It's hard to put into words what Ron Paul means to me. In fact, it seems a little strange that someone who I do not know on a personal level has had such a big impact on my life. I guess the best place to start is from the beginning.
Back in college I was your typical neoconservative. I was a pro-war Republican who also gave passing, lackadaisical support to limited government and reducing spending. But limited government didn't have much true meaning to me back then. It meant simply this: support reducing spending only to the extent that it can be used to criticize the Democrats and promote the Republican Party and its agenda. That's a pretty shallow understanding, but it's an understanding that had a firm grip on my mind back in those days. I was even the chairman of the College Republicans at my university! I'd bought into the whole canard hook, line, and sinker.
I can't pinpoint the timing exactly, but somewhere around the end of 2005, I discovered Ron Paul. I think I stumbled upon a video of him on C-SPAN. I can't remember exactly what he was saying in the video, but I remember being annoyed and disliking it a lot, which means it was probably against the Iraq War in some way. From there forward and for whatever reason, I couldn't forget Ron Paul. For the first time, I was confronted with the idea that my worldview was internally inconsistent. On the one hand, I mouthed support for free markets and limited government; on the other hand, I supported pre-emptive war, like in Iraq. War, I was told by Ron Paul, was just another way to expand the size and scope of government.
From that point on, over the course of the next year or so, I followed a bread crumb trail Ron Paul had already left across the internet at that time. That trail led me to an obscure economist, one I'd never heard of before even as an economics major in college: Ludwig von Mises. I then found the Ludwig von Mises Institute's website; once that happened, there was a snowball effect. I read a lot of articles through the website and it caused me to purchase my first book by Mises through LvMI's online store: Economic Policy: Thoughts for Today and Tomorrow. To this day, that little book contains one of my favorite essays of all time. It's entitled simply "Capitalism." It's simple and to the point, and it caused me to begin to see the free market differently. The essay begins as follows:
Descriptive terms which people use are often quite misleading. In talking about modern captains of industry and leaders of big business, for instance, they call a man a “chocolate king” or a “cotton king” or an “automobile king.” Their use of such terminology implies that they see practically no difference between the modern heads of industry and those feudal kings, dukes or lords of earlier days. But the difference is in fact very great, for a chocolate king does not rule at all; he serves. He does not reign over conquered territory, independent of the market, independent of his customers. The chocolate king — or the steel king or the automobile king or any other king of modern industry — depends on the industry he operates and on the customers he serves. This “king” must stay in the good graces of his subjects, the consumers; he loses his “kingdom” as soon as he is no longer in a position to give his customers better service and provide it at lower cost than others with whom he must compete.
Up until this time, I saw libertarianism as an interesting political theory, but I dismissed it as too extreme and unworkable in reality. It was by reading the above and similar works by Mises that I began to think that libertarianism might be a tenable position.
By reading Mises, I was inevitably led to his student, economist Murray Rothbard, and I eventually purchased Rothbard's book For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto and devoured it. I remember loving that book and being fascinated while reading it. I don't think I had ever enjoyed reading what some would consider "dry" material so much in my life. In those pages, Rothbard describes how a completely free market would function. That is, he describes how courts, police, and the military could be provided through the free market, i.e. without government. Reading Rothbard's defense of such a radical version of libertarianism (anarcho-capitalism) led me to the following conclusion: if the extreme views Rothbard espouses can be reasonably defended as logical and workable, then a more moderate version of libertarianism is surely defensible. I found Rothbard's arguments very persuasive. In short, it was For a New Liberty that caused me to start calling myself a libertarian without reservation.
While all of my self-study was going on, I was still following Ron Paul. As a matter of fact, I had attended CPAC (a conservative conference held in Washington, D.C. every year) in the previous year. It was rumored that Ron Paul would make an appearance at CPAC 2007 to give a speech. I had already become disillusioned with the Republican Party and had no plans to attend CPAC that year. But when it was confirmed that Ron Paul would be speaking there, I jumped at the chance to attend. No question about it. I was going to see Ron Paul, come Hell or high water!
As I mentioned already, I was chairman of the College Republicans at my school. However, by the time 2007 rolled around, I was now the past chairman of that organization. I had also been trying to convince some of my friends in the College Republicans that Ron Paul was the way to go. To hell with the Republican Party, I said. Ron Paul's message is consistent and principled, and he actually supports limited government. Imagine that! I won't say that I converted any of my friends in College Republicans to libertarianism and Ron Paul, but I did have a hand in making a few of them critically analyze their views. To make a long story short, the end result of all that discussion and argument was a few dedicated libertarians, libertarians even to this day.
