Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Ron Paul and Tommy Trojan

What would cause a person to skip work and ride in a car for three hours with a complete stranger through Los Angeles traffic in the blazing sun? That's right, presidential candidate Ron Paul.

Last Wednesday, in an adventure I still can't believe I had, I attended a rally for Ron Paul at USC. Sounds simple enough, except I don't have a car and don't live in Los Angeles. So I responded to an e-mail from a fellow Ron Paul Meetup.com member in my area (Santa Barbara). Those Meetup groups really do work, let me tell you! An e-mail, a quick phone call, and we were all set.

The closest I've been to a political movement before this was probably going to a CalPIRG statewide meeting at UC Berkeley, a student-led environmental and public interest group. Yeah, pretty much not at all similar. I haven't been a political activist before, maybe because no candidate ever seemed to speak about issues I could support before.

If there's one thing Ron Paul knows, it's that the message is more important than the man. As around seven hundred people gathered to hear him speak on the podium in front of Tommy Trojan, he reminded us, "You know, the question is always asked, why are we getting the support, especially among young people... what is it that they're attracted to? And it can't be me by myself, I know that can't be it!" We laughed with him. "But it just may be that the cause of liberty is what we're interested in!" And we applauded.

It's true. The crowd was young. I'm fresh out of college myself. I wore a homemade Ron Paul rEVOLution t-shirt, designed and printed with Adobe Illustrator. Others had hand-made signs and some were distributing other materials they had clearly made themselves as advertisements. With believers like us, Ron Paul has a grassroots marketing campaign all his own. No one paid us, we just felt his message was worth fighting for.

The day was hot, and I noted to my new Meetup friend that I wished I had an umbrella to hold over Ron's head. Truly taxing weather for a speech! Ron Paul's entrance, coming straight out of a press conference in one of the USC academic buildings, was a great moment. I was standing near the stage, but I could hear people on the other side of the walkway cheering before I saw him. A roar rippled through the crowd, and as soon as I saw him, a shiver ran through me. A great man was among us. I was cheering too, as loudly as I could. (My back can be seen in this YouTube video, short black hair and wearing a black shirt, taking pictures.)

Ron Paul covered some of his key issues, most notably removal of the Federal government from the citizen's private life (by way of abolishing the Federal Reserve and the income tax), ending the War on Drugs, restoring civil liberties, and removing our troops from foreign soil.

As ever, Paul was passionate and also very thorough in his explanations of his arguments. For example, he made an interesting point on the Drug War: "I want to talk about another war that's an illegal war. It's an intrusion on privacy, it's an excuse to abuse our liberties wholesale, and that is the War on Drugs. Now, in a free society, there are always problems, and people get to make choices. Some people will make bad choices, but they have to be responsible for their bad choices. I happen to have a personal belief about drugs. I happen to think they're terribly dangerous. But as a physician, I also have come to the conclusion that prescription drugs are causing a lot more harm in this country than the illegal drugs." Paul also noted wasted police energy trying to catch supposed "drug criminals" instead of actually violent citizens and sex offenders.

I agree that the criminalization of drugs has actually caused more harm than it has prevented. Through illegalization, black markets and violence centered around those markets have sprung up where there was none previously. And let's face it, do the drugs that are illegal have much to do with how dangerous they are? Not really. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration receives over $100 million a year from the drug industry, mostly to review drugs more rapidly. You can bet they aren't protecting you.

Another point he made that resonated with the crowd was that of protesting the fiat system. He went so far as to say the government wasn't smart enough to handle our money, and that the sheer act of devaluing the dollar by printing more money was an infringement on civil liberties. The year 1913 was when things began to go downhill, he noted, with the Federal Reserve springing into existence and the adoption of the inflationary policies we have today. The working person should be able to keep what they earn, he said, and that is how we will know we have a healthy economy. Amen, Ron Paul.

On the issue he is perhaps the most well-known for in his presidential bid, his protest of the Iraq war as unconstitutional and unwarranted, he made an impassioned plea: "Bring them home! Stop the killing and stop the bleeding!" After his speech, a huge crowd of supporters made their way to the stage, including myself, to shake his hand, get a photo with him, and try to express our gratitude for his campaign. Paul all but vanished in the crowd... at times only a small head of silvery hair in the crowd gave any indication he was still among us.

It was worth the wait to shake the hand of such a great man. Clearly tired out by his speech and the weather, Paul made his way slowly through the waves of people, never denying anyone a picture, an autograph or a handshake. He was so nice about it that eventually his assistants had to clear us aside to make room for his Fox interview, which happened about twenty minutes after the rally.

There would be no breaks for Paul. After the Fox interview, he went straight on into a room reserved for paying guests who would be having dinner with him. It would have been difficult to attend this dinner and get back at a reasonable hour, so we said our goodbye to USC and headed into a nearby gas station for water for the drive home.

