Paul of the Wild
The Libertarian standard-bearer may have retired from Congress, but that doesn’t mean he’s laying down his bullhorn.
NATE BLAKESLEE: You retired from Congress in December, though most people would not describe what you’re doing as retirement. You are creating a new online news channel, you’ve got a new book out, you’ve got a new institute. Where does all the energy come from?
RON PAUL: I get energized by two things. One is the interest that young people have shown for the ideas that I have been talking about for a long time. That gets me excited because I’m reaching a group of individuals that might have an opportunity to change things for the better. And the other thing is the issues themselves. I see what’s happening today as a sort of end stage of many trials and errors in our own country, and worldwide. We’ve had so many different forms of tyranny since the beginning of time and they lead to nothing but trouble. And I just see that having coming to an end. The Soviet system has collapsed. Now we’re dealing with the American empire, and it’s not doing well because we’re not able to continue it financially. So I see that coming to an end. And I see Keynesian economic interventionism coming to an end, and an opportunity to try something that the nation’s founders tried, and that was to emphasize personal liberty and property rights.
NB: Tell me a little bit about the Ron Paul Channel, which I gather is going to be an Internet venture. Why do we need it?
RP: You don’t get the views that I’m expressing on evening television, you don’t hear them in the leadership of the Republican or Democratic Party. And yet there is this seemingly very strong desire from young people to hear more about it. So it is a wonderful opportunity for me to continue to do what I’ve been doing all along for 30 years.
NB: I know a number of your fans and followers are also fans and followers of Fox News. Tell me why Fox News doesn’t fit the bill.
RP: For peace and prosperity to exist you have to have a noninterventionist foreign policy. You have to go back to what the founders advised, and that was nonintervention, mind our own business, free trade, friendship, and don’t get involved in internal affairs of other nations. We’re doing exactly the opposite. I would say that all the major news networks disagree with me on that.
NB: Where do you get most of your news now?
RP: From the Internet, but I also try to get all the ordinary news people are hearing, because I’m trying to figure out what they’re being fed. This is very important. For instance, when we approach a time when it looks like we’re going to war, most Americans are very much opposed to this. This was certainly true of the Persian Gulf War and the Iraqi war and Afghan war. People naturally don’t want to go to war. Then all of a sudden propaganda convinces people that Saddam Hussein is Hitler, and he’s going to invade us next week and drop bombs on us. That takes some conditioning. That’s why I think we have to have an alternative, and people aren’t hearing that from regular television.
NB: Let’s talk about something that’s in the news right now: the revelations about the National Security Agency’s various spying programs. Is NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden a hero? Should he be prosecuted?
RP: I think he should get a medal. He’s doing something that he knew was very dangerous, but I believe he was well motivated. He wasn’t turning anything over to an enemy of ours—he turned it over to us, the American people. There are times when I think our government thinks we are the enemy, and that’s why they’re spying on us. A consequence of 9/11 was to destroy our civil liberties and destroy privacy. [Snowden] released information, just like [1970s Pentagon Papers leaker] Daniel Ellsberg. There were a lot of mixed feelings, but I think that the American people are waking up, and they’re more likely to call him a whistle blower. It was even worse for Daniel Ellsberg. A lot of people suspected that maybe they lied us into Vietnam, but he revealed the truth. The more powerful a country is and the more likely it is to be an empire, the more they resent having the truth told. They want to hold this empire together, so the truth has to become treason.
NB: What grade would you give your old colleagues in Congress in terms of oversight? Should they have blown the whistle themselves on the NSA programs?
RP: They should have never voted for the Patriot Act, they should have never voted for the FISA court, they should have never funded any of this. They’re derelict in their duties. But then again, does each individual member of Congress know the extent of what the government is doing to the people? No, not really. I wasn’t a bit surprised to hear what NSA was doing, but did I have the concrete facts and could I go to court and say this is what they’re doing? No, I couldn’t do that. But since the early seventies I’ve been arguing the case against government invasion of our privacy. They started first with financial privacy, and then ten years ago or so they had medical privacy destroyed with the HIPAA legislation, which means everybody has access to your medical records, especially the government. So this is a continuation. To find out that the FBI and the CIA and the NSA spy on us is not a surprise, but it was still disappointing how massive it was.
There’s no way in this electronic age that the government is going to keep those secrets. We have a significant tool that we can combat this with, and it is the Internet, and that of course is what I relied on in the last national campaign I had. The enthusiasm was built not because of any major endorsements or anything like that–it was just that people were starved for the truth. And they believe that I was telling them the truth.
NB: I was there for that Republican primary debate in South Carolina in 2008 where Rudy Giuliani really lit into you on your opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now most Americans seem to agree with you. Do you feel vindicated?
