This talk was delivered to the Alabama state convention of Young Americans for Liberty in Auburn, Alabama, on April 6, 2013.
I’ve had the privilege of knowing Ron Paul for 37 years. I worked as his chief of staff during his early years in Congress, and he played an important role when I opened the Mises Institute, where he has served as our distinguished counselor ever since.
He’s the same person in private life that he is in public: thoughtful, decent, humble, self-effacing, and generous in acknowledging his intellectual debts.
These are not qualities people associate with political figures. That’s part of the reason Ron became such a phenomenon.
More than anything else, Ron has been a teacher throughout his years in public life. In his articles and speeches, and even in the bills he introduced, he sought to convey the philosophy of liberty and what that philosophy implies for our daily lives. His books, which include numerous bestsellers, have done the same thing. Compare Ron’s books to Mitt Romney’s, and you’ll see what I mean.
But as the person who reached more people with the message of liberty than anyone in our time, Ron has also taught us how that message can and must be spread. I want to talk about five of these lessons tonight.
#1 The subject of war cannot, and should not, be avoided.
First and foremost, Ron is a critic of the warfare state.
The war in Iraq, which was still a live issue when Ron first ran for the Republican nomination, had been sold to the public on the basis of lies that were transparent and insulting even by the US government’s standards. The devastation – in terms of deaths, maimings, displacement, and sheer destruction – appalled every decent human being.
Yes, the Department of Education is an outrage, but it is nothing next to the horrifying images of what happened to the men, women, and children of Iraq. If he wasn’t going to denounce such a clear moral evil, Ron thought, what was the point of being in public life at all?
Still, this is the issue strategists would have had him avoid. Just talk about the budget, talk about the greatness of America, talk about whatever everyone else was talking about, and you’ll be fine. And, they neglected to add, forgotten.
But had Ron shied away from this issue, there would have been no Ron Paul Revolution. It was his courageous refusal to back down from certain unspeakable truths about the American role in the world that caused Americans, and especially students, to sit up and take notice.
While still in his thirties, Murray Rothbard wrote privately that he was beginning to view war as “the key to the whole libertarian business.” Here is another way Ron Paul has been faithful to the Rothbardian tradition. Time after time, in interviews and public appearances, Ron has brought the questions posed to him back to the central issues of war and foreign policy.
Worried about the budget? You can’t run an empire on the cheap. Concerned about TSA groping, or government eavesdropping, or cameras trained on you? These are the inevitable policies of a hegemon. In case after case, Ron pointed to the connection between an imperial policy abroad and abuses and outrages at home.
Inspired by Ron, libertarians began to challenge conservatives by reminding them that war, after all, is the ultimate government program. War has it all: propaganda, censorship, spying, crony contracts, money printing, skyrocketing spending, debt creation, central planning, hubris – everything we associate with the worst interventions into the economy.
Robert Higgs, in his classic book Crisis and Leviathan, showed how war left longstanding scars on American society, as power and wealth grabbed by the federal government during wartime were never relinquished in their entirety when hostilities ended. When Franklin Roosevelt launched his New Deal in the 1930s, he appealed to ideological and statutory precedents established during the American involvement in World War I.
But Ron Paul permanently changed the nature of the discussion on war and foreign policy. The word “nonintervention” rarely appeared in foreign-policy discussions before 2007. Opposition to war was associated with anti-capitalist causes. That is no longer the case.
Ron kept insisting that there was no real foreign policy debate in America because all we were allowed to do was argue over what kind of intervention the US government should pursue. Whether intervention itself was desirable, or whether the bipartisan assumptions behind US foreign policy were sound – this was not even mentioned, much less debated.
In exposing the fraudulent American foreign policy debate, Ron exposed an overlooked truth about American political life. The debates Americans are allowed to have are ones in which the real decisions have already been made: income tax or consumption tax, fiscal stimulus or monetary stimulus, sanctions or war, later war or war right away. With debates like these, it hardly matters who wins. Ron pulled back the curtain on all of it.
#2 Tell the truth.