Here's where one of my favorite moments of all came. A man approached us and said, "Ron Paul! I'm German, and we've heard of him where I'm from too!" He had been unaware that Ron Paul was in the area, although his son attended USC. He was very disappointed to hear that the rally was over. He asked if there was anything Ron Paul-related we could give him. Fortunately, I had acquired a bumper sticker at the rally, so I handed that over. And what's more, he took our picture as we held up the Ron Paul signs and grinned.

There is no clearer proof than that: Ron Paul's message resonates across the world. I am proud to be a part of the movement.

Monday, September 17, 2007

A "Goldwater Republican" View of Ron Paul

I asked my father to write about his experience at the September 12 Ron Paul event in Pasadena. Here is what he sent me:
Thank you for inviting me to accompany you to this morning’s breakfast at the Ritz-Carlton in Pasadena to meet and listen to Ron Paul. Here are some of the thoughts that have gone through my mind during and after the event.

Some say that in polite society one should never discuss politics or religion. The reason, I believe, that the two are offered together is that they are so closely related. To be religious, one must have faith. In modern society, one might refer to religion as a triumph of faith over experience. In many cases, politics is like religion. Party affiliation and adherence to a belief system – capitalist, socialist, anarchist, etc. – become articles of faith. To challenge one’s faith is to challenge the very essence of one’s beliefs and life purposes. It is easier to exchange the people – we need fresh faces and new ideas – than it is to change people’s minds.

There was a time, not so very long ago, when one of the major political parties represented the view that government will solve our problems and will save us, and the other major party subscribed to the view that the government which is big enough to give us everything we want is powerful enough to take everything we have. To my dismay, the former view now prevails in both parties. There was a time – which now seems very long ago – when this country shunned foreign entanglements and acted as a beacon for refugees fleeing armed conflict and repressive governments. To my sadness, this moral high ground has been forsaken for interventionist policies.

I was drawn to the Republican Party by personalities like Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan and intellectuals like Milton Friedman and Thomas Sowell. The first three have literally passed on and the fourth seems largely forgotten. They inspired me by their belief in individual freedoms and their large measures of distrust of government. I am very pleased to say that Ron Paul is true to the legacy of these four great Americans and others like them who treasure freedom and who understand the genius of our founding fathers and how their wisdom is embodied in our Constitution.

His road to the Republican nomination is uphill and steep. He is challenging the majority in our country who now accept, on faith alone, the value of our vast, ever-growing federal government. He is challenging a discretionary war, a war which, against American values and tradition, we chose to initiate –which has taken some of America’s finest young people into battle in Iraq, to be killed, maimed and emotionally scarred, and has ignited a veritable orgy of killing in Iraq – but beyond that, he is challenging an interventionist policy that takes it on faith that our country is morally superior and that our right to intervene in other countries is god-given. And he is challenging entitlement programs which simply transfer money from working young, whether or not they can afford it, to non-working old, whether or not they need it, and a faith that government can care for us better than we can care for ourselves.

It falls to Ron Paul and to us who understand what he is fighting for, to do everything we can to make him as successful as possible. As you have said yourself, his success would go a long way toward restoring the faith of young people in their country, a country where the blind faith of many who have come before them has dimmed their prospects for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness by allowing our government to wander away from our constitution. Let freedom ring! Go Ron! Go meet-up groups!

-The Old Man

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ron Paul in Pasadena

It’s been noted that Ron Paul has unusual appeal to the younger generation: enthusiastic young adults are bringing their parents into the campaign, rather than the other way around. I thought it would be great to be a part of that encouraging trend.

My father has been extolling many of the same things Ron Paul has for years. The virtues of the free market, the problems of centralizing our government in Washington rather than letting local communities take the lead, the burden of taxation and the importance of trade, the absurdity of the war on drugs, the appeal of Goldwater, Milton Friedman and Ronald Reagan’s brand of libertarian-conservatism. A lifelong Republican, he supported Bush in 2000 but became disenchanted with out-of-control government spending and the all-consuming focus on Iraq. In the old days he used to listen to Rush Limbaugh and donate to the GOP. In 2004 he voted Libertarian instead, and then basically disengaged from politics.

This spring I told him all about Ron Paul, and in Ron Paul he found someone to vote for this year. But I wanted to do more. In this moment, in this election, thanks to Ron Paul, suddenly we have the chance to help bring about real change, real debate over the role of government in our lives, over the fundamental paradigms of our foreign policy, over the future of conservatism. One vote is not enough.

Even though he liked Paul’s message and earns a comfortable income, my father was reluctant to contribute to the campaign. So I told him about the private breakfast with Dr. Paul in Pasadena and that I planned to go. I invited him to come with me. At first, he balked - $500 was too much, he said. But I suppose my expression of disappointment had some effect. He changed his mind. It was on.

