Congressman Paul's Legislative Strategy? He'd Rather Say Not.
Sunday, July 9, 2006
Republican Ron Paul missed out on the 19th century, but he admires it from afar. He speaks lovingly of the good old days before things like Social Security and Medicaid existed, before the federal government outlawed drugs like heroin.
In his legislative fantasies, the amiable Texas congressman would do away with the CIA and the Federal Reserve. He'd reinstate the gold standard. He'd get rid of the Department of Education and leave the business of schooling to local governments, because he believes that's what the Constitution intended.
"Article 1, Section 8 gives me zero amount of authority to do anything about public education," says Paul on a recent weekday. He's seated in his congressional office near a sign than says, "DON'T STEAL; THE GOVERNMENT HATES COMPETITION . "
Paul, 70, has earned the nickname Dr. No for his habit of voting against just about anything that he sees as government overreach or that interferes with the free market. No to the Iraq war. No to a federal ban on same-sex marriage. No to a congressional gold medal for Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan and Rosa Parks. He says the medals are an unconstitutional use of taxpayer money and once suggested each House member instead contribute 100 bucks from his or her own pocket.
Last year, Congress decided to send billions of dollars to victims of Hurricane Katrina. Guess how Ron Paul voted.
"Is bailing out people that chose to live on the coastline a proper function of the federal government?" he asks. "Why do people in Arizona have to be robbed in order to support the people on the coast?"
There have been periods in history when the maverick congressman was not such a rare breed, but this is not one of those periods. Democrats and Republicans have been quite disciplined in recent years -- when party leaders say "jump," the savvy congressman had better inquire how high.
This makes the presence of a politician like Ron Paul something of a refreshing peculiarity. He continually bucks the wishes of Republican leaders -- so much so, Paul recalls, that once while exhorting every other Republican to vote the party line, then-Speaker Newt Gingrich announced that Ron Paul was exempt.
Paul is not always alone in his dissent, but more than anyone else in Congress, he is legendary for it. "When I'm the only no vote," says fiscal conservative Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), "I can usually rest assured he's on a plane somewhere."
Paul left his party and ran for president in 1988 on the Libertarian ticket, traveling the country and speaking to crowds as small as 10. His iconoclasm may explain why, despite his years in Congress -- first in the late '70s and early '80s, and more recently since 1997 -- Paul doesn't hold a leadership post, doesn't chair a committee or subcommittee. He sees this as the price of being right.
"I never had a goal of working up the seniority ladder," he says.
Paul has an easy chuckle and a down-home, friendly manner that tempers his strong language. (In his columns, which appear online and are sometimes published in local newspapers, he pronounces a proposed government program "Orwellian" and calls former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan a "master of evasion." He once said on C-SPAN he feared being "bombed by the federal government at another Waco.")