INTRO: Ron Paul, M.D., is an American physician (Obstetrics and Gynecology) and a Republican Congressman representing Galveston area of Texas. He currently serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the Joint Economic Committee, and the Committee on Financial Services. Dr. Paul is well-known as an opponent of U.S. interventionism and an outspoken critic of American monetary policy—putting him, on any given issue, at odds and in alliances with both Republican and Democratic Party leaders. Congressman Paul is the author of several books including the New York Times best sellers “End The Fed” (2009), and “The Revolution: A Manifesto” (2008). He recently met with Peter Gemma for this exclusive interview.
Peter Gemma: Congressman Paul, thanks for spending some time with us. Let’s start off with some background. You have been a member of Congress for a total of 22 years—I’m taking the safe bet here that you’ll be re-elected come November. When you initially ran for office you were a successful physician with a young family. Why the jump into politics?
Ron Paul: I jumped into politics in the early 1970s. It was clear to me from my reading of Austrian economics that the Nixon administration’s economic policies would be a major disaster for the country—not only because of the wage and price controls, but also because of Nixon’s decision to break the dollar’s last ties to gold. We now had a totally fiat currency and a fiscal policy guaranteed to produce high unemployment and shortages of goods. Since I knew what was happening, I thought I ought to try to do something. So I ran for Congress the first time in 1974 and didn’t win, but I ran again in 1976 and won. By then Nixon was gone, and so were his wage and price controls, but we still had fiat money and a lot of other serious problems, and unfortunately we still do.
PG: You have long been a proponent of a gold-backed currency. Why is that a better system than what we have now, and how would it impact the current international monetary crises?
RP: The crisis was mostly caused by central banks and fiat money. When the Federal Reserve gets banks to expand the money supply, businesses respond by taking on more debt and taking a lot more risks. They do things they wouldn’t do if there was not as much money and credit going around. Despite what a lot of people thought about Alan Greenspan in the 1990s, no central banker really knows how much money there should be in an economy, any more than any central planner knows how much steel a country needs. Central bankers, of course, want to please the politicians who appoint them, and the politicians always want bigger booms and no busts to help them get re-elected. The result is the Fed puts off the bust for a while, but when it comes, it’s much bigger because of all the malinvestment the central bank has encouraged.
Gold is what people throughout history have traditionally based their money on, and a gold-backed currency takes control of the monetary system away from the government and banks, so nobody can create artificial prosperity and the crashes that come with it. The economy would still have ups and downs, but nothing like the boom-and-bust-cycle we have now. The crisis we’re in may only be beginning, and it would not have been possible without fiat money.
PG: You are known as the most libertarian legislator in Washington. Libertarians are supposed to advocate the smallest amount of government—economic and social. You do break the mold on some issues however, including abortion. Many libertarians believe the government has no right to tell a woman what she can do with her body. Why do you stake out a different position?
RP: Libertarianism requires not initiating force against another human being, and in no case is a human more vulnerable than in the womb. I delivered over 4,000 babies in my time as an OB/GYN, and that reinforced my firm belief that life begins at conception. It would be inconsistent for me to champion personal liberty and a free society if I didn’t also advocate respecting the right to life—for those born and unborn.
PG: America has a long tradition of a two-party political system, but there is no mandate for that in the Constitution. You left the Republican Party in 1988 to be the Libertarian Party candidate for President. It was a quixotic campaign, but you did it anyway. Why?
RP: The American people deserved a legitimate alternative to the increasingly indistinguishable major parties. The Republicans had campaigned on a limited government platform and getting Washington out of our lives throughout the ‘80s, but by 1988 it was clear government was actually growing. Instead of reversing the trend, I believed George H.W. Bush would take the party further down a statist path, and time unfortunately proved me right.
Although I’ve been elected to Congress eleven times as a Republican and choose to work inside the party on Capitol Hill to effect change, I believe alternative parties serve a crucial role in politics because they give voice to the issues the major parties ignore. The problem is that both Democrats and Republicans have made the American system very biased in order to entrench their power. I find it especially interesting that the establishment justifies unconstitutional wars as “promoting democracy” overseas while doing its best to silence opposition at home.
