When Dr. Ron Paul suffered a health scare during his live Liberty Report show last Friday, I was perhaps less worried than most of his friends, family, and fans. His remarkable vitality, vigor, and energy are well known to those around him, along with his penchant for exercise, clean living, and light eating. Having known him thirty years, I simply had no recollection of him ever being sick or out of commission. This is a man who had never missed a day of work or an event, at least in my memory. In my mind he was simply always there, a fixed feature of life. So my immediate reaction was to think he would be fine.
As it turns out, he is fine. Even unstoppable.
In Dr. Paul's congressional office during the early 2000s, his mostly Generation X staff joked about how Ron would bury us someday despite being several decades older. Now that we're in our fifties, the joke hits a bit closer to home! But we were all familiar with his relentless nature. His pace was legendary: waking early, printing articles to read, gathering newspapers, putting together his busy schedule for the day, and preparing for votes.
It was always tough to keep up with him, literally, legging around Capitol Hill to hearings, media hits, or finalizing details for one of his infamous "special order" speeches at the end of the congressional day. Ron bid for our office in the Cannon House building primarily for its proximity to the Capitol building itself, so he'd spend the least amount of time "commuting." When he needed knee replacements there was no question about doing both the same day, over the congressional Christmas break. Always true to form, he was up and about almost immediately and eschewed even over-the-counter pain medication.
He was always moving, and absolutely hated to wait. His years as a busy obstetrician, with babies arriving at all hours of the night in far-flung rural Texas hospitals, certainly served him well when it came to the less serious job of Congress—with its late night votes and sudden schedule changes. Unlike medicine, however, the work of Congress is defined by motion rather than action. And unlike many of his colleagues, when the votes ended Ron headed back to his nondescript condo in Alexandria. There were no DC steakhouse dinners with lobbyists, no Capitol Hill bars and nightlife, and certainly none of the fleshy graft which ensnared so many pols over the years.
Dr. Paul's energy spills over into his life at home, where he is always busy walking, biking, swimming, tending to his prized tomatoes, and hosting a steady stream of family and guests. His "retirement" from Congress at the end of 2012 finds him producing five live Liberty Report episodes with his cohost, Daniel McAdams, every week, along with writing, public speaking, and media appearances. But he is much happier without the dreadful weekly slog back and forth to Bush Intercontinental Airport on the far side of Houston, along with the infuriating kabuki theater known as TSA. His family life is no doubt much improved.
Speaking of family, Ron and his wife, Carol (née Wells), stand atop a pyramid of children (five, with three MDs), nineteen grandchildren, and ten (for now) great-grandchildren. The Pauls have been married sixty-three years; their children have been married 167 years combined! Family, more than anything he has done in medicine or politics, will be Dr. Paul's lasting legacy.
But there were a lot of nights and weekends away from that family over the years, starting all the way back in the 1970s. So a bit of history is in order. Today happens to be the birthday of Ludwig von Mises, who played a brief but important role in the Ron Paul story. Nixon cut off gold convertibility by foreign central banks in 1971, and the alarmed young obstetrician began reading everything he could on money and inflation—including Mises. A year later, Dr. Paul managed to get away from his busy medical practice for a day to hear the great man speak at the nearby University of Houston. That talk, titled "Why Socialism Always Fails" (listen here!), made a deep impression on Ron. He knew he had to do something.
That "something" took form in his decision to run for Congress in 1974. And in a very real sense Dr. Paul is the only Misesian ever to serve in Congress.
His first stint in the US House only deepened his concerns about the monetary system, and in 1984 he took the gambit of giving up his seat to run against Phil Gramm for US Senate. Gramm prevailed, but Ron returned home to his medical practice determined to remain active. He became involved in the precious metals community, began building contacts, and ultimately became the Libertarian Party candidate for president in 1988.
Those involved with that presidential campaign, including Lew Rockwell and the late Kent Snyder, can tell you it was no luxurious affair. With no internet, mobile phones, email, or social media, campaign events were hit or miss. Local newsletters and bulletin boards were the only source of information, and media appearances were distinctly "earned" in those days. Often a supporter in a beat-up car was the only campaign contact in any city, after long flights on cheap Southwest. Small groups of twenty or thirty people would meet at someone's home or a local diner, hear Ron speak, and pass the hat for travel funds. It was a shoestring of a campaign, and hardly energizing or optimistic. But Ron persevered, knowing his efforts would bear fruit someday.1
So the "famous" Ron Paul of 2012—who spoke to five thousand students at Berkeley, raised $30 million, and appeared in CNN debates—first spent years away from his family and his medical practice.
He return to the House of Representative in the 1990s was both helped and hindered by his identification as a libertarian. His extensive contacts and earlier time in Congress gave him a fundraising base and name recognition, but also earned him the ire of the GOP. Upon informing Republican leaders of his intention to run for Congress again, and suggesting he could win the south Texas seat from a sitting Democrat, the party swung into action against him. His by then well-known antiwar and anti-Fed views alarmed them, and his departure from the party in 1988 angered them. So Newt Gingrich, the powerful speaker of the House, convinced that Democrat (Greg Laughlin) to switch parties by promising him a seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee.