The trip to CPAC that year was rather uneventful and I will even say boring. I remember having to listen to Ann Coulter speak and cringing the entire time. She even mentioned libertarians, as I recall, but not in a very flattering light. She muttered something about libertarians and drugs. You know, we're all drug addicts, us libertarians, since we want drugs legalized. I sat through many other speakers who were not even important enough to remember. And remember them I do not.
Finally, the day of the convention came when Ron Paul would speak. I was still delusional enough at that time to think Ron Paul would be in a big room in the hotel where the convention was held. That idea was quickly dashed when, upon finding the room on the bottom floor of the hotel, I discovered that it was tiny and there were no seats. You had to stand if you wanted to hear "Dr. No" speak, which I was fine with. I would have stood on my head to hear Ron Paul in person. Someone was kind enough to drag a lectern in there so Ron Paul would have something to stand behind to give his speech.
Once I saw the small size of the room and the lack of care by CPAC by not providing accommodations for those of us who wanted to hear Ron Paul, I doubted many people would show up at all. But, much to my surprise, that room, though small, slowly started to get crowded, almost a little too crowded. It was packed.
Ron Paul gave a great talk, much of it anti-war themed, and concluded to loud applause for that little room. He then went out into the hallway to talk with anyone who wanted to share a word with him. I was definitely one of those people who wanted to share a word — many words! I waited around for quite a while and slowly the crowd began to disperse. It finally got to the point where very few people were left and I was afraid Dr. Paul was about to leave, so I approached him, shook his hand, and introduced myself. I don't recall all the details of the conversation, as it was nearly six years ago from the time of this writing, but I know it lasted longer than I expected, probably five to ten minutes. My guess is waiting to approach him after nearly everyone had left was a good strategy because no one else was vying for his attention. During our talk, he encouraged me to attend Mises University that summer (which I did). We also talked about a couple of the books that both of us had read. I remember saying I wanted to read Mises' Human Action, and Dr. Paul said it was a great book but one that was difficult to understand without some background knowledge. So he recommended a few smaller books by Rothbard before I took on Mises' economic treatise. I got a quick picture, shook his hand, and that was it. That was my Ron Paul experience, at least when it comes to meeting him in person. That is now six long years ago.
Like I said, I did attend Mises University in the summer of 2007. When I claim Ron Paul started to change my thinking on a number of subjects, Mises University fundamentally changed many of my views for good. From that summer forward, I was convinced that the unbridled free market was not only the most moral social system conceivable but also the most efficient and workable. I still hold those views to this day.
A lot has happened in my life since I met Ron Paul and attended Mises University. For one thing, I attended and graduated from law school and am now a practicing attorney. But even though I have experienced a lot over the last several years, the foundation of my worldview remains intact that was laid thanks in large part to Ron Paul. In fact, I think it's safe to say that foundation never would have been laid without Ron Paul. For that, I will never forget Ron Paul.
When I watched and listened to his farewell speech to Congress I'd be lying if I said I didn't shed a few tears. Yes, yes, I know most people who read that I shed a tear over Ron Paul would think I'm bonkers. But they can think what they wish. I shed tears because I felt I was witnessing the closing of a chapter in history, a chapter in which I am grateful to have witnessed and been a part. I say without hesitation that Ron Paul has been the most principled and consistent Congressman in the history of the United States, perhaps the most principled politician in the United States of all time. Ron Paul has been far more consistent than even the likes of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, founders viewed as strong defenders of limited, constitutional government.
His consistency is quite remarkable really. And if you question his consistency, merely look at his voting history and see for yourself all the lone "no" votes he cast, and the "no" votes he cast in general. If legislation used the force of government against those who did not initiate force against others, it got a resounding “nay” from Ron Paul. In practice that meant quite a lot got a “nay” from “Dr. No."
In closing, one more short story. I recall a body language expert who was asked to analyze the Republican Primary Debates. This expert was on Fox News, so take it for what you will, but I thought her comments about Ron Paul spoke to the man he is. She said that his body language, of all the candidates, most obviously revealed that he was being honest and saying what he thought was the truth. Most telling of all, she said, was when he was about to make a comment he knew would not be received well by the audience. He would hunch his shoulders and lean forward, bracing himself to be booed. What’s more, you could tell it made him uncomfortable, yet he did it anyway. Now, that’s a standard of honesty I hope I can live up to.
Ron Paul, of course, is a man. He has his faults like we all do. But he's a special man to me because he is responsible for changing how I see the world. And for that I will always be grateful. I'm reminded of these words used to describe Ludwig von Mises from "Hamlet." I think they work equally well for Ron Paul:
He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again.
Thank you Ron Paul, from the bottom of my heart.
Nathan Shore [send him mail] is an attorney in North Carolina.