Off the Cuff: Ron Paul, Libertarian and Former Presidential Candidate

Dr. Ron Paul is a former Texas congressman and three-time presidential candidate, known for his strict interpretation of the Constitution and belief in the importance of individual liberty. Prior to joining the House of Representatives in 1976, he worked as an obstetrician and gynecologist in Tex- as. He spoke with the Review on Sunday afternoon before delivering a talk titled “Liberty Defined” in Finney Chapel on Sunday night.

Julia Herbst and Rosemary Boeglin

You recently announced on your Twitter that you’re going to have a homeschooling curriculum geared at K–12 students. You said on the website that the second phase of ‘the Revolution’ should be about education and that homeschooling is an important part of that. Why do you think that?

Well, we talk about ‘the Revolution,’ which, really, that term came up in 2007 as [part of ] the … presidential campaigns. [The idea was] that we had to have a revolution — a peaceful intellectual revolution — to get people to have their minds changed. … So in many ways my whole effort, in Senate and in being involved in politics, was always that: to try to get people to look at the ideas. Being in office was always secondary.

But what I mean by [education] being the second phase, is [that] … it was time for me to leave Congress, but I wanted to continue to do what I’ve been doing. … Now [this phase] is giving people an option. I read someplace today … [that] somebody said I want to do away with all public education. That’s not exactly my position. But I want everyone to have an option. … Competition is always good, and I think you can change peoples’ minds through education. Once the federal government gets in control they control the curriculum, and in a free country you ought to pick your own curriculum. You can have a religious curriculum, a non-religious curriculum, you can have a curriculum that teaches socialism — whatever. A free country should have all those views. …

There’s so much frustration now with … the quality of education but also some of the violence in the school. … And also the difference in the last five years is dramatic in [terms of ] what you can do with the Internet. … Everybody can’t go to a private school. With the Internet and the need for something different, I’ve just decided that’s going to be a major project for me.

Much of your demographic seems to consist of young college-age white men and women. Why do you think that is?

My message is universal. I think that when liberty is really understood, that liberals, conservatives, progressives, everybody should pay attention to it because it is really inclusive. For some reason, in my experience of the last five years especially, the largest audience that receives this with sort of an open mind are the college-age students. And that makes me very happy, and they seem to get enthusiastic about it, and they seem to change their minds on some of the issues and pursue studying things like free-market economics and the Federal Reserve and minding our own business here and not getting involved in people’s personal lives and in the business of other countries, where it might be well-motivated, but it always ends badly.

Many people see access to opportunity as limited by race, socioeconomic class, gender or sexual orientation. If one of the goals of libertarianism is to eliminate federal government spending, how do you get rid of social services without denying that those inequalities exist in terms of access to opportunity?

Well, it should be done through property rights and voluntary contracts. It would never be a perfect society. But it’s very imperfect when the government uses an iron fist and tells you what you have to do. A lot of things happened before we had affirmative action. Like there was a college in Ohio once called Oberlin College that knew something about being very progres- sive, and it wasn’t D.C. that came over here and said, “Be progressive and allow women and Blacks more equal rights.” … Most of the messes that were like that were all government-issued, whether it was slavery or laws against blacks. In my lifetime we had segregation of our military in World War II. … So that was government-forced. And the Jim Crow laws — it was all government.

Baseball was integrated voluntarily by just peoples’ ability. So I have a lot of confidence in that, but I know it’s not perfect. … [We should] recognize individual liberty and voluntary contracts and property rights and totally treat people as individuals and not because [they are members] of a group. Because at one time we treat people as a group and we punish them, and then we treat people as a group and we give them special benefits, and I don’t think either one is right. … Tonight I’ll probably talk about the drug laws. The drug laws are very, very slanted against minorities. And they’re in prison at a higher rate, even though they’re not involved in drugs at a higher rate. But if you’re white and rich and you use drugs, the odds of you going to prison are much, much less. … [Women] should have equal rights to men, but there’s no such thing for me as women’s rights, or gay rights or minority rights. Everybody has a right as an individual and you can’t trespass on that individual.

Do you think that seeing people as individuals and not as a larger demographic is maybe denying some of the structural disadvantages that face racial minorities in the United States? So, for instance, Latinos are treated perhaps differently than white men and so by seeing them as all equal, do you think that’s denying them some of the challenges that different groups face?

Well if they’re being denied rights because they belong to a group, you deal with it … but you can’t legislate perfect equality. Everybody can’t have equality of income, because somebody might decide that basketball has to have equality. You have to have fair[ness] and balance on race. Nobody would argue that. But people who play basketball do it because of their ability. But no, the inequalities will exist, but there’s an inequality when you see Oprah Winfrey, you know, and others who do quite well. … We had a business down in our area one time, and they made pacemakers, and for some reason women could do it better than men. It was very tedious soldering work and … they never sent out a message, ‘We only want women,’ … but I think … 98 percent of their employees were women. But what if someone came in and said, ‘Oh, that’s not fair to men. Why don’t you have 50 percent [male workers]?’ … It’s a private business. It’s a private decision. If somebody doesn’t want to work there, they don’t have to, and the businessman makes the business decision. … Coersion force — that’s what we reject as Libertarians. The basic principle of a free society is the rejection of aggression and the use of force. But also people have to be realistic that you’re not going to have a perfect society. And that is not the goal of the Constitution. … That’s the goal of a socialist system and they usually get equality — an equality of poverty.

You said that, for instance, professional basketball has a disproportionate number of black athletes. So when you’re looking at the government, which is largely constituted by upper-middle-class white men, does that seem like it’s just a reflection of the natural ability of upper-middle-class white men to do that job better, or is it a reflection of structural inequalities that make it more difficult for other groups to come into a position of power?

Well, I think the electoral system is bad. If you want to really look for a minority, look for the libertarian minority. We’re 20 percent of the population, but we have nobody in Congress. And so the system is very, very biased, and I think that is what happens frequently. But if you took federal employees, 80 percent are black. You’d have to figure out… how you’re going to solve that…. If you look at people employed by the federal government … why are the vast majority minorities?

Switching gears a little bit, what do you see as flaws in the two-party political system, in terms of the limitations of the expression of less mainstream points of view? If you feel you have to run as Republican or Democrat, how does that limit political expression?

I’ll talk about that tonight — why so many people have been deceived about the system. The parties are arguing and fighting and [saying that] we need more compromise and we need to sacrifice our principles. … I don’t believe that’s what’s necessary. I don’t think the parties are all that different. They pretend they’re fighting all the time and they are —overpower — but not whether or not we should have troops in 200 countries in the world. They don’t argue about that. They don’t argue whether the Fed should print money, and they don’t argue about the welfare state. How many people are we going to have on food stamps before we decide we’re broke? … I’ve tried it both ways. If I were never to have run as a Republican candidate for president, I probably wouldn’t be on campus today. … If you’re in the third party, you don’t get into debates, you can’t get onto ballots. It’s very, very slanted and biased. … I’d like to see a much better system [where] there’s a bit more competition in politics.