Cornel West: And we are blessed to have one of the exemplary figures when it comes to genuine conviction and commitment. You may not always agree with our dear brother, I know Brother Tavis and I do not, but he is our dear brother. We’re talking about former Congressman and medical doctor, Ron Paul, who has run for president, both from the Libertarian ticket and also the Republican Party. He has a following across this nation, and he has respect from many, no matter how much you disagree with him. Brother Ron Paul, what a blessing to have you here.
Ron Paul: Thank you very much, it’s really nice to be with both of you.
Tavis Smiley: Congressman, it’s good to have you on. Let me start by asking you how you made the decision to do “Ron Paul’s America”. You’re about to debut twice-daily commentaries and weekly podcasts. Before I got started on this years ago, when I used to listen to Paul Harvey as a kid growing up in Indiana, I was just taken and fascinated by his style and his delivery. I didn’t always agree with what he had to say, but my first exposure to real insightful commentary was this guy named Paul Harvey. And now that you’ve left Congress, you’re joining the ranks in the world that Dr. West and I have had, so tell me about this new “Ron Paul’s America”.
Ron Paul: There you go starting off with something we agree with, because I remember so clearly listening to Paul Harvey, and I had dinner with him once and I thought it was marvelous. To me, he was a real giant for radio, so we have that in common. But starting with radio, probably the most important reason I had two requirements for doing something in my afterlife, and in politics they say there is really a life after Washington DC. And that involved not straying too far from my home because I’m about 60 miles away from a studio, and this is one thing. Like today, I’m not in a studio, but modern technology allows us to communicate. And the other thing is, I was invited to do it. So those two things came together and I enjoy talking about the issues, matter of fact, I enjoy a lot more when it’s not involved with the demagoguery that goes on in the U.S. Congress, that wears me down. All the talking and little action wears me down. So I enjoy a conversation where we can have friendly discussions and friendly disagreements.
Tavis Smiley: Well, Dr. West and I feel the same way, and that’s why we’re glad to have you on. Let me ask you one other question really quickly before we advance. What kinds of issues do you want to talk about, are there themes, or are you just going to hit whatever is in the news?
Ron Paul: It should be up-to-date and newsworthy, and you know about the crisis going on. My favorite subjects over the years have been the foreign policy and the endless wars and the waste and the tragic blowback and the unintended consequences and the financial burden that we have. So I’ll deal with that. When I left Congress, I gave a little talk on the Floor and said that the most crucial trend that I think that we should worry about is the violations of civil liberties. You and I should argue the case for civil liberties because if we lose our privacy and our right to speak out, we can’t even have these discussions. So I think that’s been undermined, as have been personal privacy and things like that. But certainly I want to talk about foreign policy, but likewise, I will continue to talk about economics and why monetary policy is important and why I think it’s so detrimental to the middle-class and to the poor when you have a Federal Reserve that bails out the rich and forgets about the poor. So I will continue to talk about the Fed and any other issues anybody wants to talk about.
Tavis Smiley: I want to give you to Dr. West in a second, and I want to get back, and I know Dr. West does, too, to some of those issues you just raised, with greater specificity. We got some good time with you today to do just that, but I’m just curious: one final question about these commentaries, and then Dr. West can jump right in here with us. Dr. West and I just discussed this earlier in our program, if you were on the air today with your commentaries, what would you be saying about the President’s State of The Union address earlier this week?
Ron Paul: I probably wouldn’t talk a whole lot about it, because I think these events are more of grandstanding, and not a whole lot of changes occur. Democrats will line up one way, and Republicans will line up another way, and the President makes a suggestion and the Republicans refute it, so I really don’t like that process. I’d probably be more concerned about talking about the issues that both, Republicans and Democrats, support, like the use of drones, the endless wars, the endless printing of money, the privacy that we’re losing, the fact that both parties have more-or-less ignored or endorsed the principle of assassination of American citizens. I would be pushing on the issues, rather than getting into the partisan stuff.
Cornel West: Indeed. I want to get right at the heart of both our agreement and disagreement, because it strikes me that your libertarian philosophy has very deep-rooted history in this nation and it does overlap with some of my own, or Brother Tavis’ own, conceptions of freedom. But then there are deep disagreements, too. But let’s just look at foreign policy, the PATRIOT Act and The National Defense Authorization Act are authoritarian, autocratic, they’re undermining precious rights and liberties. Drones dropping bombs on innocent people, those are war crimes that must be made accountable to American people as well as international courts. When it comes to domestic issues, again, your strong defense of rights and liberties, but your reluctance to really want to talk about freedom as opposed to liberty in terms of what the government can do right in ensuring that poor and working people are empowered, as opposed to the government empowering Wall Street and as opposed to government empowering corporate elites and bureaucrats and so forth? What is the center of the disagreement then?