It wasn’t just on war that Ron defied the censors of opinion. Ask Ron Paul a question, and you get an answer. In Miami he said the embargo on Cuba needed to be lifted. In South Carolina he stuck to his guns on the drug war. He never ran away from a question, or twisted it, in spin-doctor fashion, into the question he wished he had been asked.
And the audiences kept growing: thousands and thousands of students were coming out to see him, at a time when his competitors could barely fill half a bingo hall.
Ron knew that the philosophy of liberty, when explained persuasively and with conviction, had a universal appeal. Every group he spoke to heard a slightly different presentation of that message, as Ron showed how their particular concerns were addressed most effectively by a policy of freedom.
When Ron first spoke to the so-called values voters, for example, he was booed for saying he worshipped the Prince of Peace. The second time, when he again made a moral case for freedom, he brought the house down. But he did not pander to them nor to anyone else, and he never abandoned the philosophy that brought him into public life in the first place. No one had the sense that there was more than one Ron Paul, that he was trying to satisfy irreconcilable groups. There was one Ron Paul.
#3 The problem is not one person, nor one party.
Michelle Malkin writes books about the corruption in Democratic administrations. The same books could be written about Republican administrations, and indeed they sometimes are, by the partisans of the other side. Meanwhile, Americans are tricked into thinking that we just need to root out a few bad apples, or that the problems we face are caused by this or that group of occupants of the seats of power.
Ron rarely gets worked up about some government functionary who had been receiving some graft. Yes, this is wrong, and yes, the guy should be sacked.
But to spend inordinate time on the scandal of the day is to suggest that if only we had good people in charge, the system would work. The vast bulk of what the state does shouldn’t be done at all, with good or bad people, and whatever else it does can be far better managed by free individuals.
If a government official spends inordinate sums on vacations and luxuries, or is exposed for being on the take, be assured that the person’s political opponents will be all over the story. Meanwhile, the inherent corruption of the system itself, with its systematic expropriation and redistribution, is ignored. But that is by far the more important story, and it’s the only one that really deserves our attention.
#4 There is more to life, and more to liberty, than politics.
Before leaving Washington and electoral politics, Ron delivered an extraordinary farewell address to Congress. The very fact that Ron could deliver a wise and learned address only goes to show he was no run-of-the-mill congressman, whose intellectual life is fulfilled by talking points and focus-group results.
That a farewell address seemed so appropriate for Ron in the first place, while it would have been risible for virtually any of his colleagues, reflected Ron’s substance and seriousness as a thinker and as a man.
In that address Ron did many things. He surveyed his many years in Congress. He made a reckoning of the advance of the state and the retreat of liberty. He explained the moral ideas at the root of the libertarian message: nonaggression and freedom. He posed a series of questions about the US government and American society that are hardly ever asked, much less answered. And he gave his supporters advice on spreading the message in the coming years.
“Achieving legislative power and political influence,” he said,
should not be our goal. Most of the change, if it is to come, will not come from the politicians, but rather from individuals, family, friends, intellectual leaders, and our religious institutions. The solution can only come from rejecting the use of coercion, compulsion, government commands, and aggressive force, to mold social and economic behavior.
How many bills did Ron Paul get passed, his neoconservative opponents demand to know. I think of it this way. No one is going to remember any bill that Rick Santorum’s advisers drafted for him. No one is going to remember Rick Santorum. Ron Paul, on the other hand, will be remembered. Of how many other congressmen can it be said that they (1) urged students to read thousand-page treatises on economics, and (2) the students actually did it?
Today, at a major homeschool convention in Ohio, Ron announced the Ron Paul Homeschool Curriculum. His program covers Kindergarten through 12th grade. Students will be exposed to thinkers they would never encounter in a government school. They will know history and economics better than anyone their age.
They will learn public speaking, and writing, and social media. They will emerge as top-notch ambassadors of the ideas Ron has championed his whole life. They will, I predict, join Young Americans for Liberty.
There is no bill that Newt Gingrich, or Rick Santorum, or the rest of them ever got passed that amounts to a grain of sand compared to what Ron Paul will accomplish in just this one endeavor, by educating young students.
