Off the main hall at the Republican State Convention in Dallas last June, among all the booths pushing cherished right-wing causes from tort reform to gun ownership, one stood out in popularity. Stationed first as delegates stepped off the floor, the Republican Liberty Caucus of Texas consistently held the largest crowds. The RLC represents the Libertarian wing of the Republican Party. Its standard bearer is U.S. Congressman Ron Paul. By the end of the convention, most delegates proudly sported a sticker that proclaimed, “I’m a Ron Paul Republican.”
Paul, who once ran for president as a Libertarian, has been ridiculed by opponents over the years for his role as an ideological gadfly. Challengers for his seat have accused him of holding positions so far out that they place him in outer space. Indeed many of the planks particularly repellent to progressives that Republicans adopted for their Texas platform mirror Paul’s positions. They include abolishing the Internal Revenue Service, eliminating the Department of Education, prohibiting abortion, and doing away with most environmental laws.
Remarkably though, Paul’s principled stance also makes him and his true followers natural allies on certain issues progressives hold dear. He has lobbied his fellow members to end the embargo of Cuba. Paul has also been a vocal leader fighting in Congress against a war in Iraq. In doing so he has spoken truth to power with an honesty and courage progressives wish more Democratic leaders exhibited. Paul has also been a leader in warning the American public about the dangers of the police state the Bush administration is rapidly building–what the ACLU has taken to calling our “surveillance society.” It’s a place where five-count felon John Poindexter (who escaped on a technicality) runs databases out of the Pentagon that hold all of our personal information–from how we spend our money to where we go on the Internet.
As an ever-growing number of Americans become concerned about the direction Republican leaders are taking the country, a coalition between left and right that extends from the halls of Congress to the Texas statehouse has begun to form on some of these issues. An example of this incipient movement is a libertarian rally scheduled in Austin at the University of Texas on February 17th. The two featured speakers are Congressman Paul and Texas ACLU Executive Director Will Harrell.
The Texas Observer visited with Ron Paul at his district office in Freeport on the Gulf Coast in late December. We wanted to question Paul more closely on the areas where he and progressives might coincide. Here are some of the results of that conversation.
Texas Observer: Is it inevitable we will go to war with Iraq?
Ron Paul: I would say the odds are 98 percent. Only a miracle will save us from committing this overt act of aggression. I think this will be a gift for Osama bin Laden. He will be the beneficiary of it. He hates Saddam Hussein. He has a better chance of getting one of his men [in power] after we cause a lot of disruption over there. And besides, his recruiting operation is going to get a real boost. We are going to prove to many Muslims around the world exactly what he has been telling them all along, that we are over there to dominate, to control, and to get the oil. I think we have fallen into that trap.
TO: Why haven’t more people seen through this effort to link Hussein to the war on terrorism?
RP: It seems that those who advise the president, those who control foreign policy, need another war for various reasons: whether it has to do with the oil or this principle that we are such good people that we know what is best; our views should dominate. I think they believe it almost like a religion. What has happened is that they have been able to control the propaganda. Even if there are some in Washington who have questioned this–and many of them did question it–the propaganda has been so powerful. All [Congress] had to do was look at the polls and say, “Oh, the polls show that we must do this.” I have told others, and I am convinced that if Bill Clinton was doing exactly what the president is doing today, I bet I wouldn’t be a lonely Republican. I bet I would have a lot of Republican supporters on my side…. But now it’s a Republican president, and he can do no wrong.
TO: Has 9/11 changed how the U.S. should operate in the world?
RP: I just think it has taken a foreign policy that was seriously flawed and given it more momentum. Now it’s just going further and faster and there is less resistance.
TO: Will we have to wait for Castro to die for the embargo to end?
RP: I think the momentum is moving in our direction. But it would require overriding a veto. It is getting to be so popular…. I don’t try to defend Castro. I just happen to think I can undermine them better by introducing them to buying our stuff.
I believe that’s the way we should treat people like Saddam Hussein too. China should not be considered the perfect nation either, yet we have done everything [for China] all the way back to Nixon. Now they literally receive more export-import money than anybody else. It’s like $3 to $4 billion a year of special subsidies they get. At the same time we hear this stuff about North Korea and how bad they are. “They have weapons.” Well, we should talk to them. Yet we can’t talk to Saddam Hussein.
TO: Are you an isolationist?
RP: I call it non-intervention, militarily. For what I want to do with Castro you would hardly call that isolationist. It is pretty much the opposite. I want you to go where you please. I want you to be able to buy your cigars where you want. I want you to be able to sell stuff to them. But I don’t want our CIA down there. I don’t want our troops down there. I don’t want to threaten them. I think it is really unfair for people to describe what I believe as isolationist. They do that usually to make it sound negative: “Oh yeah, you are an isolationist.” I would isolate our military.
We have already made mistakes. Why make more? Why go over there and bomb Iraq under the name of fighting 9/11 in order to get another millionaire furious at us? If we don’t make the proper assessment–the real reason why they come after us versus the story that they give us that [terrorists] hate us because we are free and prosperous–we don’t have much chance of winning this war, this fight against terrorism. As long as everybody believes that, I am very pessimistic that we will get to a reasonable foreign policy.
TO: So how do we break through the dominant paradigm? The so-called “liberal media?”
RP: Yeah, who is the liberal media? From my viewpoint, Fox is a bigger threat than CBS. Fox is the bigger interventionist. All the major media in television are like that. How do you do it? I do it my way. I write articles and give speeches and send out letters. The other thing that I do is to make sure everybody knows up front exactly what I believe in. Because if I get elected, I want to make the claim that they elected me knowing fully well what I believe. Not only do I want to be elected under those conditions, I want to follow those rules, never vote to bend them, and get reelected with a better percentage.
