[QUOTE]Ron Paul is the most important politician in America today because he's the rare politician — maybe the only politician — who always says exactly what he really believes. Unlike Paul Ryan, Hayley Barbour, Mitt Romney, Mitch Daniels, and Mike Huckabee, who all raised taxes while calling for lower taxes, Ron Paul gives us a chance to examine the ideas currently driving the conservative movement in their pure form.
For example, here are some of the things Paul said to me during an interview in his office earlier this year, for a new profile about him that appears in the May issue of Esquire.
Take small government: Paul never plays the familiar game of defending social programs (Obama is going to reduce Medicare!) while secretly plotting to destroy them. I argue the case," he told me, "that if 1 percent of the people need food stamps, you give up 100 percent of the principle. And then 1 percent becomes 2 percent, until now we have 30 percent. It's not gonna be the perfect free society until you reject the whole idea that the government should be redistributing wealth."
Constitutionalism? Everyone loves the Constitution these days, but most of them seem to think it gives America the power to police the world. Paul actually read the thing and saw the lines about avoiding "foreign entanglements" and all the clauses that try to inhibit a rush to war, such as giving the right to declare war to our endlessly squabbling Congress instead of to the "unitary executive" that other conservatives love whenever they're in power and despise the second they lose it. As a result, Paul is very nearly a pacifist:
"If we had more freedom, we would be more prosperous, we would have less wars, and we would have more influence because we would be a better example. Whether it was the Spanish-American War or World War I or Vietnam, how many millions of people died, how much wealth was consumed? Boy, I don't know how anybody could argue the case that we would be a better nation if we hadn't all adjusted to big-government programs and become Hamiltonians."
On his experience in Vietnam: "I did a lot of physicals of young men who thought it was exciting to fly helicopters," he told me. "And I often wondered how many of those people I participated in sending over, and so many helicopters went down. For what? For what? The war was totally lost. Totally fruitless. Well, I wouldn't do that today. I would refuse to do that today."
Paul's sincerity leads him to complexities that most conservatives prefer to ignore. Ayn Rand, for example. Paul was championing her ideas decades before Paul Ryan started passing them out to staffers, and he actually wrestles with the troubling implications of her ideas. "She challenged me more because she was so critical of the compassion of Christianity — or any religion, for that matter," he told me. "It just seemed to be so cold."
Late in our conversation at his office — one of several encounters for my story — Paul surprised the hell out of me by insisting that the Constitution wasn't that important. "The words are very secondary," he told me. "You can have somebody saying the president can do anything he wants, that civil liberties don't mean anything, but defending economic liberties.
If you say the general-welfare clause overrides the powers enumerated in Article 1, Section 8, you can probably take that document and make it say anything you want. But there's so much in the Constitution that gives the responsibility to the Congress. The president's not supposed to go to war, or be in charge of taxing and spending. The Founders thought the Congress would always remain the number one of the three branches — that's why it's high on a hill, above the Supreme Court, above the White House."
Leaving behind political dogma, Paul wrestled with the clash between pretty talk of freedom and the authoritarian impulses so long identified with his party. "I'm responsible for myself, and I don't claim that I'm the kingpin, that 'We will direct everybody to do this.' Matter of fact, I take an opposite approach," he says. "What we need is a generation of people who have a love of liberty and some character to defend it. That's the only thing that will work. It's not going to be something we're gonna impose on people. People have to have a willingness to believe."
The odd thing about Paul is that he arrives, through such humble and thoughtful means, at the most radical solutions. It's that mystery — the mystery of character — that Esquire asked me to explore...[/QUOTE]