The Deseret News spoke to retiring Congressman Ron Paul (R – TX) the morning before the House overwhelming passed his bill to audit the Federal Reserve. The 327-98 vote was part tribute to the 12-term Representative who put this idea to a vote dozens of times in the last three decades without ever gaining traction. The vote was also a measure of just how much Paul has changed the dialogue under the Capitol dome.
The list of successful legislation during his House career is not terribly long, but his doctrine of free market and limited government will be felt long after he leaves office in January. It sparked the massive populist movement of the Tea Party, moving marquee politicians off of ballots and forcing both parties to confront conservative issues.
While Paul failed to muster the necessary number of delegates to muscle any leverage with his own Party, finding himself locked out of the September Republican convention in Tampa, he's planning his own Tampa rally this week, one that will be positive and constructive, as he's managed to stay through his long tenure in Washington.
With just five months left in office, Paul is not coasting across the finish line. This three-time candidate for President and former ob-gyn has plans for the country, his post-House career and the fervent sea of disciples who energetically fund his campaigns and power his rallies.
Deseret News: The Fed Reserve is perhaps the least understood, most independent government agency, but somehow you've made it a rallying cry. Do you think Congress will really win the power to audit the Federal Reserve?
Ron Paul: We'll do very well. I think the numbers are there. There are some in opposition but most Americans think we should know what's going on in the country and if the Federal Reserve can spend $15 trillion, that's more money than Congress spends in a long period of time, then we do have a responsibility and we ought to audit the fed and find out what they're doing. I've supported this type of legislations since I first came to Congress, back in the 70's, and spent significant resources to educate people about this. (The bill) still has to go through the Senate and the President; and the Federal Reserve has a lot of influence and they are very much opposed to it. Mainly special interest groups like the banking industry, war industry, basically any industry that functions on debt.
DN: Is the Federal control of currency and rates a good election year issue?
RP: Yes. It's been a big issue in a lot of local races. But if there is an event people are focused upon, it's not the election; people are more focused on the financial crisis we can't seem to pull out of. The proof is in. More spending, stimulus programs, we've lowered rates but there is no net increase of jobs, no lessoning of the burden on the middle class, no end to the crisis. And the public wants to know how these economic decisions that impact everything are being made.
DN: Many think fiscal irresponsibility is at the root of the crisis. Is America fiscally responsible?
RP: Well, we were, a long time ago. But it was even before my lifetime. People point to the war bonds sales during World War II as something of an understanding in America that we have to be able to pay for the things the government wants to do and each of us should contribute what we can if it's necessary and just. But even some of that in WWII was a fa?de. I was a kid and everyone had to save, and I saved my quarters to buy a war bond. But that was only a fraction of financing the war. The real financing came from debt and the Federal Reserve creating money. In 1913 we created the Fed – the whole purpose was to manage debt and make currency to finance WWI because they couldn't borrow enough money. There's never enough money to fight the wars and the Treasury doesn't make enough in taxes. We didn't ever do anything like this before 1913 and that's why we had the Depression in 1921, to make the corrections from the market excesses during the First World War. And we've been doing that off and on ever since – boom, correction. It's gotten especially bad in my time in Congress because there are zero restraints on what the federal government can spend.
DN: Are Americans any better at fiscal restraint than our government?
RP: We've been doing this spend spend spend for a long time, so much that it's become cultural. We've removed the incentive from individuals to be fiscally responsible. We've conditioned young people to believe they are entitled to an education, that it's a right. And any debt they might incur will be forgiven. There's always bankruptcy or a bailout or more credit. People feel like they deserve certain things that they see others have and feel that it's not fair for some people to have more than others. Liberals will say it's not fair and the government should fill in the gaps. There's a lack of spending discipline throughout our entire culture and this is where the middle class gets squeezed; they are attempting to claim some pieces of a standard of living of the upper class while being forced to provide for expensive services for the lower class. Everyone should be saving more than spending, people, governments, businesses; and certainly earning more than spending, but we do the exact opposite.