Ron Paul: Well, I take the principle of individual liberty, the things that we agree on, like privacy and the right to speak out and the First Amendment and all, and I apply that to economic matters as well. I think if you have personal privacy on your sexual life and your religious life, I think in your economic life you should have that same. Now, I understand there are a lot of problems out there, but I see that as welfare. When it’s sold to the people, they think that it’s going to help the poor, but it ends up helping the rich. Think about the housing bubble, the programs were designed to help the poor; they printed money and a lot of people bought houses that they probably couldn’t afford, but then when the bubble predictably burst, the wealthy got bailed out and the middle class got hurt, and it was all done in secret. Foreign banks and foreign governments and big corporations were bailed out, so I see that when governments interfere, they will pretend to help the poor, but they actually help the rich. I’m convinced economically, and this is where we disagree on economic policy, that free markets are more likely to help poor people than the interventionist style of trying to take care of one group versus another. I think equal justice under the law is real important, but not when it interferes with contracts. I see it as the government shouldn’t regulate personal social, sexual and religious contracts at all, but I apply that same role to economic matters as well.
Cornel West: Do you agree then that if we had jobs with living wage and high quality work conditions, that’s the best anti-poverty program we can have? But, at the same time, you’re not going to get that without downsizing or decentralizing the banks and empowering small businesses, empowering community banks, and ensuring that workers have a voice … back to individual liberty, the liberty of workers, workers having a voice shaping the conditions of their own workplace.
Ron Paul: You know, what I want to do is remove the special powers given to the big guys, the banks and the corporations. See, the word that I would want full explanation on is ’empower’. One group wants to empower the rich, the other wants to empower another group, and I want to empower the individual and give these rights to individuals so that nobody can violate those rights, believing very sincerely that prosperity has come more from peace and markets than it has ever come from government programs and redistribution of wealth. There’s no real historic evidence that countries became wealthy that way. The freer the market, the less poverty there is; and the more peace you have, the more prosperity there is. I know I can’t reach my goals very easily, because we’ve lived so long with the foreign intervention and all, and the government is so involved, but I also think that in a transition, we can probably talk about if we can just cut back on these wars, there would be more resources here to help those people who do need help. Because every time you spend a billion dollars overseas, no matter what it’s for, it’s a billion dollars, one way or the other, that’s taken out of our economy. And that money is not available for the market.
Cornel West: The problem is, when you talk about free market, to what degree is that a myth, when has the market ever been free? It’s been a corporate-driven market from the very beginning, big business has fundamentally shaped the market from the very beginning. So when you talk about liberty, why not talk about liberty for poor people, liberty for workers, or do you deny that there are classes in American society?
Ron Paul: I know there are classes, but there are classes there because the wealthy, the corporations and the banks grab hold of the reigns of the government. So I would say remove that power, don’t have a monetary system that they have complete control of. Do you think the poor people got together and said, “Oh, let’s have a Federal Reserve so my bank statements are protected”? No, it’s the big banks that wanted that. So I think it backfires on the poor once you endorse the principle that the government should be involved. So you’re right about that, big corporations, from the very early times of the railroads, had special benefits.
Cornel West: That’s right.
Tavis Smiley: So you left the circus called Congress, and there’s a reason why their approval ratings are so low. But I’m curious though, to advance the rich conversation that you and Dr. West were just having, if you were in Congress right now, what would you be saying, and how would you be voting on these entitlement reforms that are surely about to come up? Dr. West and I see this conversation as a fake conversation about deficit reductions, when what it really is is austerity. But what would you be saying? We hear your point about the wars and we agree on that, but back to Dr. West’s question about the domestic issues, what would you be saying or doing about this entitlement reform debate that’s about to kick up?
Ron Paul: Well, I would want to apply the principles to domestic economy as I would apply the principles to foreign intervention. I want the least amount of intervention, I want to follow the constitution, I want to protect property, I want to protect contracts, and I want to protect the value of money. The money issue is a big issue, and that’s one of the issues we should all be talking about, because there is a rule in free market economics that says that if you debase the currency, if you devalue the currency and you just print the money, the middle class and the poor get wiped, as the wealthy get wealthier. And that is what’s happening, I think the bailout was a real good example of that. So I would argue the case that the government should be limited. And the people say, “Oh, then there’s no regulation, the rich are going to run roughshod”. No, that’s what the role of government should be, the role of government should be to enforce the contracts, make sure there are the property rights, and make sure that nobody can steal. And the corporations steal and they use fraud and sometimes they get caught and sometimes they go to jail, but the whole process is immoral in the sense that it’s based on the use of force, and we as Libertarians reject the use of force. We should prevent and deal with the force, but we shouldn’t, as a government, use force, and we should not give it to special interests to use, and that’s where we are today. And this is the reason I think I do get along with so many progressives. I’ve had a lot of conversations with progressives who really understand the power of the corporation. Ralph Nader and I did quite well because he and I see that corporatism is the real evil.
Tavis Smiley: Dr. West and I don’t disagree on any of that, Ralph Nader is a dear friend of both of ours, and the four of us are in agreement on that. Let me ask you this question another way, there is this debate already underway in Washington, and it’s about to kick up now that we’ve passed the speech this past week, of whether or not the President ought to agree to significant billions of dollars of entitlement reform cuts? On the cuts that are about to be on the table were entitlement reform cuts. What would you be saying on these cuts, are you voting yes or are you voting no?
Ron Paul: Well, I would vote to cut all spending, because I think we spend too much money. But, I don’t think anybody has to worry about cuts, I think you have to worry about the demagoguery. What’s the military-industrial complex saying today, they’re hysterical about the cuts. Well, there aren’t any cuts, there aren’t any cuts in the food stamps, there aren’t any cuts in the military spending, there are no cuts in the bailouts, there are no cuts at all. They have this baseline budgeting that might be going up rapidly at a rate of 20%, and if the conservatives come along and say, “Oh, it’s too much, let’s raise it only 18%”, then the people come and say, “Oh, you’re slashing this”. So there aren’t any real cuts, I think if we’re going to try to salvage what we have, we have to talk about priorities, and that’s why in the campaign I talk so much about where I would cut first. And I wouldn’t be cutting child healthcare or some of these very important things that people have become so dependent on. But I also argue the case that if you want the distribution of prosperity and wellbeing, it’s done more if you have the rule of law and you have free markets, rather than saying that you take from one group and give it to another. Give nobody special benefits and, unfortunately, this is where we agree, the special benefits and the power and the control have gone to the very wealthy.
Cornel West: Very true. You were one of the few to raise the issues of the new Jim Crow, of the very ugly and unjust prison-industrial complex, and that was very refreshing. But, as you know, libertarianism as a tradition really does not have a good record when it comes to dealing with the viscous legacy of white supremacy, dealing with Jim Crow/Jane Crow, dealing with the rights of black people. We got a lot of xenophobic elements in the libertarian movement, it’s not driven by racism, but you know and I know it’s got racist elements in it. How do you defend your version of Libertarianism, given the history of the movement, given your own history when it comes to issues of race, when it comes to issues of how black people are to be ’empowered’ and become not just a part of America, but treated with decency and dignity as well.
Ron Paul: Well, I think the one thing that I can say that might challenge you a little bit, but just give me a minute, is I don’t want to treat people because they belong to a group, I don’t want to punish people because they belong to a group. I want people to be treated as individuals. And I think Tavis may remember this, in one of our debates we talked about how if you were being punished because you’re in a group, then the libertarian wants to rectify it. When it comes to the drug laws, I’m the one that has been talking about that, and if you look at the number of people who use drugs and the number of people who get arrested and the number of people who end up in prison, the numbers are staggering. It can’t be a fair system, because I think the civil liberties and the protection of the individual is not fair when it comes to how the minorities are treated under our drug laws. If you’re caught using heroin or even marijuana, the odds of getting a more severe punishment has a big difference whether you’re a minority or a Caucasian, I think there is a big difference. Yes, there is discrimination, but it’s the fact that we are seeing people in groups, and there is a bias and there is a prejudice, and I think we all should reject that. But there are a lot of people out there that believe that we should use government to mould this type of behavior, and then they become very biased.
Cornel West: Indeed. But do you agree that the Libertarian Movement had had problems when it comes to dealing with racism?
Ron Paul: No, I think some conservative groups were, but I think libertarians are different. And if they didn’t come down close to what I’m saying, I would have put them more in the camp of being conservative rather than libertarians. The basic principle is you can’t use aggression against anybody else and everybody is equal and you should have equal justice under law and nobody gets benefits. So no, if you are a libertarian, I don’t see how they could be racist because they don’t see people in groups, they see people only as individuals.
Tavis Smiley: As Dr. King said, if you can’t legislation morality, and you can’t, I believe and Dr. West believes, government has a right to protect its citizens. I’m trying to understand more of your critique of government for not …as I hear you, is it your stand the government ought not to stand in and protect these individuals? They are citizens, after all.
Ron Paul: Sure, they should protect them like everybody else, everybody should have equal protection. And if they don’t, then it’s unfair and you have to change the laws. I don’t see where there’s a challenge on that.
Tavis Smiley: I thought that you suggested a moment ago that there are people who have an issue with the government because they don’t like it when government is expected to step in and do xyz. For example, the debate razed on for years when you were in Congress about whether or not to increase the punishment for federal hate crimes. The fact that that was a debate was always fascinating to me, because people didn’t think that government needed to distinguish between x, y or what. But, at the end of the day, people were being mamed and killed because of extraneous factors.
Ron Paul: Well, the other way you look at that is, if there was an identical crime committed, and one is perceived to be motivated for one reason versus the other, why should one person get less punishment? Instead of saying somebody is getting more punishment, why should somebody get less punishment if they rob somebody or kill somebody, and their motivation was different. No, I think it’s the act itself that has to be judged, nobody should have less punishment or more punishment.
Cornel West: I think Tavis is pushing you in a wonderful way that your night watchmen conception of government is to protect property and to procure personal security. But what Tavis is saying is there are groups who are weak and vulnerable. Take, for example, do you think that the government ought to protect the right of workers to engage in collective bargaining? Because it’s clear that they’re weak and vulnerable, vis-a-vis bosses in a corporate system that you and I and Nader and Tavis are critical of. See, you got to fit in this notion of government’s role if you’re really concerned about the individual rights of people who have been treated as if they’re members of a group and cast as weak and vulnerable owing to racism.
Ron Paul: Well, what you have to look at is which system so far has produced the greatest amount of jobs and the greatest amount of prosperity. We’ve generally told what you’re talking about for many, many decades, and here we have a situation where we have 22% to 24% unemployed, more minorities than anybody else. So the thing doesn’t work. But what you want to do is if a business man mistreats someone in a violent manner, that’s something different. But there are moral reasons why working people should have the right to organize and the right to have a contract and the right to insist on privacy and safety. So all these things are right, but I see this as a contractual thing coming about, out of the needs of the individuals and the voluntary contract, rather than Washington DC setting up a bureaucracy that if they get enough money and enough buyers, they’ll write the laws and rules to benefit the corporations. Let’s say you want to protect the environment, so the corporations go and they control the people who are writing the rules. And some get help and some don’t get helpe. It’s the same with medical care, they say, “Oh, we’re going to help with medical care for everybody”. So who writes the rules? The drug companies and the insurance companies and everybody else. What about the banks? Just make sure the banks are safe for everybody …
Tavis Smiley: After all your years in Washington, what is your suggestion for how we, to the extent that we can, get the money out of politics, what do we do about lobbying in Washington?
Ron Paul: Well, there are only two ways you can do it. One is you can only have men and women of character that resist the temptation to even talk to them.
Tavis Smiley: Well, forget about that, what’s your next suggestion?
Ron Paul: Well, my methods of handling them were such that they didn’t even bother coming into my office, so they knew I wasn’t going to change. I only want to talk to people like you who at least let me talk a little bit. But the other thing is, government shouldn’t have much to sell. And it’s less emotional to talk about the military-industrial complex. If we weren’t fighting all these wars and passing this money out overseas, then there wouldn’t be all these billion of dollars of money flowing into campaigns and lobbying efforts to get all this contracts. They build weapons because of the lobbyist. So I think the smaller the government is, the less incentive there is to buy the influence of the politician. But I guess you’re right, we have to give up on the fact that tomorrow we’re going to have an ethical congressman who will refuse to participate in this game that’s going on.
Tavis Smiley: Dr. West and I gave up on that idea a long time ago. Let me ask expressly whether or not you would support the idea that some believe that the only way to fix this, particularly on this side, [inaudible] is a constitutional amendment regarding the money. Would you support that?
