NEW YORK TIMES | Richard A. Oppel Jr. | January 3, 2011
NEWTON, Iowa — A Ron Paul stump speech offers something for almost everyone. And that may help explain why Mr. Paul, a 76-year-old Texas congressman, is polling so well here.
For college students, liberals and many veterans, his speeches attack federal drug policy, lament growing income inequality and condemn undeclared wars. By the standards of contemporary American political discourse, he can sound like a pony-tailed advocacy lawyer as he pummels a Democratic administration for carrying out extrajudicial “assassinations.”
Alluding to the drone-strike killing in Yemen last year of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born radical Muslim cleric, by the Obama administration, Mr. Paul said at one of his final campaign stops: ”If you are construed by him and his executive branch as a bad person, even if you are an American citizen, than you qualify to be assassinated. And that is not the way it is supposed to be done.” (See Blowback - A History Lesson)
For more traditional Republican voters and economic conservatives, Mr. Paul offers dire predictions about the nation’s fiscal future if the federal budget and debt are not slashed immediately and deeply; sharp attacks on the Federal Reserve, bailouts, and the dangers of debasing the currency; and a rousing defense of the second amendment. He warns that time is growing short to correct the country’s course and save it from a fiscal calamity.
“We have met a crisis here in the last four years, which was a predictable crisis,” he said during a speech in December. “Many of the Austrian economists knew there was a bubble. We talked about it for a long time. And the bubble burst. It’s different this time, it is big-time different. It’s the biggest in the history of the world, what we are facing today.”
Evangelicals and social conservatives often find campaign literature on their seats before a speech starts that extols a proposal by Mr. Paul that “effectively repeals Roe v. Wade and would prevent activist judges from interfering with state decisions to protect life.”
Mr. Paul’s campaign talks are long, discursive, and bounce from place to place — he generally does not use a prepared text — but they tend to cover the same core areas: his commitment to following a strict interpretation of the Constitution and how he says that mandates a noninterventionist foreign policy; the need to constrain or eliminate the Federal Reserve; the elimination other parts of the federal government not called for by the Constitution; and a robust embrace of civil liberties that would mean repealing the Patriot Act.
Though he does not employ tested phrases that are ready made for campaign advertisements, Mr. Paul’s antiwar, anti-bailout, anti-Fed passages are the ones his audience responds to most. And while most candidates tailor their stump speeches for a local audience, Mr. Paul believes his single-minded focus on the Constitution has universal appeal.
“The Constitution is a great document,” he has said. “I have personal beliefs. I believe that individuals should have the right to their life, the right to their liberty, and also the right to keep what they earn. Fortunately for me, the Constitution and my personal beliefs come together. Because the oath of office doesn’t say, ‘Well, I’m going to go to Washington and I’m going to fulfill my personal beliefs.’ It says that we go to office and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic.” (See Ron Paul's Secret Weapon to Win GOP)
Mr. Paul’s vow to be a strict Constitutionalist is at the core of his platform, but in recent campaign stops he has been spending more time focusing on his noninterventionist foreign policy, which has drawn criticism from within his party. Mr. Paul employs a defense that also serves as a contrast with his rivals.
“Those people who say that these ideas that I express are dangerous, it sort of baffles me a whole lot, because I think big government is dangerous. I think wars fought endlessly is dangerous. I think printing money and expanding government at will — that is what is dangerous. Attacking personal liberty — that is what’s dangerous.”
Mr. Paul gives the sense that he is the leader of a movement more than a politician, and he believes the consistency of his message will win over voters. At an appearance in western Iowa he told supporters not to be discouraged by naysayers, that his message and movement were gaining acceptance.
“Smart people get frustrated,” Mr. Paul said. “They say, ‘I agree with you, but you’re one person, and not enough people. How are you going to get the majority to come along with you?’
“But you know what? This is ideological. Ideas do have consequences. Ideas are changing. The ideology of the founders was shared by maybe 5 percent of the people at that time, but they knew and understood and they were well educated and they were able to being the people along. So it isn’t a numbers game. It has to do with determination and the rightness and the truthfulness of the ideas.”
“I do not know what the future will bring,” he added. “But I do know that a message can be sent — and hopefully a message can be achieved — in this election, this campaign, maybe on Tuesday. Who knows? I don’t know what the results will be, but I am optimistic that we’re moving in the right direction, and that many people are awakening now to the need for more liberty and less government.”