Hail Ron Paul and Mike Gravel

"I saw Ron Paul last week in the Republican debates. He was good, but everybody else ignores what he says." This is from an e-mail I received from an economist friend who is a liberal Democrat. I responded, "Everybody except the viewers. He won the poll afterward, getting 43 percent. MSNBC reported it and then dropped it down the memory hole. I sent him a grand."

One thing you need to know about me is that I’m a skinflint. So for me to send $1,000 to Ron Paul for President is a big deal. Why did I do it? Because Ron Paul stood there with the other nine candidates at the Reagan Library "debate" and calmly, yet forcefully, defended the Constitution (which is the only thing the president swears to defend when he takes the oath); criticized having gone to war with Iraq (and backed it up by pointing to his "No" vote in 2002); called for a substantial tax cut (pointing out that the only way to get such a cut is to roll back the federal government in the lives of both Americans and foreigners); and ended with an impassioned plea to get habeas corpus back. Not bad for a guy who got less than his one tenth of the time allotted.

Yes, it’s true, as my economist friend pointed out, that the pundits ignored him. But the viewers didn’t. As noted, Paul received a cool 43 percent of the vote in MSNBC’s 10-way race, putting him in first place. Similarly, on conservative Matt Drudge’s Web site, Ron Paul came in third, with 18 percent of the vote, just two percentage points behind the much-better-funded Rudy Giuliani, although Drudge, like MSNBC, quickly hid the vote.

MSNBC and Drudge were not alone in shredding the data. As Thomas Woods has pointed out, Dick Morris and Eileen McGann ignored Paul altogether and awarded the prize to John McCain. Woods quotes historian David Beito as pointing out that Arianna Huffington, on CNN immediately after the "debate," actually claimed that all 10 Republicans were pro-war. Was she listening? Here was the first question Ron Paul was asked, along with his answer:

"Moderator: Congressman Paul, you voted against the war. Why are all your fellow Republicans up here wrong?

"Representative Ron Paul (R-Texas): That’s a very good question. And you might ask the question, why are 70 percent of the American people now wanting us out of there, and why did the Republicans do so poorly last year?

"So I would suggest that we should look at foreign policy. I’m suggesting very strongly that we should have a foreign policy of nonintervention, the traditional American foreign policy and the Republican foreign policy.

"Throughout the 20th century, the Republican Party benefited from a noninterventionist foreign policy. Think of how Eisenhower came in to stop the Korean War. Think of how Nixon was elected to stop the mess in Vietnam.

"How did we win the election in the year 2000? We talked about a humble foreign policy: No nation-building; don’t police the world. That’s conservative, it’s Republican, it’s pro-American – it follows the founding fathers. And, besides, it follows the Constitution.

"I tried very hard to solve this problem before we went to war by saying, ‘Declare war if you want to go to war. Go to war, fight it and win it, but don’t get into it for political reasons or to enforce UN resolutions or pretend the Iraqis were a national threat to us.’"

Does that sound to you like a Republican favoring the war?

But it’s possible, just possible, that the pundits don’t matter much. They probably mattered more before the Web became so ubiquitous. Although the Web may not have reduced the pundits’ power to zero, they are less powerful than they were. More and more Americans are seeing that they can get valuable information from people who actually engage their brain before speaking. Which is why it’s so important for Ron Paul to keep running and speaking and for the rest of us to keep watching, voting, talking, writing, and blogging.

Sometimes, when you see a person say sensible things on TV, further research shows him to be a fraud or at least disappointing. But I have followed Ron Paul’s track record over the years, and the more I’ve looked, the more impressed I’ve been. It took a lot of guts for Ron Paul, coming from a congressional district in Texas, to vote against authorizing George W. Bush to make war on Iraq. But he did it. It took guts for him to have earlier voted against the USA PATRIOT Act. But he did that, too.

Ron Paul and I were speakers at an event a few years ago in San Jose. I told him I was impressed with his voting record and asked him if it was ever hard to show up for work, knowing that his vote in favor of freedom would be outweighed by more than 400 votes against, out of a total of 435. He smiled and said no. Paul gave me a recent example. After the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show in which Justin Timberlake pulled away Janet Jackson’s blouse, revealing her breast, the Republicans in Congress introduced a bill to raise the penalties for indecency in broadcasting. Ron Paul saw the bill as a straightforward violation of the First Amendment and was one of a handful of congressmen to vote against it. Paul said that he knew he would need to vote no, but that he would have to do more explaining than usual to his constituents. I found his answer strikingly reassuring. I’ve been around a fair number of politicians and their supporters and when I hear them say they "need to" vote a certain way, it’s typically because they think they should vote the other way but fear that if they vote as they think they should they’ll be voted out of office or face too much flak. How refreshing that Congressman Paul made the Constitution, not reelection, the source of his stated need. I can hardly wait to see him in the May 15 "debate."

And while I’m at it, let me say some positive words about former senator Mike Gravel, the most antiwar candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. One of the commentators after the Republican debate commented that there had been no comic relief in that debate, unlike in the Democrat debate. Clearly she had Gravel in mind. Gravel was humorous at times, but he was also willing to ask hard questions of his rivals, as in the following exchange with Sen. Barack Obama:

"Obama: There is no contradiction between us taking seriously the need, as you do, to want to strengthen our alliances around the world – but I think it is important for us to also recognize that if we have nuclear proliferators around the world that potentially can place a nuclear weapon into the hands of terrorists, that is a profound security threat for America and one that we have to take seriously.

"Williams: Way, way over on time.

"Senator Gravel, 30 seconds, please.

"Gravel: No, with respect to Iran, we’ve sanctioned them for 26 years. We scared the bejesus out of them when the president says, ‘They’re evil.’

"Well, you know something? These things don’t work. They don’t work. We need to recognize them.

"And you know something? Who is the greatest violator of the nonproliferation treaty? The United States of America. We signed a pledge that we would begin to disarm, and we’re not doing it. We’re expanding our nukes.

"Who the hell are we going to nuke? Tell me, Barack. Barack, who do you want to nuke?

"Obama: I’m not planning to nuke anybody right now, Mike, I promise.


"Gravel: Good. Good. We’re safe then, for a while."

In short, Gravel called Obama on his willingness to use nuclear weapons on Iran, something none of the official questioners was willing to do. Moreover, Obama, given a chance, was unwilling to promise not to nuke Iran.

That Mike Gravel. What a comic.

Copyright © 2007 by David R. Henderson. Requests for permission to reprint should be directed to the author or Antiwar.com.

Author: David R. Henderson

David R. Henderson is a research fellow with the Hoover Institution and an emeritus professor of economics in the Graduate School of Business and Public Policy at the Naval Postgraduate School. He is author of The Joy of Freedom: An Economist’s Odyssey and co-author, with Charles L. Hooper, of Making Great Decisions in Business and Life(Chicago Park Press). His latest book is The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics (Liberty Fund, 2008). He has appeared on The O’Reilly Factor, the Jim Lehrer Newshour, CNN, MSNBC, RT, Fox Business Channel, and C-SPAN. He has had over 100 articles published in Fortune, the Wall Street Journal, Red Herring, Barron’s, National Review, Reason, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, The Hill, and the Christian Science Monitor. He has also testified before the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Armed Services Committee, and the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources. He blogs at http://econlog.econlib.org