Paul Envisions Smaller Government, Less Global Intervention
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressman Ron Paul, thank you for being with us.
REP. RON PAUL (R), Texas: Thank you for having me.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You are somewhat of a sensation among young people in this country. They are — you’ve broken all records for Web searches. You’re on MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, I guess more than just about any other candidate. With all due respect…
REP. RON PAUL: Be nice.
JUDY WOODRUFF: … you’re 72 years old, how do you explain it?
REP. RON PAUL: Young ideas, a fantastic idea about individual freedom and allowing people to do what they want and take care of their lives, their lives belong to them, and get the government off their backs, and offer them low taxes, and make sure I never mess around with the Internet. Don’t tax the Internet, and don’t regulate the Internet.
You know, freedom is a very popular idea, and young people love it, and they’re open to ideas. And they like principled answers to our problems.
And older people seem to be stereotyped. You know, they get set in their ways, and they’re not as open to the ideas of freedom, yet, to me, freedom is a relatively new idea. It was an experiment, you know, with our country, but we have forgotten about it, and I’m reminding them about this great experiment of freedom, and they love it. And I am just so delighted when I see the young people coming.
JUDY WOODRUFF: They also seem to be attracted, among other things, to your position on the war in Iraq. You want to get U.S. troops out of there, not just get them out, but get them out as soon as possible. You’re the only Republican running who has that position.
Do you ever think there’s something strange about the fact that you’re the only member of your party running for president with that position?
REP. RON PAUL: Yes, I wonder where they’ve gone, because just think how much benefit the Republicans have had on the position I hold now. Just think, I remember in the early years when I was voting, Eisenhower was popular, stopped the war in Korea. Nixon wanted essentially to get the Vietnam War over, didn’t do a very good job, but that was why he was elected.
George Bush ran on my platform. I’m running on his platform, you know, a humble foreign policy, no nation-building, don’t police the world. So I think they have forgotten their roots, and they’re hurting for it. I don’t know why they turn against these views that I’m expressing, which are Republican views.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But how do you explain it? It puts you in the distinct minority in the Republican Party. In all fairness, we should point out you’re a libertarian, as well. And what does that mean?
REP. RON PAUL: Well, I see myself as a Republican, the old right position. I’m a strict constitutionalist. But that means that you’re a libertarian if you believe in the Constitution.
But the old right, the Robert Taft, you know, policies were similar to mine. And that’s very Republican. So I don’t think this should be strange to the Republican position.
As a matter of fact, I think that’s why we’re getting so much support. I mean, just the other day, after the debates the other night, we went to the University of Michigan. We had 2,000 people show up. So I think it’s a very popular viewpoint for Republicans.
And they love the idea that you can be conservative and still be against the war and still be for civil liberties, and then also for free markets and balanced budgets. So this is a very Republican message.
Iraq and extremism
JUDY WOODRUFF: On Iraq, as you know, the president, all your fellow Republicans say the U.S. has got to stay there in one form or another to fight Islamic extremism. Why are they wrong about that?
REP. RON PAUL: Because our presence there makes extremism worse. We're more vulnerable to terrorism because we're over there occupying their country, and they resent it. We would resent it if China occupied our country. What if China came? They look different, they have a different religion, they're going to impose their religious values and their political values on us. We'd be furious, and yet we're over there, so we incite the radicals against us. After 9/11, we went into Iraq. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, we've occupied two countries now. They were already complaining that our support for countries like Saudi Arabia and our military presence in Saudi Arabia was one of the inciting reasons for them to come here. So we did exactly the opposite of what we were supposed to do. Now we're in worse shape.
Our military is run down. We've spent a half a trillion dollars. We've lost all these men and women. We've had 40,000 serious casualties. And all we can do is dig in our heels and say, "Well, we can't leave because there will be chaos." We've created chaos. The longer we stay the more chaos and the more expenses we're going to have.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you think that, if the U.S. left Iraq, pulled out of that region altogether, that the Islamic extremists would no longer be a threat to the United States? Is that what you're saying?
REP. RON PAUL: It wouldn't be that simple, because just moving away, you'd still have the problems and the resentments. They're not going to dissipate overnight.
