//Paul Is the Alternative Candidate and a Force to Be Reckoned With //

Joel Achenbach

Published: Friday, Dec. 16 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

(c) 2011, The Washington Post

Ron Paul rides in the back of a campaign van that's rolling toward the New Hampshire seacoast for a town hall meeting. He's fastidious in a dark-blue suit. He's not the standard presidential candidate — he lacks the factory-built appearance of Mitt Romney or Rick Perry. He's thin, bony, a bantam rooster. He's 76 — the only one in the race who was born during the Great Depression.

He doesn't wear his seat belt. "I never have," he says, and doesn't explain whether it's a matter of back-seat comfort or a deep, philosophical aversion to nanny-state meddling in our lives.

There are a lot of things he doesn't do, such as make small talk, or touch the tray of cookies at his feet, or doff his suit jacket and try to relax. What he's eager to do is talk about ideas. The Texas congressman doesn't have "positions" on "issues." He has a philosophy.

The one big idea: Government tramples liberty. He's by far the most radically anti-government candidate in the running. He'd boil the federal government down to a few, skeletal functions. He'd end the welfare state, cut every dime of foreign aid, halt overseas military action and bring home all the troops. He'd return to the gold standard and abolish the Federal Reserve.

Paul opposes not only recent government shenanigans but also stuff that happened 50 or 70 or 90 years ago, such as the creation of Medicare (1965), Social Security (1935) and the federal income tax (1913). He's against national banks, the first of which was the handiwork of Alexander Hamilton in 1791. You have to crank the time machine into the red zone to get back to where Paul is completely comfortable.

He's also a force to be reckoned with in this presidential cycle. He has passionate followers from across the political spectrum, a good organization, a distinct libertarian message and plenty of money. He could be a game-changer if he decides to run as a third-party candidate.

No one has ever accused Ron Paul of being a flip-flopper. He has been saying the same things for 35 years. Now world events have conspired to make him look increasingly on point.

He has warned for decades about financial meltdowns and the unchecked power of central bankers, and on this very day, as he's heading to the seacoast, the Fed has teamed with central bankers overseas to infuse massive amounts of money into the world banking system. It's an effort to keep Europe's debt crisis from bringing down the global economy. The stock market is ecstatic. The Dow Jones industrial average has risen 400 points in a single day. Paul is disgusted.

"They're the professional lenders of last resort, which means they're the professional counterfeiters," he says of the Fed. "They're going to end up buying bad debt. . . . It's going to end up prolonging the agony, and things are going to get a lot worse."

Paul is the Alternative Candidate, someone who subscribes to an alternative history of the world. Paul believes that powerful and secretive forces (the Fed being the best example) have manipulated human events and bankrolled wars. He fears that the nation is turning into an Orwellian police state. ("Sometimes it seems as if we are living in a dystopian novel like '1984' or 'Brave New World,' " he writes in his most recent book.)

He points out that, even as the Fed is taking this ominous action, the Senate is pushing through a defense bill that he argues would erode American civil liberties. He's a stalwart opponent of the USA Patriot Act and regularly condemns post-Sept. 11 security measures, as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"As conditions get worse, you know, they'll blow up the fears, both economic and the threat of terrorism, so that you can have martial law," he says.

Martial law? Really?

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