Dr. Paul thus found himself in a primary race against the sitting Congressman he intended to face in the general election. But Ron knew the district, and campaigned effectively against the outsiders trying to dictate who would hold the seat—especially Newt Gingrich, who blundered by flying to Texas for a Laughlin event. Meanwhile, then governor George W. Bush and his chief of staff Karl Rove were working behind the scenes to help Laughlin as well, but to no avail. When Ron won the primary, they called him over to the statehouse in Austin to offer both their surprise and their congratulations.
His Democratic opponent in the general election, a trial lawyer named Charles "Lefty" Morris, attempted to paint Ron's position on the drug war as irresponsible and crazy. But Ron's campaign responded with an ad showing the mild-mannered doctor in his medical coat, the down-to-earth trusted physician who had delivered thousands of babies across the congressional district. His personal reputation for sobriety, as a family man deeply involved in his community, blunted the political hits—which is of course an important lesson in itself.
But even winning the general election in 1996 did not endear the GOP to Dr. Paul. Congressional leaders took the almost unprecedented step of disregarding his earlier time in Congress for purposes of seniority. Undaunted, Ron requested and received a seat on the Banking committee, considered a boring backwater. Little did they know that the Enron scandal and the Arthur Andersen collapse a few years later would make the newly christened "Financial Services" Committee one of the most sought after. (Why? Remember the Sarbanes-Oxley bill regulating public companies, and all the lobbying surrounding it? Imagine the postcongressional career riches!) And little did they know that the Greenspan-Bernanke economy would implode about a decade later, making monetary policy a hot issue and presenting Dr Paul with numerous chances to grill both men at committee hearings.
Ultimately, he was awarded his delayed but rightful chairmanship of an important monetary policy subcommittee in 2010. Not surprisingly, Ron immediately turned the opportunity into a teachable moment—inviting Austrian economists as witnesses and luncheon speakers, and creating a truly intellectual atmosphere for interested members and staffers who had started to question the status quo.
It was a brief but glorious time, where Mises finally had a voice in Congress.
Dr. Paul's other committee, Foreign Affairs, dovetailed perfectly with his warnings about monetary policy. Ron was able to make the connection between central banking and war finance, and also press Congress for a full-fledged declaration of war before invading Iraq in 2003. Here he built the foundation for a crossover antiwar coalition, and gave his most impassioned arguments against war, the ultimate form of expansionary state power. It was here he opposed American quagmires in the Middle East, setting the stage for his 2008 and 2012 campaigns. And it was in the Foreign Affairs Committee that he cemented his reputation as the greatest peace advocate in Congress for decades.
Despite his troubles with congressional leaders, Dr. Paul had many personal friends in Congress. He was well-liked and respected by most. His great friend, the late Walter Jones, stands out as someone who took Ron's antiwar message to heart. Jones's district contained the huge Army base Ft. Bragg, and in part due to Ron's influence, he came out strongly against the war in Iraq. He attended many military funerals and comforted many spouses, in some part thanks to the humility he saw in Ron. The great Jimmy Duncan of Tennessee also was a close friend, talking to Ron about reading antiwar.com articles by "Jus-tin Ray-mon-duh" in his distinct Southern drawl. Spencer Bachus of Alabama, chair of the Financial Services Committee during the crash of '07, told the entire House Republican caucus that "Ron Paul was right" in his predictions of housing and equity bubbles. Barney Franks of Massachusetts was always cordial and ready to collaborate, as was the great peace advocate Dennis Kucinich of Ohio.
The outpouring of love and affection shown to Dr. Paul last week after his incident shows the degree to which his revolution lives on. Ideas matter, but they are worthless without good people to advance and personify them. Dr. Paul is loved because he is genuine, a quality in short supply today. A quality which cannot be bought, borrowed, summoned, or faked. It's a quality our dangerously politicized country needs, in spades.
Ron Paul seems unstoppable, but of course that is true of no mortal. He gave us, and continues to give us, a genuine alternative vision for a nonpolitical world.
But who will take his place?
1. Perversely, some libertarians of various stripes would turn on Dr. Paul later in his career. The Libertarian Party itself is today hostile to the Ron Paul revolution; its members seek to drive his influence and memory from party ranks. During Paul's 2008 presidential campaign, DC-based Reason magazine published a bizarre article based on a smear job from a discredited neoconservative hostile to Paul's noninterventionist foreign policy views. This article attempted to portray the doctor as "racist" based on decades-old newletters which contained untoward statements about blacks in Los Angeles following the Rodney King riots—despite members of Reason's staff knowing Paul personally as anything but a racist. Other DC organizations like the Cato Institute also pursued this puzzling line of inquiry.
Reprinted with permission from Mises.org.