The Republican presidential candidate may be a party-switcher, but he's no flip-flopper.
- By Uri Friedman
Uri Friedman is deputy managing editor at Foreign Policy. Before joining FP, he reported for the Christian Science Monitor, worked on corporate strategy for Atlantic Media, helped launch the Atlantic Wire, and covered international affairs for the site. A proud native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he studied European history at the University of Pennsylvania and has lived in Barcelona, Spain and Geneva, Switzerland.
When CNN’s John King asked this year’s batch of Republican presidential candidates to describe themselves in one word during a February debate in Arizona, Ron Paul didn’t hesitate. "Consistent," he declared, as a proud half-smile crept across his face.
Indeed, while the congressman from Texas has changed his views on certain issues over time — Paul, for example, has become increasingly skeptical of climate change and increasingly tough on immigration, and now touts his ties with Ronald Reagan even though he denounced the Gipper’s policies in 1987 — he is, in many ways, a rare breed in politics these days: a sturdy sandal in a sea of flimsy flip-floppers.
Long before he was calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and arguing for friendship rather than war with Iran, Paul was the only member of the House of Representatives to vote against a 1981 resolution on U.S. efforts to resolve a conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization in Lebanon. "We need less meddling in the internal affairs of other nations, not more," he explained.
In fact, while Paul is now running as a Republican candidate (just how long the ideological strain he represents will remain in the party is unclear), he sounds remarkably similar to how he did in 1988, when he won less than half a million votes as the Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate after temporarily leaving the GOP.
Take technology, for instance. In 1987, he told Texas Monthly that "we’re going to start testing our TV in smaller states, on off-channels, and on cable television. People who are looking for ideas tend to be watching independent stations and cable." By the 2008 election, when cable television had long since gone mainstream, Paul was channeling his message through the next edgy, disruptive innovation: the web.
Or take this interview in 1988 with a 53-year-old Paul. Sure, he’s younger. But if you close your eyes and ignore the references to communism, you might just lose yourself in time. There’s the same ardent, amused, and slightly squeaky talk of honoring the Constitution, taking a wrecking ball to federal institutions (especially his arch nemesis, the Federal Reserve), reining in out-of-control government spending, restoring a bright future for the country’s debt-saddled youth, doing away with foreign aid, and turning America’s gaze back toward its own shores and national defense.
Admittedly, the 76-year-old Paul has lost a step or two. He no longer gesticulates wildly when discussing drug legalization (5:00), the Vietnam War (15:00), and getting "high on the ideas of freedom" (16:50), as he did in this surreal 1988 appearance on the Morton Downey Jr. Show, an ear-splitting Jerry Springer forerunner.
But theatrics aside, it’s the same Ron Paul. Still don’t believe us? We challenge you to a game. Who said it: today’s Ron Paul or 1980s Ron Paul?
1. "This country has been the wealthiest country ever. We’ve been the freest country. And we’ve been very, very prosperous. We had the strongest currency. We had the most gold. And what is happening today?… The deficits are out of control, we have borrowed to the hilt … and we’re facing serious problems…. It’s an end of an era."
Answer 1: 1987-1988
2. "The U.S. policy toward Libya further confirms our irrational foreign policy…. Bombing a foreign capital and killing innocent civilians … is an act of war and not authorized by our Constitution."
Answer 2: 1987-1988
3. "I think we’re living in the dark ages when we can’t even talk to the Cuban people. I think it’s not 1962 anymore. And we don’t have to use force and intimidation and overthrow of … governments. I just don’t think that’s going to work."
Answer 3: 2011-2012
4. ”I would abolish the Federal Reserve, create a sound money system, define the dollar. You deregulate everything and you get rid of all the bums, all the bureaucrats who are running the bureaus.”
Answer 4: 1987-1988
5. "The great strides that we have made have been really on foreign policy. The fact that we can once again talk … about what Eisenhower said, to beware of the military-industrial complex. Talk about the old days when Robert Taft, Mr. Republican, said we shouldn’t be engaged in these entangling alliances. He believed what the founders taught us. He didn’t even want to be in NATO."
Answer 5: 2011-2012
6. "How does it help us to keep troops in Korea all these years? We’re broke. We have to borrow this money. Why are we in Japan?"
Answer 6: 2011-2012
7. ”Let’s say we did not police the world and we had no welfare. Would we need an income tax? Isn’t it interesting that the income tax came about the time we changed our foreign policy and got a central bank and started fighting wars overseas? In Woodrow Wilson’s day.”
Answer: 7: 1987-1988
8. "They’re addicted. It’s like a drug addict. And nobody’s willing to have withdrawal symptoms. They will keep printing until they destroy the value of money…. The next thing to drop will be the price inflation and a further downturn, much worse than the stagflation of the 70s."
Answer 8: 2011-2012
9. "Instead of those sitting ducks in the Persian Gulf, I’d be happy to have a navy and put it in the Gulf of Mexico.”
Answer 9: 1987-1988
10. "We have accepted the idea of interventionism. Interventionism in the economy, interventionism as far as the personal lifestyles of individuals go, as well as this idea that we know what’s best for everybody."
Answer 10: 1987-1988
11. "The Austrian economists — those are the free-market economists — predicted that we would be moving into an era of very bad times — bad times with a high inflation rate, a violent business cycle, and even recession or depression. I became fascinated with this, and convinced also that they had the right explanation."
Answer 11: 1987-1988
12. "We’ve been at war in Iran for a lot longer than ’79. We started it in 1953 when we sent in a coup, installed the shah, and the reaction — the blowback came in 1979. It’s been going on and on because we just plain don’t mind our own business. That’s our problem."
Answer 12: 2011-2012
13. "Big government is running away with our freedom and our money, and the Republicans are just as much to blame as the Democrats."
Answer 13: 1987-1988
14. "Foreign aid is taking money from the poor people of a rich country and giving it to the rich people of a poor country. There’s nothing wrong with staying out of the internal affairs of foreign countries when it’s none of our business."
Answer 14: 2011-2012
15. "I’m a free trader and I want as much travel and communication with other countries as possible. This is what the Founders advised. We were never given the authority to be the policemen of the world."
Answer 15: 2011-2012
So, how did you score?
11-15 correct: Foot soldier in the Ron Paul revolution
6-10 correct: Loyal libertarian
1-5 correct: Casual debate watcher
0 correct: Mitt Romney fan
Thanks for playing!