Texas Congressman Ron Paul drew an audience of hundreds for a talk on the College of Charleston campus Thursday morning. The mostly young crowd, which spilled into the aisles and onto the walkways around the folding chairs in the Stern Center courtyard, stood and cheered as soon as a college official rose to announce Paul's arrival, and they did not sit down until Paul had thanked them.
As Ron Paul speeches go, the address — which was part of the college's Bully Pulpit series on political communication — was nothing unusual. There were calls for the return to a gold-and-silver standard for currency, disengagement from foreign wars, elimination of the income tax, and an audit of the Federal Reserve. Paul received loud applause for his calls to end the drug war, treat drug addicts as patients instead of criminals, and prevent the passage of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).
"In Washington, when I give a speech, I never get applause," Paul said. "So I'm always glad to get out of Washington."
During a brief Q&A session at the end of his 45-minute speech, Paul made an argument in favor of earmarking, the practice of setting aside portions of federal allotments for specific purposes. The term has become a dirty word in the Republican primary campaign and is often used as a synonym for pork barrel spending. Sen. John McCain, who endorsed Mitt Romney for the nomination, has been criticizing Rick Santorum for his record of earmarks for the state of Pennsylvania.
But Paul said earmarks are useful to ensure that states get the money back that they gave to the federal government. He said he automatically approves every request for highway funds that comes across his desk as a U.S. Representative, saying that highway-funding taxes are meant to be a user fee.
"I believe in the principle of earmarking, because if you vote against an earmark and don't support it, the money goes to the president, and he gets to spend the money ... As a matter of fact, I think there should be more earmarking. I think every nickel should be designated," Paul said.
After the event was finished, Reh Harvey, a junior communications major at the college, said he agreed with what Paul had to say in principle.
"Honestly, it sounded good," Harvey said. "I feel like it would be hard to act out some of the stuff he's saying, but ... it looks good on paper." Specifically, Harvey said Paul's ideas about dissolving government agencies such as the Department of Education and pulling troops out of Afghanistan would lead to a loss of jobs.
Steven Chartrand, a Charleston native who says he will vote for Paul in the GOP primary election Saturday, agreed that some of the candidate's views could be hard to swallow.
"A lot of people just can't handle brutal honesty, but I think people are waking up," Chartrand said. "The more he gets coverage, I mean — look what he's doing now with negative press. If he could just get a little bit of positive press, I think that this election would be a done deal." He said he hopes Paul can pull out a top-three result in South Carolina.
Chartrand brought his infant daughter, River, to the rally. Asked whether he was going to try to get Paul to kiss his daughter, Chartrand said, "Actually, Ron Paul doesn't kiss babies; babies kiss Ron Paul."