Paul: A Seller of Ideas
by Lisa Anderson Chicago Tribune November 13, 2007
U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) sticks to serious principles and says what
he thinks. Someone is listening he raised millions in one day on the
Internet. (AP photo by Jim Cole / November 7, 2007)
They call him Dr. No -- no big government, no big spending, no flouting the Constitution. And no interest in slick political image.
No more Department of Education. No more Federal Reserve Bank. No more Medicare or Medicaid. No more membership in the United Nations or NATO. No more federal drug laws. And, no more U.S. troops in Iraq -- or anywhere else on foreign soil.
The Internal Revenue Service would be history in the first week that Ron Paul sits behind the desk in the Oval Office. And the dismantling of the above-mentioned entities and relationships -- plus a long list of others -- soon would commence.
Think that sounds eccentric, strange, even crazy? Many of the libertarian-minded, 10-term congressman's rivals for the GOP presidential nomination think so and have said so.
But, to a growing, Internet-based pool of supporters, the silver-haired obstetrician turned politician is the sanest man at the Republican debates and perhaps in all of Congress. Paul attracts an unusual political potpourri of people of all ages and viewpoints, including a sprinkling of conspiracy theorists and other extremists whose views Paul's campaign disavows. While most supporters ardently oppose the Iraq war, what they all share is a deep disenchantment and distrust of the federal government in its present form and a fervent belief in Paul's plans to change it.
On Nov. 5, they demonstrated their passion for Paul in spectacular fashion, raising $4.2 million, mostly online, in 24 hours, rocketing him close to his $12 million goal for the fourth quarter. In terms of 2008 GOP presidential candidates, Paul's take broke the previous one-day record of $3.1million set by Mitt Romney Jan. 8.
Hammering home a singular message of freedom, free markets, smaller federal government and greater personal responsibility, Paul, at 72, is nothing if not consistent. Personally, he seems very much the same in a one-on-one conversation as he does on the stump: earnest, serious and slightly stunned. Although pleasant, he, unlike most politicians, makes no effort to charm. He leaves an impression that he is out to sell ideas, not himself.
Politically, he also is relentlessly consistent: If it is not explicitly authorized in the U.S. Constitution, Paul opposes it, particularly if it involves spending. He has opposed so many things over his political career that he has been dubbed "Dr. No."
The money that would be saved from the elimination of many federal programs, not to mention the Iraq war, he contends, would more than provide a state-based safety net for those Americans who can't help themselves and for those depending on Social Security, which eventually he would phase out. States, not the federal government, should deal with issues such as abortion and the nature of marriage, he says. And, though he dreams of a day America returns to a gold standard, he would be happy just to see the country stop taking on huge foreign debt and running up deficits by printing money for which it has no solid backing.
Off and running
Money, specifically monetary policy, is a long-term Paul obsession, the foundation of many of his ideas and books and the catalyst of his political career. In his 20s, he became interested in the libertarian-flavored Austrian school of economics, which favors a commodity-backed currency and markets free of government interference. When President Richard Nixon effectively severed the U.S. dollar from the gold standard in 1971, Paul has said, he felt impelled to enter politics.
Emerging as an unlikely Republican rock star among young voters, Paul actually draws cheers on college campuses when he calls for abolishing the Federal Reserve System.
"It amazes me no end that they even have thought about it," he said in a recent interview.
Asked about his appeal to young people, he said, "They don't trust government. Government has been messing things up. And they respond favorably to not worrying about paying income tax and getting out of Social Security."
In terms of foreign policy, he said, "I make them feel good that you can be conservative and pro-truth and pro-American and pro-Constitution and not want to go to war for needless purposes. They've been made to feel ... that if you don't support all these invasions and all this fighting, somehow you're anti-American."
Paul has infuriated some, including his GOP rivals, by suggesting that U.S. foreign policy has fueled terrorism and contributed to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He often says, "They came over here because we went over there."
Meanwhile, he has proved not only more popular but more bankable than many -- including himself -- might have expected. Even before the Nov. 5 cascade of cash, Paul's campaign had more than $5 million on hand at the close of the third quarter,exceeding the coffers of such better-known White House hopefuls as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Republican former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
"I think one thing that appeals to the young people is that he'll speak his mind and he doesn't care who likes or doesn't like it," said Bruce Buchanan, a professor of government who specializes in presidential politics at the University of Texas at Austin. "That old saw that he'd rather be right than be president fits."
