Ron Paul speaks softly and carries Mises. The eccentric, famous, and infamous Texas congressman has a frail frame and a frailer voice. “I am not powerful, but my ideas are powerful,” he says.
Everybody knows his name. Everybody talks about him. But nobody can agree as to who he is.
He’s America’s most prominent libertarian, and he has the college and yuppie fans — fond of styling themselves “fiscally conservative but socially liberal!” — who come along with that. But it’s not that simple; for example, Paul strongly opposes abortion rights. Many are surprised by that. But Paul continually tries to convey — despite the confusion of the mainstream media — that his pro-life advocacy is consistent with, indeed bound up with, his libertarianism: Both protect the right to self that every person (and Paul considers the unborn to be persons) possesses. The congressman is also surprisingly vociferous in his opposition to illegal immigration, which might be considered a turn away from laissez faire economics. On same-sex marriage and the death penalty, Paul’s political priority is to protect states’ rights to decide for themselves, but he personally leans right.
So does that mean Paul is another typical conservative? If you believe establishment Republicans, definitely not. During the 2008 Republican presidential primaries, Rudy Giuliani took offense to Paul’s claim that the September 11 hijackers were motivated by American aggression and meddling abroad. Paul spent the rest of the campaign answering the question, “Are you in the right party?” Paul maintains that he presents the essence of true conservatism — that he is the voice crying out in the wilderness, reminding American conservatism it had gone astray under the influence of “neoconservatives.”
And to hear Paul talk about American imperialism, our military-industrial complex, and the nefarious influence of Leo Strauss, you might think he was a commentator for Democracy Now!
Some say he’s an isolationist. He says non-interventionism is different. Some say he is a corporate tool and shill for the rich. He says his libertarian opposition to corporate welfare is just the opposite. Some called his 2007 proposal to cut size of the federal government by 40 percent radical and dangerous. He asked whether 1997 — when federal spending was 40 percent lower — was really such a radical and dangerous time. Some say he’s a bigot, pointing to the notorious newsletters bearing his name. He says his brand of individualism — and its attendant politics — is the only curative to group-hatred (and his supporters maintain that Paul was not responsible for the content of the newsletters). Some say his tendency to earmark bills he knows will pass — and then vote against them — is hypocritical. He calmly explains that insofar as government is going to spend so much, better congressmen control it than administrators.
Paul’s preference for abstractions and philosophical pronouncements over canned and screened reactions has made him something of a Rorschach politician, his many words an inkblot into which others may read their dreams or nightmares. Hence, perhaps, the enthusiasm of both Paul’s fans and his detractors.
Paul, however, says his political philosophy is quite simple: “I’m a constitutionalist.” And he takes it as a sign of the times that his faithfulness to an originalist reading of the Constitution — which he claims forbids the existence of the Federal Reserve, among other government creatures — engenders such confusion, so many accusations of both radicalism and reaction.
Two things about Ron Paul are for certain. The first is that he’s quixotic — unquestionably a little weird, and probably unelectable to higher office — but a necessary gadfly reminding us of our lost constitutional liberty. The second is that Paul, the author of End the Fed, among other books, has been selected as the new chairman of the Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary Policy. The man who wants to end the Fed will now be overseeing it (as far as Congress can oversee the Fed). NRO’s Matthew Shaffer talked to Paul about that oversight, his economics, the presidency, and more.