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Issue Date:  January 25, 2008

Ron Paul is the mutineer candidate


-- AP photo/The Brazosport Facts
/Dan Dalstra

Republican presidential hopeful Rep. Ron Paul reacts to a crowd waiting for him Dec. 16 at Western Seafood in Freeport, Texas, minutes after support reenacted the Boston Tea Party. Behind Paul is Dr. Richard Hardoin.

Your guess is as good or as wild as mine on why all that money has been heaved at Ron Paul. In December, $8 million poured in to the Republican candidate’s presidential campaign -- setting a one-day record that topped a single-day gob of $4.2 million in November.

Before getting to whose checkbooks are opening, it’s certain whose are not: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Lockheed Martin and assorted weapons hustlers, the National Abortion Rights Action League and the double-parked fixers on K Street and Wall Street.

Paul, a 10-term congressman from southeast Texas and a pure-blood Constitution-heeding libertarian, favors relations with Cuba, so he attracts trade-minded capitalists. He vows to abolish the Internal Revenue Service, which stirs both serious-minded tax critics and the ranting-agin-the-gummint zanies. Dr. Paul is a buy with the antiwar Left because he opposed the Iraq invasion and wants the troops home immediately. And get ’em back from Korea, Japan and Europe while we’re at it. Home-schoolers cheer when he pledges to close the Department of Education. An obstetrician who opposes abortion, Dr. Paul has the pro-lifers aboard. Enviros are gleeful when he says “all subsidies and special benefits to energy companies should be ended.” Deficit worriers fist-pump in coiled passion when he calls for an end to profligate spending.

Then there’s my crowd: those pleased to take nourishment from whichever unconventional politician is dispensing mouthfuls of candor. I met Ron Paul when he arrived in Washington in the mid-’70s. Likable, he was unscripted, not a temporizer and assuredly apart from the usual dross that Texas sends to Congress: Think Tom Delay, Dick Armey, John Tower, Phil Gramm. I found Ron Paul oddly sensible and sensibly odd.

This was well before the Gingrich-Rove virus would infect Republican politics, a time when you could appreciate Republican members of Congress such as Mark Hatfield, Jim Leach, John Heinz, Charles Mathias, Connie Morella and John Danforth, and not apologize.

Now Ron Paul is going it largely alone, earning scant regard from the self-smitten monoculture Republican candidates he routinely out-thinks in the debates. As the Baptist Reverend Huckabee and the Mormon Romney preach rote antiterrorism sermons, Dr. Paul, claiming no direct line to a deity, impiously states that the jihadists “attack us because we’ve been over there. We’ve been bombing Iraq for 10 years. I’m suggesting that we listen to the people who attacked us and the reason they did it.” His foreign policy views call on the United States to “mind its own business and stay out of the internal affairs of other nations” and return to being a country not an empire.

For putting dialogue before demonizing, and topping it off with noninterventionism, Dr. Paul is routinely mocked by Rudolph Giuliani, Mr. 9/11, and scorned by John McCain, Mr. Sanctimony.

Days before the most recent debate, Jan. 10 in South Carolina, The New Republic recycled a long-dormant story defaming Mr. Paul as a bigot. Screeds titled the “Ron Paul Newsletter” from the 1980s and ’90s contained rants against gays, blacks and Jews. In an eight-minute CNN interview hours before the debate, Mr. Paul denounced and repudiated the documents, saying he paid no attention to them at the time and adding, credibly, that he did not write the newsletters or know who did.

While it can be argued that Dr. Paul should have been more diligent in condemning the newsletter rants, as he now rightly acknowledges, it’s true also that he can’t control the slews of crackpots, from Civil War revisionists and UFO sighters to white supremacists and assorted full-moon ravers, who drool at his libertarianism and sign on. Dr. Paul states, and I believe him, that no record exists of his ever uttering either the words or the sentiments found in the befouled newsletters. It is important that voters in his district believe him too. Otherwise they would never keep reelecting him.

The New Republic story -- old hat and long discredited in southeast Texas but new to the country at large -- has no legs. FOX News, which staged the South Carolina debate, never bothered to ask Paul about it.

One of my favorite stories about the congressman is his vote against awarding a congressional medal in honor of Rosa Parks. As eyebrows rose -- what, you don’t like the sainted troublemaker? -- Mr. Paul explained that he was all for the medal. But instead of using tax money to pay for it, he proposed that members of Congress kick in $100 of their personal money, as he would be the first to do. He had no takers.

Campaigning on, Mr. Paul tells audiences that he has trouble figuring out how to spend all the money he gets. I’ve an idea: Put aside a few grand to strike a medal in honor of his candidacy. Call it the Ron Paul Medal of Mettle.

Colman McCarthy teaches peace studies at four universities and three high schools in the Washington area.

National Catholic Reporter, January 25, 2008

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