OREM — Ron Paul received a robust welcome at Utah Valley University on Thursday, drawing supportive chants, cheers and standing ovations from the audience as he lambasted the Federal Reserve, income taxes, the war on drugs, the war in Afghanistan, Medicare, welfare and foreign policy.
The longtime Texas congressman and three-time presidential candidate brought his trademark small government message to the UCCU Events Center to the delight of the near-capacity crowd. But while Paul's remarks were critical of U.S. government both past and present, his message focused on the ability of individuals to band together and demand change.
"There truly is a revolution happening in the country, and people's attitudes are changing," he said. "There is reason to be optimistic about what is happening today."
Paul made several references to the role technology plays in society today. He encouraged all in attendance to take advantage of the Internet and social networking to educate themselves and help other people understand the benefits of limited government.
Paul also said that personal freedom and civil liberty are not ideas embraced only by a small subset of the Republican party. They are fundamental principals that bring people together from the entire political spectrum, he said.
"Peace is better than war. Free markets are better than socialism. Balanced budgets are better than spending," Paul said. "Why do we lose this argument? It seems like it's so attractive."
On policy issues, he spent a large portion of his speech discussing the welfare system and federal spending. In his lifetime, Paul said, he's watched government increase its commitment to social programs to the detriment of the middle and lower classes.
"Once you endorse the principle of welfarism, guess what? The poor get poorer, and the rich get richer," he said. "It's a totally failed system. And we can't be intimidated by those that argue, 'If you don't support the welfare system, you're not a humanitarian.'"
Some of the loudest applause from the audience came from the portion of Paul's remarks focused on foreign policy, particularly comments that he was opposed to pre-emptive war and that U.S. forces should be immediately removed from Afghanistan.
Audience members also cheered during Paul's more traditionally liberal arguments. He talked at length about individual liberty as it pertains to intellectual and religious freedom, adding that the same concepts should be applied to what people eat and drink or how they choose to live their lives.
People should be free to make their own choices, Paul said, as long as they take personal responsibility for the consequences of their actions. He said there are a number of bad habits that can hurt people, but they are no more damaging than bad intellectual ideas.
"If we allow people to make their own decisions about their eternity and what they put into their brain, why is it that we have not adapted and accepted that same principle to what people do with their personal habits and what they put into their bodies?" he said.
Daniel Hermansen, a Sandy resident and Paul supporter, traveled to Orem to listen to the speech. Hermansen said he volunteered for the Paul campaign in Iowa and Nevada and last spring was working to organize a Paul event at the University of Utah before the candidate suspended his active campaign.
Hermansen has had the opportunity to hear Paul speak several times, but he said the remarks at UVU were a good mixed bag for people with little exposure to Paul's ideology, as well as more researched Libertarians.
"It was an awesome speech," he said of Paul's address at UVU. "I always love hearing Ron Paul."
Hermansen said he wasn't surprised at the audience's warm reception to Paul's talking points, even those subjects on the typically liberal end of the spectrum, because everything the congressman said ties back to the idea of personal responsibility.
Paul doesn't endorse certain choices, Hermansen explained, but argues that people should be free to make their choices and face the consequences.
"That's one of the most fundamental principles behind liberty and our constitution," he said.
Paul concluded his remarks by commenting on the state of democratic debate in the information age. He said any person who is for peace, prosperity or any other issue has access to the world around them, and he urged those in attendance to work toward causing an intellectual revolution.
"I, quite frankly, am convinced that we live in a great period of time," Paul said. "It's a great time to be alive because I think the opportunities are different than ever before."
With less than a month before the election, Hermansen said it's not likely the political paradigm shift called for by Paul could happen before the next president is voted into office. But he added that part of what Paul and his supporters are frustrated with is the idea that Election Day is the only time when individuals can influence government.
"That one day is only part of what are our decisions and what our actions are during the rest of the year," Hermansen said. "The other 364 days are what make Election Day more or less important."