Someday it had to happen. Someday I had to cover the one and only Ron Paul (1935- ). Before I begin, I’ll offer full disclosure: I voted for him in the 2012 Republican primary as I liked his proposed budget best as it was the only one to have a net reduction in spending. It didn’t impact the primary in any way as Romney had the nomination locked by the time it was California’s turn to vote. I recall Romney’s budget was decent, meaning only modest budget growth, and everyone else’s were loaded with spending. Paul’s career in politics interestingly enough got off the ground a long time ago.
In 1971, President Richard Nixon fully took the United States off the gold standard, an event I have covered in a pervious post. This inspired Ron Paul, 36-year-old doctor and adherent of economist Ludwig von Mises, to get into politics as a Republican. In 1974, Paul ran for Congress but lost badly given the overall negative environment for Republicans as well as the district being represented by Robert Casey, a conservative Democrat. His window of opportunity opened in 1976, when Casey resigned to accept an appointment by President Gerald Ford to the Federal Maritime Commission. The district was one of those ripe for takeover by the GOP, and Paul was a popular candidate as he had as an OB-GYN delivered many babies in the district and won the special election. As a representative, from the start he proved libertarian. Paul consistently voted against expansions of government power and voted for cuts in the defense budget. He was also one of the few elected officials to back Ronald Reagan in 1976. He had a temporary setback in losing reelection to Bob Gammage that year as Jimmy Carter won Texas, however the year 1978 proved to be a bit of an end of an era for the state. That year, Republican Bill Clements won the gubernatorial election, a first for the party after Reconstruction. Additionally, Republicans gained a few seats in Congress and John Tower once again won reelection to the Senate. To add to this change, four longtime Democrats also retired from Congress: Olin Teague, Bob Poage, Omar Burleson, George Mahon, all I have covered in my Texas Legends series. Ron Paul was a beneficiary of this move to the GOP as he defeated Gammage and what’s more, he was personally popular in the district. His central philosophy as a legislator, which would earn him a most honored nickname of “Dr. No”, was that he would “never vote for legislation unless the proposed measure is expressly authorized by the Constitution” (Memmott).
Paul continued his libertarian record and at times butted heads with the Reagan Administration. While he supported Reagan’s tax reduction and limited domestic government positions, he opposed the institution of selective service and the administration’s increasing military expenditures, including the CIA’s assistance to the Contras in Nicaragua. In 1984, Paul forewent running for reelection to Congress to focus on running for the Republican Senate nomination. However, he was bested by the Reagan Administration’s preferred candidate Phil Gramm and was succeeded by future House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Paul subsequently broke away from the Republican Party to run for president on the Libertarian Party ticket.
The 1988 Campaign
Ron Paul had split with President Reagan over his administration’s choosing to emphasize tax cutting and military expenditures over balancing the budget, resulting in a large deficit. He called for major budget cuts and a return to the Gold Standard. Paul was blistering in his criticisms of Reagan during his campaign, holding that “Reagan’s record is disgraceful. He starts wars, breaks the law, supplies terrorists with guns made at taxpayers’ expense and lies about it to the American people” (Philadelphia Inquirer). Although he got the endorsements of LSD champion Timothy Leary, former Congressman Pete McCloskey (R-Calif.), and David Letterman, he didn’t get much of the vote, winning 0.5% of the vote as conservatives had lined up behind George Bush.
The Newsletter Controversy
From 1985 to 1997, Paul was out of Congress and several publications bearing his name came out, including The Ron Paul Investment Letter, The Ron Paul Survival Report, and The Ron Paul Political Report. These newsletters, along with reporting on financial matters, contained content widely deemed racist. These included the following statements:
“Given the inefficiencies of what DC laughingly calls the criminal justice system, I think we can safely assume that 95 percent of the black males in that city are semi-criminal or entirely criminal”.
“We are constantly told that it is evil to be afraid of black men, it is hardly irrational”.
“Order was only restored in L.A. when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks” (referring to the Rodney King riots)” (Dougherty).
