Sunday, May 22, 2005

Ron Paul: Last of the Goldwater Republicans?

It may be unfair to characterize U.S. Representative Ron Paul (R-Texas) as the "last of the Goldwater Republicans." There are plenty of us out there in the party, but our voices are often lost amidst the shrill sounds emitted by the increasingly larger social conservative wing of the GOP. And a few legislators -- notably Arizona's Jeff Flake -- still hold firm against pork-barrel spending and vote according to a Goldwateresque understanding of the Constitution.

Dr. Ron Paul -- like Senator Tom Coburn, he is an obstetrician-gynecologist in real life -- is the only life member of the Libertarian Party in Congress. He ran for president as a Libertarian Party candidate in 1988, after he had given up his seat in the House of Representatives for an unsuccessful run for the Senate in Texas.

Saturday's Houston Chronicle has a largely positive profile of Dr. Paul. The article says, in part:

Paul almost always goes against the grain. He recently cast one of the few votes against President Bush's emergency spending for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In March, he initially declined to comment when part of the Texas City BP refinery in his district exploded and killed several workers. A staffer said Paul wanted to avoid the appearance of grandstanding.

In general, Paul's goal is to provide an alternative voice in Washington, even if it's often ignored. And his nine terms in Congress may be proof of his constituents' admiration of his independent streak. Texans have a soft spot for those kinds of politicians, said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University.

"They sometimes value people who will get in the way of government and slow it down to question, to prod and sometimes steer for the ditch rather than down the center lane," Jillson said.

Paul "doesn't work the mechanism and play the game," he said. "He is the guy sticking the broom in the spokes. There are enough people in his district, the old and the new, who know who Ron Paul is in the context of American politics and think that's fine."

Paul opposes anything that in his view is not proscribed in the Constitution as a federal responsibility. He'd like state governments or charitable institutions to take care of those things.

A sidebar to the article lists a few of Ron Paul's votes that set him apart from other Republicans in Congress -- indeed, from most other Members of Congress:
In the U.S. House, Republican Rep. Ron Paul of Lake Jackson was:
•One of three Republicans who voted against the U.S. Patriot Act.
•The only Republican who voted against the Child Obscenity and Pornography Prevention Act of 2002.
•The only Republican who opposed the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2004.
•One of six Republicans who voted against authorizing military force in Iraq in October 2002.
•One of three Republicans who voted against the emergency supplemental appropriations bill for military action in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On his own House web site, Dr. Paul lists the "freedom principles" that animate his service:
  • Rights belong to individuals, not groups.
  • Property should be owned by people, not government.
  • All voluntary associations should be permissible -- economic and social.
  • The government's monetary role is to maintain the integrity of the monetary unit, not participate in fraud.
  • Government exists to protect liberty, not to redistribute wealth or to grant special privileges.
  • The lives and actions of people are their own responsibility, not the government's.
  • This list of principles echoes the political manifesto presented by Barry Goldwater in his 1960 book, The Conscience of a Conservative:
    "I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones that do violence to the Constitution, or that have failed in their purpose, or that impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden. I will not attempt to discover whether legislation is 'needed' before I have first determined whether it is constitutionally permissible. And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents' interests, I shall reply that I was informed their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can."
    I'd venture a guess that Dr. Paul is the only Member of Congress, Republican or Democrat, in the House or in the Senate, who features on his web site the famous story about Tennessee Congressman Davey Crockett called "Not Yours to Give." The story, which describes an incident years before Crockett's death defending the Alamo, illustrates Crockett's philosophy that Congress cannot use other people's money -- taxpayers' money -- for even a good purpose, unless that use is specifically authorized by the U.S. Constitution. The story begins:
    One day in the House of Representatives a bill was taken up appropriating money for the benefit of a widow of a distinguished naval officer. Several beautiful speeches had been made in its support. The speaker was just about to put the question when Crockett arose:

    "Mr. Speaker--I have as much respect for the memory of the deceased, and as much sympathy for the suffering of the living, if there be, as any man in this House, but we must not permit our respect for the dead or our sympathy for part of the living to lead us into an act of injustice to the balance of the living. I will not go into an argument to prove that Congress has not the power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member on this floor knows it.

    We have the right as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right to appropriate a dollar of the public money. Some eloquent appeals have been made to us upon the ground that it is a debt due the deceased. Mr. Speaker, the deceased lived long after the close of the war; he was in office to the day of his death, and I ever heard that the government was in arrears to him.

    "Every man in this House knows it is not a debt. We cannot without the grossest corruption, appropriate this money as the payment of a debt. We have not the semblance of authority to appropriate it as charity. Mr. Speaker, I have said we have the right to give as much money of our own as we please. I am the poorest man on this floor. I cannot vote for this bill, but I will give one week's pay to the object, and if every member of Congress will do the same, it will amount to more than the bill asks."

    He took his seat. Nobody replied. The bill was put upon its passage, and, instead of passing unanimously, as was generally supposed, and as, no doubt, it would, but for that speech, it received but few votes, and, of course, was lost.
    The story, taken from Edward Sylvester Ellis' biography of Davey Crockett, ends with a succinct summary of Crockett's view of the men who served with him in Congress and their poor adherence to constitutional principle and concomitant desire for private gain:
    "Now, sir," concluded Crockett, "you know why I made that speech yesterday. "There is one thing which I will call your attention, "you remember that I proposed to give a week's pay. There are in that House many very wealthy men - men who think nothing of spending a week's pay, or a dozen of them, for a dinner or a wine party when they have something to accomplish by it. Some of those same men made beautiful speeches upon the great debt of gratitude which the country owed the deceased--a debt which could not be paid by money--and the insignificance and worthlessness of money, particularly so insignificant a sum as $20,000 when weighed against the honor of the nation. Yet not one of them responded to my proposition. Money with them is nothing but trash when it is to come out of the people. But it is the one great thing for which most of them are striving, and many of them sacrifice honor, integrity, and justice to obtain it."
    Ron Paul is one of the few federal legislators, if not the only one, to see Davey Crockett as someone to emulate. He may not be the last of the Goldwater Republicans, but he is surely among the last of the Congressional Crocketts.


    American Daughter said...

    I began my volunteer political activities campaigning for Barry Goldwater. I even sold cans of a really awful soda called Gold Water from party headquarters. Do you remember that soda? It was kinda like Mountain Dew.

    The Gambler said...

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