By Josh Richman
Staff Writer, Bay Area News Group
HAYWARD -- Ron Paul's glass is half full AND half empty.
On one hand, the former 12-term congressman and three-time presidential candidate from Texas believes America is on the edge of economic collapse and totalitarianism, a teetering empire that boldly pokes its nose into the lives of its own citizens and the affairs of other nations.
On the other hand, "I am optimistic enough to believe that we are moving in the right direction," he told an overflowing audience of about 600 on Wednesday at Cal State East Bay. "We're overcoming that propaganda machine of the government and the media."
More Americans -- especially young Americans -- are taking to the Internet and to the streets to question the government and stand up for their liberty and privacy, he said. And to paraphrase Victor Hugo, "you cannot stop an idea whose time has come."
One of Paul's sons, Rand Paul, is the junior U.S. Senator from Kentucky, and is considering whether to seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
The elder Paul's hourlong speech shared a title with his 2011 book, "Liberty Defined: The Future of Freedom," and covered almost as many topics; the crowd welcomed each of his axioms with applause and shouts of encouragement. Among those spotted in the audience were a woman wielding one of Paul's 2012 presidential campaign signs, and a man wearing a Guy Fawkes mask of the type popularized in civil protests of recent years.
Repeating his signature criticisms of income taxes and the Federal Reserve System, Paul said politicians -- however good their intentions -- who legislate away individual freedoms "believe that you are incapable of doing what is best for your life" and will redistribute wealth based on "envy."
Liberty means letting people make and be responsible for their own mistakes, he said, citing drugs as an example. "If governments decide that vices are bad and are crimes, we end up with the situation we have today," he said. "Look at the harm done by the drug war over these many decades."
Paul called for noninterventionist foreign policy in which America stays out of places like Iraq and Syria, and avoids confrontations with nations like Russia, unless its own security is directly threatened. "There's nothing wrong with a foreign policy ... of the Golden Rule: Never do to another country anything that we don't want them to do to us."
Paul helped launch the liberty movement that split the Republican Party by taking on the neoconservative party leadership long before the words "tea party" were on anyone's lips. In doing so, he built a rabidly loyal following particularly among younger voters -- something few Republicans have achieved in recent decades.
Paul's appearance Wednesday was sponsored by the Smith Center for Private Enterprise Studies -- a free-market think tank at the university -- and by the Independent Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan libertarian group based in Oakland. Paul also is scheduled to address the Commonwealth Club of California at 10 a.m. Thursday at the club's offices in San Francisco.