Paul responded to these revelations in 1996 by taking responsibility and holding that some things were taken out of context. He narrowly won his comeback race in 1996 after ousting the GOP’s preferred candidate, incumbent Greg Laughlin. In 2001, Paul stated in an interview with Texas Monthly, which had originally reported the story, that his campaign staff had convinced him that it was too “confusing” to attribute the letters to a ghostwriter (Sanchez & Weigel). Politicians having ghostwriters is nothing new (Brent Bozell ghostwrote Conscience of a Conservative), but for a ghostwriter to stray significantly from an intended message of the named figure is unusual. When the issue again appeared in 2008, he reiterated the story about the ghostwriter, who was apparently unknown to him and didn’t represent his views. The responsibility for the authorship of the newsletters is something of an open question, but the most likely explanation, given by multiple allegations from libertarians connected with Paul including a former staffer, is that his former chief of staff, Lew Rockwell, had written the content under Paul’s name. Rockwell has denied that he was the ghostwriter.
This seems to have been a deliberate strategy to attract support among white racists rather than an expression of the beliefs of the ghostwriter. The Libertarian movement has made multiple bids to try and increase their base of support, including trying to connect with the anti-war left in the 1970s. Parts of the Libertarian movement during the late 1980s and early 1990s were trying to attract the crowd that subscribed to The Spotlight, the publication of anti-Semite and pseudo-populist Willis Carto’s Liberty Lobby as they found a lot of donations came from the mailing list to that publication. Indeed, the Paul newsletters were free of bigoted content from 1985 to 1988, but after Paul’s Libertarian Party run for president in 1988, the newsletters took on a bigoted tone. This was a strategy pushed by economist Murray Rothbard and Lew Rockwell, which the former referred to as “Outreach to the Rednecks” (Dougherty). In other words, they did it for the money. This doesn’t make it peachy, and that these were written under Paul’s name with Paul himself profiting is a negative mark on his legacy. As Julian Sanchez and David Weigel wrote in Reason (2008), “Ron Paul may not be a racist, but he became complicit in a strategy of pandering to racists – and taking “moral responsibility” for that now means more than just uttering the phrase. It means openly grappling with his own past – acknowledging who said what, and why”.
Paul was, predictably, a foe of the Clinton Administration on his return and backed his impeachment. He was, however, quite obscure in this time. Yet, his appeal was noted by S.C. Gwynne (2001) of Texas Monthly:
“Imagine, for a moment, the perfect congressman. Though he works in Washington D.C., a city of shameless opportunism, shifting allegiances, and flannel-mouthed pieties, he is both deeply principled and wholly uncompromised. He does not bend with the political winds. He does not take money from corporate PACs. Lobbyists cannot sway him; to try is a waste of time. He never bargains with his own deeply held beliefs, nor does he cut backroom deals. Because his political views and his personal convictions are in complete harmony, he seldom faces a “tough” vote. And when the politicking for the week is over, he returns to his district to take up his lifelong occupation, which has nothing to do with politics”.
Indeed, his district kept returning him to office easily even though during the Bush years he was most often in dissent with his party and what is thought of as the “conservative position”. He opposed the Patriot Act, the Iraq War, and for the use of force in Afghanistan he had voted for but called for an official declaration of war. Such positions led to Dick Morris, a former advisor to Bill Clinton, saying that “I think that he is absolutely the most liberal, radical, left-wing person to run for president in the United States in the last 50 years. Nobody else wants to dismantle the military, including Obama, but he does. Even Obama doesn’t want to repeal the Patriot Act. But he does. Even Obama doesn’t say that we caused 9/11 and brought it on ourselves. But Ron Paul does. Even Obama doesn’t want to legalize heroin and cocaine, but Ron Paul does. This guy is no conservative. This guy is an ultra, ultra-left-wing radical” (Poor). When his domestic voting record is taken into consideration and that his proposed military budget kept the United States highest in the world, this claim is ridiculous on its face. Paul stood out again for having uniquely cast votes against Congressional medals for Pope John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and Rosa Parks. Paul asserted that such expenditures were an unconstitutional use of taxpayer money and challenged House members to contribute $100 each from their own pocket. There were, of course, no takers. On abortion, Paul voted mostly a pro-life line, opposing Roe v. Wade (1973) as judicial overreach and supporting the issue going back to the states and opposing any federal funding of it and any federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. This had been a subject of controversy in his 1988 Libertarian candidacy, as they are traditionally pro-choice. Although Paul voted for the Partial-Birth Abortion Act in 2003, he voted against the Unborn Victims of Violence Act in 2004, which made it a crime to harm a fetus during the commission of other crimes.
