Ron Paul didn’t have to give the “speech of his life” Tuesday night at the Target Center in Minneapolis. He didn’t have to strive for soaring rhetoric to inspire nor carefully parse his words to maintain political balance. His supporters weren’t there to listen to a speech; they were there to celebrate a message and a messenger. And celebrate they did.
When Barry Goldwater Jr. bellowed “Are you ready for Ron Paul,” the crowd of over 10,000 greeted the 70-year-old congressman from Texas with an outpouring of cheers and chants of “Ron Paul, Ron Paul.”
“This is amazing,” Paul said bringing his hands to the side of his head in a spontaneous gesture of incredulity as he thanked his supporters for the welcome.
“I still think of myself as that small country doctor that went to Congress,” he said. He told them how meaningful the past 18 months had been as he witnessed the enthusiastic response, especially among young people, to a message of liberty and constitutionally limited government.
The crowd roared, and thus began an hour of enthusiastic celebration of Paul’s sometimes quixotic quest on behalf of individual liberty. But the man who took the podium this night was not the “candidate of the woeful countenance” that announced 18 months ago that he would seek the GOP presidential nomination.
“I was a reluctant candidate 18 months ago,” he said. “I was skeptical. Well, I lost my skepticism, and I hope you lost your apathy.” The roar indicated the crowd was with him.
‘Temptations of power’
Referring to a recent illness of his wife, Paul thanked supporters for their thoughts and prayers and messages of support and used it to introduce a major theme of his remarks.
“We appreciated the prayers and support from our Christian friends,” he said. “And we appreciated the prayers and support from our Jewish friends. And the prayers and support from our Muslim friends. And we received a lot messages from our agnostic and atheist friends, and we appreciate those, too,” he added. “Freedom brings people together!” he proclaimed over the first of many standing ovations and spontaneous “Ron Paul, Ron Paul” chants.
“Reporters would ask me what I wanted to do as president,” he said. “But I wanted to be president for the things I wouldn’t do. I didn’t want to run your life, I didn’t want to run the economy, and I didn’t want to run the world. And I wouldn’t have the constitutional authority to do any of that. Some say that makes for a weak presidency, but I say it takes strength to resist the temptations of power.”
Throughout his speech Paul characterized the “change” proposed by the Democratic and Republican candidates as more of the same and contrasted it with the message of the Campaign for Liberty.
“The two weakest arguments in Congress are a moral and a constitutional argument,” he said. “That attitude has to change. Tax cuts are seen as a cost to government. That attitude has got to change. The Constitution was written to restrain government. That’s been turned on its head; the Constitution is being used to restrain us. That has to change.”
Unlike the acceptance speech of Democrat Barack Obama in Denver, which was a litany of things Obama would do to energize the country, Paul’s remarks were a sometimes intimate, always energizing conversation with his supporters. The crowd didn’t hang on every word; Paul wasn’t delivering a speech, he was joining with his supporters to celebrate the message of liberty. Sometimes the crowd was actually racing ahead of him.
At one point Paul referred to bureaucrats “lured by prosperity” writing laws (“Where did they get that power?” he asked), which brought the crowd to its feet chanting “End the Fed, End the Fed” – a reference to Paul’s call for an end to the Federal Reserve System and return to a policy of sound money.
“I haven’t even gotten to that point yet,” said Paul with a broad smile. “Can you save that?” The crowd responded with cheers.
Paul continued explaining how throughout history civilization advanced with less government, that minimal power achieved maximum productivity. He urged his supporters never to give up liberty for the promise of economic security.
“There is never a reason to give up one ounce of liberty for security,” he said. “It doesn’t work.” Again the crowd broke into the “End the Fed” chant. “Not yet,” said Paul, “but here it comes – There is no authority in the Constitution for a central bank or a Federal Reserve System.” The crowd erupted.
9/11 and war in Iraq
Paul returned to the “no authority” theme again when he declared there is no constitutional authority for a federal role in education. He criticized a government energy policy that is a mess of regulations that promote policies that make no economic sense while putting up barriers to market solutions. And, he said, we now as a country accept the principle of preemptive and undeclared war.
Paul hasn’t retreated a step from his debate position that 9/11 was the result, in part, of an interventionist U.S. policy in the Middle East and around the world. He stressed the need to defend habeas corpus. “We do not need and should never have a national ID card,” he said at one point. At another, speaking to the erosion of civil liberties, he said, “Simply calling a bill ‘The Patriot Act’ doesn’t make one a patriot.”
Despite his controversial anti-war stance based on principle (preemptive war is not justified) rather than political pragmatism, Paul cited a campaign finance report that showed his campaign received more contributions from active service personnel than all the other presidential campaigns combined.
Paul’s speech closed a day of celebration that was not your typical convention where speakers focus on making their parties and candidates look good. While it was abundantly clear that the crowd adored Paul, it was not the adoration of petitioners looking for a savior to give them hope or offer new ideas and new promises of prosperity. It was people recognizing in the man Ron Paul the hopes and dreams and the vision of liberty they harbored within themselves. They honored Paul for what he believed in, not what he promised them.
“A year and a half ago, I didn’t know where the campaign would lead,” Paul concluded. “But now I believe our day is coming. There is a vacuum out there. Liberty is an idea whose time has come and cannot be stopped by any party or any government.”
For a final time, the crowd rose, cheered and chanted. “Ron Paul, Ron Paul.”