But I'm talking about a noninterventionist foreign policy. The founding fathers taught us about it, no entangling alliance. Don't get involved in the internal affairs. If you eventually did that in the Middle East, yes, we would be less vulnerable.
But just to back away a little bit and still have our puppet governments in Saudi Arabia, support Israel against the Palestinians, and be in Afghanistan, no, it's not going to change anything. As long as we have this mercantilistic idea that it's our oil, we have to be over there, we have to have cheap oil, we're going to be resented.
But you have to -- as long as we keep doing what we're doing, it's going to get worse. If we start backing away, they might reassess things. But we're doomed to failure. And the Republican Party has already suffered the consequences, because they, you know, did so badly last year. And it's going to get worse if we don't change our policies.
JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you define the U.S. interests that are worth fighting for? If the U.S. shouldn't be in Iraq, shouldn't be, as you say, in these entangling alliances in Saudi Arabia and other countries, you've got U.S. troops now in South Korea, in Europe, what are the interests that the U.S. military...
REP. RON PAUL: They don't serve our interests. They just participate in our bankruptcy. We're spending $500 billion a year we don't have. It's part of the reasons we have a financial crisis, a dollar crisis going on right now. It's intertwined with our Federal Reserve System, because we rely on the Federal Reserve to print this money and create money out of thin air.
All empires end, end badly, for economic reasons, because you can't afford them. If you look out through all of history, eventually they collapse. And you may be militarily powerful, but eventually you undermine the finances.
The Soviet system collapsed. I was drafted during the Cuban crisis. We thought we were going to have a hot war. We never did. The Soviet system collapsed, because they couldn't afford it, and their system was nonviable.
Our system isn't viable, either. We can't have a current account deficit of $800 billion a year. We can't owe foreigners $2.7 trillion and think we can keep paying them interest and keep borrowing money. They'll quit doing it, and that's why the dollar is weakening.
And that's why we face a major crisis. And all I want to do is stop it from collapsing, and that means you have to change foreign policy. You have to save a lot of money. If we want to tide some people over here, the only way we can take care of the people who are sick and dependent on government programs is by cutting somewhere else. And I say we have to cut our empire back in order to save our economy here.
Cutting back on government's size
JUDY WOODRUFF: You do, as you are now, talk a lot, you talk often about cutting back the size of government. What is it -- I mean, you've listed some of the things. What are the main things the government should stop doing that it is doing now?
REP. RON PAUL: Well, we should start doing only what we're authorized to do. We should read Article 1, Section 8, and find those 21 things that we're permitted to do and what Congress is permitted to act on. That means we would be doing about 80 percent of the wrong things, you know, right now.
But you can't turn it off like that. Like I already indicated, you don't need to put people out in the streets, you know, that are dependent on the government.
The easiest thing to change our plan on is: Don't accept this notion that it's our responsibility to police the world. It backfires on us. There's too many blowback consequences. There's unintended consequences, and the financial is the big one. And so we have to change that.
But at home, we -- I mean, why do we need a Department of Education? And why should we have this Department of Agriculture, just to subsidize farmers? You take money from the taxpayers; you subsidize farmers; then, the taxpayers pay for higher prices in the grocery store. And that's just coming alive again now because we're coming up with a lot of inflation once again.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You'd do away with the CIA, I saw. Is that correct or not?
REP. RON PAUL: Well, not all of the functions, but essentially so. The CIA is what gets us into trouble. I mean, the CIA is what really started things in the Middle East, because the CIA went in and overthrew Mosaddeq in 1953. We put in the shah. The CIA murdered Diem, or participated in the overthrow of the government in Vietnam, which leads to trouble.
It's a secret government. Congress has no idea what the CIA is doing, because nobody knows, other than what the CIA is. It is one of the things that is not characteristic of a free society.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You would also do away with the Federal Reserve, and you've mentioned the Department of Education and other things. You're not the first person to run for president who wanted a smaller government. Ronald Reagan, I mean, name comes immediately to mind. He was very popular as president, and yet even he had a very hard time getting government spending down in any serious way. Why do you believe you could do where he had a hard time?
REP. RON PAUL: I can't do it by myself. There has to be a consensus. And I think this is what my campaign is finding out, that there is a consensus.
People don't believe the government any more. They think the government is that group of people who take money from us and pass it out in places like New Orleans and accomplish nothing. You know, they don't see any success. They've given up.
