and take self-determination to the final frontier.
South Park Conservatives: Find their politics articulated in a show created by two avowed libertarians; a seminal episode follows a race for school mascot between a giant douche and a turd sandwich. Which, says Reason's Gillespie, "pretty much sums up how most libertarians approach politics."
Paultards: Blogosphere dis for those who annoy the online masses by relentlessly shilling for their man in comment threads, polls, and social networking sites
In fact, McBride believes Paul's reasoning is so ineluctable, written words aren't sufficient to convey its force. His dvds, culled from clips such as the Google talk and handed out door to door around the Valley, capture Paul in all of his charismatic equipoise. "He just doesn't get emotionally charged," McBride says. "He's very rational. And you can't always pick that up in an article you are reading. So I think hearing him speak, seeing him speak, can be more influential, more powerful. And people don't like to read anyways."
Chants filtered through the second-floor windows of a San Francisco hotel where Paul was giving a speech on fiscal policy at a fundraising breakfast last summer. An hour later the candidate hit the street with an entourage of video bloggers. "The whole city is out here," a woman pronounced. Paul shook McBride's hand before disappearing into a thicket of placards. It was the first time McBride had met his idol, and for several minutes he remained frozen on the curb, fumbling to buckle his camera case. "That was a rock-star arrival," a stubbly hipster in a golf cap remarked. "Oh, bigger than that for me," McBride gushed.
Paul ambled with a slight hunch across the trolley tracks of Market Street and through the Financial District towing a block-long tail of supporters displaying irony mustaches, man purses, and antiwar banners. "Google Ron Paul!" someone shouted. McBride offered passersby copies of his dvd. ("If you'd told me six months ago that anything would have motivated me to do something like this, I would have told you you were out of your mind," he later emailed me.)
At the Palio d'Asti restaurant on Sacramento Street, McBride, wearing a ringer T and no jacket, flashed a $500 ticket and walked into Paul's fundraising lunch. He picked a mostly empty table at the back and pulled out his iPhone, replying to emails from fellow Meetup members who sat at the next table. Then he switched to camera mode, walked over to Lew Rockwell's table, and wordlessly snapped a photo. "There are a lot of iPhones here," he told Chris Nelson, a squeaky-voiced computer programmer at our table. "I've been keeping an eye out for them," Nelson said. "Yeah," McBride confided, "I noticed Lew Rockwell was taking photos with his."
When the chef brought out plates of Texas wild boar (a Ron Paul special), talk turned from tech to politics. "Isn't there a whole lot of hope here?" Nelson asked. Paul had a lot of "mainstream support," agreed McBride. Then the two got in an argument over whether government ever had a role to play—Nelson thought it might be needed to stop global warming, but McBride believed a strict interpretation of private property rights (you can't pollute my land) would be more effective. "Money is the root of all evil," McBride said, "but it's also the solution to everything—economics rules everything. It's a macro science."
Just then Paul stood up to speak. His voice was faint. He began by describing himself as the mere servant of a grassroots revolution. He claimed to lack the moral and legal authority to govern, which was why he would abolish most of the federal government. "Some people will say this won't work," he said. "They say we need government; if we didn't have it, it would be total chaos. But it would be the opposite: In some places, we would have more government, but it would be self-government. People would have the responsibility of taking care of their own lives."
The crowd heartily applauded, though what Paul meant by self-government wasn't exactly clear. McBride lingered as Paul disappeared for a radio interview; when he reemerged, McBride snapped photos for other Meetup members who'd been unable to afford the entry fee but were now politely queuing up to greet Paul. There, in line, was Nanette LaVogue, a professional "hauntress" with blue hair, and a delegation of medicinal-marijuana advocates who wanted to give Paul an abalone shell. ("It's still legal tender in Norway!")
But eventually McBride moved in to chat. "Nice to see...meet you," Paul said, and McBride delivered the statement he'd composed earlier that day, in all its haiku purity: "I just want to thank you for your hard work and courage." Then he backed away with a beatific smile.
Later McBride explained why he hadn't tried to talk further: He already knew what his hero would say on just about any topic. Libertarianism, he glowed, "is the only place where the answers to all questions have actually been resolved."