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.

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