Bruce Bartlett on Ron Paul


It's behind the New York Times' much-hated "Times Select" wall, so alas the full text won't be accessible to most…[UPDATE: this site, however, has the full content for free] Still, Bruce Bartlett's piece on the possible future of Ron Paul (see my interview with him conducted last week here) is worth an extended excerpt. (Bartlett had been a legislative assistant to Ron during his first go-round in Congress in the 1970s.)

Ron was not your average Republican or a typical member of Congress. Most Republicans reflexively voted whatever way the White House told them to — Gerald Ford was still president, and party unity was the order of the day. And most congressmen hate being on the wrong side of a lopsided vote. But Ron voted his conscience and was often the only "nay" vote out of 435.

…..He hadn't run for Congress as a stepping stone to becoming a lobbyist, but to define the political spectrum by showing how a consistent libertarian would vote. This meant being for the free market and against gun control — conventional right-wing positions — but also being in favor of drug legalization and nonintervention in foreign affairs — more commonly left-wing positions.

This is still Ron's philosophy. It is why he has consistently opposed the war in Iraq, making him something of a darling among those on the left who see no connection between Ron's free market views and his antiwar position. But to him and other libertarians the issues are one and the same. They're against unjustified government intervention at home or abroad.


…..When I asked Ron why he kept running for office despite having little to show for it in terms of legislation or other tangible accomplishments, he said it was because he enjoyed the job. He gets to say what he thinks, meets interesting people, and shows that honesty and adherence to principle are not the political albatrosses that most politicians think they are. It's worth noting that in 2006, when Republican were losing control of Congress, Ron got 60 percent of the vote in his district.

Bartlett ends on a more optimistic note than I would--but hey, the future is a crazy, unknowable, open book, right?


In any other year, one would automatically dismiss Ron's chances as quixotic at best. But 2008 is shaping up as an unusually fluid year politically, with no clear front-runner in either party, and new candidates emerging almost weekly. And the Internet has leveled the playing field in many ways. It may be a year when anything can happen.



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  1. The best thing about Ron Paul, as opposed to some other libertarian (small L) candidates of the past, is that he’s not a lunatic. The amount of money he’ll raise will surprise some people…

  2. Now if only he would take some crazy home remedy that turns his skin blue…

  3. Rupaul!? Who cares about some wannabe celebrity transexual freak, I thought this was supposed to be a semi-serious political . . .

    oh, wait, . . . uhhuh, mm, yes, oh, okay. . .

    Never mind. Carry on.

  4. As I’ve said before, Paul has no realistic chance of winning. But it would be great to see him on stage debating the other GOP candidates. He almost certainly will be the only one who has been against the Iraq War from the start, so he’ll be in a better position to call out the other candidates on bullshit than anyone else. He won’t have the lead role, but he could steal the show with a damn good supporting one.

    With many clashing definitions of “conservative” on display via candidates (Paul, McCain, Brownback, Giuliani, Romney, Hagel, Gingrich, Tancredo) this is shaping up to be a beautifully bloody primary.

  5. Ron Paul is the only candidate I’d vote for. Everyone else, I’d vote against.

    This may be the year for me to go 3rd-party, if Paul doesn’t get the Republican nod.

  6. Thanks Brian, I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m delighted to read stuff like this.

    Ron Paul is a stand up guy in a White Hat and he’s likely to pass muster on issues important to libertarians.

    Dave can have my share of Webb, I’ll trade him straight across for his share of Ron Paul.

  7. What’s up with Ron Paul? Is his district a gerrymandering accident?

    How the hell does he stay elected?

    Libertarians, notoriously, take principaled positions that just don’t sit well with the majority of the electorate. But then there’s Ron Paul – and he gets elected. What’s up with that?

    Damn…I want to live in his district. I want to meet the average guy there. I want to meet the guy who voted for Ron. Is his district some kind of libertarian oasis or what?

  8. “How the hell does he stay elected?”

    Because he’s a major party candidate. And an incumbent.

    That’s it. Mystery solved.

    The voters in his district are almost certainly like voters in many other Texas district.