I understand that the anti-war movement is a lot stronger than anybody would realize by watching television; that it is stronger compared to where we were when we moved into Vietnam. Then they were killing for five years before the campuses exploded. Now the campuses are sound asleep and there is a strong anti-war movement in the suburbs. It’s out there.
TO: What’s wrong with the PATRIOT Act and the Homeland Security bill?
RP: [They] have the basic problem of really undermining privacy, which I think is the essence of our liberty. If you don’t have privacy, you don’t have much freedom left.
The part that [also] really bothers me was the process. We did not even have real access to the bill[s] before the vote. I have a general rule, since I’m not a so-called loyalist. As a member of the party, I feel like there is some allegiance that I have to give. So I give it on the procedural votes, the parliamentary votes. Two times I went against the Republican Party on procedural votes: They were the PATRIOT Act and Homeland Security.
I would not support the rule because I thought the method was so atrocious. The bills were not available. Things were switched around. They kept the House open until 5:00 a.m. in order to avoid a two-thirds vote. I don’t think we ever really had the final version of the PATRIOT Act before the bill was debated. And the other one became available two hours before. Then the difficulty in reading it was overwhelming. We had passed it once in the House. It was 52 pages. When it came back it was 484 pages. It was very hard to read, written in a lot of legalese. It was just a matter of making technical changes in the code and changing the Privacy Act. If somebody tells you ‘Oh, I had the bill, I just read it, and it doesn’t sound that bad’–’they wouldn’t know what they had read! They took it out of the realm of real debate and serious thought, and just politicized it.
TO: Were they trying to hide what it did or were they in a rush?
RP: They were in a rush, and I don’t think it would have stood the light of day. When the Homeland Security bill went back to the Senate they had the one key vote on whether or not they might be able to amend this bill. But that would have ruined it. That would have delayed it until next year. This was too serious. But they didn’t know what was in there. It was all politics. It looks like we did something before the election, but by not delaying it and not allowing too much debate, it also did not let [the public] find out about exempting corporations from liability for vaccine shots, [etc.]. The list of the details is pretty long. Overall, it is just the elimination of the rule of law and allowing the government to do things that they aren’t supposed to do. If they [want to spy on us], they should be getting very difficult to obtain search warrants. But it’s open game now. I see the PATRIOT Act as making it easier to get search warrants and Homeland Security making it like they don’t even need them anymore.
TO: Will there be more efforts to limit our civil liberties?
RP: They want as much unconditional authority [as possible] to do what they want to do. I think a lot of it is PR stuff. The President claimed he did not need Congressional approval to be able to go to war, but it gives them a lot of cover. It looks like we gave them political sanction. A lot of this that we do, that we vote on, isn’t read. They put their finger up to the wind and they say, “Oh, this is politically popular. The President just won this election, so we better do it.” But he is capable of doing exactly what he wants by executive order, by bending the rules. [For example] look at benefits to faith based organizations to pass out welfare.
If he wants more authority, if they want a TIPS program, even though they say, “we backed off on that,” it doesn’t make me comfortable one bit. I think [when it comes to] the spying-on-your-neighbor type information, they can and will do it. There won’t be too much resistance because the people are scared. They want something done. Until the people are annoyed, Congress won’t wake up.
TO: As the deficit skyrockets, have Republicans lost any right to the mantle of fiscal conservatives?
RP: They don’t have much credibility. The Democrats don’t have much credibility either. When they talk about “balanced budget,” that’s their code word for “I need to raise your taxes.” The Republicans are more fraudulent because they still run on it. They have so many slogans. They talk about personal liberty and limited government and local government and look at what happens….They don’t have a whole lot of respect for personal liberty and that is why we have the invasion of privacy. The warmongers are on both sides.
TO: How do you account for your popularity at the Republican State Convention?
RP: You wonder what’s going on. Maybe these people who wear stickers don’t know exactly what I’m all about. Or [their leaders] don’t know that there is grassroots support for something I’m saying. I think they sort of suspect it, and they don’t want to take me on in a philosophical way. My guess is they hope that if they just ignore me, I’ll go away. And if they say much about it, I’ll get more attention.
TO: At what point will the people who are voting Republican wake up and become alarmed at the police state being built around them by their leaders?
RP: I would think that the odds of that happening before 9/11 was pretty good. Now it is so easy to make the excuse: I know Ron’s on the right track but things are different now.
TO: Do you think there is a potential for a left/right alliance on some of these issues?
RP: See those stacks of e-mails on my desk? They came in after my speeches. Most of them are very positive. Some say, “I’m a Democrat. I’ve never heard of you. I love what you say, and I can’t believe that a Republican is saying this, let alone a Republican from Texas.”
So yes, the foreign policy that I talk about is very attractive to Democrats. Especially Democrats who are hacked off at people like Gephardt and Lieberman and Daschle for going along with the President. Democrats who bowed down and did exactly what [Bush] said. And people ask me, “why do you think that happens?” Democrats have generally been the anti-war party. The only thing that I can think of is that although the left is anti-war, now they feel they have to toe the line. They figure that they will get hit by the conservatives: “If you don’t support this war you are unpatriotic.” [So they say] “I am running for president. I have to appeal to the center so I need to wimp out on my beliefs.”
There are some Democrats and Republicans who can come together on some of these issues. I like the privacy issue as a demonstration of that. The war issue isn’t as good but we did get six Republicans to vote against the war which was tough. There were a lot more who agreed with us but they were chicken to vote the right way.
TO: What can we do now?
RP: I think the only thing we can do is reveal the truth. Politicians aren’t very good at doing that, they are demagogues. So I really haven’t gotten into the right profession to deliver truth. As long as we believe that we are being subjected to terrorist attacks because we are good and honest and free and prosperous nothing much will come of our foreign policy.