#5 The Fed cannot be ignored.
No focus groups urged Ron to talk about the Federal Reserve. No politician had made an issue of the Fed in an election in its 100-year history. Stick to the script, the professionals would have said: lower taxes and lower spending, the monotonous refrain uttered by every Republican politician, who typically has no interest in carrying through with either one anyway.
Yet Ron pointed to the Fed as the source of the boom-bust cycle that has harmed so many Americans. His dogged insistence on this point got a great many Americans curious: what, after all, was the Fed, and what was it up to? An unlikely issue, to be sure, and yet it was his willingness to talk about it that in my view helps to account for much of his fundraising success. There was a small but untapped portion of the public that responded with enthusiasm to Ron’s very mention of the Fed, and they wanted more.
Here again, had Ron adopted conventional political advice, he would have forfeited these historic moments and the Ron Paul phenomenon would not have been greatly diminished, if not compromised altogether.
Only a few months after Ron officially suspended his 2008 campaign, the financial crisis struck. Just as Ron had said, there was something indeed wrong with the economy. His opponents, meanwhile, were exposed as the fools and charlatans we knew them to be. Just one week before that crisis hit, Herman Cain was dismissing all complaints and warnings about the economy as nothing but an anti-Republican media conspiracy.
John McCain, meanwhile, the party’s nominee, had said the fundamentals of the economy were sound, and that although he wasn’t an expert on the economy, he was reading Alan Greenspan’s book.
Because he hadn’t hesitated to say what he believed, even if it meant dealing with an issue no political operative would have encouraged him to discuss, Ron was a prophet. That point alone opened countless more people to Ron’s ideas: here was the only guy in Washington who warned us of what was to come. (And incidentally, has there been a time in American history in which more people were reading – and writing! – anti-Fed books?)
People could see, too, that Ron hadn’t just gotten lucky in 2007 and 2008. In 2001, Ron said on the House floor that the Fed-fueled bubble in tech stocks, which had just burst, was being replaced by a Fed-fueled real-estate bubble, which would burst just as surely.
* * * * *
I mentioned earlier that Ron has left politics. To the media, for whom political life is everything, that meant Ron would henceforth be invisible. They wish.
Ron is putting his money where his mouth is: when he says there’s more to life than politics, he means it. And he’s going to prove it.
I already mentioned his forthcoming homeschool curriculum, which will be enormously influential and do more good than we can imagine.
But he is going to do so much more: in television production, with a new website, in commentary, in speaking, with a new institution on the most important issue, with new books–including a homeschooling manifesto–and much more.
When a well-known radio host asked Ron what he’d be doing in retirement, Ron responded, “Well, they’re not putting me in a rocking chair, I can tell you that!”
You can say that again. Ron is stepping everything up
I am convinced that historians, whether or not they agree with him, will continue to marvel at Ron Paul for many, many years to come. Libertarians a century from now will be in disbelief at the very notion that such a man actually served in the the US Congress of our time.
But my purpose tonight has not solely been to pay tribute to Ron, though I am always happy to honor my friend – whose shining example deserves far more than my own words. In reviewing Ron’s public life, I’ve picked out ideas and lessons that must live on.
It is your great task, the young men and women of this organization – which developed out of Students for Ron Paul – who have taken such inspiration from this great man, to embody these ideas and lessons.
For what is Ron’s legacy? It is all of you. You reflect what Ron has stood for his whole life. You crave knowledge and understanding. You are not afraid to stand against the establishment – in fact, you relish it. You know the message of liberty will grow not by running away from it, minimizing it, compromising it, or being ashamed of it, but by embracing the great moral ideal it represents.
America and the world are groaning under the burden of war, fiat money, economic crisis, expanding police states, and official lawlessness. It’s true that we predicted the outcome we’re seeing today, but more importantly, we also know the way out.
If you love and want to spread Ron Paul’s message at this critical moment in history, follow his example. It is the only sure path for those who believe in liberty, and who seek its triumph in our lifetimes.