Five myths about Ron Paul

Dec 12, 2011

Ron Paul is the Rodney Dangerfield of Republican presidential candidates. The 12-term Texas congressman ran for president on the Libertarian Party ticket back in 1988 and was widely seen as a sideshow in 2008, despite finishing third in the GOP field behind John McCain and Mike Huckabee. Why, despite a small but devoted set of supporters, does this 76-year-old obstetrician turned politician routinely get no respect from the media and GOP operatives?

Chat with Nick Gillespie as he separates Ron Paul fact from fiction. Submit your questions and comments now!

Read: Five myths about Ron Paul

Hi all,

I'm happy to be talking about Ron Paul, libertarianism, the 2012 election and maybe some of the themes in my book, The Declaration of Independents, which argues that people are leaving the Democrats and Republicans because politics is failing to give them the ability to individualize and personalize their lives the same way that we can in other parts of our lives.

Fire away!

Why is Ron Paul frequently ignored by the media? They seem to think he is not electable so they dont bother covering much about him. But isn't it the voters job to decide who's electable not the news?

A lot of people, especially his followers, think Ron Paul is unfairly neglected by the media. And I think there's a good deal of truth to this. In 2008, he was not at first taken as seriously as he should have been. Yet as he built up support and raised funds, he got more coverage. The same is true this time around. Media interest in him is coming around.

Paul represents a real challenge to conventional political categories--some of his positions (on foreign policy, say) seem very left-wing while others are hard-right (getting the feds out of education). Journalists are, alas, less sophisticated than most people and tend to ignore people who don't fit neatly into a pre-formed boxes. I think that's part of the reason Paul gets less attention than he might.

What was said, and can Ron Paul over come the newsletters with his name on them? Why has the MSM or his opponents not brought them up in years? I think Ron Paul is the only one who is serious about peace and prosperity, but I'm worried about the "racist newsletters and don't know how to respond to people who hate Ron Paul because of them.

The newsletter issue is a disturbing one. It involves newsletters and other publications published under Paul's name that contain virulently racist and homophobic language and depictions. The newsletters were brought to light in Jan. 2008 by a story in the New Republic and my own publication, Reason, published a story about the never-publicly-acknowledged authorship of the material in question. (The link is above).

The congressman has addressed these issues over the years and I think that most people feel it was a terrible and pretty heinous misjudgment on his part but also that the newsletters don't represent what he really thinks based on his legislative record and personal comportment.

Do you expect that his candidacy will help move the Republican platform in the direction of his ideas, even if he himself doesn't get on the ticket?

Yes, I think so. His take on the Federal Reserve (he wants to audit it and possibly end it) was until recently seen as outlandish, but he's got strong support for his audit bill, where over 300 representatives cosponsored his plan a few years ago.

If the GOP presidential candidate gets drubbed in the general election, I think that establishment Republicans will take a long look at Paul as the guy whose ideas they should be following. To the extent the GOP did well in 2010, it was because they embraced a Tea Party platform that called for an end to spending. That's something Paul has been pushing for decades.

What is Ron Paul's position on animal rights?

I don't know, but I suspect that he's for the humane treatment of animals but that's it's absolutely not a priority for him.

This is kind of a far-reaching question, but I would like someone to publicly clarify a thing or two about Dr. Paul. It all surrounds the differences between his personal beliefs and his political ideologies. Abortion, for example. While we all know that Dr. Paul is against abortion, he has rightly stated that legislation concerning said issue is not within the purview of the federal government. This gets slanted by the left as "Paul hates choice" and the right as "Paul doesn't want to ban abortion." Why do you think it is that no one gets this point correct?

I think Paul's position on abortion shows the limits of certain types of federalism. He has said repeatedly that this is an issue that should be handled at a non-federal level--Washington, he believes, has no constitutional mandate to speak on this.

But he also regularly introduces the Sanctity of Life Act which would define human life as beginning at "the moment of conception" (not a clear thing, by the way) and has expressed support for a constitutional amendment that would do the same. Either of those things would effectively trump any state laws allowing abortin. So he would clearly work to end choice.

The upshot of all this from an electoral point of view is that it's highly unlikely that Ron Paul (0r any politician) will be able to effectively challenge basically full legal abortion for the first half of a pregnancy when virtually all abortions take place. TheAmerican people are uncomfortable with abortion in some ways but want to keep the option open to.

Nick, do you think our (purposefully) destroyed public education system is a main reason why more people in US don't support Ron Paul? (Serious Question)

I was once at a conference where a guy argued that public schools gave rise to rock and roll--they were so bad and so boring, he claimed, that juvenile delinquents turned toward rock to pass the time. Which is about the best argument I've ever heard for public schools.

