Correction appended: Andrew Kent was misidentified as the executive director of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy. He is the chairman. Chris Chiles is the executive director of SSDP.

Brian Merlos
A crowd of students, Ron Paul supporters and passers-by gathered on the Diag last night to hear Paul speak. (MAX COLLINS/Daily)
Brian Merlos
Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul called for drastic reductions in government spending in a speech on the Diag yesterday. (MAX COLLINS/Daily)

You might have thought you were at a normal campaign rally if you stopped by the Diag to watch Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul speak last night.

Then someone in the crowd lit a few dollar bills on fire and held them aloft.

Paul, a Republican congressman from Texas, called for limited government, a repeal of the income tax and strict, literal adherence to the Constitution in his 40-minute speech.

The burning of the dollar bills came as Paul called for a return to the gold standard for backing printed currency.

In his speech, Paul lamented the direction of national politics. He advocated a return to the Constitution and a curtailing of government power.

“I’m running on things I don’t want to do,” Paul said. “I don’t want to run your lives and the Constitution doesn’t permit me to run your lives.”

Paul supports abolishing the federal Department of Education, which runs the Pell Grant program.

Earlier this year, though, Paul proposed a bill that would give tax deductions for higher education.

Part of Paul’s other plans would also affect higher education. Although Paul did not say so last night, he opposes affirmative action.

“It should truly be a colorblind society,” he said.

A large share of the government’s power comes from its tight grip on people’s money, which is why there needs to be cuts in federal spending, Paul said.

He acknowledged Michigan’s financial crisis and pledged to reverse the economy’s downward trend by expanding economic freedom and limiting inflation.

“We are having trouble and this state is having trouble,” Paul said. “We need to prohibit the printing of money and deal with the federal reserve system.”

He said he wants to abolish the Internal Revenue Service and repeal the 16th Amendment – the one that allows the income tax.

“The income tax is based on a very evil notion,” Paul said. “It’s based on the fact that the government owns our lives.”

Paul said an obvious way to shrink the federal deficit is to end the war in Iraq.

“Just think of all the money that we as Americans have had to pay for bombs to destroy a country,” he said.

Paul was one of the six Republican members of Congress to vote against the resolution giving President Bush the authority to invade Iraq.

Many supporters at the speech said they were attracted to Paul because they see him as an honest politician with a consistent track record.

LSA senior Adam Newville said Paul was the only presidential candidate that isn’t pandering to crowds just to be elected. Instead, Newville said, Paul is speaking his mind.

“He seems to just be a good person,” he said. “I just really like his consistent voting through the years.”

Newville said he’s a Democrat and voted for John Kerry in 2004, but that he would probably vote for Paul in a general election.

Unlike many other political events on campus, college-aged attendees made up the majority of the audience.

Paul said that younger voters have begun to make up his base – a theme echoed by Justin Zatkoff, the chair of the Michigan Federation of College Republicans.

“I think he has a lot of support here in Ann Arbor,” Zatkoff said in an interview before the speech. “He appeals to the youth.”

Before the speech began, a motley crew of supporters filled nearly the entire Diag. Some audience members circulated a petition to legalize medical marijuana. Some carried signs like the “Back to the Future” parody sign that read “Back to the Constitution: Ron Paul.” Others carried anti-war signs. Burly, long-haired men sported Ron Paul T-shirts. So did a small child in a wagon, whose shirt read “Ron Paul” on the front and “For my future” on the back.

But a few were simply looking to cram for midterms.

“We were going to the library to study – and apparently Ron Paul is giving a speech,” said LSA freshman Andrew Smith, gesturing to the Texas congressman standing on the front steps of Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library. Smith said he “had no idea” that the event was scheduled for last night.

Paul began his speech nearly an hour after its scheduled 7:30 start.

Music like The Beatles’s “Revolution” and a reggae song featuring a chorus of “Ron Paul is here/Helping people everywhere” entertained some, but when an event organizer announced that Paul was still 15 minutes away at about 8 p.m., the crowd showered the speaker with a chorus of boos and chants of “We want Ron.”

When Paul finally appeared, the crowd erupted.

In his speech, Paul also criticized the federal government’s restrictions on drug use.

He said the government shouldn’t have the authority to override state laws legalizing marijuana for medical purposes.

“I believe in freedom of choice, but that doesn’t mean I endorse everything you do,” Paul said.

Paul sponsored the States’ Right to Medical Marijuana Act, a bill that would give each state discretion to decriminalize marijuana for medical purposes.

LSA sophomore Andrew Kent, the chairman of the University chapter of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, attended the event to get signatures on his petition to legalize medical marijuana.

“We don’t have any position except on Ron Paul’s (opposition to the) war on drugs,” he said.

Phil Palmeri, a resident of Redford, Mich., said he’s voting for Paul.

For Palmeri, who wrote in Ross Perot in the last two presidential elections, it was Paul’s anti-intervention foreign policy that drew him to the candidate.

“His approach to the U.S., especially the Presidency, is to not take it upon itself to invade other countries,” he said. “We shouldn’t be policing the world.”

Paul first ran for president in 1988 as the Libertarian Party’s nominee. Many crowd members called themselves Libertarians.

“I’m a Libertarian and I’ll vote Republican if (Paul) is on the Republican ticket,” Dearborn resident Joe Lapham said.

– Elaine Lafay contributed to this report.

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