  9. But that doesn’t explain how he got elected in the first place. Either he lied to get elected, told the truth and the voters later became lazy major-party-incumbent-voters or you’re full of shit.

  10. Threadjack warning.

    I once read about a politician (I forget who) who professed that “I’m a bit libertarian, BUT I happen to be a hawk”.

    And reading the gist of this post, the following occurs to me: does being hawkish automatically disqualify one of being a big “L”, or even a small “l”?

    This is the way I see it. The individual trumps the community. The community trumps the state. The state trumps the nation. The nation trumps the world (when the damned Psychlos show up, then I’ll be “Earth first”).

    However, it seems that Libertarians come to a screeching, crashing stop when it comes to nationalism. We are to exercise total non-interventionalism. We are to keep to ourselves and hope that the world sorts itself out. And there is nothing wrong with having completely open borders.

    The world will always have one or more “superpowers” (empires). Being in charge involves being an asshole sometimes, and even being “wrong” (though Iraq is certainly the King of All Fuck-ups) So if we are to totally give that up, then who do you prefer to be the next “superpower”?

  11. Hard to think of any other politicians, other than Paul, who make me happy, just reading about them, or reading articles by them (see Lew Rockwell’s site).

    I would send money to the guy. That’s very rare for me for any politician. I usually give to Cato, or IJ, etc.

  12. I live in the Heart of Ron Paul’s Congressional District in Angleton, 40 miles south of Houston.

    How does Ron Paul keep getting elected here? Cause he’s got an entirely different persona here in this mostly rural District than he has nationwide.

    This is working class Texas. Most District 14-ers (from Galveston to the outskirts of Corpus Christi with Victoria in the middle), don’t have time to go on blogs or even watch national news like CNN or Fox. If they watch anything it’s the local news. If they read anything, it’s the Victoria Advocate or Galveston Daily Record.

    Folks down here are not Computer Geeks like in Tech savvy Houston, but rather hardworking small businessmen, ranchers, and oil patch guys.

    RP is very keen to this. He plays up the Red, White and Blue, wraps himself in American values, visits every small-town BBQ going, and puts on a heavy Texas twang at all district events.

    He also plays up the Military angle beautifully. He sent me to every single VFW and American Legion meeting in the District for years, when I served as his only Staffer who was a Military Vet. His Medals Ceremonies for Military Veterans held in very conservative Victoria are legendary.

    How does Ron Paul do it?

    Simple. He’s got one persona for his nationwide hardcore libertarian audience, and even for his leftist supporters, and quite another for his very conservative District.

    Eric Dondero,
    Senior Aide, US Congressman Ron Paul 1997-2003
    Ron Paul for Congress, Campaign Coordinator
    Ron Paul for President Exploratory Committee Coordinator, 1992
    Ron Paul Travel Aide, Libertarian Presidential Campaign, 1987/88

  13. The Republican Party is tearing itself apart over the war, and I predict that whichever side – hawk or dove – fails to win the GOP nomination will throw its weight behind a Republican-turned-third-party-candidate.

    While registered Repubicans as a whole will probably split close to 50/50 by the primaries, Republican primary voters will remain largely supportive of the war, so long as Jesus’ own president keeps staying the course.

    So Paul could well be a strong third party candidate (I mean Perot strong, not Nader strong), and could steal a considerable number of votes from the Democrats if they nominate a pro-war candidate like Hillary or Biden.

  14. Joe-

    I don’t think Paul could really steal a “considerable” number of Dems. Given his stance on all the staple Dem issues (health care, minimum wage, environmental regulations, etc.), it would be impossible for any Dem to ignore differences. Insteadn, they would vote (perhaps reluctantly) for a Dem who moved against the war after initially supporting it.

  15. My main concern with Dr Paul is his age. He’ll be 73 years old on election day, that’s a little past the point where someone should be taking on the highest stress job in the world.

  16. panurge,

    How’s Paul peronality-wise? How does he look on teevee? Does he feel your pain?

    Strongly anti-war + feel your pain would get some non-irrelevant number of Dems to pick him over Biden.

  17. Ron Paul voted AGAINST the war but is in FAVOR of giving veterans medals and nice ceremonies?

    Talk about a flip-flopper.