The data show that public schools are two to three times more expensive per pupil in real terms than they were around 1970. Yet graduating seniors are getting the same results on the same standardized tests. Schools are not worse than they were; just much more expensive.

Hi Nick, We tend to think of the mainstream of the Republican Party as highly supportive of, and closely aligned with, the American military. Yet Ron Paul's numbers among the troops are astronomically high.  What is the deal with this high level of support in the military, compared with the numbers (high teens) that Paul is getting with likely Republican voters who aren't serving? It seems especially odd given Paul's supposedly "dovish" foreign policy.

One of the myths I debunked was that Ron Paul is "anti-military." Certainly he instills fear in what Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex. He's aware that the US spends about 45 percent of global spending on defense and military--and more than the next 14 countries! I think it's important to note that he gets more contributions from active military than any other candidate, by far.

If the nation's soliders, sailors, airmen, etc. are opening their wallets for a guy, his military stance is worth considering.

Many view Gary Johnson as a younger, more vibrant, more electable Ron Paul. Why was he given even less respect than Paul this election?

This is a good question. I think Gary Johnson was an excellent candidate who was extremely libertarian. And he had a great set of credentials---a two term governor from New Mexico, a state that has two to one Dems over Reps. It's a mystery to me, though I think some of it is the same problem Paul faces: He doesn't fit into received categories.

Is Ron Paul healthy enough to hold presidency?

He's 76 years old but supposedly in good health. I don't think that will be an issue.

If Paul does well in Iowa, will this lead to more liberty-minded GOP candidates gaining strength in the '12 Congressional elections?

Regardless of Paul's fortunes in Iowa and beyond, I think libertarian-minded candidates of either party are poised to do well. They did in 2010, as Ron Paul's son Rand, now a senator from Kentucky, could tell you. If you're selling a message of reduced government spending and reduced government control over your life, you'll do pretty well in most places.

We're coming off a decade-plus of massive overreach by first the Republicans and then the Democrats. We've got nothing to show for it but death (in wars), debt, and disillusionment.

Clearly these are two very different policy directions. Why does the media persist in calling something one thing when it is another?

As I said earlier, the media prefer easy terms for everything. You're either for something or against it. You're a hawk or a dove. I do think that we as a country are tired of indefinite war waged for indeterminate ends and spending more and more on defense despite no super-power threats on the horizon.

In 2008, Paul's non-interventionist foreign policy was seen as bizarre. Today, though the GOP front-runners remain unreflective hawks, it's clear that Paul's take is a powerful and important one.

I think the media is afraid of stopping much of the corruption in America and government. Many millions of people now know the war on drugs is a huge failure, our wars overseas have no clear mission to them and we cant afford them, many people are realizing its time to audit the Federal Reserve so we know where so much of our money is going, etc. I also think many are afraid of a President who actually speaks the truth but he gets millions of dollars in donations from regular people and more support from military than any other candidate including Obama, so he must be catching on despite the media bias! Thanks for reading.

Ron Paul is a great messenger for the news that the drug war is a colossal failure. As a conservative Christian and a practicing medical doctor, people will listen to him when he says that people should be free to smoke, eat, and drink what they want.

National polls are showing that a slim majority of Americans think pot should be legal--not just for medical use, but for recreational use. Earlier this year, Paul and Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) introduced legislation to end federal prohibition of marijuana. That went nowhere so far, but when pot is legal and a lot of drug-war-related crime disappears, we'll all thank Ron Paul

You wrote "In theory he supports free-trade agreements, but he votes against them, dismissing them as 'managed trade.' " But aren't they managed trade agreements and not true free-trade?

Let's say you believe that no one should pay any income tax and someone comes along and pushes a bill that will cut taxes in half. Would you refuse to vote for that? I think that's the analogy here. We're not going to get total free trade -- that is, an absolute rejection of any restrictions on trade among countries. To consistently vote against things like free trade agreements such as CAFTA rubbed many libertarians the wrong way because such agreements are broadly (and correctly) seen as a move in the right direction.

Once one understands the libertarian position, and understand the very notion of liberty, and how it benefits everyone, it is very difficult not to become a raving evangelist. However, we are always confronted with progressives who seem to argue that their "philosophy" is somehow morally superior because they "care about people." How does the be-leathered one shut this argument down?

Obviously a Reason reader!

I don't actually encounter many Progressives or liberals who insist they are morally superior and I try not to be a raving evangelist for my POV (though I try to be persuasive). It's pretty easy to stress that outcomes matter more than intentions and that giving people more freedom in their personal and economic lives leads to better material outcomes.

