From Bullet Hole to Libertarian soul: Ron Paul returns to Gettysburg

Photo credit: GCC&M

Photo credit: GCC&M

By Benjamin Pontz, Staff Writer

In 1954, a young man from Pittsburgh stepped off a Greyhound bus and embarked on a four-year journey at Gettysburg College that would include a stint as manager of the venerable Bullet Hole, a decision to study biology and a marriage to a young woman named Carol. In 2016, that same man, who now hails from Texas, stepped off an airplane with his wife of 59 years for a four-day whirlwind visit to Gettysburg College that included celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity’s presence at Gettysburg, lunch with the Eisenhower Institute’s Fielding Fellows and – the highlight -serving as the keynote speaker at the political science department’s annual Constitution Day Lecture.

That man is Ron Paul, a 1957 alumnus of Gettysburg who went on to serve as a physician both in the Air Force and in private practice and then as a United States congressman for a total of 24 years with three runs for the Presidency interspersed in 1988, 2008 and 2012. Paul, a jovial octogenarian who retired from Congress in 2013, is a frequent speaker on college campuses around the country where he shares his message of liberty; something he thinks resonates with young people.

“Young people are more inclined to look at a philosophy like this, and now is when they are sorting their beliefs out,” he said. “Liberty is a young person’s issue.”

His speech last Thursday drew a crowd of more than 800 people including a sizable number of non-students who traveled, in some cases, from several hours away to hear the libertarian movement’s charismatic spokesman. One Facebook event reached thousands of people before the event, spreading the word on campus and off. Paul’s speech began with an introduction from Dr. Ken Mott, professor of political science, who called Paul a “totally independent thinker” who delivered a “worrisome, challenging, and inspirational” message to the crowd.

Paul discussed a non-aggression principle that has been lost in America to a mindset of the government providing for people and protecting people from themselves. He sees little difference between the Republican and Democratic parties, claiming that America essentially has a one-party system, the two major parties in conglomeration. Paul decried the influence of money and lobbyists in politics, pointing to the military industrial complex as “huge welfare” that should be eradicated. Ultimately, Paul believes that a free market system provides the best opportunity for anyone to achieve prosperity without dependence on the government. He foresees the current system of entitlements and taxation as likely to lead to a financial crisis worse than that of 2008.

“The situation will get worse and worse, and eventually we’ll have a crisis,” he said. “Eighty to ninety percent of government activity is not explicitly defined in the Constitution. If you’re not allowed to do it, the government shouldn’t be allowed to do it, which is why taxation is theft.”

Anticipating various counterarguments to his message of removing government safety nets, Paul reported that Americans donated $385 billion to charity last year, which indicates that if they did not have to pay taxes, they would donate more and our system would be better off.

Paul closed his speech by saying that, “We need to release the creative energy that comes when government gets off our backs. There’s no reason we can’t do that.”

After the speech, a question and answer session began that predominantly featured questions from non-students in the audience who were disciples of Paul’s and the libertarian movement in general. Themes included steps individuals can take to promulgate the libertarian cause, the upcoming election and general Ron Paul fandom. Dan Bower, a junior at Gettysburg, appreciated Paul’s remarks.

“I think Ron Paul definitely had a great message,” said Bower. “His message is definitely much more reassuring than what is being said by most politicians today.”

The next day, The Gettysburgian sat down with Paul to discuss the libertarian movement more broadly. Paul said that despite considerable enthusiasm from grassroots activists and other observers, he is less than enamored with the Libertarian Party’s presidential ticket, which does not espouse pure libertarian values.

“I don’t think Gary [Johnson] gives us a crystal clear view of what libertarianism is,” said Paul. “But he could pick up some votes if he got onto the debate stage.”

Paul puts considerably less stock in elections than in conversations; he could not recall an election in his lifetime that fundamentally changed America. Consequently, he focuses on talking to people about the libertarian way, and he thinks the future of the libertarian movement is bright.

“If you just listed some principles, I bet 80 percent of people think the libertarian philosophy is pretty good,” said Paul. “I’m more encouraged by the libertarian thinking among the young people I meet on campuses than about the party.”

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Author: Benjamin Pontz

Benjamin Pontz '20 serves as news editor of The Gettysburgian, a position he has held since the middle of his first year, during which he wrote 50 articles on topics ranging from student activism on campus to sports. Ben also served as the event coverage and social media coordinator and led the paper's inaugural efforts using Facebook Live and live tweeting events on campus. He is a political science and public policy double major with a minor in music, and he reads up to seven newspapers daily. Follow him on Twitter @benpontz.

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