DES MOINES, Iowa — Rip Van Winkle slept for 20 years and woke to find the world had passed him by. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, woke up one morning recently to find that perhaps America has caught up with him.
Paul, 72, has had a 32-year career in the House. But some voters have just now discovered Paul’s constitutionalist, individualist, “just bring all the troops home” creed.
Last weekend in Iowa, Paul, running for the Republican presidential nomination, was greeted by 700 whooping fans at Iowa State University in Ames and another 300 at a rally in Des Moines.
“There is something rather amazing about the Internet,” he told his Ames supporters, about two-thirds of whom appeared to be under age 25. “I’ve been used to delivering a message very similar to what I’m delivering tonight for many, many years and not getting a whole lot of responses. And all of a sudden, there’s a whole generation of people now very excited about hearing about the message of freedom.”
“I think it is practically miraculous what has happened in the last 12 months,” Paul told reporters in Ames. “Not me and not what I’ve done. But it’s miraculous to find out that there have been so many who had already been informed and were just waiting for someone to ignite these issues.”
On foreign policy, Paul told crowds in Ames and Des Moines:
- “Let’s give up on nation-building and policing the world."
- The Constitution mandates a policy of non-intervention. “That means: mind our own business.”
- He’d pull troops from Iraq and everywhere else. “Don’t you think 55 years is long enough to be in Korea?”
He also denounced the idea of bombing Iran to prevent the potential of the Tehran regime acquiring a nuclear weapon, which he sees as no threat to the United States or Israel.
Video: Republican discord “Israel would be better off” and the Israelis "could take care of themselves” if the United States ended its alliance with Israel, he said during a weekend meeting with several Christian pastors from across Iowa.
No Ron Paul speech is complete without a denunciation of the Federal Reserve Board which he blames for the devaluation of the dollar.
He forecasts ever greater Chinese reluctance to buy Treasury bonds.
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“All empires fail because of a financial crisis,” he told the Christian pastors.
If elected, Paul would try to radically shrink the federal government.
“If we don’t want the government running our lives and we get to run our lives, then we have to assume total responsibility for what we do,” he told the Ames crowd. “We have to suffer the consequences. But the great thing about this philosophy is that if you believe in life, liberty, and the right to pursue your happiness, you also believe you get to keep all of the fruits of your labor.”
Hence Paul would scrap the income tax.
“We don’t have to put anybody out in the streets,” he said. “We can just let young people —whoever wants to take care of themselves — get out of the (Social Security and Medicare) system,” he said.
Americans' love of the welfare state
Since most Americans have become accustomed to the welfare state, isn’t ending it the toughest idea to sell to audiences?
“It is,” he acknowledged in an interview before his Ames speech. “It’s really tough — unless the young people listen to what I’m talking about, because the young people know they’re getting ripped off.”
Asked point blank whether he would propose to abolish Medicare, Paul replied, “That’s not my goal. It might be my theoretical goal and my philosophic goal.”
He predicts Medicare will “self-destruct.”
He foresees a transition in which current beneficiaries are paid for, but "young people get out.”
The only place where Paul got a less than friendly reception this past weekend in Iowa was the Iowa Republican Party’s Reagan Dinner Saturday night.
The members of the GOP establishment sat on their hands through most of Paul’s address. Not until he’d spoken for nine minutes did he get any applause, a tepid round of clapping when he called for abolishing the income tax.
Meanwhile, Paul is drawing a mixture of curiosity and respect from Democrats.
Doug Bishop, the treasurer of Jasper County in central Iowa and a staunch supporter of Democrat John Edwards for president, said, “There are a lot of people (in Iowa) looking at Ron Paul because he knows he’s not going to win, so he’s not scared to tell the truth."
Bishop added, "He’s throwing it right out there: get us out of Iraq, take care of America first, let’s take care of home before worrying about spending billions and billions of dollars overseas. And that message is resonating throughout the Midwest.”
Praise from the left
Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., the left-of-center antiwar leader from Marin County, said, “Ron Paul appeals to people who are hungry for politicians who will speak their minds, not parsing, weighing, measuring. He knows what he believes, he’s not afraid to say it.”
Video: Ron Paul on Iraq She added, “People are loving it.”
Joe Trippi, a 25-year veteran of Iowa caucus politics who served as Howard Dean’s campaign manager in 2003 and who’s now a top aide to Edwards, said, “From what I see, Ron Paul is doing much better than his better-known opponents think he is doing. He is at that stage of the Dean campaign when all the other campaigns are laughing at him and have no idea of how strong he really is.”
Trippi added, “This kind of candidacy can be surprisingly strong in a caucus state particularly if it stays just below the radar.”
Drew Ivers, Paul’s Iowa campaign chairman, used that same phrase in addressing the Paul rally in Des Moines Saturday.
Ivers asked for show of hands on how many members of the audience were registered Republicans. Seeing that about half weren’t, Ivers told them they were “under the radar — which is exactly where I want to be.”
A repeat of the 1988 Robertson surprise?
In 1988, Ivers headed Pat Robertson’s campaign in Iowa, recruiting thousands of Christian conservatives.
Robertson shocked the GOP establishment by placing second in Iowa to Sen. Bob Dole, and ahead of eventual GOP nominee George H.W. Bush.
Paul told the pastors’ meeting Saturday that, as an obstetrician, he had delivered approximately 4,000 babies. “The right to life issue is a very important issue to me,” he told them.
He told them that during his medical school training he’d entered an operating room without knowing an abortion was being performed. “At the time they weren’t sophisticated in how to kill the unborn before it was delivered. They delivered the baby and put it in a bucket and put in the corner of the room. It tried to cry, tried to breathe. Everybody was pretending it wasn’t there.”
He also explained to the pastors that he voted against the constitutional amendment to outlaw same-sex marriage. “It’s a state issue,” he said, “I think it should be a religious ceremony; I don’t even like the idea that it’s a state licensing process.”
Paul seems astonished by what has happened to him: “I never would have dreamed that I would have a campaign going that would have big rallies in the center of San Francisco and New York City. There’s something very strange going on. I don’t think anyone has fully comprehended how big it is.”
Paul and his fans will get a first measurement of how big it is on Jan. 3, the night of the Iowa caucuses.
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