Long unafraid to take rock-solid stands on issues that would turn other candidates' knees to jelly -- witness his opposition to gun control and censorship of pornography or anything else on the Internet, and his approval of decriminalizing marijuana and prostitution -- Paul has developed the unlikely political habit of saying exactly what he thinks. All the time. Whether he's on the floor of the House of Representatives or on the couch of "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno."
Down-home but passionate
A slight, craggy-faced man whose crinkly eyes and ski-slope nose might suggest an older version of commentator Bill O'Reilly, Ron Paul cuts a figure more down-home than dashing. He projects a mild-mannered demeanor but turns fiery when he talks about the need for change in the federal government. And there is a steely certainty to his views that even his fans concede sound radical on first hearing.
Some have compared Paul's formidable performance on the Internet with that of former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, another maverick who also scored early success on the Internet, both in raising money and his profile. The majority of Paul's funds come from online donors, and his campaign Web site -- RonPaul2008.com -- is often a political traffic-topper in a crowded presidential field. For the week ending Oct. 27, traffic on Paul's site vied for the top slot with that of Sen. Hillary Clinton and handily trounced all other GOP candidate sites, according to Hitwise.com, which monitors Internet usage. "Ron Paul" was the most searched political term for the prior month.
Yet in most presidential race polls, Paul hovers in the low single digits -- often within the margin of error. In his best showing to date, 7.4 percent of likely New Hampshire primary voters supported him, according to a New Hampshire Institute of Politics poll released Oct. 25.
Although he ran as the Libertarian Party presidential nominee in 1988, Paul says he has no plans to run as anything other than Republican in 2008. He also says he has no intention of running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by his fellow Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison. And he has no plans to quit the presidential race.
"What people are afraid of is Paul will never leave" the race for the White House, said Robert Stein, a political scientist at Rice University in Houston and a longtime Paul watcher. "You have to know Ron Paul as I do. This guy just keeps on ticking."
Ron Paul consistently draws enthusiastic crowds, often topping 1,500 people, during campaign stops around the country, particularly at colleges and universities. But name recognition remains problematic.
"Is Ron Paul the actor, the one who used to be an actor?" one student was overheard asking as she strolled past signs for a Paul event on the University of Southern California campus earlier this fall.
No, that would be Fred Thompson.
Paul's name can draw blank stares even in his own district. At the Brazoria County Fair in Angleton on a hot and dusty October day, it seemed most people were far more familiar with such signature delicacies as fried Oreos, fried pickles and Brobdingnagian-size roasted turkey legs than they were with their own representative in Congress, who happens to be running for the White House.
"I know he was a doctor in Lake Jackson," said Bubba Kettler, 44, an electric company lineman.
Teresa Petersen, sitting amid crates of the velvety, mottled chocolate-and-white Standard Rex rabbits her sons brought to show at the fair, fondly recalled Ron Paul. Mother of a child with autism, Petersen went to see Paul in a district office to persuade him to oppose the 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals With Disabilities Improvement in Education Act. Many parent groups at the time contended that proposed changes in the act weakened educational opportunities for disabled children.
Amiable and approachable
"He was just a really nice man. He was very easy to talk to," recalled Petersen, 45, who is a full-time student at Brazosport College. "He was very aware of the issue," she said, adding "He did end up voting 'no' on that.
"Actually, I found out later that he votes 'no' on most things, so there went all the air out of my bubble," she added with a laugh.
Representing the 14th Congressional District, Paul covers a swath of the Texas Gulf Coast running south of Houston from about Galveston to Corpus Christi. A mix of rural, suburban and beach communities, the district has a large petrochemical industry presence, cattle ranching, rice farming and numbers many NASA workers among its roughly 650,000 residents.
Although Paul steadfastly opposes farm subsidies, greater support for NASA and funding for FEMA in a famously hurricane-prone district, he continues to be re-elected comfortably. "It's not that kind of relationship," said the University of Texas' Buchanan. "It's more on the order of 'This is a man we trust,' as opposed to 'What's in it for us?'"
Born August 20, 1935, in Pittsburgh, Ronald Ernest Paul was the third of five sons born to a dairy farmer in the nearby tiny suburb of Green Tree. He began working for his father at an early age and delivered milk during his years at Dormont High School. There he met Carol Wells, daughter of a well-to-do coffee broker. They have five children, 18 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary this year.
"The first time I ever saw him, he was running a track event," recalled Carol Paul, 71, in a recent phone conversation.
"I think what impressed me too was that everybody liked him. But he was a serious student and a serious athlete. He spent most of his time doing that. He wasn't one of the big dating crowd. He was student body president his senior year. He didn't run for it. They wanted him."