RP: No, it makes me very sad. All they would have had to do was just accept the principal that’s embedded in our Constitution that we go to war only with a declaration of war. So it’s very sad, because all the tragedy and all the spending is for naught, and 65 or 75 percent of the people, depending on the poll you look at, say it’s all a waste. And all you have to do is look at these tragedies: Battle deaths are less now, but there’s 22 suicide attacks a day. This is a consequence of people just not following good common sense, and following the rules. When they were talking about going into Iraq, I had ‘em vote on a declaration of war in the International Affairs Committee, and they highly resented that. Of course nobody voted for that. “No, no, no we have to give the power to the president, let the president decide what to do.” He’s king, you know. That sort of thing. But it’s better late than never to wake up, and maybe we can prevent the next war. Yet at the same time, these same people are saying, when are we going into Syria? When are we going into Iran? So it goes on and on, and it never quits.
NB: Let me ask you about another issue that’s before Congress right now: the immigration reform package. It seems like we’re sort of hopelessly stalled on that. Could you give Congress a grade on how they handled that?
RP: Now, maybe they get a B for effort, but since they’ve accomplished nothing so far, they have to get a grade of failure. I don’t really expect much to come of that debate.
NB: They tried to get conservatives on board by saying, “We’re going to double the border patrol,” which didn’t seem to me like a conservative move in terms of spending. I wonder how it looked to you.
RP: Well, they don’t look at that as spending. They look at it differently when it’s spending for the military industrial complex. I think it’s a big mess. I’ve written a whole chapter on that in the last book I wrote. I don’t think I can summarize that in three sentences. There’s a motivation, a political motivation, to get people to vote a certain way. The welfare state has a lot to do with this. No other government in the world says, “Oh, come into my country, and if you would like to be a citizen, just sign up. And sign up on the welfare.” And yet I’m very libertarian on the issue. I want people to come and go. I thought the work programs in the past have been very, very good. So I think in one way we need more openness. At the same time, I resent barbed wire fences and guns on the border. So it’s a very, very complex issue, and I think the politicians make it much worse with everything that they do.
NB: Who do you like for 2016?
RP: I haven’t thought much about that. It’s too early—way too early for that.
NB: Let me ask you about one figure in particular, another Texan—U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. Some libertarians applaud his stance, for example, on drones. But other people have said, you know, what Ted Cruz does is he puts his finger in the air, identifies issues he thinks are hot right now, and he gets close to them. They question his sincerity, I guess, for want of a better word.
RP: I don’t think I know him well enough to interpret what his motivations are or what’s inside his soul. So I don’t think I could add very much to that.
NB: As you’re leaving the stage, not altogether, but as an elected official, can you see anybody that might be there to sort of pick up your mantle in Congress?
RP: There are several, but that’s not the way I expect things to improve in this country. We have to reverse things by reaching out to a whole generation of individuals, to educate them as to Austrian free-market economics, about printing paper money and thinking it’s wealth. Somebody has to wake up one day and say, “Well, that doesn’t make any sense.” That doesn’t make any sense, maintaining an empire. So I think the answer to this is not political. It’s education. This is also the reason I’m very much involved in the educational process and working on a homeschooling project.
NB: You’ve written a new book in which you suggest homeschooling is one solution to problems in public education.
RP: It’s not a book that is designed to just attack, attack, attack on government and local schools, because I happen to be a product of public schools. But nevertheless, the problems are much worse now than ever before. And I just think that it’s wonderful that we still have an option. We’ll have a homeschool curriculum available in the fall. The wonderful thing about homeschooling is that it’ll be very diverse, and that’s why it’s so good. Some will be Christian fundamentalist homeschooling; others will be very secular.Mine’s going to be designed to promote the cause of liberty from a historical viewpoint, an interpretation which we think has gotten buried. As far as foreign policy, we’d try to educate people on the Constitution and why nonintervention is not only good for us, it’s really what the Constitution is all about. There’ll be online teachers.
NB: We’re all wondering who the next Federal Reserve chairperson will be. Do you have an opinion?
RP: Well we ought not to have one.
NB: I knew you were going to say that.
RP: People push me: “You’ve got to pick between [Fed vice chairman] Janet Yellen and [former Treasury Secretary] Larry Summers.” And I say, well it really doesn’t matter much, they are really both Keynesians, they both believe in central economic planning, and they believe very strongly that banks have to be protected and insured to make bad mistakes. And then the tax payer will bail them out like they’ve been doing.
NB: Can we give monetary policy any credit at all for the country apparently climbing out of this recession?
RP: I don’t think we are out. I think we’re in serious shape. I think the unemployment rate is huge, there’s a lot more inflation then they admit, and we’re in the midst of a bond bubble. So yes stock markets are doing good and Wall Street’s doing good, the banks are doing well, and big corporations. But we’re not out, so they get zero credit. They should get all the blame for the bubble, and all the blame for the collapse. And yet they never warned us once that it was coming. It was only the Austrian economists who sensed that we had gross distortion and that the bubble will burst. And those same individuals are predicting that the bubble will burst when it comes to the dollar bond market.
NB: You’ve served two long terms in Congress, the last one marked by unbelievable gridlock. Do you see any hope for Congress becoming a more functional body?
RP: Well as long as they’re promoting only bad stuff I hope not. [Laughs.] I’m voting for gridlock.