Ron Paul: No, I think that’s treating the symptom and I don’t think that will help, because the money will just go underground. We have enough rules, and recently they even put more rules on the congressmen about buying and selling, which I personally resented because I couldn’t even sell a stock without getting permission from a congressional bureaucrat. The assumption is that I’m guilty until I’m proven innocent and I have to reveal every single thing. So I think that’s treating the symptom and I see the other two vehicles as the only way. The only thing I would suggest is you have a more honorable approach by saying, “If you want to do something like this, there should be a consensus, and there should be a constitutional amendment”. If it passed even though I disagreed with it, then it would be the law of the land and we would certainly test it. They tested prohibition of alcohol and decided that didn’t work too well and so they got rid of it, so maybe we could see what happens. But I like the fact that you honor the constitution enough to say “Well, let’s do it upfront and do it right and make everybody know what the rules are”.
Cornel West: If we had more time, I would want to ask what your conception of democracy is, and how democracy actually is in very deep tension with your notion of liberty. Because when you mention government, you always assume that government has already been controlled and colonized by corporate elites, and we agree that we now need to be called into question. But government actually can be a force for good, government can be tied to poor people and working people writing the rules, poor people and working people shaping the destiny of a nation, and that’s what democracy is. It’s the most generating energy from below. Do you have a suspicion of democracy as a part of your libertarian tradition?
Ron Paul: Oh yes, I do, because as far back as Tocqueville they talked about the tyranny of the majority, so there are questions about how does 51% be right. I think the biggest flaw in our constitution is how they dealt with slavery, and they went along with the majority, they said, “On this one, we will compromise, we’ll go with half of them. 51% will concede it”. And just look at how much trouble that gave us for so many years. So the whole purpose of a free society is to make sure that you and I have our rights to live our lives as we chose, how to spend our money as we chose, go to our church as we want, to make as much money as we want. But I just happen to have the firm conviction that that society will produce the greatest amount of wealth. And once you divvy up the power in Washington, the powerful will get more powerful, and that’s where I have a lot of trouble.
Cornel West: I think we got to dissent on this. I’m a deep democrat with libertarian sensibilities, you’re a libertarian with a little dose of democracy.
Ron Paul: That’s not too bad.
Tavis Smiley: We’ve got some common ground, though. I think that was well stated, and now that we’ve figured this out after 30 minutes, let me offer this as the exit question, because I want to end on a note of commonality now that Dr. West made that so clear about what the distinctions are. And I say this with all due respect, you and Dr. West do have something else in common, and that is both of you are bellowed by young people. I’ve travelled with Dr. West around the world and in this country, and he’s always on college university campuses. You can say ‘Yes’ fast enough to all the imitations that are coming in. So you both are loved by young people. Your campaign was driven by young people, the money that you raised because of young people, and the involvement of the young people … And I wonder if you would just close by saying a word about young people and why is it you think they so gravitate towards you. Every candidate that ran was envious of you with regard to the youth’s involvement. Why were these young folk running to you?
Ron Paul: I think what Cornel does and what I try to do is tell people the truth as I see it, I don’t pretend that I know everything, and be upfront with people. And young people sort this all out. So Cornel goes out and talks to them, and he’s talked to a lot of people that I talked to, and a lot of them will come up to me and say, “I don’t agree with you on this, but at least you’re telling us the truth”. You know how I voted in the Congress, it was pretty independent, it wasn’t Republican. But I kept winning in my district and my constituents would want to distance themselves a little bit, and they would say, “Well, we really don’t agree on everything that you do, but we know where you stand and we can trust you”. And I think the whole world is never going to be made up of everybody agreeing on everything, we’re all going to have our disagreements. It’s our ability to try to be honest with people, and young people sort that out. So I believe I’m convinced that if you tell the people, especially young people, what you believe in, and explain it to them, they’ll give you a fair shake.
Tavis Smiley: Do you agree, Dr. West?
Cornel West: It’s what the great Jane Austen called ‘constancy’ and what we call ‘integrity’, and I think you absolutely have that. We’re not talking about perfection, but being true to yourself, having convictions, and trying to tell the truth to the best of your fallible ability, you’re absolutely right about that.
Tavis Smiley: First elected to Congress in 1976, he was there for more than 20 years. Starting on March 18th, you can hear him on radio stations all across America with his new program, “Ron Paul’s America”. Congressman, Dr. Ron Paul, it was good to have you on, thanks for your time, sir.
Ron Paul: Thank you, it was good to be back with you.