As the date approached along with the necessity of RSVPing, I myself was privately wavering. Was this really a good idea? It was a lot of money. Then I watched Ron Paul’s fiery exchange with Mike Huckabee at the Republican debate and my mind was made up. If Ron Paul can stand alone against the entire GOP establishment and fight with all his heart for liberty, for peace, for the Constitution, and against fearmongering, militarism and big government, then I sure as hell can afford to send him a few bucks.

Dad and I set off Wednesday at 5:00 a.m. for Pasadena from San Diego. Traffic was fine in some places, but gridlocked in others even in these early hours. Thanks to some fortuitous use of the carpool lane, we arrived at the Pasadena Ritz Carlton (an extremely impressive building with an interior reminiscent of a European palace) almost exactly on time for the 9 a.m. breakfast. The fare was high-quality but not extravagant, just as we would hope – we want Dr. Paul to keep as much money for the campaign as possible! We were joined at our table by one guy I recognized from our local Meetup, as well as some folks from the Pasadena area. By the scheduled start time the room was just about filled, roughly 50 people altogether in attendance. A very respectable turnout (and at $500 apiece, a good financial result too), and it was obvious that everyone was pleased to be there.

Dr. Paul arrived soon after and greeted everyone in the room, visiting with us at our tables, exchanging a few words and a handshake. He was as gracious and friendly as his reputation suggests, taking his time meeting everyone. The local Meetup organizer gave a brief introduction, then turned it over to John Ziegler, a surprising but interesting choice of speakers. The pro-war radio host (he had Dr. Paul on his show the night before) made it clear that he strongly disagreed with Dr. Paul’s foreign policy views, but that nonetheless he had great respect for the consistency and integrity behind all of the Congressman’s judgments. He said that whenever he’s not sure what to think about a bill in Congress, he has a simple rule: how did Congressman Paul vote? Finally, he yielded the floor to “a true American patriot,” Ron Paul.

Ron Paul was, as usual when he gets the chance to talk uninterrupted, warm, engaging, articulate, intelligent and enthusiastic. Speaking, as always, without notes, he expounded once again on familiar themes, focusing heavily on the noninterventionist foreign policy (possibly to the chagrin of Mr. Ziegler, who seemed somewhat less enthused than the rest of the audience), covering topics known to any fan of Dr. Paul’s: Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Vietnam, and blowback; the Old Right and the former Republican tradition of ending wars, not starting them. He did add several details that I had not heard before, mentioning how the military draft affected his own decision to go into medicine; his determination to avoid having to pick up a submachine gun and shoot people, instead choosing to be a healer of the injured. He also picked a strong example, I thought, of the Cuban Missile Crisis (which took place the day he received his draft notice) – where Kennedy projected strength and refused to countenance the installation of the missiles, yet behind the scenes negotiated a pragmatic agreement to avoid all-out war and perhaps nuclear apocalypse. Though I’m sure we’d all heard much of what he has to say before, the crowd was energized and applauded often, with several standing ovations.

He discussed the appeal of the campaign to the younger generation, drawing a parallel between the sacrifices being demanded of the youth both by the foolish wars and the insolvent welfare programs of our time. During the question and answer session, my father got big applause when he introduced himself as a parent brought into this by his son (me). This is an important theme, I think. Ron Paul has a unique appeal to my generation – just look at his numbers on Facebook, Myspace and Youtube. I can’t speak for anyone else, of course, but for me Dr. Paul was absolutely right when he spoke of the popularity of the non-interventionist idea among young people. His forthrightness in speaking out against the very foundations and unchallenged assumptions of this illegitimate war were what got my attention back in 2002 and opened up all his other positions to me.

He addressed healthcare, the gold standard and the danger of the coming war with Iran in the Q & A, giving very good, reasonable, understandable answers. Even after following Dr. Paul’s record for years it still astounds me how he manages to use more logic, history and common sense in his expositions than all the other ‘major’ candidates put together. His message, of course, was simple in the end: follow our Constitution and the advice of the Founders, trust in freedom, and trust in ourselves to do the right thing.

I was fortunate to get a picture with Dr. Paul (although I blinked, augh) and he patiently posed with all the admirers who wanted one. He was signing copies of his “A Foreign Policy of Freedom,” which unfortunately was sold out by the time I went to get one.

After that, we spent a while talking with Jeff Frazee, the national Youth coordinator for the Paul campaign. He was a bright, easygoing young guy who was receptive to my father’s concerns about the campaign website (the lack of clarity on Dr. Paul’s position on trade in particular) and we had some interesting discussion about the problems of getting college students interested and registering them to vote (as Republicans!).

As we took our leave of the refined elegance of the Ritz, my dad told me that he was very glad he’d come; he was extremely impressed with Ron Paul’s performance. Then we were on our way back to San Diego, flush with enthusiasm, optimism and hope for this great nation of ours. America has been heading in the wrong direction for some time now, and the Republican Party even more so, but maybe, just maybe this unique campaign can be the movement that turns the tide.