Presidential Bids as a Republican
It was a sign of increasingly troubled economic times that in 2007 Paul came to greater prominence rather than what he would previously be regarded as, an obscure and kind of crankish politician. He was a bit of a Bernie Sanders for the right, but one who was willing to dissent more from the Republican Party’s positions than Sanders is the Democratic Party’s despite him being officially an Independent. The enthusiasm for his primary campaign was clear when on November 5, 2007 in anniversary of Guy Fawkes Day, about $4.3 million was raised online and $200,000 over the phone from grassroots supporters, on the initiative of a single supporter (Pelofsky). This propelled the otherwise obscure Paul to national attention and he even became an internet meme. He was for millions of libertarian-minded conservatives a breath of fresh air after eight years of George W. Bush and a troubled and unpopular war. However, he lost the nomination to Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.).
After the election of Barack Obama in 2008, Paul became a prominent supporter of the Tea Party movement and spoke at their rallies. In 2010, his son, Rand, was elected to the Senate from Kentucky and serves to this day. In 2011, Paul ran again for the Republican nomination for president, but he was overshadowed by Romney, Santorum, Gingrich, and Bachmann. His most notable moment during the campaign was his urging of Rick Perry to go further in cabinet department deletion when Perry couldn’t remember that one of the departments he wanted to be rid of was the Department of Energy. Ironically, Perry would be Secretary of Energy during the Trump Administration. Paul’s supporters have held that his lack of media presence in his primary campaign was due to a media blackout with the aim of reducing coverage for him. John Hudson (2012) of The Atlantic backed this claim given the Pew Research report at the time, which he held that “the downward trajectory of coverage volume has been steep for Paul” despite his rising poll numbers at the time. Paul did not run for reelection in 2012. He currently hosts the internet show appropriately titled, The Ron Paul Liberty Report.
Ron Paul was thought of somewhat differently by different interest groups and ideological scoring systems, and I’m not done dragging Morris, as none found for his interpretation of Paul’s record. Americans for Democratic Action’s lifetime score for him, not counting absences, was a 30% and his ACU score was an 83%, which is also his MC-Index score. His DW-Nominate score, however, was astonishingly high at a 0.863. This is certainly due to his willingness to be in the minority on numerous votes, putting him with extremely conservative legislators on so many occasions. While Ron Paul was not an effective legislator at promoting legislation, I would say given that his aim was to restrict rather than expand government, such a complaint is mostly beside the point. He also leaves a legacy in Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who continues to push for libertarian conservatism and has every session sponsored his father’s proposed “Audit the Fed” legislation and twice it has passed the House. I suppose my aforementioned vote for Paul was more than just the budget, I liked his principled independence as well. It will take someone with principles of steel to set this country right on fiscal matters and I saw and continue to see Paul as that sort of person.
Dougherty, M.B. (2011, December 20). Here’s The Real Story Behind Ron Paul’s Newsletters. Business Insider.
Gwynne, S.C. (2001, October). Dr. No. Texas Monthly.
Hudson, J. (2012, January 26). The Ron Paul Media Blackout Is Back On. The Atlantic.
Hunter, J. (2011, December 30). Ron Paul is the most conservative presidential candidate. The Daily Caller.
Memmott, M. (2007, March 12). Add Rep. Ron Paul – ‘Dr. No’ – to list of ’08 hopefuls. USA Today.
Paolanonio, S.A. (1987, September 13). Libertarian Seeks Presidency Third Party Tries a 5th Campaign. Philadelphia Inquirer: E02.
Pelofsky, J. (2007, November 6). Longshot White House hopeful Paul takes in $4.3 million. Reuters.
Poor, J. (2011, December 29). Morris: Ron Paul is ‘the most liberal, radical, left-wing person to run for president’. The Daily Caller.
Ron Paul on Abortion. (2008). On The Issues.
Sanchez, J. & Weigel, D. (2008, January 16). Who Wrote Ron Paul’s Newsletters? Reason.