Young people, especially, don't expect to get any Social Security. So conditions are just ripe for this, because we have an imminent bankruptcy coming on. And people are sensing this. This is why they quoted statistics the other night, like 70 percent of the people in this country say we're either in recession or going to be in recession, but nobody here in Washington knows about it. Nobody on Wall Street knows about it.
But the people do, because there's something very, very strange going on. And it's the recognition that it's not working. And when it quits working, we have to have a new system.
My goal is just to have a transition period so you don't have a collapse of the economy and a breakdown of the political system, which happens if you don't deal with this. And this is what's happened so many times over history.
Plans to bring troops home
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, what are some of the first things you would do? I mean, you've talked about doing away with the income tax. Would you do that immediately if you were elected?
REP. RON PAUL: I can't do that by myself, but as a commander-in-chief, I could neutralize some of the antagonism in the Middle East. Why are we threatening and ready to spread the war into Iran?
Even the Democrats aren't willing to speak out against that. They say, "Don't take any options off the table," even nuclear first strikes against Iran. Now the Democrats aren't even saying bring the troops home before 2013. You know, five years, they don't expect to bring the troops home from Iraq.
Those aren't alternatives. And so I could do that immediately. I'd bring that Navy back. I would bring the troops home from Korea. Let them work out their problems. Fifty years is enough, 55 years, that's plenty of time. They're begging and pleading to just be left alone, and the South and the North would be together within five years if we weren't there.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So just basically, again, defend the borders of the United States?
REP. RON PAUL: Defend our interests, defend our liberties, and we do not need to be occupying Europe and Japan, Korea, all these countries. We have troops in 130 countries. We have 750 bases around the world. We can't afford it, and it causes trouble for us.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Another question back here at home, you're an obstetrician. You've delivered, what, 4,000 babies over the course of your career in medicine. You did not, as I understand it, take Medicare and Medicaid payments from your patients. You either took nothing at all or you negotiated down. Are these programs you would do away with, Medicare, Medicaid? And if so, what would you...
REP. RON PAUL: No, but I would -- I would have a transition period, like I said before. I'd cut money from overseas and allow people who are totally dependent to have this care.
But I'd let young people get out of Social Security and have them get options to have their own medical care, because I was raised at a time when medical care was provided by a lot of people. And they had no government programs. And I never saw anybody out in the streets.
I worked in a hospital in San Antonio. It was a church hospital. It was always the lowest charge or nothing, and everybody was taken care of. Today everything is the maximum charge, because everybody is on third-party payments. The government has to pay, and nobody says, "Who's the government?" But the government can pay, so everybody gets the biggest bill possible. Everybody gets extra tests.
So we have a system now that just encourages very, very expensive medicine, and it diminishes the chances of the poor people to have medical care.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So get the federal government out of medical payments altogether?
REP. RON PAUL: Eventually that is the case, but certainly, in the transition period, that's not my goal is to attack those programs. As a matter of fact, I'm the only one that offers a way to pay for it. Right now, they just add on.
The Republicans gives us prescription drug programs, and the Democrats gives you S-CHIP, and they don't have any money. They're going to print that money; that's all they're going to do. They can't even tax anymore, because taxes -- we're taxed to the hilt, so they're going to print the money, create the inflation, and cause the cost of medicine to go up. We're on a foolhardy course that has to be changed.
JUDY WOODRUFF: A couple other positions I was reading about, domestic or social issues, you are pro-gun rights. How would you prevent another Virginia Tech from happening?
REP. RON PAUL: Well, I would think you can -- you know, freedom doesn't give you perfection. But everybody who's responsible for their selves, their house, their household, or their private property should provide the protection. So campuses should provide protection.
My complaint about 9/11 was, the responsibility didn't fall on the airlines. It fell on the government, and the government said, "No guns on the airplane." Pilots weren't allowed to have guns. And the passengers were instructed, "Never resist, you know, somebody, a takeover."
So we did exactly the opposite thing. The airlines should be responsible, and owners should be responsible. School management people should have responsibility.
Most of our plants, in my district, are chemical plants. They're protected not by government. You know, they have their fences and their guards, and they're well-protected. So there's nothing wrong with resorting to people assuming that private protection is pretty efficient.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, on schools, there should be security, in the public schools, as well as on college campuses?
