We've had a couple of comments regarding the possibility that Ron Paul may be somewhat less than the ideal candidate, or whether, at 71, he's a little old to be the one to carry the banner of opposition to war and big government. The facile answer, of course, is "who else you got?" but let's go a little beyond that.
I was a little concerned when some friends of mine said Ron looked awfully wan on television early on, and he does look older than one might like, a bit like everybody's grandpa. When I saw him at the candidates' forum in Simi Valley, however, I thought he looked much better in person than he does on television. He's thin -- partly because he's something of an exercise addict and perhaps because he always has been -- but life extension people say that's a good sign in an older person who wants to extend his vigorous life.
Let's face it, Ron is not exactly Mr. Charisma, though he has a definite charm that I think comes through even when he's confined to sound bites. One can imagine a stronger debater, but he's not bad. He showed a sense of humor on Colbert that I think comes through. He comes through as likeable and not very threatening, even when he says fairly radical things.
Might somebody else have carried the libertarian antiwar banner better? Maybe. Lots of people would have liked Walter Williams to run (though frankly I'm not sure where he is on the war). But Ron has been doing it for a long time now, and he's definitely a serious person.
I think it was 1976 when Ron was first elected to Congress, and it was shortly after that that I first met him; I was living in Washington at the time, probably between jobs, and got an assignment to do a profile of him for Conservative Digest, a long-defunct magazine. I was charmed by the fact that he said he had read "Human Action" all the way through, which I hadn't at the time. There was also something about him you recognized as genuine, a deep devotion to liberty that I think many of us quickly sense about one another; it was immediately obvious when I met Milton Friedman, David Friedman, Murray Rothbard, Lew Rockwell, Bill Bradford and a few others -- and with Ron Paul. When I was writing Washington pieces for Reason magazine in the late 1970s I used his office as a resource regularly. We're not close friends, but we've seen one another from time to time over the years, when he was traveling or I was in Washington or we went to the same conference.
Ron has done something fairly unique: he's been elected and reelected in Texas without ever compromising his principles. He uses the word "constitutionalist" more than "libertarian" when he's campaigning, he's sincerely pro-life (he wrote a short book on the subject), and he's genuinely a bit more populist than I, so that helps in a Republican district. But the party establishment has tried to get rid of him several times, changing the district's configuration, financing primary opponents, etc. He's managed to get elected and reelected, so he has some political skills.
In Congress he has been called "Dr. No," voting against every unbalanced budget and virtually every proposal to expand government or extend regulation. He voted against more funds for NASA when NASA was in his district. So he has not only talked his principles, he has lived them and taken risks for them. Throughout his career he has made eloquent floor statements explaining his position. Naturally, he voted against the Iraq war, not only because he sees it as unconstitutional, but because he knows that wartime is always a time when governments expand their powers.
I think the founders hoped Congress would be full of people like Ron Paul -- people who took the constitution seriously, who voted on principle rather than pandering to special interests, who understood the founding documents and the importance of limited governmen -- but in our era there has been just one. Others in Congress have come close to matching his devotion to principle, and several dozen have joined his Liberty Caucus. But Ron Paul is one of a kind.
He may be 71 but he's healthy and vigorous. One can imagine a more charismatic figure, but Ron is solid, intelligent, and serious about his beliefs without taking himself too seriously. I think that's coming through to those who pay attention.