Who is Ron Paul? If you ask most media outlets, he's a radical, a dark horse, and at best, a fringe candidate. But he's raised nearly $10 million in campaign funds during the fourth quarter, as much as Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and Fred Thompson. And he's done it without taking money from corporations with special interests.
The other Republican candidates must be feeling the heat. The basis of Paul's campaign (and 30-year Congressional voting record) is that the United States should strictly adhere to the Constitution. He advocates smaller government, abolishing the income tax, border control, and first and foremost, individual liberty. Did we mention he's a veteran, against gun regulation, and pro-life? As an obstetrician, he's helped deliver over 4,000 babies. He opposes Roe v. Wade, believing that states, not the federal government, should decide the legality of abortion.
The Charleston County Republican Party's website states that they're "dedicated to promoting conservative principles that include less government, lower taxes, a good education for our children, and the protection of our country through controlled borders and legal immigration." Paul's agenda certainly matches that description. So why is he considered so radical?
His belief that the CIA, IRS, and the Federal Reserve should all be dismantled surely helps, but County Party Chairperson Linda Bennett says it may even be his supporters. "I think his followers may turn more people off to him than he does himself," she says. "At his talk at the Omar Shrine Temple (in Mt. Pleasant) last Tuesday it was a gamut of everything from hippies to hip-hop to suits. And I think it's wonderful. We should be able to attract a wide array of people." Paul agrees, saying in Mt. Pleasant that "it's what we should expect with freedom."
Among those supporters are people like reported white supremacist Don Black, who donated $500 to Paul's campaign that has not been returned. Paul himself has been accused of being a racist, after comments were posted in his newsletter in 1992 that implied African-Americans were more likely to commit crimes than white people. (Paul says those comments were written by a staff person).
"If we return people's money because we don't subscribe to their philosophy, then we and every other candidate would be sitting here all day," says Amanda Moore, the campaign's S.C. Field Coordinator. "Dr. Paul doesn't subscribe to their beliefs. They subscribe to his."
So what would attract "hippies and hip-hop" to a man that anti-Semites seem to love, and that the County Republican chair Bennett describes as "very conservative"?
"He's not just out there saying stuff to get your vote," says Travis Ward, a local DJ who voted Democrat in 2004 because he wanted a change. "Ron Paul's telling how he feels, and it shows in the way he's voted for the last 30 years. And I don't think the income tax is fair, and the war on drugs is retarded."
Drugs? Paul's not for them, but he told supporters last week during the opening of his local campaign headquarters in West Ashley that he believes sick people whose pain is alleviated by medical marijuana should be allowed to use it if their state approves. "The federal government comes in with their great compassion and puts people in prison who would never commit a violent act," says Paul. "That needs to change."
The dividing conflict between Paul and today's Republican Party is his stance on the Iraq War. "There's nobody in this country that thinks we don't have a danger with terrorists attacking us, but if we go and do the very thing that caused the terrorists to attack us, and incite them to do more of it, that doesn't make any sense," says Paul. "If the policy is wrong, we have to change it."
Paul is one of six House Republicans to vote against the war in 2002, and he advocates an immediate troop withdrawal, pointing out that things worked out far better in Vietnam after we left. Quick to distinguish "isolationism" from "non-interventionism," he advocates trade and negotiations with foreign countries without directly intervening in their internal affairs.
"All the empires of the world went down the tube because they were spread too thin," Paul says. "We're in 130 countries. We have 700 bases. We as a people are taxed to destroy a country's infrastructure and then we're taxed to rebuild it, while at the same time our bridges are falling down."
All of Ron Paul's stances are centered around a core belief that the Constitution should be strictly adhered to and that government's role is to protect people's rights. He sees legislation like the Patriot Act as directly in conflict with that premise. "This administration wants us to believe there's this perpetual war and enemy, so we become incensed with fear and are willing to give up our liberties," says Paul. "Let me tell you, there is never room to give up liberty to be secure."
Statements like that are the type that inspire people to action. Outside of his West Ashley campaign headquarters last week, a red, white, and blue RV covered in pro-Paul slogans sat as he spoke inside. Linda Hunnicutt, an Asheville woman who goes by "Granny Warrior," is a lifelong Republican who voted for Bush twice. She says that upon meeting Paul last March her life was changed, and within weeks she'd painted her RV and was accompanying his campaign around the country to spread the word.
"When he says he's a Christian, he is a Christian. He lives it," says Granny. "What he says makes so much sense. We're like mushrooms. The government's put us in a dark cave and fed us all baloney."
Brian and John McMurray agree. The Summerville brothers teamed up with their friends to start a group called the Black Freedom Movement. "I've never supported the system before, let alone a Republican, but Ron Paul has cured our apathy," says Brian. "Our rights may be violated, but they can't be taken away."
Polls show Paul pulling ahead of Thompson and Mike Huckabee in New Hampshire, and he recently raised $4.2 million in a single day. Despite that, the media still hesitates to give him credit. Last Tuesday, local CBS affiliate WCSC (Live 5) gave more time during the evening news to appearances by Hillary Clinton in Spartanburg and John McCain in Seneca than to Paul here in Charleston, calling him a "dark horse." After the YouTube debate last Wednesday, CNN commentators gave McCain points for mentioning that he spent Thanksgiving with the troops, but seemingly ignored Paul's comment that he's received more funds from active duty military officers than any other candidate. Even Salon.com teased Paul's "conspiracy theories" in their headline for debate coverage, although appeared he presented none.
If Paul's numbers keep growing, all that could change. But for now, when did the Constitution become so radical?
RON PAUL ON THE ISSUES
The Environment — "Nobody has a right to pollute anybody's property, air, or water."
Campaigning — "Very powerful special interests are in charge of both parties. There is no serious intent to have democracy in this country."
The Economy — "The best measurement of an empire is the value of a nation's currency, and the dollar is getting weaker and weaker. We can tide people over at home if we stop spending overseas."
Iraq — "They say there'll be chaos if we leave. What do we have over there now? The same people who say 'stay' said it'd be a cakewalk."
Government — "All political action should be directed toward protecting individual liberty."
The Solution — "We can solve all of our problems by obeying the Constitution."