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Government & Politics

Campaigning for Liberty

By Gregg Sangillo

Former three-time presidential candidate Ron Paul spoke at American University.

Former Republican member of Congress from Texas and three-time presidential candidate Ron Paul at AU.

The Kennedy Political Union (KPU) hosted Ron Paul for a lively address on free market economics and individual liberty on November 14th. Paul is a former Republican member of Congress from Texas, and a three-time presidential candidate with a national following.

Paul’s distinct brand of libertarianism is almost impossible to pigeonhole. It’s this fierce independence that makes him such an engaging speaker, and American University students were lined up early for the KPU event.  

“Dr. Paul is a leading spokesman for limited constitutional government, low taxes, free markets, and a return to sound monetary policies based on commodity-backed currency,” said KPU Director Chandler Thornton, in his introductory remarks.

Paul expressed appreciation for the warm reception he received from the students. “When I leave Washington and I go outside of the capital, I get applause. When I was in Washington, I never got any applause. So it’s great to be with you,” he said.

Warning Signs

Despite his belief that the country is heading in the wrong direction, he commended students. “When I talk to young people, I find out that there’s much more openness and a realistic approach to the problems that we have, in spite of what you’re facing,” he said, referring to the national debt, foreign debt, and other financial problems. “You’re inheriting a bankrupt country.”

Paul opined that the national unemployment rate is higher than the numbers suggest, and that the U.S.-based currency system is imperiled. He warned that the middle class is shrinking, with the top 1% of all earners increasing their income at a much faster rate than the bottom 99%. “You’ll have to deal with it, one way or the other, because the status quo will not continue,” he said.

He drew cheers when he called for bringing American troops home from combat. “The wars are unconstitutional. They make no sense, they spend all this money, and all it does is create more enemies for us,” he declared.

The iconoclastic Paul blamed both Democrats and Republicans for the nation’s current predicament. “The leadership of both parties believes in the same foreign policy, the same monetary policy. They both endorse deficits, they both endorse Keynesian economics, a planned economy, and that’s the reason nothing ever changes.”

Individual Liberties

Paul spoke at length about civil liberties and the protection of privacy against government intrusion. He defended whistleblowers like former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, and he condemned the War on Drugs.

Paul added that violations of civil liberties are a concern for both liberal and conservative, libertarian-minded groups. “My argument has always been that freedom brings people together,” he said.
His view of individual liberty extends to taxpayers, and he advocated for the abolition of income taxes. “If you work hard, you should be able to keep what you earn. The government shouldn’t take it to redistribute it,” Paul said.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a tea party darling and possible 2016 presidential candidate, frequently echoes his father Ron’s emphasis on following the Constitution. And Ron Paul repeatedly invoked the founding principles at the KPU event.  

“The Constitution was never written to give the government benefits or protect the government. The Constitution was written to protect us against the government,” he said emphatically.

Addressing the Students

At one point in the speech, Paul discussed issues of particular relevance to AU students. “I get a lot of questions from college kids who come up and say, ‘yeah, ok, you’ve convinced me. Tell me what I have to do.’ And you know what my answer is? ‘Do whatever you want to do! But do something,’” Paul said to applause. “But I think the most important thing is to decide what you believe in.”

During the question-and-answer session, one student asked him about the future of public education and school choice. “Public education is going to be around for a while, but it’s going to change and there’s going to be a lot less people doing it,” said Paul, who recently published a book called The School Revolution. “People are opting out of that system. It doesn’t bother me which way it goes, as long as it’s voluntary.”

After he finished his remarks, some students lauded Paul for his candor. “He was really honest, that’s what I like. And he wasn’t afraid to answer any questions,” said Miriam Wolf, a junior double major in Spanish and law and society.

KPU is a nonpartisan, student-run lecture series created in 1968. KPU’s founding was inspired in part by President John F. Kennedy’s historic American University commencement speech in 1963 calling for a nuclear test ban treaty. KPU has hosted U.S. presidents, members of Congress, foreign leaders, and industry executives.

Earlier this month, KPU held an event with Jon Favreau, former director of speechwriting to President Barack Obama.

The KPU-Ron Paul event was co-sponsored by Young America’s Foundation, AU College Republicans, and the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity.