A Conversation With an Unusual Man

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Ron Paul
is not your typical Republican. The Libertarian Party's presidential
nominee in 1988, he believes in limited government and a "live
and let live" social policy.  He voted against going to
war in Iraq back in 2002, and he strongly opposes any military action
against Iran.  In fact, Paul's considered to be the most consistent
antiwar member of Congress.  Though that position may be out
of step with today’s Republican Party, Paul has enjoyed enormous
success
online. In the following conversation, Paul talks about
his campaign, the issues he's focused on, and the fallout from his
exchange
in the South Carolina Republican debate with former
New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani over the role United States foreign
policy may have played in providing
motivation
for the attacks of 9/11.

CD: Why
are you running for president?

RP: I'm running
to win and to promote the cause of individual liberty and limited
government. And my goal is to shrink the size of the government
and maximize the freedoms of each individual.

CD: Is there
a specific issue that you would say your campaign is focused on?

RP: It didn't
purposely start out that way, but the number one issue in the country
is the war in Iraq. So this has given me an opportunity to talk
about foreign policy overall, because Iraq is just a consequence
of foreign policy process. And so therefore I get to talk about
the noninterventionist foreign policy and what I've written about
and talked about for a lot of years, and it's right now in the forefront.
And the debates have helped me and its brought a lot of attention
to it, so a lot of the debate that's going on right now I'm very
pleased with.

CD: I noticed
your exchange in the South Carolina debate with Giuliani which has
gotten you a lot of press lately. So I'm wondering, what would you
say is the blowback, if you will, from that amongst your Republican
colleagues? Your fellow candidates weren't very receptive to you,
but how about the actual Republican people?

RP: On the
House floor I would say that people who are quiet probably didn't
approve. But dozens and dozens have come up and been very complimentary,
both Republicans and Democrats, but more Democrats than Republicans.
And outside, of course the discussion on the Internet has been overwhelmingly
favorable and has literally been a tremendous boost to the campaign.
And it's coming from a lot of people who are just frustrated, people
who left the Republican Party or independents, Democrats who are
frustrated with the Democrats not doing the job that they were just
elected to do. And this morning on C-span I heard somebody come
on and said, "I used to be a Democrat but I'm a Republican
now, but only because Ron Paul is running." I hear a lot of
that, and of course the number of people that visit our website
now is growing by leaps and bounds.

CD: I wanted
to talk to you about that. How are you overcoming your lack of resources
compared to the Mitt Romney's and John McCain's of the world? How
are you getting your message out successfully lacking that name
recognition and those resources?

RP: I would
say the Internet's been a tremendous help, it's sort of a secret
weapon for a grassroots campaign. But I guess the debates have been
the most helpful, because this has drawn attention to the beliefs
that I have that are different but still traditional Republican.
And that's my argument, that you can be a conservative and still
be opposed to the war, and be a conservative and believe in civil
liberties, and be a conservative and believe in free enterprise.
So this is a very attractive position. Republicans are tired with
what's happened, [the] budget didn't get balanced, and everybody's
tired with the war. Even those who want to keep fighting it are
tired of the war and wish it would end. But it's a political position
right now that is powerful, and I just think a candidate cannot
win next year if they don't have a strong position and a plan to
do something different in Iraq.

CD: Could
you sum up what your stance is and why you believe that a foreign
policy of interventionism is not conservative or is not Republican?
And could you explain what your foreign policy is and why it is
conservative?

RP: I think
it used to be conservative and I think Republicans have lost their
way. Traditionally Republicans have been more of the peace party
than the war party, and we've been known to traditionally try to
end wars like Korea and Vietnam. Even President Bush ran on a program
which to me was sort of non-intervention, and sort of the peace
side, and he complained about Clinton and Kosovo and Somalia. So
I think that's very traditional for Republicans, but it seems like
they forget easily. Matter of fact, the Republican Party was very
strong on this House floor against what Clinton was doing in Bosnia.
So it's interesting that sometimes it becomes more partisanship
than thinking out on principle. The noninterventionist policy was
traditionally Republican; I think it's very conservative. I don't
see how you can come up with any other policy than that if you're
a strict constitutionalist. It tells you that you shouldn't go to
war unless there's a declaration of war, you shouldn't go to war
under UN resolutions, [and] it should be only under the direction
of Congress. But we just haven't done that. And all of a sudden,
because of the frustration with the war, people are looking at that
and saying, "you know, that makes sense."

CD: There
was a recent bill on the House floor that would have required U.S.
troops to be withdrawn from Iraq within three months. You were one
of two Republicans to vote for that bill, the only other one was
Congressman
John Duncan from Tennessee
. But he says that he could
support a candidate who expounds a neoconservative foreign policy
because it's only one issue and he could agree with the other candidates
on most other things. Do you think you could support someone who
backs an interventionist, some would call it a neoconservative foreign
policy, because maybe you agree with them on economic issues? Or
do you see foreign policy as the number one issue, and that everything
else kind of flows from that?

RP: A radical
neoconservative I can't support, because I think they're very dangerous
and they're very aggressive for starting preemptive war. I could
support one who has a more moderate viewpoint, which they call the
realists. I think Wayne
Gilchrest
might fall into that category. He's not ultra-conservative,
but he and I work closely together and he has a reasonable approach.
Jim Leach was
one like that. That is, they promote diplomacy. You know, my purest
program is probably not going to happen overnight and you're going
to have to settle for something less. But I wouldn't accept an aggressive
neoconservative. But a realist, and the realists were really the
ones who controlled George Bush Sr.. One of the reasons, even though
this was international law and I don't particularly like the justification
for the Persian Gulf war, George Bush Sr. said you know my mandate
was to push Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, I had no other authority
to do that [regime change]. So he respected the mandate [as opposed
to] "lets remake the Middle East and lets just march in."
So I think those who are realists and believe in diplomacy and don't
go shooting up from the hip, I think I could support somebody like
that when I would think that would at least be toning down this
rhetoric. And maybe they would start talking to the Iranians. Maybe
they would move the Navy a little bit away from their shores rather
than marching up there with the Navy and threatening them, and not
willing to take anything off the table including a nuclear-first
strike. That is very dangerous rhetoric.

CD: Now
while the neoconservatives may be more extreme, aren't the realists
the ones that are responsible for the 50 years of foreign policy
you've railed against?

RP: Yeah, I
think that's true. But I'm talking about where we are and which
way we move. The realists now all of a sudden look like reasonable
people compared to the radical neoconservatives. But yeah, you're
right. So you have an Eisenhower, who was probably closer to being
in the realist camp, but he was the one who condemned the military-industrial
complex, he wouldn't go to war in the Suez canal, and yet he was
behind the CIA getting rid of Mossadeq. So, yes it's far from perfect.
But the fact that at least half the time they may be right, that
would be better than having somebody who believed in preemptive
war.

CD: What
are the obstacles to you getting your message out there in a presidential
campaign, compared to all the other candidates with their resources
and name recognition?

RP: Probably
raising enough money if you have to have some advertising. But the
Internet's the secret weapon, and it helps a lot. It's going to
help get the message out and help raise money too. And also I think
the greatest threat is sort of, I got a taste of it and the country
witnessed it, is that if you are saying things that challenge the
status quo and challenging the essence of foreign policy, they twist
it around and they try to paint you as being un-American. So I think
that'll be the toughest problem because I'm expecting that I'll
get more of that. So I have to work very hard to make sure the message
is louder than their accusations that I'm in some way not loyal
and that for some reason I blame America. I mean, to me that's nonsense.

CD: Now
if that exchange [with Giuliani] is the high mark of your campaign,
do you think that you were successful in that you have at least
raised the issue of foreign policy in general American debate?

