MOUNT PLEASANT, Iowa: In this town's civic center, a standing-room-only crowd of both young and old packed into a room to hear Ron Paul. The crowd cheered when he spoke about ending the nation's military intervention and criticized this administration's foreign policy, saying now the "whole world is a stage for the war against terror."
"We can bomb and kill and even assassinate American citizens," Paul said to cheers from the crowd before laying into the National Defense Authorization Act, legislation that militarizes the handling of terrorism suspects and limits the president's options for prosecuting or releasing the suspects.
"This gives the authority to the military to arrest American citizens who may be associated with a group that may have done something wrong," Paul said. "If you happen to be arrested because you were on the wrong website, or talked to the wrong people or donated to the wrong group and you were associated with this group if you are picked up, on the Senate floor they said, Don't come to us and ask us for a lawyer, you're not going to get one. And this is on the Senate floor!"
Paul told the crowd of about 80, many wearing Ron Paul stickers and T-shirts, that the only way to stop "perpetual wars overseas" is the "old fashioned way."
"Don't fight a war unless it's declared by the Congress and the people," Paul exclaimed to cheers from the audience.
The crowd gave its most raucous applause when he said that as president he would eliminate both foreign aid and the personal income tax. "We should work on this effort to re-instill in our society that prosperity and people who work should be able to keep what they earn and spend their own money, not have the government spend your money," Paul said.
Paul's organization, which has been building here since his last campaign, is helping the Texas congressman lead the polls. Today, when asked who he might pick as his vice president, he answered with a grin, "I guess I have to get more serious about that after Jan. 3!" Paul mentioned the payroll tax cut battle currently being waged in Washington, saying, "They are not willing to cut anything and they talk, but they are not serious," but he was not clear on whether he approved the extension or not.
He did tell the Associated Press in an interview today that he would "extend the payroll tax cut and pay for it by cutting spending overseas." He added he does not support the extension of unemployment benefits.
"I'm for cutting taxes, always. But not if they're going to extend another program and pay more for it," Paul said.
"They are talking about a trillion dollars over 10 years and so theirs is zero and they don't even want to start at 2013 and they can't even get the bills passed to go on vacation or Christmas break because they can't agree and there are no cuts, but we will have to make a decision," he continued. Paul was also asked about his appearance on the Jay Leno show last week and if he took "cheap shots" when he said Michele Bachmann "hates Muslims." He said he was "glib," and "it wasn't exactly like a charge."
"Sometimes I think too many people in Washington are overly anxious to treat people who aren't like us in an unfair manner and you know they are very prejudice against them. And I think it- that was probably sitting in my mind and it was meant more to be flippant and humorous," Paul said.
The same questioner referenced Newt Gingrich's vow to run a "positive" campaign and asked Paul if will do the same. Paul's campaign has been hitting the former Speaker of the House in television ads in the state.
"I think positive campaigning is telling the truth and if an opponent has certain voting records I think that is what you're supposed to do, that is part of your responsibility," said Paul.