    That, plus going to barbecues equals total hypocrisy. how can this man show his face?

    Oh, yeah, that’s it. He was the only GOP congressman to be right all along on this stupid war, that’s how.

  18. My main concern with Dr Paul is his age. He’ll be 73 years old on election day, that’s a little past the point where someone should be taking on the highest stress job in the world
    The man’s a doctor. If he trusts his health, then I trust it too.

  19. Let me echo Mr. Dondero’s sentiments above. I also live in the district, in Wharton County. I know Ron Paul fairly well; he took over a chunk of my grandfather’s medical practice in the late 60’s, and I’ve been to several fundraisers for him over the years. Very few folks in this area would even know he’s a Libertarian, nor would they know or care what that term means. It’s a very rural district and Ron’s a Republican to everyone here.

    There are a few holes and gloss-overs in these posts as well as in Bruce Bartlett’s article. As Eric Dondero mentioned, Ron is very pro-military and rarely mentions his opposition to the war, as there are many families in the district with kids in Iraq. He is also extremely religious (or would likely be considered so by most readers of this website), a factor he downplays in his national persona. And if he’s in any way for drug legalization (I’ve never heard him even refer to it), he keeps that extremely well hidden from his constituents, as teen drug use is an enormous and growing problem in this area.

    One other thing to note: 2006 was not by any stretch a triumphant reelection for Ron. This area is easily 85% Republican, with Lake Jackson being the only area with even a smattering of Democrats. Ron’s refusal to “bring home the bacon” over the past several years has really rankled Republican business leaders in the district. It came to a head this past election, and many of them, probably for the first time in their lives, abandoned Ron for the Democratic candidate, Shane Sklar(sp?), a truly anonymous nobody with no experience (I can’t even remember the guy’s name). That Sklar did as well as he did was, I’m sure, an enormous wake up call to Ron. I think the presidential exploratory committee is more him seeing the writing on the wall than taking his small-bore Libertarian philosophy up to a national stage. I’m fairly certain he will see a well-financed Republican challenger for the district in 2008.

  20. Will the Libertarian Party endorse Ron Paul? He is the most sane, non-blue-skinned, small-L libertarian candidate around, but I bet the LP will still float their own “100% Pure” candidate. Is the LP above partisan politics?

  21. I have no idea how RP will do, how the media will react, etc. Time will tell.

  22. Being in charge involves being an asshole sometimes, and even being “wrong”

    Take a look at the following analysis of the United State’s track record in nation building:

    The short version of the article is that we have had about a 20-30% success rate in our interventions in foreign countries.

  23. Ron Paul voted AGAINST the war but is in FAVOR of giving veterans medals and nice ceremonies?

    Ron Paul is non-interventionist, not a pacifist.

    There is a big difference. With my Quaker upbringing I know both types.

  24. Me too, I’m a pacifist myself, albeit a sarcastic one. This pacifist, however, knows that a non-interventionist is the best we can hope for.

  25. matt

    I’m sorry. My using your quote made it look like I was disputing you. I was not. I actually got your point.

    I used that quote because it represented the best juxtaposition of Ron Paul’s politics. This is a man, an Air Force Flight Surgeon who has always supported the defense of our country but who questions whether our many foreign adventures, be it our support of various Latin American kleptocrats or the current Middle Eastern Crusade, are in our actual National interest.

  26. I agree, Isaac. Ron Paul certainly does fill a unique niche in American politics. Would that he becomes less unique!

  27. I wish Joe was right about Ron Paul taking Democrat antiwar voters from Hillary, but I believe Panurge is probably right. Democrats would still vote for Hillary because of support for her leftist domestic agenda. In a third party run, Ron Paul would likely take more votes away from the Republican candidate. He would likely win over votes from Constitutional minded Republicans. I am excited about Ron Paul running and getting a libertarian message out to the public, but I hate to see him help Hillary get back in the White House. I hope I die before I see that happen.

  28. Hey stc, I’m over in Angleton. Nice to meet you here at Reason!

    My thought is Ron won’t even run for reelection. We’re likely to see a bunch of Republicans emerge for the seat.

    Hopefully, at least one of them will be libertarian-leaning.

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