Ron Paul retired from Congress last week, yet his influence is only growing. Despite not winning the Republican Party’s nomination for president, the 77-year-old resident of Texas has no doubt made his mark on American politics.
To the armchair pundit, it may appear the longtime maverick ruffled a few feathers in office, but ultimately his movement’s time in the spotlight faded. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth.
Even Dr. Paul stated in his farewell address to Congress that, on the surface, his career has seemingly had little influence:
In many ways, according to conventional wisdom, my off-and-on career in Congress, from 1976 to 2012, accomplished very little. No named legislation, no named federal buildings or highways-thank goodness. In spite of my efforts, the government has grown exponentially, taxes remain excessive, and the prolific increase in incomprehensible regulations continues. Wars are constant and pursued without Congressional declaration, deficits rise to the sky, poverty is rampant and dependency on the federal government is worse than any time in our history.
Paul added, “The ultimate solution is not in the hands of the government. The solution falls on each and every individual, with guidance from family, friends and community.”
It is this sentiment that has not only set him apart from his now former colleagues, but spawned an intellectual revolution throughout the country and even the globe. Perhaps the most unique characteristic of Paul’s career and his supporters is their trademark emphasis on the importance of ideas versus personality or partisanship.
Rather than parroting talking points of how he would more efficiently manage the federal government, Paul dared to ask more fundamental questions such as what is the proper role of government in the first place and why do we allow the government to meddle in our personal lives at all?
From Paul’s perspective, the sole purpose of government is to protect the individual’s right to life, liberty and property and nothing more.
For years, these ideas were championed on the floor of Congress, but often fell on deaf ears as the mild-mannered former obstetrician gave dyer warnings of an aggrandizing police-state, recessions induced by central banking, and a costly, counterproductive foreign policy; much to no avail.
Paul was a man in the wilderness and his calls for strict adherence to the constitution were viewed as archaic rantings from a man out of touch with reality.
When those warnings were presented on national television during the 2008 presidential campaign and were later proven correct however, many Americans took notice.
The turning point that launched Paul into stardom was a rather heated exchange he had between former governor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, in which Paul insisted that terrorism was an unintended, yet predictable consequence of an interventionist foreign policy.
After being chided for his remarks and urged to rescind them, Paul doubled-down and cited the CIA theory of “blowback” which suggests that intervening in the affairs of other nations, no matter how well-intended, often produces unforeseen and problematic results.
Paul cited the invading of Iran and installing the military dictator Shah in 1953 that would provoke the taking of American hostages years later. He has since noted the ill-fated relationships the U.S. government has created with Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Hosni Mubarak, and our interventions in Libya.
Overnight, this unconventional Republican became a YouTube sensation as thousands of young people, conservatives, libertarians, disaffected liberals, and independents became enamored with this most unlikely of heroes. By simply standing his ground and refusing to toe the party line, Paul unwittingly sparked a fire in the hearts of millions.
By proposing more substantive solutions to the problems America faces, Paul was not only able to expose Americans to different ideas, but he also challenged them to consider why they held their current beliefs in the first place.
Paul’s 2008 campaign fell well short of top tier status. It would, however, inadvertently inspire a separate movement of grassroots activists outraged by excessive spending, higher taxes, and unbalanced budgets: the tea party.
This spontaneous and organic groundswell of concerned Americans bolstered a class of first-time candidates to victory in 2010, including Ron Paul’s son, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, Representative Justin Amash (R-MI), and Senator Mike Lee (R-UT).
Riding a wave of discontent throughout much of the country in the wake of TARP and the passage of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), these freshmen “tea partiers” immediately sought to change the conversation in Washington.
Senator Paul, in particular, quickly made a name for himself by presenting a plan to balance the budget in only five years, calling for drastic spending cuts and abolishing four federal departments altogether. Paul failed to get the budget passed, but he succeeded in shedding light on how many in both parties fail to address these issues seriously and often fail to live up to their rhetoric.
In the two years since their election, senators Paul, Lee, Rep. Amash, and others have made their presence known by echoing calls for spending cuts and limited government that for years were only heard from a lone congressman from Texas.
From calls to abolish the TSA to bridle indefinite detention to opposing tax increases, the “constitutional conservatism” of Ron Paul’s disciples has successfully ushered in a new generation of Republican leadership and has set the standard for what it means to be so.
Congressman Paul fell short again of winning the GOP presidential nomination in 2012, but doubled the total number of votes he received in 2008 to two million in the primaries and left Congress with many achievements, including the overwhelming passage of his “Audit the Fed” bill in the House.
Despite the fact that President Obama was re-elected, last November demonstrated two significant points regarding the future of American politics.
First, the election of several “Ron Paul Republicans” to the House, as well as Ted Cruz to the Senate, and numerous states opting to determine their own positions on gay marriage and marijuana legalization are indicative of a sweeping change among the electorate who are yearning for decentralization, constitutionalism, and self-government.
Most importantly, it delivered a clear message to the Republican Party that it must adopt these Jeffersonian principles if it wishes to remain relevant in the future. All of this is the result of one man’s tireless struggle to bring his party back to what he considers its roots.
From the tidal wave of tea party activists, to the resurgence of monetary policy being discussed in the mainstream media, and the influx of constitutionally-minded conservatives now taking their places on Capitol Hill, it’s quite evident Ron Paul’s career will not be remembered as a mere flash in the pan; but as the source of a growing tide from which we will likely see ripple effects for years to come.