With views that lean more libertarian than textbook conservative, Ron Paul swept the youth vote in the 2012 Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, placing third in both contests. And despite his conservative platform and the existence of newsletters containing racist statements that went out under his name decades ago, the Texas congressman's stands against the war in Afghanistan and the war on drugs have attracted some liberals who see him as a progressive diamond in the rough. Here's a closer look at his positions.
If elected, Paul vows to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan (and Germany, Japan and South Korea). In his book Liberty Defined, he argues that the war on terrorism is based on manufactured fear: "This fear is required to get the people's support for fighting unnecessary wars and supporting the military industrial complex. The fear is concocted. The war is very clearly not necessary. The results are devastating to our security and our prosperity."
Paul believes that there should be no federal control over education and has called for eliminating the U.S. Department of Education. "I think that the smallest level of government possible best performs education," Paul said in a 2008 interview. "Teachers, parents and local community leaders should be making decisions about exactly how our children should be taught, not Washington bureaucrats." Paul also proposes annual $5,000 tax credits for parents who want to home-school.
Rep. Paul holds that the federal student-loan program is unconstitutional, raises the costs of higher education and ought to be abolished. When asked in a CNBC Republican presidential debate last November how students should pay for college, Paul answered simply: "[You should pay for college] the way you pay for cellphones and computers. You have the marketplace there. There's competition. Quality goes up. The price goes down."
Racially charged articles in newsletters published in Paul's name in the 1980s and 1990s remain a red flag to many. Sample passages include predictions of racial violence because "mostly black welfare recipients will feel justified in stealing from mostly white 'haves' " and claims that black girls are spreading AIDS to white people. Today Paul's explanation is that he didn't write the newsletters. Yet in the past he has admitted to writing some of them, defending the content.
Paul is a fervent critic of the war on drugs and capital punishment. During Monday's GOP debate, he said: "Blacks and minorities who are involved with drugs are arrested disproportionately. They are tried and imprisoned disproportionately. They suffer the consequence of the death penalty disproportionately." Paul has thus called for repeals of most federal drug laws and the federal death penalty, saying the policies should be left to the states.
Rep. Paul is against oversight of the banking and finance sector, believing that too much regulation, not too little, caused the financial crisis. "I don't think we need regulators. We need law and order," Paul said in a 2010 C-SPAN interview advocating trust in the free market as the solution. "The market is a great regulator, and we've lost understanding and confidence that the market is probably a much stricter regulator."
An infamous campaign moment occurred during the Tea Party Express debate, when Paul argued against government intervention for an uninsured man in a coma. "We've given up on this concept that we might take care of ourselves," Paul said, explaining that churches and communities can voluntarily foot medical bills for the uninsured. While he views health care as a good and not a right, he wants payroll tax exemptions for the terminally ill and to make private health savings accounts available to all Americans.
Paul maintains that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are unconstitutional and wants to cut them all. Asked about this view in a March 2011 Fox News appearance, he said: "Article I, Section 8, doesn't say I can set up an insurance program for people. What part of the Constitution are you getting it from? The liberals are the ones who use this General Welfare Clause." Paul proposes keeping the programs available to people already receiving benefits, but phasing them away as other workers opt out.
Paul also views federal welfare as unconstitutional and thinks it should be cut. "This whole idea that there's something wrong with people who don't lavish out free stuff from the federal government, somehow [they] aren't compassionate enough. I resist those accusations," he said during September's GOP debate at the Reagan Library. In his book End the Fed, he writes: "The whole notion of the safety net permeates a socialist or welfare state, encouraging carelessness and dependency on the government."
Paul has called to audit and end the Federal Reserve, blaming its manipulation of interest rates and ability to print money for inflation as well as for booms and busts in the economy. "The Fed aims for even lower interest rates by creating trillions of dollars of new money, all while increasing spending and debt," he writes in Liberty Defined. "Economic growth must be based on real factors, not phony stimulus provided by the central bank."
Paul says that according to the Constitution, money must be backed by the nation's gold or silver reserves. Finding paper money unconstitutional, he advocates a return to the gold standard. In a 2010 Forbes interview, he explained: "If we were stranded on an island and one of us decided, 'Well, we need some money. So we're going to take these pieces of paper and I'll write numbers on them and it'll be money,' it would be preposterous. Money comes out with real value."
Paul, who is an obstetrician, is anti-abortion. If elected president, he vows to repeal Roe v. Wade and define life as beginning at conception. He also thinks abortion should be handled at the state level (though it's unclear how that would work if federal law declares embryos to be legally protected people). In Liberty Defined, he writes: "I've never understood how killing a human being, albeit a small one in a special place, is portrayed as a precious right."
Paul famously voted against a 2004 resolution commemorating the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed racial segregation in voting, schools, the workplace and public accommodations. Taking to the House floor, he called it an attack on individual liberty: "[It] gave the federal government unprecedented power over the hiring, employee relations and customer-service practices of every business in the country," he said. "The result was a massive violation of the rights of private property and contract, which are the bedrocks of free society."
Paul opposes both amnesty for undocumented immigrants and birthright citizenship. He also opposes mass deportation, writing it off as impractical. In Liberty Defined, he proposes: "Maybe a 'green card' with an asterisk could be issued. This in-between status, keeping illegal immigrants in limbo, will be said [to] create a class of second-class citizens. Yet it could be argued that it may well allow some immigrants who come here illegally a beneficial status without automatic citizenship — a much better option than deportation."