It has been a good week for Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas.) His announcement of an official presidential campaign exploratory committee has gotten a great deal of attention, and despite how outlandish most media find Paul’s close hewing to libertarian constitutionalist views, it has not all been dismissive. His new book Liberty Defined will be debuting at #3 on The New York Times bestseller list this weekend as well. Reason Senior Editor Brian Doherty interviewed Paul by phone yesterday.
Reason: Is there anything about the political landscape since your 2008 run that makes you more confident you’ll do better in 2012?
Ron Paul: The one thing I’ve already noticed is the numbers of people supporting these views [of mine] have grown by leaps and bounds. When I visit college campuses the crowds are getting bigger and more enthusiastic. What’s also great is that other politicians are using lots of our language, though they still wouldn’t address subjects in the exact same manner. But you now hear others talking about printing press money; more people are now wondering why we are still in those wars overseas, now up to 70 percent want us home from Afghanistan.
The economy is a much bigger issue now than when I started [my 2008 run] in 2007. When we started talking about the economy and the housing bubble people didn’t believe it at first, but now everyone believes it was a problem. Unemployment is a bigger problem. And probably the most significant change [that’s a positive for me] is the Federal Reserve is not getting a free ride anymore. This very day it’s holding its first press conference, which is symbolic of them in a defensive mode rather than in the secretive mode they’ve always been in.
Reason: I saw you on The View the other day, and it was interesting seeing them concerned with the question of how basic human misery will be dealt with in a more libertarian world. How do you expect to handle that issue as a candidate this time?
Paul: Government makes misery! The problem is, you can’t really answer that question in one minute. You have to look at history: The more socialized a country, the less the people have, the smaller the middle class, and the more discrepancy between people and the elite. Even in third world poor countries there are some rich people; even in a communist system some thrive while others suffer.
Even on The View when that came up they didn’t want to contest me that things are difficult now and we don’t know if we can pay for everyone’s medical care in five years. But everyone wants to just think about right now and that’s more difficult [to debate]. The biggest challenge for conservatives and libertarians is to convince people who think being libertarian means you have no compassion, and in politics you better have compassion. We need to show that if you really want to help people, give them free markets! We agreed on The View, and afterwards we had a discussion, that you can reach the left through the idea of corporatism. I mean, the idea that you can blame free markets for bad medical care is ridiculous—there are so many areas of government interference with licensing and drug and insurance companies…our position is reasonable but you can’t explain it in a quick soundbite.
Reason: Elements in your new book Liberty Defined, which I’ll be reviewing in the July issue of Reason, struck me as possibly deliberately intended to appeal to a left audience—peace, civil liberties, anti-corporatism, pro-some progressive concerns like nutritional supplements and homeopathy. Was an appeal to the left conscious, something you were thinking of in terms of how to succeed in 2012 as a candidate?
Paul: Well, it couldn’t be deliberate, because if I was thinking about how to deliberately aim that book to help me run for president, I’d have to write a book that would have to appeal to the right and have to appeal to Republican primary voters. But it was written not for that reason, but just written because I believe in what I wrote! It’s just the way I’ve presented my political ideas all along.
But I know it’s a coalition of people that will bring about change, it can’t just be Republican or Democrats. With progressives, I had Ralph Nader join me on going after the Federal Reserve, which delighted me. I use the word “corporatism” [to explain the alliance between big government and big business]. I believe no matter which group you talk to, sophisticated or the general population that might not know much [about the issues] you have the same story. Eventually you win by being consistent.
Reason: You’ve publicly criticized the Paul Ryan budget plan, which for its flaws is the best sign of semi-serious thinking on budget specifics so far from your own party. As a candidate, do you think you need to present such a detailed and specific plan on how to cut spending and the deficit?
Paul: I probably won’t [issue a detailed budget plan]. I plan to change people’s attitudes about foreign policy and ideas about entitlements and ideas about monetary policy. Also, although the criticisms have been made public with Paul’s budget, I’ve never volunteered it. I don’t write press releases blasting it. I was just asked and told the truth, that I don’t think it will do much good, but I’d as soon not even talk about [specific budget plans] and just talk positively about my theories on government.
My big point talking about Bernanke and the Federal Reserve is if we didn’t have the Fed buying debt then interest rates would go up and Congress would quit taking money out of the economy and slow down spending, it would become a self-regulating force. If the Fed enhances the appetite and ability for politicians to spend, then [without it] we’d have to be much tighter with our budget and entitlements.
Reason: What do you think of Gary Johnson’s announcing his candidacy? Is it good for your cause to have another candidate with very similar ideas in the race?
Paul: The other side has dominated for years. Everyone represented their views as modified Keynesianism, and they don’t present an alternative on foreign policy. But the Republican Party had a history where we had less interventionist foreign policy and sound money and personal liberties [were valued], so having two, three, or four candidates who believe in them is good.