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An NBC reporter once asked Ron Paul at an Iowa speech if his son’s political success had taught him anything. Paul answered that he will just keep doing what he has always done: tell people the truth. They will respond. Ron Paul does not think he has anything to learn about politics.
Once in office, Rand Paul delighted right-wingers and constitutionalists who were dreaming of a fresh face to make their case for them, balls to the wall, in the media. In his very first speech as senator, he argued that compromise is not always the highest value. He told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on August 1, 2011, that it’s more dangerous to the country’s faith and credit to keep adding more debt than it is to face up to our troubles with the “temporary inconvenience” of hitting the debt ceiling.
Rand Paul holds Senate hearings to highlight the “jackbooted thug” side of regulatory enforcement, how people’s lives are ruined because dampness on their property made it a “wetland,” because they sold rabbits without permission, or because they used a certain type of wood in their guitar factory. Last year he tried to get the Senate to vote on candidate Obama’s declaration that the president does not have the power to unilaterally declare war, which would taken away President Obama’s power to keep illegally fighting a unilateral war in Libya. He was the only senator to hold up renewal of the PATRIOT Act, forcing a vote on an amendment to protect the privacy of gun records.
So far Rand Paul has found that the power of one senator to effect change is small. But with the help of comrades like Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, he got a vote on his proposal to balance the budget within five years (it was crushed, 90 to 7) and is working to make sure there are public debates on controversial legislation such as the PATRIOT Act and No Child Left Behind.
Fox News commentator Andrew Napolitano, who keeps his eye on positive developments in Congress, says he knows of nearly 15 congressmen whose voting records mark them as faithful libertarians on issues such as the PATRIOT Act, the debt ceiling, and the war on Libya. And nearly double that number seem to lean libertarian. “I don’t know if any of them would be there,” Napolitano says, “if not for [Ron Paul’s] personal, persistent, and continual education of the public and other members of Congress.”
But placing a few friends of liberty here and there—in local, state, and federal office—is not enough by itself to effect real change. As Paul wrote in the March 2010 issue of Young American Revolution, a publication of Young Americans for Liberty, “No matter how many pro-freedom politicians we elect to office, the only way to guarantee constitutional government is through an educated and activist public devoted to the ideals of liberty.”
Brian Doherty is a senior editor at reason. This essay was adapted from his new book Ron Paul's Revolution. Copyright © 2012 by Brian Doherty. Reprinted by arrangement with Broadside Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.