Rep. Ron Paul, who did not seek re-election to the House seat he won in 1996, gave part one of his farewell speech to Congress from the House floor this afternoon, aired live on C-SPAN. (Paul told me last week he was having a hard time getting the Speaker's office to grant him the time he wanted to give this talk and would likely have to split it in two; he seems to have gotten his full hour today.)
He wrote this speech out and read it, not his usual style. For my taste, the extemporizing Ron Paul of the campaign trail is a little more appealing, but this was still a good and important talk.
The talk was certainly not tightly structured; it hopped from idea to idea connected only by the theme, "things government does that are dangerous to liberty" and the vital importance of the people re-embracing the idea of liberty.
Paul used the talk mostly an opportunity to get out as many libertarian ideas and observations as he could squeeze into a half hour to what he hoped would be an attentive audience. What I write here covers at best half of the specifics he managed to rattle out quickly, and will likely not be much better organized than Paul was himself.
Paul says he is encouraged by what he sees as a renaissance of interest in the ideas of liberty among students and the young. He insists that while liberty does tend to make us rich, we need to understand why liberty is good even beyond mere materialist concerns–and that our apparent material prosperity lately is phony and based largely on debt and out-of-control fiat money that he predicts will lead to even greater economic crises ahead.
He laments that America departed from what he saw as a generally proper attitude toward government's role back in the progressive era, particularly with the income tax and Federal Reserve. He wonders why there aren't more politicians who defend both economic and civil liberties.
Paul attacked a long string of what he sees as government abuses, including the National Defense Authorization Act, sanctions, opposition to true free trade, arresting users of medical pot or raw milk, and wonders why Germany wants its gold. He doesn't like how many federal crimes now exist and how insecure our electronic communications are to government snooping.
He attacks the TSA and mandatory sentences in drug prosecutions and the drug war in general, and wonders why you can't criticize AIPAC without committing political suicide. He's against using government to give away others' resources to special interests, and he's against Keynesian economics, and he's for habeus corpus.
Paul is against violence, even for humanitarian reasons. He says only those with criminal minds would want to walk into someone's house and tell them what they need to do, allegedly for their own good. He calls for "no government monopoly over initiating violence," one of the more anarchistic thoughts one has ever heard from the House floor.
"The fact that violence by government is seen as morally justified," he says, will likely lead to more violence in the case of domestic unrest as the result of further economic troubles where people are fighting to keep what they think is theirs. He wonders why government authorities are able to sleep knowing the damage they are causing to others with their wars–and thinks as long as that philosophy of might makes right rules, it will tend to create a lack of morality in the people as well. He pretty much blames public immorality for the immorality of government later on in the talk, lamenting our general loss of understanding that violence to solve social problems is wrong.
He says the rich tend to benefit more from government's income redistribution schemes than the poor. He hat tips the homeschooling movement and the Internet as the likely sources for the spread of the ideas of liberty that America needs to survive the looming crisis.
Our five biggest crises, he says, are attacks on civil liberties; foreign policy blowback; the ease with which we go to war; a financial crisis from excessive debt; and (I think) giving extranational governing authorities too much say over our national decisions (an old populist Right theme that Paul pretty much dropped in his last campaign).
In summation, Paul says, people should care for themselves, and give government authority merely to enforce contracts, settle disputes, and protect against foreign aggression. And politicians need to educate people that they need to be prepared to take up the burdens that government should never have taken up to begin with.
It's all about peace and tolerance, Paul says, and a truly moral people must reject the use of violence for social goals. (He calls back to the time he was booed in January at a South Carolina GOP debate for calling on the golden rule in our foreign affairs.) Envy and intolerance must go; love and free market economics have to rule. He calls on all of us to help spread the message of liberty–which usually accompanies wealth and prosperity–throughout the land.
Ron Paul: a true American original. No politician talks like this, and I suspect it will be a long time before another does. Ideas like this will be much harder to find in the House of Representatives with Paul gone, and we will all be the poorer for it.
UPDATE: Transcript of the speech.
My book on Paul's career, Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired.