Ron Paul, the 75-year-old Texas congressman whose libertarian-infused beliefs have put him at odds with Republican orthodoxy, launched his third presidential campaign in New Hampshire Friday, telling an Exeter town hall audience that "the people have awoken."
"The revolution is spreading, and the momentum is building," he said. "Our time has come."
Pointing to the role of technology in spreading his beliefs, Paul suggested that an "intellectual revolution" is underway and has helped people understand that "government isn't the solution, government really has created the problem."
Paul said that the federal government should not be an "intervener," either in personal liberty or foreign policy. He said a president should show strength not by policing the world but by "standing up for liberty" and keeping the federal government from unnecessary interference.
"I take a strict constitutional position, that the government has very little authority to get involved in our economic or personal lives," he said.
Paul pointed to the question of drug use to make his point. He said Americans "have a freedom of choice with [their] bodies," calling the idea a "basic principle of liberty." He complained that while Americans take freedom of speech and freedom of religion as a given, they "have conceded way too much to the government to decide what we put into our bodies."
Paul said that pundits "wanted to paint me as this monster" because he has said that he believes heroin should not be illegal on a federal level. Saying that he "happen[s] to have a personal real disgust with the abuse of drugs" - both illegal and prescription - Paul said that didn't mean people shouldn't have the freedom to make their own choices.
"You also have to have responsibility for what you do, and if you do harm to yourself you can't go calling to the government to penalize your neighbor to take care of you," he said.
Paul said Americans should have options to opt-out of the school system and the federal health care law, and said the federal government should not be involved in education. He complained that the Food and Drug Administration provides unnecessary limits on access to medicine, arguing that Americans should be able to make their own decisions about alternative options. And he complained about "cradle to grave" entitlement programs, arguing a fight was now taking place between those who want to retain their benefits and those who want their "freedom back."
Arguing that he doesn't "like the federal agencies breathing down our neck," Paul argued against federal government insurance programs. He said the federal government should not be going into debt to help in natural disasters; if someone chooses to build a high-risk house on a beach and then loses that house in a storm, he said, it should not fall to the most risk-averse to pay for their decision.
Paul also said the United States should not be the "policeman of the world," quipping that he is "so radical that I want to go back to the Constitution" and not exceed Constitutional authority in foreign policy.
He argued that America should stay out of other countries' internal affairs, civil wars and religious conflicts, and said America's involvement in the Middle East has made "more enemies" and hurt the United States both in terms of lives and money. He said that while he initially voted to go after al Qaeda after the Sept. 11 attacks, "the authority was abused and ignored," and ultimately "the cost as far as I'm concerned was way too high."
Paul pointed to Pakistan, casting the Taliban as a group that above all else "don't want any foreign occupation." He said that when America bombs the country civilians get killed, and asked how Americans would feel if they were in the same situation as the Pakistani people.
The congressman said the United States essentially has two foreign policy options: Either to give countries money if they do what America wants, or bomb them if they don't. (In Pakistan, he quipped, America does both.) He said he wants to take "hundreds of billions of dollars out of a military-industrial complex that doesn't help our national defense."
Paul also called for the elimination of the Federal Reserve, saying it purposely devalues U.S. currency as part of a "dishonest," "unconstitutional" and "immoral" policy. He also vowed to vote against a debt limit increase, dismissing warnings that not raising the limit would be catastrophic. Paul said default was already happening to the the American people, who are seeing their Treasury bonds devalued as the government lowers the value of their money.
To those who would "belittle" his third run for the presidency, Paul said: "There is an old saying: Three's a charm."
"Time has come around to the point where the people are agreeing with much of what I've been saying for 30 years," he said earlier in the day on an interview on ABC. "So, I think the time is right."
An anti-abortion rights obstetrician first elected to Congress in 1976, Paul is a strong fundraiser whose supporters are more passionate than perhaps any other likely 2012 Republican candidate. But his performance in the 2008 cycle, in which he never seriously challenged for the nomination, suggests his appeal is limited.
Before Paul spoke, the town hall audience listened to speakers as well as a recording of a song celebrating Paul that includes the lines, "We work 3 jobs and bring home no pay/The IRS takes it all away/and we struggle, slave to pay the rent/So, Ron Paul for president."