REP. RON PAUL: The schools should be responsible, whether it's a private college or if it's a school district, the school district should be responsible.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And on airplanes, you said pilots should be allowed...
REP. RON PAUL: The owner of the airplane, just like the owner of an armored car makes sure his cargo is safe, the airlines should make sure we, as passengers, are safe.
Government's role in abortion law
JUDY WOODRUFF: Abortion, you've said you'd like to make it impossible for the federal government to regulate abortion, which would, in effect, I guess, negate Roe v. Wade.
REP. RON PAUL: Yes, it would, because I think that's a state issue.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And then the states would be able to do away with abortion.
REP. RON PAUL: That's right.
JUDY WOODRUFF: I mean, in effect, would you like to see abortion banned everywhere? Or what's your position on that?
REP. RON PAUL: I'd like to ban the federal government intervention in abortion. So since I've only been a federal official -- a congressman and then running for the presidency -- I say that we should keep our hands out of it.
And there are some extreme circumstances that I may not even endorse but I recognize that we're always arguing about it. The states, they should deal with it, because they're difficult. The more difficult an issue is, the more local the solution ought to be.
Once you get into a difficult problem, and then you have one monolithic answer, like Roe v. Wade, then you come up with a solution where the courts legislate and allow abortion to be done a minute before birth, and I can get paid for doing one of those, yet a girl, because she throws her baby away, we arrest her for murder. There's something awfully inconsistent about that.
And I have so much legal responsibility as a physician, if I do harm to the fetus, I can be sued. So the fetus has legal rights, but we should figure that out at the state level on the extreme circumstances and not legalize abortion at any time during pregnancy, which is essentially what the Supreme Court did.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Prayer in the schools, you would restore it through an amendment to the Constitution?
REP. RON PAUL: No, I wouldn't restore it.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Not true?
REP. RON PAUL: I would remove the ability of federal courts to prohibit it.
JUDY WOODRUFF: OK, thank you for clarifying.
REP. RON PAUL: So we should have no laws; Congress shall write no laws. So local people should be able to do what they want.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And wherever they are in their school?
REP. RON PAUL: Yeah, that's right.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Voluntary prayer, in effect?
REP. RON PAUL: Right.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You have declined to sign on, as I understand, for the federal pension that every member of Congress is entitled to. So my question is, you're not worried about your later years? I mean, you could live many more years, Congressman Paul.
REP. RON PAUL: This is one position that I think my wife might disagree with me on. There goes our retirement. No, you know, I was in the Congress in the '70s and '80s, and I've been back, so I've had a good many years, close to 20 years. I've been in the military. So it would be a nice pension fund.
But when I started in Congress, the first time in '76, it was even then more lucrative than it is now, but it's a very lucrative, very beneficial pension fund. And I could not see with me condemning, you know, the system to on the side quietly participate in getting some very good benefits. So I just said, "I'm not going to do it; I'll have to take care of myself some other way."
JUDY WOODRUFF: Should everybody else follow suit, do you think?
REP. RON PAUL: Well, no, I don't think we should have those kind of programs. I think citizens should be representing us in Congress and the work should be reduced. We should cut their pay in half and let them go home and work.
See, if I go home and practice medicine right now, the congressional rules say, "You can't practice medicine." I don't want to take the lucrative pension fund, but ironically, if I wanted to work extra on the weekend, they won't allow me, because they say it's a conflict of interest for me to go home and deliver a baby. So figure that out.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And just quickly, I understand traveling around the country campaigning, you've run into people you've actually delivered.
REP. RON PAUL: Yeah, I think that's so neat. Because the other night, we had a meeting up in New Hampshire. A young lady came up and she goes, "You delivered me." And I said, "Do you want me to pick you up, since I held you for the first time?"
JUDY WOODRUFF: Is she voting for you? Or do you know?
REP. RON PAUL: Oh, yes, she was a strong supporter.
JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, Congressman Ron Paul, thank you very much for being with us.
REP. RON PAUL: Thank you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: We appreciate it.
RAY SUAREZ: For more on Congressman Paul, you can visit our Vote 2008 Web site at PBS.org. All of our candidate interviews and campaign updates are also available there.