Ron Paul is not your typical Republican. The Libertarian Partyís presidential nominee in 1988, he believes in limited government and a "live and let live" social policy. He voted against going to war in Iraq back in 2002, and he strongly opposes any military action against Iran. In fact, Paulís considered to be the most consistent antiwar member of Congress. Though that position may be out of step with today's Republican Party, Paul has enjoyed enormous success online. In the following conversation, Paul talks about his campaign, the issues heís focused on, and the fallout from his exchange in the South Carolina Republican debate with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani over the role United States foreign policy may have played in providing motivation for the attacks of 9/11.
CD: Why are you running for president?
RP: Iím running to win and to promote the cause of individual liberty and limited government. And my goal is to shrink the size of the government and maximize the freedoms of each individual.
CD: Is there a specific issue that you would say your campaign is focused on?
RP: It didnít purposely start out that way, but the number one issue in the country is the war in Iraq. So this has given me an opportunity to talk about foreign policy overall, because Iraq is just a consequence of foreign policy process. And so therefore I get to talk about the noninterventionist foreign policy and what Iíve written about and talked about for a lot of years, and itís right now in the forefront. And the debates have helped me and its brought a lot of attention to it, so a lot of the debate thatís going on right now Iím very pleased with.
CD: I noticed your exchange in the South Carolina debate with Giuliani which has gotten you a lot of press lately. So Iím wondering, what would you say is the blowback, if you will, from that amongst your Republican colleagues? Your fellow candidates werenít very receptive to you, but how about the actual Republican people?
RP: On the House floor I would say that people who are quiet probably didnít approve. But dozens and dozens have come up and been very complimentary, both Republicans and Democrats, but more Democrats than Republicans. And outside, of course the discussion on the Internet has been overwhelmingly favorable and has literally been a tremendous boost to the campaign. And itís coming from a lot of people who are just frustrated, people who left the Republican Party or independents, Democrats who are frustrated with the Democrats not doing the job that they were just elected to do. And this morning on C-span I heard somebody come on and said, "I used to be a Democrat but Iím a Republican now, but only because Ron Paul is running." I hear a lot of that, and of course the number of people that visit our website now is growing by leaps and bounds.
CD: I wanted to talk to you about that. How are you overcoming your lack of resources compared to the Mitt Romneyís and John McCainís of the world? How are you getting your message out successfully lacking that name recognition and those resources?
RP: I would say the Internetís been a tremendous help, itís sort of a secret weapon for a grassroots campaign. But I guess the debates have been the most helpful, because this has drawn attention to the beliefs that I have that are different but still traditional Republican. And thatís my argument, that you can be a conservative and still be opposed to the war, and be a conservative and believe in civil liberties, and be a conservative and believe in free enterprise. So this is a very attractive position. Republicans are tired with whatís happened, [the] budget didnít get balanced, and everybodyís tired with the war. Even those who want to keep fighting it are tired of the war and wish it would end. But itís a political position right now that is powerful, and I just think a candidate cannot win next year if they donít have a strong position and a plan to do something different in Iraq.
CD: Could you sum up what your stance is and why you believe that a foreign policy of interventionism is not conservative or is not Republican? And could you explain what your foreign policy is and why it is conservative?
RP: I think it used to be conservative and I think Republicans have lost their way. Traditionally Republicans have been more of the peace party than the war party, and weíve been known to traditionally try to end wars like Korea and Vietnam. Even President Bush ran on a program which to me was sort of non-intervention, and sort of the peace side, and he complained about Clinton and Kosovo and Somalia. So I think thatís very traditional for Republicans, but it seems like they forget easily. Matter of fact, the Republican Party was very strong on this House floor against what Clinton was doing in Bosnia. So itís interesting that sometimes it becomes more partisanship than thinking out on principle. The noninterventionist policy was traditionally Republican; I think itís very conservative. I donít see how you can come up with any other policy than that if youíre a strict constitutionalist. It tells you that you shouldnít go to war unless thereís a declaration of war, you shouldnít go to war under UN resolutions, [and] it should be only under the direction of Congress. But we just havenít done that. And all of a sudden, because of the frustration with the war, people are looking at that and saying, "you know, that makes sense."
CD: There was a recent bill on the House floor that would have required U.S. troops to be withdrawn from Iraq within three months. You were one of two Republicans to vote for that bill, the only other one was Congressman John Duncan from Tennessee. But he says that he could support a candidate who expounds a neoconservative foreign policy because itís only one issue and he could agree with the other candidates on most other things. Do you think you could support someone who backs an interventionist, some would call it a neoconservative foreign policy, because maybe you agree with them on economic issues? Or do you see foreign policy as the number one issue, and that everything else kind of flows from that?
RP: A radical neoconservative I canít support, because I think theyíre very dangerous and theyíre very aggressive for starting preemptive war. I could support one who has a more moderate viewpoint, which they call the realists. I think Wayne Gilchrest might fall into that category. Heís not ultra-conservative, but he and I work closely together and he has a reasonable approach. Jim Leach was one like that. That is, they promote diplomacy. You know, my purest program is probably not going to happen overnight and youíre going to have to settle for something less. But I wouldnít accept an aggressive neoconservative. But a realist, and the realists were really the ones who controlled George Bush Sr.. One of the reasons, even though this was international law and I donít particularly like the justification for the Persian Gulf war, George Bush Sr. said you know my mandate was to push Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, I had no other authority to do that [regime change]. So he respected the mandate [as opposed to] "lets remake the Middle East and lets just march in." So I think those who are realists and believe in diplomacy and donít go shooting up from the hip, I think I could support somebody like that when I would think that would at least be toning down this rhetoric. And maybe they would start talking to the Iranians. Maybe they would move the Navy a little bit away from their shores rather than marching up there with the Navy and threatening them, and not willing to take anything off the table including a nuclear-first strike. That is very dangerous rhetoric.
