The Washington Post's web site this morning runs its "exit interview" with Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) who is packing up his D.C. condo and selling it as he leaves Congress, having chosen not to run for re-election for the seat he's held from Texas since 1996 (after two previous stints in Congress from 1976-84).
You can watch the video here, it's about five minutes long.
In the interview, Paul fingers the military-industrial complex and the Federal Reserve system of inflation and big bank giveaways as the most dangerous special interests in government today, and laments that "those who just want their freedom and to take care of themselves" are the least influential group in today's government.
The Post's Brook Silva-Braga asks Paul why he thinks his freedom message can't manage to build a 51 percent coalition; Paul observes that more generic expressions of a liberty message--general belief in free enterprise and keeping what you earn, keeping government out of our private lives, not being policeman of the world--get surprising assent.
But "when it comes to particulars people don't necessarily stick with it. "Yes, but you go too far, you want too much freedom!" (A common phenomenon when it comes to libertarianism, which I have long found gets greater assent the more vaguely you express its principles.)
Paul then sounds more like the "Man of the Left" I framed him as in my feature article in Reason's November issue, noting that while he started out as a more standard Republican worried about welfare for "those who won't work and get food stamps" he has a "completely different" opinion now. He's more concerned now with the special benefits that the wealthy get from a government dedicated to crony capitalism.
He dismisses both his Republican Party and the Democrats as "dinosaurs" and explains that he didn't seriously contemplate a third party or independent run after failing to win the GOP nod for president because it's "not practical" given the legal, ideological, and media barriers to such presidential runs.
Paul says he is still hopeful about the future because of his time on college campuses. Speaking about liberty (a practice he'll be continuing even as he leaves electoral politics) gets such great reception there, and the kids, he says, know that the system is bankrupt and that the seeming health of our debt-driven dollar system can collapse quickly and unexpectedly allowing a "new system" to arise.
Paul ends with one of his most winning qualities as a public figure (and one that aggravated the political pros around him): an utter refusal to vaunt his own significance, even when handed an opportunity to do so. He's asked what he's proudest of in his political career, and his first remark is "nothing in particular" and then he goes into a vamp on how he finds it funny how other political pros wonder at his "consistency" and thus admit to their own inconsistency.
Silva-Braga presses: "You changed the discussion in this country…."
Paul can only respond: "That would be nice. Time will tell…."
It will. As a writer of a history of American libertarianism pre-Paul's past two presidential runs (Radicals for Capitalism), and a history of his political career (Ron Paul's Revolution), I can say that Silva-Braga is certainly right.