The Ron Paul revolution roared through Ithaca on Thursday, as the Republican presidential candidate and anti-establishment icon implored a Lynah Rink crowd of more than 4,000 to join him and defeat the “tyrants” and “enemies of liberty” destroying America.
Though widely thought to have a slim chance of beating former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Paul quickly dispensed with any notion that he would adapt to the university setting and deliver a dispassionate, professorial lecture.
Instead, the boisterous audience was treated to a spectacle befitting the hockey arena — politics as a contact sport, with Austrian monetarism and Constitutional originalism as the primary bludgeons.
“The founders were very clear: Government was supposed to protect liberty. And that was it. It wasn’t about trying to police the world. It wasn’t about trying to regulate the world economy,” Paul said.
Paul slammed the Stop Online Privacy Act — which would have expanded the federal government’s right to regulate copyright violations via online trafficking — and blasted the War on Drugs. But he always returned to train his fire on the chief culprit: “big brother government.”
“One thing we should know about liberty is that we do not get it from the government,” Paul said. “We get our liberty in spite of the government.”
Throughout the approximately hour-long speech, Paul’s visceral anger seemed to shoot out into the crowd and reverberate across the tall Lynah rafters. He gave what many considered a stump speech, but was visibly animated at times, often punctuating his applause lines with a characteristic grimace or scowl.
“If I can’t move into your house, if I can’t take your car, if I can’t spy on you, the government shouldn’t be allowed to, either,” Paul said. The government of “a free society should be strictly limited: The government should be there to protect your privacy, [but] it’s been flipped upside down.”
The speech seemed, in some respects, indistinguishable from a men’s hockey playoff game. A humming excitement preceded the main event. The Cornell pep band played “Don’t Stop Believing.”
The fans were in form.
“End the Fed! End the Fed!” they thundered from the bleachers, letting out continual whoops and shouts. “President Paul! President Paul!”
A rare protester stood up with a sign calling Paul a bigot. The rest of the audience disapproved, heckling him: “Asshole! Asshole!”
A man sitting next to him then grabbed the protester’s sign, ripped it to shreds and threw it to the audience — a move that was greeted with raucous applause.
Many of Paul’s fervent supporters said they came from the more conservative counties and townships around Ithaca. One such attendee was Randy Childers, an automotive technician from Romulus, N.Y.
“He’s the only patriot running for office,” Childers said of Paul. “I’m a student of history. Any change in government is always implemented by those of college age — they’re the ones who have the energy, who have the passion, who haven’t been indoctrinated yet.”
Members of the crowd, though, were not uniformly members of the Ron Paul revolution. And though the event proceeded smoothly, not all students shared the fervor for Paul.
Melanie Berdecia ’12, a member of the Cornell DREAM Team — an organization which strives to raise awareness about the difficulties faced by undocumented students — said that prior to the rally, DREAM was contacted by administrators who were “really concerned” about the possibility of the students protesting against Paul's presence on campus.
Although DREAM ultimately did not protest the rally, the organization, as of Thursday evening, had created a Facebook event titled “Ron Paul: Not So Common Sense Immigration ‘Reforms,’” outlining its viewpoints.
“We don't want to be violent, but we want to communicate our discontent with Ron Paul and his policies,” Berdecia said.
But for Paul, the tide of history is on his side, not on that of his opponents.
“People say, ‘Why do you want to go back to the gold standard, back to the 19th century? I’ll tell you what: They want to go back, to tyranny, and we want to go to the future of liberty,” he said.
Despite formidable odds, Paul emphasized that his campaign “is alive and well.”
“This revolution to restore our freedoms must continue,” he said. “We must continue and never give up.”
Akane Otani contributed reporting to this article.