CD: Now while the neoconservatives may be more extreme, arenít the realists the ones that are responsible for the 50 years of foreign policy youíve railed against?
RP: Yeah, I think thatís true. But Iím talking about where we are and which way we move. The realists now all of a sudden look like reasonable people compared to the radical neoconservatives. But yeah, youíre right. So you have an Eisenhower, who was probably closer to being in the realist camp, but he was the one who condemned the military-industrial complex, he wouldnít go to war in the Suez canal, and yet he was behind the CIA getting rid of Mossadeq. So, yes itís far from perfect. But the fact that at least half the time they may be right, that would be better than having somebody who believed in preemptive war.
CD: What are the obstacles to you getting your message out there in a presidential campaign, compared to all the other candidates with their resources and name recognition?
RP: Probably raising enough money if you have to have some advertising. But the Internetís the secret weapon, and it helps a lot. Itís going to help get the message out and help raise money too. And also I think the greatest threat is sort of, I got a taste of it and the country witnessed it, is that if you are saying things that challenge the status quo and challenging the essence of foreign policy, they twist it around and they try to paint you as being un-American. So I think thatíll be the toughest problem because Iím expecting that Iíll get more of that. So I have to work very hard to make sure the message is louder than their accusations that Iím in some way not loyal and that for some reason I blame America. I mean, to me thatís nonsense.
CD: Now if that exchange [with Giuliani] is the high mark of your campaign, do you think that you were successful in that you have at least raised the issue of foreign policy in general American debate?
RP: Oh yeah, I think its been worthwhile, but Iíd like to think that was just the beginning, not the high-water mark.
CD: How can you move your campaign to the next step up?
RP: Well, weíll be in all the debates, and weíre still building an army of people on the Internet, and thereís so many things going on spontaneously that we donít even know about. Thereís so much activity every day, thereís somebody coming up with a new website, so itís pretty amazing whatís happening.
CD: Speaking of being in the debates, what did you make of the head of the Michigan GOP trying to start that ill-fated petition to kick you out?
RP: In a way it backfired just like Giulianiís attack backfired. Because immediately there was our petition going up, and I donít think it took him even 48 hours to back away from that. I mean it was ridiculous to try to silence somebody because he made a point that maybe weíre not as conservative as we claim. I think that totally backfired. So you donít like it, you donít enjoy it, but maybe thereís more benefit. You know, when that first thing hit with Giuliani I thought "well, you know, this is terrible, itís so embarrassing," yet it turned out to be probably the best thing that couldíve happened to us.
CD: Do you think that the way the primary system works, and the whole political system in the United States, itís kind of stacked to support the establishment candidates in both parties so there canít really be a groundswell of support for a maverick?
RP: More so all the time, especially the way theyíre bunching up the primaries so people with big money have the advantage. And also if you look at the opportunities for anybody to do it in a third party, itís practically impossible because the two establishment parties make it so difficult to even get on ballots. I mean you have to be a Ross Perot to get on the ballot and spend millions and millions of dollars. So itís amazing that we go around the world using force to spread democracy and we have a few infractions here at home. And sometimes we become less democratic as weíre fighting overseas to promote democracy.
CD: Congressman Dennis Kucinich is kind of similar in that he is one of the more vocal antiwar critics on the Democratic side of the debates. I know you guys probably disagree on a load of things, but youíve come together a lot to work on issues of war and peace. So could you talk about your relationship with Congressman Kucinich over the past couple years, what itís been like, what you think of him?
RP: Weíre close friends, and we certainly agree [on the war]. And I think we may end up voting closely all the time on the war issue. Sometimes some of these funding bills are a little bit complex, and even Walter Jones and I will disagree even though we agree on what weíre supposed to be doing, but the interpretation will be a little bit different. But I think Dennis and I usually come down on the same side of it. That is, if you donít want the war you quit the funding, and thatís our responsibility and itís not the presidentís authority to do what he wants because we have the purse strings, so you have to vote against the spending. So we get along very well on that, and since itís such a major issue I think I will continue to work with him the best we can. And you know, take some of the liberal welfare spending that Dennis might support more than I. But you know, Iím not hostile toward that. If I can save the money from overseas, put some of it against the deficit, end up with a net reduction in the size of the budget, at the same time stopping a war, I may well be very open to funding some of these programs. Because Iím not out to gut some of these programs that have taught people to be very dependant on the government, like medical care. I mean, thatís not my goal. Iíve never run for office with the goal of slashing [those programs] even though philosophically I donít think itís the best way to deliver services and prosperity to poor people.
CD: So can we look forward to a Paul-Kucinich 2008 ticket?
RP: Not likely, but I think that Paul and Kucinich will continue to work together and do the kind of work that weíve been doing for a couple years now.
CD: Finally, I was talking to Congressman Duncan (R-TN) and he told me that, more than anyone in Congress, he probably agrees with Ron Paul the most. But yet he still says heís going to endorse Fred Thompson because he has a chance to win. How do you combat that mindset that says "well, you know, I might agree with you but these other people have a better chance?"
RP: We have to convince them by our campaign getting bigger and more credible, and that we go up in the polls. So only time will tell.
June 8, 2007
Charles Davis [send him mail] is a freelance journalist in Washington, DC. More of his work may be found on his personal website.