Ron Paul profile: Third run, same message
Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas speaks to media at the airport in Greenville, N.C. (AP)
It was the height of World War II, and the Paul boys were laying aside quarters from their Pittsburgh Press routes and pooling pennies earned from pulling dirty milk bottles off the line at the family dairy to buy war bonds. One day, Ronnie suggested what was, in retrospect, a rather Keynesian solution: "Why doesn't the government just PRINT this money?"
"Well," Bill responded, "then the money wouldn't have any value."
Bill was 10. Ron was about 7.
Washington bureaucrats, Paul says now, "would like it to be complicated, and that we have to accept this complex monetary system of the Federal Reserve. But it's no more complicated than two little kids talking ..."
It's not complicated, he insists. These are the themes he has been addressing, consistently, since he entered politics in 1974, over the course of 12 terms in Congress, through his third bid for the White House: Free markets are good. The Federal Reserve is evil. The gold standard should be restored. Government is the cause, not the cure, of the nation's troubles.
"If it tries to make us virtuous and it tries to make us better people and fairer people and make us more generous and make sure that nobody's richer than the other person, redistribute your wealth, the ONLY way they can do that is the undermining of our personal liberties," Paul told a raucous crowd of several hundred supporters during a recent "Restore Liberty Rally" at the Greenville Convention Center.
"And that isn't the purpose of government. The purpose of government is exactly the opposite. The purpose of government is to protect our liberties."
At 76, this former obstetrician has seven years on the oldest man ever to take office as president, Ronald Reagan. But where Reagan was the genial conservative, Paul is an evangelical libertarian -- a prophet who preaches that the United States is flat broke, foundering under the too-great weight of a bloated bureaucracy and its imperial -- albeit generally well-intentioned -- foreign interventionism.
This is a man who would eliminate five of the 15 cabinet-level departments (Commerce, Education, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, and Interior -- he has no problem reciting them all); recall American troops from all foreign lands, not just war zones; repeal the 16th Amendment, which created the federal income tax; reduce his own presidential salary from $400,000 to $39,336 -- the median salary of an American worker.
These are not the planks of a mainstream candidate's platform. But Paul rolls along, attracting a hard-core following and collecting millions in contributions.
How does he do it?
Perhaps it is not so complicated: He applies the lessons learned in a life that stretches back to the Depression.
Paul's grandfather, Casper, fled the economic wreckage of post-World War I Germany and went to work in the Pittsburgh steel mills at age 14. Ron Paul grew up on stories about rampant inflation and the dangers of paper currency.
"I remember my grandmother wanting to hang onto some property my dad thought she should sell," he says. "And she said, 'No. The money might go bad."'
Casper eventually saved up enough to buy some land outside the city. He started a small vegetable and chicken farm, then opened a dairy, which his sons eventually took over and relocated to nearby Carnegie. Ron Paul's first job was making sure no dirty bottles made it to the filling crates. He was paid a penny per bottle; when they were old enough, the Paul boys -- all five of whom shared one bedroom -- took over the summer milk routes to give the drivers some time off.
His brother Jerry says Ronnie was no goodie two-shoes. In fact, he was kicked out of school -- twice. The first time was for allegedly bribing a grade school chum "two bits" to throw a baseball through a window. The second was for bringing firecrackers to Dormont High -- and that time he ratted on himself.
"He couldn't stand the principals who were dictatorial," Jerry says. "He would call them fascists."