RP: Oh yeah,
I think its been worthwhile, but I'd like to think that was just
the beginning, not the high-water mark.

CD: How
can you move your campaign to the next step up?

RP: Well, we'll
be in all the debates, and we're still building an army of people
on the Internet, and there's so many things going on spontaneously
that we don't even know about. There's so much activity every day,
there's somebody coming up with a new website, so it's pretty amazing
what's happening.

CD: Speaking
of being in the debates, what did you make of the head of the Michigan
GOP trying to start that ill-fated petition to kick you out?

RP: In a way
it backfired just like Giuliani's attack backfired. Because immediately
there was our petition going up, and I don't think it took him even
48 hours to back away from that. I mean it was ridiculous to try
to silence somebody because he made a point that maybe we're not
as conservative as we claim. I think that totally backfired. So
you don't like it, you don't enjoy it, but maybe there's more benefit.
You know, when that first thing hit with Giuliani I thought "well,
you know, this is terrible, it's so embarrassing," yet it turned
out to be probably the best thing that could've happened to us.

CD: Do you
think that the way the primary system works, and the whole political
system in the United States, it's kind of stacked to support the
establishment candidates in both parties so there can't really be
a groundswell of support for a maverick?

RP: More so
all the time, especially the way they're bunching up the primaries
so people with big money have the advantage. And also if you look
at the opportunities for anybody to do it in a third party, it's
practically impossible because the two establishment parties make
it so difficult to even get on ballots. I mean you have to be a
Ross Perot to get on the ballot and spend millions and millions
of dollars. So it's amazing that we go around the world using force
to spread democracy and we have a few infractions here at home.
And sometimes we become less democratic as we're fighting overseas
to promote democracy.

CD: Congressman
Dennis Kucinich is kind of similar in that he is one of the more
vocal antiwar critics on the Democratic side of the debates. I know
you guys probably disagree on a load of things, but you've come
together a lot to work on issues of war and peace. So could you
talk about your relationship with Congressman Kucinich over the
past couple years, what it's been like, what you think of him?

RP: We're close
friends, and we certainly agree [on the war]. And I think we may
end up voting closely all the time on the war issue. Sometimes some
of these funding bills are a little bit complex, and even Walter
Jones and I will disagree even though we agree on what we're supposed
to be doing, but the interpretation will be a little bit different.
But I think Dennis and I usually come down on the same side of it.
That is, if you don't want the war you quit the funding, and that's
our responsibility and it's not the president's authority to do
what he wants because we have the purse strings, so you have to
vote against the spending. So we get along very well on that, and
since it's such a major issue I think I will continue to work with
him the best we can. And you know, take some of the liberal welfare
spending that Dennis might support more than I. But you know, I'm
not hostile toward that. If I can save the money from overseas,
put some of it against the deficit, end up with a net reduction
in the size of the budget, at the same time stopping a war, I may
well be very open to funding some of these programs. Because I'm
not out to gut some of these programs that have taught people to
be very dependant on the government, like medical care. I mean,
that's not my goal. I've never run for office with the goal of slashing
[those programs] even though philosophically I don't think it's
the best way to deliver services and prosperity to poor people.

CD: So can
we look forward to a Paul-Kucinich 2008 ticket?

RP: Not likely,
but I think that Paul and Kucinich will continue to work together
and do the kind of work that we've been doing for a couple years
now.

CD: Finally,
I
was talking to
Congressman Duncan (R-TN) and he told
me that, more than anyone in Congress, he probably agrees with Ron
Paul the most. But yet he still says he's going to endorse Fred
Thompson because he has a chance to win. How do you combat that
mindset that says "well, you know, I might agree with you but
these other people have a better chance?"

RP: We have
to convince them by our campaign getting bigger and more credible,
and that we go up in the polls. So only time will tell.

June
8, 2007

Charles
Davis [send him mail]
is
a freelance journalist in Washington, DC. More of his work may be
found on his personal
website
.

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