This is the latest installment in a series of reading guides on 2012 presidential candidates. Here are the other guides.
But the 76-year-old Texas Republican congressman's tiny-government ideals have become increasingly relevant to the national debate. And despite some eye-rolling by television anchors, there's been plenty of substantive coverage of Paul's ideals and track record. Here's our guide to some of the best reading on Ron Paul.
The best place to start is a 2001 Texas Monthly profile by Sam Gwynne, who explains why Paul remained such a viable Republican congressional candidate despite his refusal to toe the party line.
Paul, an obstetrician who has delivered an estimated 4,000 babies, is a pro-life Libertarian who believes that much of the federal government is unconstitutional. (His son, Kentucky Republican Rand Paul, is a U.S. senator and Tea Party favorite.)
Ron Paul's 2012 campaign website summarizes his policy views, which include abolishing the Federal Reserve and the IRS, eliminating income and capital-gains taxes and refusing to raise the debt ceiling.
On principle, Paul supports ending federal bans on marijuana, heroin, cocaine and prostitution, although he says he’s never used marijuana himself, and is so conservative in his personal life that he does not travel alone with women. He says on his website that he avoids discussing his Christian faith publicly because he wants “to avoid any appearance of exploiting it for political gain.”
As a doctor, he would not accept Medicaid or Medicare funds, reportedly treating patients for free instead. (He has argued that Medicare and Medicaid are unconstitutional.) He does not believe members of Congress should receive pensions, so he has opted out of receiving his own.
As an Atlantic profile explains, Paul’s views are defined by his affinity to Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises, who opposed central banking and argued that most problems with the economy result from government interference. Paul believes that the United States should return to the gold standard, and describes Aug. 15, 1971, when President Nixon ordered that U.S. dollars no longer be backed by gold, as a watershed moment that inspired him to begin his career in politics.
Overview of his record as a congressman:
The Texas Monthly profile explores the tension between Paul’s principled approach to politics and his ability to get things done in Washington. He earned the nickname “Dr. No” for his tendency to vote against bills with wide Republican or bipartisan support. He voted against the USA Patriot Act and the federal ban on same-sex marriage—and also against congressional gold medals for Ronald Reagan, Rosa Parks and Mother Teresa. (“It’s easier to be generous with other people’s money,” he noted at the time, and suggested that if his fellow legislators wanted to award medals, they should contribute $100 each.)
A second must-read profile on Paul ran in The New York Times in 2007. It focuses on how Paul’s opposition to the Iraq War—and his staunch resistance to foreign wars in general—raised his profile and contributed to his crossover appeal.
Characterizing Ron Paul's supporters:
Paul’s strong views and the integrity of his political record have won him supporters from many different camps, and reporters often dismiss his followers as a mix of geeks, weirdos and conspiracy theorists.
As Matt Labash wrote in the Weekly Standard: “For me, the Ron Paul Revolution is like a cozy winter fire. From a distance, the crackling flames of individual liberty and free-thinking libertarianism take the chill off sterile two-party politics. But get too near the searing embers, and they will cause blistering, profuse sweating, and all-around general discomfort.”
While there’s plenty of journalistic snark on this issue, similar questions about Paul’s mixed group of supporters have come from within. The New York Times profile quoted a revealing 2007 email message in which the organizer of a Ron Paul meetup group in Pasadena, Calif., asked for advice from Paul’s campaign headquarters:
“We’re in a difficult position of working on a campaign that draws supporters from laterally opposing points of view, and we have the added bonus of attracting every wacko fringe group in the country. And in a Ron Paul Meetup many people will consider each other ‘wackos’ for their beliefs whether that is simply because they’re liberal, conspiracy theorists, neo-Nazis, evangelical Christian, etc. ... We absolutely must focus on Ron’s message only and put aside all other agendas, which anyone can save for the next ‘Star Trek’ convention or whatever.”
Scandals and controversy:
In 1992, several issues of Ron Paul’s newsletter published racist remarks attributed to him, including the lines: "Given the inefficiencies of what D.C. laughingly calls the 'criminal justice system,' I think we can safely assume that 95 percent of the black males in that city are semi-criminal or entirely criminal;” and "If you have ever been robbed by a black teenaged male, you know how unbelievably fleet-footed they can be."
During the 1996 elections, these remarks were brought forward and Paul stood by them, saying they weren’t racist. But in 2001, he told Texas Monthly that he had not written those phrases but had been advised to take responsibility for the comments anyway—an explanation that Texas Monthly’s Sam Gwynne found largely credible.
Following the money and digging deeper:
While campaign finance records tend to lag behind current figures, Paul’s fundraising has been modest so far: $5.7 million as of June 30, a little less than Michelle Bachmann, and far less than Mitt Romney, who has raised more than $18 million.