Before alternative parties can really gain strength, the laws must be changed to put everyone on an even playing field. Until then, unless they are led by someone of independent wealth, like Ross Perot, or a celebrity like Jesse Ventura, third parties are not likely to obtain electoral success because they have to spend almost all of their funds just getting on the ballot.
Third parties can serve a useful educational function. I believe the Libertarian Party has done a great service in promoting the Libertarian philosophy, and I continue to have many friends and supporters in the Libertarian Party as well as the Constitution Party. I even have some friends in the Green Party.
There’s no doubt, though, that the media pays more attention to the major parties. Even running in the crowded 2008 Republican primary field, I received more media coverage and notice than I did in the 1988 Libertarian Party campaign. That was thanks to the Internet, but it was also largely because I was able to participate in the nationally televised Republican primary debates.
PG: Let’s talk about the 2008 campaign. Despite opposition from the party power brokers and at first being largely ignored by the media outside of the TV debates, your efforts raised millions of dollars and kept you in the race long after better known names had dropped out. How do you explain your success?
RP: At the very beginning, I was certain the campaign would be over in just a few months but hoped we could open some eyes with our message and grow the liberty movement. I never imagined what would happen!
I like to say that “freedom is popular,” and this is especially true with America’s youth. They know we have to change course and that government at all levels is mortgaging their futures. The message of sound money, personal liberty, and minding our own business on the world stage struck a chord with them.
But our campaign extended beyond just young people to all ages from all walks of life. Just how widespread our support was became obvious when grassroots supporters organized two hugely successful “moneybombs.” The first took place on November 5, 2007—Guy Fawkes Day—and the second happened on December 16, 2007, the 234th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party. The November event raised over $4 million online in 24 hours, and the December follow-up raised over $6 million!
The American Republic was built on personal responsibility, limited government, and a respect for liberty. The campaign reenergized a lot of people who thought our nation would never return to those principles.
PG: Unlike most of your Republican and conservative colleagues, you do not support a hawkish foreign policy. You are leading the right flank charge against the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq and oppose the war in Afghanistan. Not many people have heard of an anti-war conservative.
RP: Neo-conservatives have done a lot to confuse the American people about this. Real conservatives should stand for the Constitution, and the Constitution is clear that only Congress has the power to declare war. But the U.S. has not declared any war since World War II. Today, presidents only ask for “authorization” from Congress once they have already taken hostile actions, like bombing other countries, and committed us to war. Constitutional conservatives can’t go along with that.
Of course, there are plenty of people in Congress who think of themselves as conservatives who would be happy to declare war against Iran or a lot of other countries. I think they should consider what these wars really mean. The foreign policy we’ve had since the Cold War is not only immoral because it inflicts enormous casualties on civilian populations, it’s counterproductive too, because it creates a lot of resentment toward the United States. Even when we’re not at war, having hundreds of bases around the world and meddling in other countries’ affairs creates enemies for us.
Washington responds to real or imagined enemies by becoming even more interventionist, which only makes things worse. And of course, all the intelligence agencies and weapons systems and everything else that’s part of the military-industrial complex costs hundreds of billions of dollars every year. War is the biggest big-government program there is. If conservatives want to shrink the government, they have to start there.
PG: Is that why you advocate closing many, if not most, of America’s military bases around the world, especially in Europe?
RP: You can learn a lot about how U.S. foreign policy works by looking at why we have bases in Europe. During the Cold War, we were supposed to be providing security against the Soviets. But after the Soviet Union collapsed, we actually expanded NATO. We have bases in former Soviet republics, and we still have bases in Western Europe even though there is no longer much danger of war there.
We have about 100,000 troops in Europe and nearly 50,000 in Japan. Countries like Germany and Japan can pay for their own defense, and they aren’t going to behave the way they behaved in World War II again any time soon. These bases are more about politics than defense. They give Washington an opportunity to meddle and play influence games with our allies. The U.S. taxpayer, of course, foots the bill, which is in the billions. We can’t afford it.
PG: What about America’s role in the Middle East. You have said the U.S. has an unnecessarily confrontational approach with Iran, and that Washington should be reticent in supporting any military action Israel may take against Tehran. Can you expand on that?
