Still Crazy After All These Years

(Author’s note: Everything in the following story is true. I am not making up a single detail, a single quote.)

Yesterday, on my little road trip, I meandered back to my college and the student newspaper. I’d spent way, way too many hours there, holding down several editorial positions over the years, and wrote a lot of articles. And the current administration was kind enough to let me poke through their files and copy some of my older pieces.

Including two articles I wrote in the spring of 1988, during the presidential campaign, I got to cover campus visits by Bob Dole, Al Haig, Jack Kemp, and — after the primary — the visit from the Libertarian nominee for president from that year. In that case, I also managed to score a brief one-on-one interview with the guy. He was from Texas, and his name was Ron Paul.

Gee, I wonder whatever became of that guy?

Anyway, I thought it might be fun to reprint some of the quotes I jotted down almost 20 years ago.

Paul on why he was running: “To give people a choice; there really isn’t much of a difference between Democrats and Republicans.”

Paul on his Libertarian platform: “The libertarians stand for individual liberty and an end to government interference. The Democrats and Republicans serve the special interest groups; we want government to serve the people… we’re advocating a gold standard and an end to paper money, no personal income tax, an end to U.S. intervention in the Persian Gulf and around the world, and a free market for trade.”

(Note: this was two years before Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.)

Paul’s economic platform: “I would abolish the high tax level and deregulate the economy. I’d also put the U.S. back on the gold standard. That would get the economy back under control, and the government would stop printing more money whenever they feel like it.”

Drugs? “When the government started its ‘war on drugs,’ they spent a lot of money and made a difficult problem ten times worse. I would legalize drugs. That would eliminate a lot of drug-related crimes, as well as reduce the spread of AIDS, because people wouldn’t have to share syringes. It will work; cigarettes are legal, and more risky than some drugs, and we’re seeing cigarette use decline. Prohibition didn’t work for alcohol, and it isn’t working for drugs.”

Student financial aid? (Remember, this was a college paper.) “I would scrap the current program. Instead, if both parents or the student are working, they’d get a direct benefit, either a tax credit or a voucher… No more sending money to Washington and getting it back.”

And why he’s running as a Libertarian? “I’ve always been a Libertarian, I just ran as a Republican… people say the government should be limited in some areas; it ought to be limited in all areas. Government exists to protect individual liberties.”

Then, I got to cover his speech. A few excerpts:

Paul was severely disillusioned by Ronald Reagan. “I find it amazing that the president was elected running for a balanced budget and condemning President Carter, yet today the deficit is twice as great. In 1980, the deficit stood at 985 billion. By the end of this year, the debt ceiling will hit 2.8 trillion. Reagan’s deficit is greater than all other president’s deficits combined.

“Now, when an individual is broke, he’s in trouble. When the government is broke, they just print more money. The government ought to be held to the same standards as individuals.”

On the income tax: he’d abolish it. “We survived a majority of our history without it, and we certainly don’t need it now.”

The gold standard: “I would never permit anyone to counterfeit our money — not people and certainly not politicians.”

Drugs, again: “The government has no right or authority to protect you from yourself,” and added that the “war on drugs turned a terrible problem into a horrible problem.”

On national defense: a strong defense, but “we shouldn’t be giving the shirts off our backs defending rich countries like Japan.”

Education: the federal system “isn’t in the Constitution and doesn’t work.” He’d privatize the whole thing.

Paul also endorsed bringing all troops stationed overseas, but would not be “isolationist.” “We would open our borders more. We would bring our weapons home, and Europe would have to do more for themselves. We would be less confrontational, but we’d have a strong defense.”

Paul also endorsed pulling out of the Persian Gulf. “97% of the oil that flows through the Persian Gulf ends up in Europe or Japan; only 3% comes to the US. It’s a crazy situation where our ‘allies’ kill 47 of our boys. We’d get out.”

Editor’s note: my memory is a bit hazy, but I think this was a typo — it might have been 37. That would match the number of US sailors killed aboard the USS Stark when she was hit by two Exocet missiles fired by an Iraqi plane in 1987, when we were siding with Iraq as a check against Iran — who had mined the Persian Gulf and was threatening oil tankers.)

On Social Security: he’d dismantle it. “First, we’d allow young people to pull out of the system and set up their own programs. We’d gradually phase it out, and we’d encourage people to get out of the system by offering tax deductions for those who set up their own systems.”

Some wiseass (I think it was me) asked how Paul could promise both tax cuts and to abolish the income tax entirely. He quipped “(t)hat would be the best deduction of all,” then elaborated that the abolition of both income tax and Social Security would be gradual processes.

Drugs, again: “Drugs were legal for a majority of our history. Drug dealers love drug laws. It lets them make more money.”

On the election: “The purpose of this campaign is to overcome the status quo. Our greatest disadvantage is that the other party’s candidates are given 45 million dollars to spend, while we’re limited to donations of less than $1,000 each. Our greatest advantage, though, is that they’re about as good as handling money as they are at running the government.”

Finally, I asked him about the two major nominees — George H. W. Bush and Michael Dukakis. Which would be the lesser of two evils? Paul had his line at the ready.

“It’s more like ‘the evil of two lessers. Ten years ago, I would have said the Republican. Now I know that there’s no difference.

There’s no difference.”

Interesting comments from “the only real Republican running,” as his ads claim…

In an ideal world, Paul’s ideas from 1988 would prevail. Hell, I find myself nodding along with most of them as I transcribe these photocopied pages. But the world just isn’t that simple. It’s too small, too dangerous a place for that brand of idealism.

Some of these principles are worthy of consideration, and I’d even go so far as to far as to say that some are long overdue. But Paul (and his particular brand of crazy supporters) is not the answer today.

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