DN: People who lean towards Libertarianism, like you, catch a lot of heat for ignoring the poor and the lower class. How would the poor survive in a truly free market?
RP: People get used to being taken care of and want the government to care for them from the cradle to the grave. We have so many people who need to be taken care of and we're moving toward more. Well, people who say they care about the poor might want to read history. People who live in a free market are historically more financially stable than in societies where the other classes are taxed to provide for them. They think they care about the poor but advocate for institutions or practices that will keep the poor that way. In a free market system that is not burdened by unnecessary, unchecked government spending and debt, there is more prosperity spread around to the classes to care for the very poor. There are more jobs, people keeping larger pieces of their paychecks. Yes, some will be richer than others, but that's what we have now, it's just created politically, by political practices that protect the rich and injure the middle class.
DN: Let's talk about the family and the economic impacts of the changes to the traditional family unit.
RP: Well, we certainly end up needing welfare more (because of the dissolution of the family unit). The family – that's where the bringing up and the teaching people to be good citizens should occur. And we are having a breakdown of the family– you can see it and measure it. More kids are born out of wedlock than in wedlock. Where's the family structure? Who is teaching and caring for the children?
When I first practiced medicine it was families and no single women having babies and no abortions being done. And then I was up here (in Washington) 8 years and then went back to my medical practice in the late 1970's and '80's and attitudes changed completely on how they looked at abortion and single parenting. I witnessed that and saw that. It invites the do-gooders who say 'well no one is going to take care of these kids so we have to have more welfare programs.' And that sort of feeds into it. And makes people feel comfortable and they're being taken care of and it doesn't even deal with the problem of WHY these things are occurring. Why is the traditional model of parenting seen as dated and unnecessary? The best unit for creating strong people is the family and it always has been; the government can't take the place of a family unit. It can try but it can't instill core values and moral fiber and esteem and all that makes a good citizen. The one thing I'm convinced, the government cannot replace the family. And when they attempt to, you get a big mess.
DN: What is the role of government in an age of weakening family?
RP: I don't want government to make laws about what you should smoke and drink, but good parents should tip you off about what's good for you. A lot of times there aren't good families. That's where you look to the community and the church to fill in the gaps of poor parenting, not government. The least amount of authoritarianism to tell people what to do to replace the family is very bad. And this can be a real, serious dilemma because the family should be the major governing force in our society. And if you have the breakdown of the family, society breaks down. There are quite a few examples of people who had a rough bringing up, living in poverty in single-parent families, and they end up okay. But there was usually someone along the way who helped them, maybe some teacher, maybe a church or something like that. I think the freer the society the more likely that is to happen.
No one is going to be able to wave a wand and all the sudden have perfect families. If we have the choice between very powerful political leaders who give great speeches versus somebody who knows how to encourage an emphasis on the family, good families are going to solve more of political problems than political leaders.
DN: Are traditional conservative values and religious freedoms under attack in the current political climate?
RP: there are certainly are times when they are being challenged, but I think all of our liberties are under attack. I think the principle of private property is attacked. The principle of contracts is being attacked. And in a way, religious freedom and personal liberties, to me it's all one and the same because if you have absolute protection of private property, you have religious freedom because you have your home and your church and whatever you have and nobody can touch you. The same way property protects your right of free speech. I think all of those liberties are under attack because the bigger the government gets, the less personal liberty is intact.
So today, whether it's a spiritual belief or education of our children or food freedom, like the soda ban in New York, all these things, the government is way too much involved. Whether it's religious freedom or economic freedom, it's only protected if you understand that we are important as individuals because we get our lives and our liberties from our creator and the limited role of government ought to be to protect that. To allow people to make up their own minds about their intellectual pursuits, their own mind about their spiritual pursuits and their own mind about how they want to run their own body. And what they put into their bodies, their minds, and their souls, all that should be protected by the government.
