Just went to a Ron Paul event at the Marriott hotel in downtown Des Moines. The ballroom in which the event was held was packed, perhaps 400 people strong, including lots of media, among them Chris Matthews, Maureen Dowd, David Gregory and Joe Klein.

I spoke with several Paul supporters before the event, including Monty, a bus driver in his mid-50s; Dara, a 43-year-old grandmother who came from Seattle to volunteer during the caucuses, and Michael, a 28-year-old textile worker sporting a shirt that said “I am a stoner and I vote.” Each person with whom I spoke expressed great concern about the erosion of American liberties in general and in particular the recently enacted National Defense Authorization Act. (I wrote about the act for the Indy on Dec. 14.) Not one of the Paul supporters with whom I spoke was at all enthusiastic about any other Republican in the field. When I asked them what most concerned them about a second Obama term, each one said that it would be more of the same: erosion of freedom, an erosion which each thought clearly pre-dated Obama’s presidency.

In short, at least among the sample of folks I talked to, there was very little sense of partisanship. This was reflected in Congressman Paul’s own speech, which lasted barely 10 minutes and touched on all of the familiar themes of his campaign: liberty is at stake because of an out-of-control government; American militarism abroad does the world no favors and is a standing threat to our own security; we live way beyond our means and are about to be inundated by a tidal wave of debt-induced inflation and instability.

In none of the talk was Obama the villain. Instead, the threat to the United States derived from entrenched habits and interests of establishment Washington. When Paul’s son, Rand, introduced him, he argued that both parties would have to give up cherished values to solve our debt problems. Republicans could not continue to support profligate Pentagon spending. And Democrats could not afford to continue supporting unlimited social spending. I’d say that the crowd cheered equally lustily for both statements.

The crowd was raucous: They love their man and genuinely believe he can win and that he, alone, has the perspective, wisdom and humility to solve this country’s problems. One thing that I hear a lot from Paul supporters is that they feel as though he is genuinely educating them about how the world works, showing them a way of understanding it that they had not previously fathomed. I don’t think even Romney’s or Gingrich’s most ardent supporters feel that they are being schooled in the same way. It’s an interesting aspect of the Paul phenomenon.