TAMPA, August 27, 2012 ― Everyone knows what to expect from a political rally. Speakers recite the party line on various subjects. The audience already agrees with them and knows what they are going to say. The crowd cheers. The opposition is trashed. The crowd cheers again. The keynote speaker is introduced. Standing ovation. More talking points.
Ron Paul’s “We Are the Future Rally” couldn’t have resembled that model less. Rather than politics, the entire program focused on ideas.
His first three speakers were libertarian philosophers Lew Rockwell, Walter Block and Butler Shaffer. There were no talking points. Instead, attendees were treated to intellectual arguments for individual liberty from three of the most powerful libertarian thinkers alive.
Not everyone agreed, either. Block’s controversial argument for a new libertarian stance on abortion actually drew boos. Block argued that a woman has a property right in her body and thus can evict a “trespassing” fetus from her womb, but does not have a right to take the fetus’ life. Block claimed that this was possible now during the third trimester of pregnancy and that as the science advanced, it would be possible earlier and earlier.
Some of the more conservative among Paul’s following weren’t ready to hear it.
There were speeches by politicians Barry Goldwater, Jr. and South Carolina State Senator Tom Davis, but even these were atypical. Goldwater read from and commented on passages from his father’s Conscience of a Conservative, while Davis focused exclusively on attacking the Federal Reserve System.
Paul’s official campaign blogger and rising conservative star Jack Hunter continued with a talk on conservative philosophy, citing Ronald Reagan, Russell Kirk and other noteworthy conservatives. Hunter reminded supporters of Reagan’s “three-legged stool” theory of conservatism: equal parts national security conservatives, religious conservatives and economic/libertarian conservatives. Hunter argued that it was the absence of the libertarian leg that led to the profligacy of the Bush years. He quoted Reagan saying, “libertarianism is the very heart and soul of conservatism.”
None of this is to suggest that the affair was a quiet seminar with attendees nodding their heads and taking notes. Right from senior campaign advisor Doug Wead’s opening remarks, the atmosphere was electric and the applause thunderous. As usual, remarks on the Federal Reserve System and Paul’s non-interventionist foreign policy got the most enthusiastic response.
Paul’s son and political heir apparent, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, was the last to speak before Paul himself. Senator Paul concentrated on his efforts in the Senate to get a vote on Audit the Fed and on foreign policy, reminding supporters of one of his father’s most memorable debate answers. When asked what his plan was to get U.S. troops out of Iraq, Paul responded, “We just marched in. We can just march out.”
Senator Paul spoke for about 8 minutes before introducing his father to an ovation of seismic proportions.
Paul exhibited his characteristic sense of humor in warming up the crowd. Alluding to the speculation over whether he would be allowed to speak at the RNC, Paul said that he had been surprised to have received a call that day from the convention organizers. “They said that they changed their mind. They said they were going to give me a whole hour and I could say anything I want … tomorrow night!”
The convention had been postponed earlier that day.
Getting down to business, Paul began by acknowledging his delegates and the fight to get them seated at the RNC. He then moved on to the planks of his philosophy, including free markets, individual liberty, sound money and a non-interventionist foreign policy.
During his approximately one-hour speech, Paul quoted founding fathers, authors, political philosophers and economists, apparently from memory. In addition to specific policy positions, Paul also waxed philosophical on several occasions. On the role of government, he said:
“My personal goal with politics and my personal life is that a free society provides me an opportunity to seek virtue and excellence. And that should be a personal goal. If the government takes over the rule of trying to make you a better person, an excellent person and make you virtuous, it’s all over. That is the seeds of authoritarianism.”
Not once during the speech did Paul mention President Obama or Mitt Romney. Typical of his speeches throughout the campaign, Paul attacked what he considers bad ideas but not the people who espouse them.
Despite his many dire warnings about the consequences of Washington’s present policy decisions, he left his supporters on a hopeful note.
“So instead of seeing this as a continuation of the era of the 20th century that gave us so much death and destruction and undermining our liberties, and conditions today that are so dangerous, let us think that we are now moving into a new era. A new era where we’re going to concentrate on liberty and freedom and property and peace. I believe that is the cause that we should lead and I thank you very much for being a part of it.”
Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.