What the relationship like between him and his son Rand, the Jr. Senator from Kentucky? Seems weird to me that Ron Paul would be a legacy type politician, but if Paul wasn't his surname, his son would have gotten the media attention and donations that help him beat Secy. of State Trey Greyson in the Republican primary.

Ron moves in mysterious ways!

Incidentally, this issue suggests one of the reasons NOT to limit campaign donations. Certain candidates will always have superior name recognition or visibility and one way to counter that is to outspend them.

It should be noted that Rand Paul's opponent had a huge advantage in that he was handpicked by Sen. Mitch McConnell, who carries a huge amount of clout in the Bluegrass State.

2008 Obama supporters were acused (perhaps with some fairness) of "having on political crush" on him where they just gushed on him and couldn't see any of his faults. I find Ron Paul supporters can also be like that too. What's the least likable aspect of Ron Paul?

Irrespective of the object of their affections, true believers are annoying for the same reason: They refuse to see their guy or gal as flawed.

Personally, I wish that some of Paul's positions -- on immigration, say, and free trade -- were more in line with his philosophical beliefs. In theory, he believes in open borders but in practice supports restrictions until the welfare state is abolished. Well, immigrants don't come here for the welfare benefits and they clearly add more to the economy (and tax receipts) than they take out.

How does Ron Paul feel about National Defense Authorization Act of fiscal year 2012? America being considered a "battleground", and allowing military personnel to arrest, detain, interrogate and even assassinate U.S. citizen?

Rare among Republicans, Ron Paul has been a persistent critic of the executive branch's usurpation of constitutional rights when it comes to civil liberties. He was against this sort of stuff when Bush was in the White House and he's against it now. He was anti-Patriot Act.

That sort of principled stance has cost him friends on the R side of the swamp but gained him respect from those of us who don't belong to parties.

The civil liberties issue is a disturbing one, especially when you realize that 99 percent of politicians are only criticizing policies to score points.

What's the single strongest argument Ron Paul could use to win over RINO and/or "the new Tea Party" votes? And a follow up, what can Ron Paul actually do as President in his first year, without a supportive congress? Thanks,

I don't know that this will work, but here's a snippet about Paul's message from a 2008 Reason story by my colleague Brian Doherty (whose bio of Paul will be out in the spring):

He wraps up the speech with three things he doesn’t want to do that sum up the Ron Paul message. First: “I don’t want to run your life. We all have different values. I wouldn’t know how to do it, I don’t have the authority under the Constitution, and I don’t have the moral right.” Second: “I don’t want to run the economy. People run the economy in a free society.” And third: “I don’t want to run the world.…We don’t need to be imposing ourselves around the world.”


As a physician, how does he see a country with nearly 50 million uninsured?

Paul argues that the problem is the lack of a free market in medicine. About half of all health care dollars are spent by the public sector and regulations covering insurance plans, Medicare, Medicaid, and other programs make it difficult for people to shop for and purchase insurance. Even more important, the price signals that drive other markets are almost completely lacking in medicine. He's persuasive, I think, that getting government out of health care and getting the market in would lead to the same sort of increased access you see in, say, food.

I was unaware of Ron Paul's position on ending "birthright citizenship" until I read the article. Can you tell me more about his position, or point me to a resource on this?

Here's a 2006 article he wrote on the topic.

I think the idea of anchor babies and illegal immigrants crushing our medical and educational systems is totally overblown (go here for lots on that). We need more immigrants, not fewer. And if the legal status is the question, let's make it easier, not harder, to be legal here.

I've heard where their policy positions are miles apart, but there is there ANY overlap between Rep. Paul and Pres. Obama?

Well, I guess they both want to be president.

But apart from that, it's hard to find two people with more distinct views of how the federal government should function. There's a lot of overlap between most Republican candidates and Obama. Does anyone seriously think that big-government conservatives such as Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney would govern much different than Obama has? Or that Obama has been much different than George W. Bush?

If you're into the GOP (and I emphasize that I'm not a partisan), Paul is the clear alternative to the status quo.

This was fun for me and I hope interesting to at least some of you.

If you found my article and posts today interesting, please do visit and check out the book I co-authored with Matt Welch: The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong With America. We've gotten raves from the Post's own George Will but also from a wide-range of people on the left and the right.

And however Election 2012 shakes out, I'll leave you with one parting thought: Don't Blame Me, I Voted for Cthulhu.

In This Chat
Nick Gillespie
Nick Gillespie, the editor of and, is a co-author of ?The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What?s Wrong With America.?
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