Just like their candidate, Ron Paul supporters don’t seem to know the meaning of the words “sit down.”
It took an auditorium full of annoyed bookish types to start yelling this command during the Q&A session of the Narrating Disaster panel at this past weekend’s Los Angeles Times Festival of Books for not one, but two avid Ron Paul supporters who began shouting accusatory remarks at no one in particular.
It all started because Robert Scheer was on the panel, nestled between Amy Wilentz, the author of several books, and Joel Achenbach, who recently wrote the book A Hole in the Bottom of the Sea about the BP Oil Spill. For more detail about just how out of place Scheer was at this table, you might want to ask Wilentz, who didn’t care to hide her sentiments on that subject. Suffice it to say that the only disaster Scheer seemed to have narrated was the absurdly tenacious political campaign of Ron Paul.
But where it really got out of hand was after Scheer had stopped his monologue for Q&A, a couple of minutes gracefully set aside by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Barry Siegel, the moderator of the panel, and the head of the Literary Journalism department at UC Irvine.
A woman approached the microphone, rattled off something off about where she’s from, then dove straight into the Ron Paul talk. And it’s not like she was saying anything against Scheer (much less to any of the other panelists, or God forbid, on the topic of disaster nonfiction narratives). About thirty seconds into her mumblings, people started to ask her to sit down.
“Please, do you have a question?” Siegel asked, calmly.
More mumbling, and then Scheer cut her off. Then more Ron Paul talk. Panel-goers fled the scene. Wilentz sighed into her microphone.
Next up was a man who, from the back of the auditorium, seemed to be wearing a blazer and jeans. Hope returned to those left in the auditorium that the panel might be back on its wayward track.
No dice. The man started delivering a tirade, endorsing Ron Paul and disparaging Paul’s critics. Audible groans from the audience, and Siegel started urging the man to get to his question or sit down. Unlike the other lady, this dude was unfazed, bald spot wiggling in dogged political fervor as he spoke his piece. And then, something surprising from Siegel, the reserved, kind-eyed journalist.
“Sit down. Sit down. SIT. DOWN,” Siegel finally called, voice risen now in concordance with the chorus in the chagrined crowd.
That was when the man turned around, exposing a black “RON PAUL 2012″ T-shirt under his blazer and, before sitting down, pointed his finger at people around him, returning insults in the oh-so-mature method of spitting them back verbatim: “You sit down!” etc.
After he sat down, the venue was quiet for a moment, unsure if the panel could recover.
“Well, now I’m afraid to ask a question…” the next questioner said, meekly, before asking a short question directed towards the panel in general. Wait, was this a panel on disaster narratives? Oh, right.
Wilentz leaned over and whispered something to Barry, who chuckled — the modest journalistic giant returning to his balanced, sweet candor as he ended the panel before anymore Ron Paul fanatics could filibuster again.