On April 16th, an angelic choir alighted from the Heavens for Brown’s comparative-handful of libertarians. When the door opened on stage left of Salomon’s upper-level auditorium, and Dr. Ron Paul came in waving, our hearts fluttered and the room lit up. If there is any modern politician who has done more to advance (the libertarian notion of) liberty in the past eighty years I would like to see him. Paul consistently carried the youth vote in the states he primaried and, even as a 70-year old congressman, galvanized a (subset of a) generation to stalwartly defend the principles of property, markets and freedom.
The reason I used parentheses is because at Brown, Ron Paul’s Freedom Train seemed to have missed its stop. Or well, at least only remembered to unload half of its cargo. Brown students are down with legalizing pot. Even if they connect them more with Bush and brush them under the carpet for Obama, they too also hate drones. Gays should marry and the PATRIOT Act should’ve been abolished, like, 10 years ago. They get that. But privatize Social Security? That’s some Glenn Beck talk. End the FDA: like, actually, what? Abolish the minimum wage?!!?! They ask: what is this guy even smoking? And then: can I have some?
And honestly, they can’t be blamed for their interest. Ron Paul sounds half the time like he’s just finished hitchhiking his way from Woodstock to a peyote commune in north-west Nebraska, and the other half like a robber baron who’s time-travelled to the 1980’s to join the Ayn Rand Institute. It leaves many progressives hopeful, ecstatic, disillusioned and furious all at the same time. This is epitomized in an anonymous, socialist Facebook friend’s status: “It’s amazing how on the money [Ron Paul] is when he talks about the 20% of his ideology that isn’t batshit crazy.”
I know where the exasperated poster is coming from. Ron Paul was the transition phase (read: gateway drug) during my ideological shift from a good Democratic Party-faithful in my first term of senior year. I went through the awkward phase of, “I know he wants to end the Department of Education, but he also wants to end the wars!!” But though I personally learned to love the Paul of economic freedoms as well as the Paul of political ones, I knew many of his ideas would not be well received here.
So I, and my few comrades in (non-aggressive) arms, entered with a skip in our step but a hesitance in our expectations into Salomon that day.
What ensued was masterful. Paul, a libertarian folk-hero but—as ever—a politician, managed to play his crowd with a conductor’s precision. He never outright skirted the controversial issues. He would say things like, to paraphrase, “Sure we have to eliminate food stamps and welfare at some point, BUT ALL THE REAL WELFARE IS GOING TO THOSE GREEDY BANKS AND CORPORATIONS, AM I RIGHT?” He built consensus. Most of his time was spent getting cheers for the socially liberal stuff—drug policy, foreign policy, civil liberties—and wrapping his End the Fed manifestos in egalitarian rhetoric. For the true Paul fan, he deserved appreciation for how he never misrepresented his views, but still managed to stave off boos from a crowd that voted by a margin of 9:1 for Obama and definitely had its share of die-hard Jill Stein supporters.
The Q&A afterwards was also relatively serene. Most of the questions centered on his economic policy, his monetary prescriptions and his views on lobbyists. Some great one-liners came out of the whole ordeal. Paul’s perennially go-to zinger, “Truth is treason in the empire of lies,” made its token appearance, but also some newer ones came up, like his response to a hypothetical on whether or not he should form a third party: “What we should do is focus on forming a second part first!” The last two questions unsurprisingly hit upon the issues that most ceaselessly dog him among the more left-leaning of his followers – abortion and the newsletters. His justification for being pro-individual freedom and pro-life was one of the most honest to come out of a right-wing mouth for a long time. It did not resort to the baby-killing pleas of religious zealots. It rested on some amount of acceptance and some amount of reason. “Our first priority should be to define life,” “The more controversial the issue, the more local it should be,” and, “It ultimately depends on the morality of the society. If people want to have abortions, they will have abortions,” were some of the less off-putting pro-life statements I’ve heard in a while. The newsletters question was less honest and sincere and therefore merited a less honest and sincere response.
After being confronted with bigoted text from two articles without by-line (under the banner of a collective Ron Paul Newsletter), which he has personally disavowed, distanced himself from, apologized for and done everything short of burn, he was asked: “You have asked the American people 3 times now to be granted the ultimate responsibility of the office of the Presidency. How can you do so with such a blight on your record?” The response:
“Well, if anything, these newsletters show you that man is not perfect. But at least when I make mistakes, it only affects me. This should make you wary to entrust ultimate authority to a government made up of imperfect men. Their mistakes affect you.”
Threading the libertarian line in the liberal stronghold of Brown University is a tough feat on-campus freedom-lovers take a while to master. Ron Paul did it elegantly and, if informal exit polling performed by yours-truly is any indicator, may have softened a couple of hearts to his cause. To preach truth in an empire of lies is treason. I can only credit Brown University’s student body for not summarily condemning Dr. Paul, and letting his version of the truth get its day. Maybe at some point in the future his ‘liberty’ will be the norm here, too.