Paul worked his way through Gettysburg College, initially planning to follow two of his brothers into the ministry. But an interest in biology led him instead to the Duke University School of Medicine. He and Carol married in his last semester at Gettysburg, and she worked to put him through medical school.
Paul was a flight surgeon in the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard from 1963 to 1968; he was not assigned to serve in Vietnam. In 40 years as an OB-GYN in the Lake Jackson area, he estimates, he has delivered more than 4,000 babies.It pains Carol Paul to hear her husband booed or criticized by rivals during debates, but she takes pride in his attitude. "He has no animosity to these people," she said. "He forgives. But I don't know if he can ever forgive about the war, the boys we've lost and the fact we went in for lies."
Ron Paul is the only GOP candidate unequivocally opposed to the Iraq war and was the only Republican representative who did not vote in support of it. He is also the rare congressman who refuses a Congressional pension, because he considers the use of taxpayer money in this fashion an abuse of power. For the same reason, he never accepted taxpayer-funded Medicare or Medicaid in his practice, nor did he allow his children to take federal loans for college.
Paul appears financially comfortable but not exceedingly wealthy, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. Most of his holdings are in about two dozen gold and silver firms, many valued at less than $15,000 and none valued at more than $250,000.
Paul likes to tell people that when constituents came to visit him in his Washington office, it would invariably be parents with reluctant children in tow. These days, he says, it is more often young people introducing their skeptical parents to him.
There are more than 260 Students for Ron Paul chapters around the country, and one of them is at USC in Los Angeles. There Paul stood under a blazing sun on a hot September afternoon speaking to a rally that swiftly grew from a few hundred students to more than 1,500. Among them was history major Luke Murphy, 20. Murphy found out about Paul from his twin brother, who discovered him on the Internet.
"My little brother is going to a Ron Paul rally in San Francisco tomorrow, and he's bringing my mother," he said, noting that septuagenarian Paul may be too "radical" for the "older generation."
Lorraine Clearman, a 67-year-old school administrator, admitted she was cynical when she arrived earlier that same day to hear Paul speak at a $500-a-head fundraising breakfast at the Ritz-Carlton in Pasadena. She went at the behest of her daughter, Holly Clearman, 47, who works with school drop-outs in Los Angeles, and her 14-year-old grandson, Anthony Iatropoulos.
Anthony, a 9th grader, said his mother had introduced him to Paul's ideas. But, he added, "I don't just blindly follow my mother. I feel with sincerity that Ron Paul is hope for America." "Hope for America" is Paul's campaign slogan.
By late October, Lorraine Clearman was sold on Paul. "These positive young supporters give me optimism for the future of our country," she said in an e-mail. "This election may well be bought, and the next ones as well, but the movement may prevail in the end. My conscience will only let me vote for Ron Paul."
No matter how things turn out in 2008, Paul believes he will have made an impact, or at least a dent, in the political landscape. "They can't silence us," he said. "The message is out of the bag, so to speak. The message is out there. I have no idea what's going to happen to the campaign. I'm doing so much better than I ever dreamed."
As he recently said on The Tonight Show, "There's probably a risk I could win."
WHAT YOU MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT ... RONALD ERNEST PAUL
BORN: Aug. 20, 1935; Pittsburgh
EDUCATION: Gettysburg College, graduated in 1957 (BA, major in biology); Duke University School of Medicine, graduated in 1961 with a medical degree.
POLITICAL CAREER: U.S. House of Representatives, 1976; 1978-84; 1997-present. Defeated in GOP primary for U.S. Senate in 1984. Ran as Libertarian Party presidential candidate in 1988.
OTHER JOBS: OB-GYN
FAMILY: Wife, Carol Wells (married Feb. 1, 1957); five children: Ronald, Lori, Randal, Robert and Joy
MUSICAL INSTRUMENT: None
POLITICAL HERO: Sen. Robert A. Taft
FAVORITE FOODS: Tilapia, chocolate chip cookies
FAVORITE MODE OF EXERCISE: Tries to walk at least 3 miles in the morning and bicycle at least 10 miles in the afternoon.
FAVORITE BOOKS: "Human Action: A Treatise on Economics" by Ludwig von Mises and "The Road to Serfdom" by Friedrich A. Hayek
FAVORITE TV SHOW: Financial news
FAVORITE MOVIE: "Dr. Zhivago"
FAVORITE HYMN: "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God"
TELL US A JOKE: He doesn't joke.
Source: Chicago Tribune