RP: Right now we’re hearing a lot of the same things we heard in the rush to war with Iraq, about how dangerous Iran is and the nuclear weapons program they supposedly have. Iraq’s nuclear program, of course, was mostly a myth used to get the American public to support a war. The lesson many world leaders took from what we did to Iraq is that if you don’t want the U.S. to attack you, you had better have nuclear weapons, like North Korea. Threatening war and invading Iraq did the opposite of what it was meant to do.
Iran seems to be pretty far away from having a nuclear weapon, and even if they had one, Israel has many more. Iran and its leaders are not suicidal. Israel probably won’t attack Iran without our permission, so it all comes down to how effective the war propagandists in this country are and how effective supporters of peace and liberty are at countering them.
PG: As we wrap-up, let’s move on to a few domestic policy issues. Several state legislatures have legalized the use of marijuana for medical reasons and decriminalized the possession of small amounts of the drug. Doesn’t that undermine the federal government’s “War on Drugs” policies?
RP: The “War on Drugs” is another good example of Washington disregarding the Constitution—anything called a “war” usually is. Our Founding Fathers never thought the federal government could tell the people what to eat or drink or smoke. Almost a hundred years ago, when alcohol Prohibition was government’s favorite social-engineering project, at least there had to be a constitutional amendment before it could happen. And we saw how Prohibition worked out: people still got drunk, but there was a huge new black market that gave us gangsters and organized crime. The same thing is happening today. The government spends over $40 billion a year for the “War on Drugs,” but there’s still plenty of drug use and more and more drug gangs.
Regulating alcohol, tobacco, or drugs should be left to the states. But the federal “War on Drugs” not only harms states’ rights, it’s even worse for individuals’ constitutional rights. The drug war has militarized police, permitted law enforcement to seize property—which a lot of agencies do now just to raise revenue—and destroyed civil liberties. We ought to end the drug war completely and treat drug abuse as a medical problem, not a criminal one.
PG: Illegal immigration is an international problem. Every nation in Europe faces the same issues as America in terms of its negative effect on the economy, pollution, crime, the risk to national security, and cultural clashes. What can be done to stem the tide of illegal immigrants?
RP: Just like the economic crisis, government is at the heart of this problem. Protecting the border is one of the few things that government is legitimately supposed to do, but politicians like to take advantage of illegal immigration instead. They use it as an excuse for class warfare or playing ethnic politics. The welfare state distorts the labor market and gives people who cross the border illegally a powerful incentive to stay. This creates political conflict, which is what happens whenever government privileges and benefits are up for grabs.
In addition to protecting the border, the best thing the government can do about illegal immigration is to stop interfering with the states and forcing them to expand their social services to include people who are here unlawfully. That doesn’t mean that they don’t get emergency medical care, only that they don’t get every benefit. Then illegal immigrants have more of a reason to return home, and politicians have less of an opportunity to use them. It’s pretty strange that Washington thinks it can control Iraq’s border with Iran, but acts like nothing can be done about the U.S. border.
PG: Finally, do you have any thoughts on the political phenomenon dubbed the “tea party movement?” Many attribute its geneses to your presidential campaign.
RP: It’s certainly encouraging to see the establishment under attack from so many people tired of its out-of-control ways. The Tea Partiers are rightly concerned not only for their futures, but those of their children and grandchildren. They know the debt is soaring and that government is not going to be able to keep its promises.
It’s important that those of us who have been warning about big government for quite some time continue our efforts to educate, so these activists not only understand the current problems but fully grasp what led us to this point. The economic crisis is more than just Congress spending recklessly. It’s the result of an entire system that’s built on fiat currency and market manipulation. The Federal Reserve enables Congress’s actions.
Education is also critical to countering the influence of the neoconservatives, who will continue trying to dilute the message and co-opt the Tea Party activists. It’s necessary to consistently make the case that we can’t have limited government at home if we’re going to keep policing the world. I’ve long argued that freedom is an indivisible whole. You can’t pursue one piece while ignoring the rest.
There’s something special happening in America. People are not only waking up to what’s happening, but they’re taking action and getting involved. The statists have had their chance and failed miserably. It is up to those of us who believe in freedom to reclaim our liberties and restore the Founders’ vision.
This interview appeared in the Autumn 2010 issue of The Quarterly Review, published in Britain.