Some people will say 'Oh no. Some people will be poor, some people will read communism, and other people will say 'well, they'll put dumb things into their body.' Well, a free society they get to make those choices and suffer their own consequences. But the government's role has to be just that of providing that liberty.
Who monitors? The individual, the family, the church, the community. So it's not like there's no one monitoring. The question is do we want the government to monitor our religious and personal freedoms? And that is what I don't want because I don't trust the bureaucrats and politicians to monitor anything. So it really falls to the individual. It won't be a perfect world, but it's better than dictatorial rule.
I also include in that that we have no moral authority to tell other countries how to live either. We may set a standard, and advise, but you can't force people to believe the way you do. I want government to protect liberty and not be involved in any of that.
DN: Is there a bent to protect the speech of liberal, or violent and sexually exploitative media over conservative speech?
RP: Sometimes I think there is misinterpretation of the First Amendment. The First Amendment says: 'Congress shall make no law' curtailing religious liberties and what we say. And then someone else will come along and assert: 'that means you're not allowed to say anything that makes people uncomfortable.' The government is not allowed to impede our speech. This idea that you can't say a prayer in a school or a public place because it might make someone uncomfortable, which is not the meaning of the Constitution. So there seems to be a systematic attempt to close down certain kinds of speech.
DN: But violent, harmful speech is protected…
RP: I want no prior restraint by the government on the media. But I don't want the government to have the power to restrain the production of anything. Sometimes there's a liberal who will say, 'the government should never have prior restraint in the media, that violates freedom of speech! Let them do what they want!' But that's the way it should be in everything that we do.
There are lines that we can't cross. I can make a product. If I tell you this product is safe and wonderful and it's going to cure you of something and you buy it and it doesn't meet the claim or it harms you, I can be punished. I can't defraud you. In the media, there is a limit. You can't slander people, if you lie, do damage and injure people on purpose, that's not freedom of speech, that's a form of aggression against someone. If it's complex, I always say you err on the side of leaving people alone.
Let the market work it out. People printing obnoxious, outrageous things, most of the time they won't make as much money and the market will just exclude them. But the media doesn't have license to say or do anything they want. The media can't injure, there are laws against harming individuals. It's the same way with property rights. I want people to have private property and the government shouldn't be able to tell you what to do with it, but if you do something on your property that hurts your neighbor's property, you've gone too far. You're not allowed to pollute your neighbor's property by exercising your own property rights. And I think the same rules apply to things people manufacture and make and what the media produces: information.
DN: do you think the media's coverage of you and your campaign impacted your message?
RP: I think the media had a lot to do with who heard my message and what they thought. But there's almost nothing you can do about it because almost every politician can complain about unfair treatment at one time or another. Exclusion was a big thing I faced, that and mocking and ridiculing what I was doing and saying. Four years ago they just wouldn't allow me in the debates. That's not breaking any law but the media had a lot of influence on voters and how my message was perceived.
I didn't file a lawsuit; I just tried to overcome the obstacles. It's very imperfect, and if they're not committing liable, I just ignore the whole thing. And if someone is being is ugly and mean and nasty, which I run into not too infrequently on TV, I don't need to do their show again. If they want me on their program, they can't treat me that way. So I have a reaction to it. Most of that can be ironed out, just so there aren't too many laws trying to sort out the whole thing.
DN: Being ignored by your own party and the media won you some powerful advocates, like Comedian Central's Jon Stewart.
RP: Jon Stewart came to my defense beautifully because they (the mainstream media) were ignoring me! He sort of evened things out for me. And that's a good example of letting the free market work things out. There's no law excluded him from his kind of political commentary and there was no crime committed against me by the mainstream media – they were just bad, biased, slanted reporters. You can't put them in jail for that. But if you have a free enough market, someone like Jon Stewart can come in and rectify some of these problems.
Kathryn Wallace is a freelance journalist based in Washington D.C.