As 2012 draws to a close, it's hard not to be reminded that 2013 will begin with Ron Paul retired from Congress. For all those years he was a fearless truth-teller, who exposed and denounced the horrors, domestic or foreign, of the regime. His farewell address — something practically unheard of for a congressman in the first place — will continue to be read years from now, as future Americans look back with astonishment that such a man actually served in the US Congress.
For most of his career, those speeches were delivered to a largely empty chamber and to audiences of modest size around the country. A man of Ron's intelligence could have grown in stature and influence in no time at all had he been willing to play the game. He wasn't. And he was perfectly at peace with the result: although he wasn't a major political celebrity, he had done his moral duty.
Little did he know that those thankless years of pointing out the State's lies and refusing to be absorbed into the Blob would in fact make him a hero one day. To see Ron speaking to many thousands of cheering kids, when all the while respectable opinion had been warning them to stay far away from this dangerous man, is more gratifying and encouraging than I can say. I was especially thrilled when a tempestuous Ron, responding to the Establishment's description of his campaign as "dangerous," said, you're darn right — I am dangerous, to them.
Some people used to tell Ron that if only he'd stop talking about foreign policy he might win more supporters. He knew it was all nonsense. Foreign policy was the issue that made Ron into a phenomenon. There would have been no Ron Paul movement in the first place had Ron not distinguished himself from the pack by refusing to accept the cartoonish narrative, peddled not only by Rudy Giuliani but also by the luminaries of both major political parties, accounting for the origins of 9/11.
How many bills did he pass, right-wing scoffers demand to know. A successful Republican politician, in between his usual activity of expanding government power, is supposed to have rearranged the deck chairs on the Titanic five or six times, by means of bills with his name on them. At best, the bills these politicos boast about amounted to marginal changes of momentary significance, if even that. More commonly, even the bills they trumpeted turned out to be ambiguous or actually negative from a libertarian standpoint.
What is Ron's legacy? Not some phony bill, of zero significance in the general avalanche of statism. For his legacy, look around you.
The Federal Reserve, an issue not discussed in American politics in a hundred years, is under greater scrutiny now than ever before. Austrian economics is enjoying a rebirth that dwarfs the attention it received when F.A. Hayek won the Nobel Prize in 1974 — and when you ask people how they heard about the Austrian School, the universal answer is Ron Paul. One man brought about this intellectual revolution. How's that for a legacy?
And that's not to mention how many people Ron introduced to libertarian thought in general, or how many hawks reconsidered their position on war because of Ron's arguments and example.
Even the mainstream media has to acknowledge the existence of a whole new category of thinker: one that is antiwar, anti-Fed, anti-police state, and pro-market. The libertarian view is even on the map of those who despise it. That, too, is Ron's doing.
Young people are reading major treatises in economics and philosophy because Ron Paul recommended them. Who else in public life can come close to saying that?
How many bills did he get passed? Talk about missing the point.
Where are the hordes of students dying to learn from Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, or Mitt Romney?
Remember, too, that in politics there's always some excuse for why the message of liberty can't be delivered. I have to satisfy the party leadership. I have to keep the media off my back. The moment is inopportune. My constituents aren't ready to hear it — so instead of explaining myself and persuading them, I'll just keep my mouth shut, or minimize my position to the point where I sound like any old politician, except ten percent better.
And all the while, would-be donors are assured that this is all a facade, that the politician is really one of us and not what he appears to be. For the time being, you understand, he has to contradict his core beliefs in order to ingratiate himself into the favor of those whose support he will one day need.
Once elected, he still cannot really say what he thinks. Don't you want him to get re-elected?
Ron never acted this way. At times he would explain the libertarian position in ways likely to resonate with a particular audience, but he never compromised or backed away.
It's been said that if you ask Ron Paul a question, he gives you a straight answer. That's an understatement. All through his presidential campaigns he sent the guardians of opinion into hysterics. Why, he can't say that! That wasn't even one of the choices! To the gatekeepers' astonishment, his numbers kept on growing.
No politician is going to trick the public into embracing liberty, even if liberty were his true goal and not just a word he uses in fundraising letters. For liberty to advance, a critical mass of the public has to understand and support it. That doesn't have to mean a majority, or even anywhere near it. But some baseline of support has to exist.
That is why Ron Paul's work is so important and so lasting.
Ten years from now, no one will remember the men who opposed Ron in the GOP primaries. Half of them are forgotten already. But fifty years from now (and longer), young kids will still be learning from Ron: reading his books, following his recommendations for further study, and taking inspiration from his courage and principle.
With Ron's Congressional career drawing to a close, we should remember that we have witnessed something highly unusual, and exceedingly unlikely to be repeated. And we should also remember Ron's parting advice: the real revolution is not in Washington, DC. It's in the world of ideas.
That's what Ron is devoting the rest of his life to, and it's one more thing he has to teach us. So watch for news of his institutionalized work for peace, his homeschooling curriculum, his homepage, and his TV network. Far from retiring, Ron Paul is stepping up his work for liberty. And in this work, there is a place for all of us.
Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. [send him mail], former editorial assistant to Ludwig von Mises and congressional chief of staff to Ron Paul, is founder and chairman of the Mises Institute, executor for the estate of Murray N. Rothbard, and editor of LewRockwell.com. See his books.