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Ron Paul leaves Washington frustrated with ‘dysfunctional’ politics


Lynne Sladky / AP

Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, arrives on the convention floor for the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012.

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By standard measures, Ron Paul’s legislative career in Washington has been unusually unproductive. In 23 years in office, just one of the 613 bills the maverick Texan introduced in Congress was signed into law, a proposal to sell the customs house in Galveston to a local historical association.

Just four measures he authored passed the House of Representatives. Only seven ever emerged from House committees. That’s a futility rate of 99.8 percent.

“Conventional wisdom says I didn’t get much done,” the 77-year-old Texas congressman said in an interview. “I didn’t get much legislation passed.”

But Ron Paul never has been a conventional politician, and his political career defies conventional analysis. The quirky libertarian from Lake Jackson, Texas, may not have been a legislative titan. But the former Air Force medic who entered politics four decades ago to protect Americans’ individual liberties against government encroachment, has managed to become the best-known national political figure in Texas politics today.

Paul, who retired from his 14th District congressional seat this year to focus on his third longshot presidential campaign, has greater name recognition across the country than the state’s two influential Republican senators, Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn. He received millions more votes in his 2012 Republican presidential campaign than his home state’s powerful governor, Rick Perry. He has attracted more campaign contributors than any Texan not named Bush. And he has more Twitter followers than the rest of the Texas congressional delegation. Combined.

Against all odds, through sheer willpower and Web prowess, the soft-spoken obstetrician-gynecologist has altered the nation’s political dialogue on issues ranging from oversight of the Federal Reserve System to America’s military role in the world — and created an Internet-fueled national political movement.

“Ron Paul is a gadfly, a loner and a man of principle,” said Steven Schier, a political science professor at Carleton College. “Paul’s appeal is not rooted in mainstream national or Washington politics. Because of that, Paul’s legacy is an unusual one for a retiring U.S. representative. His ability to boost a national libertarian movement that will outlive his career is his biggest accomplishment. The modern libertarian movement had no more consequential advocate than Ron Paul.”

To his most devoted supporters, Paul is a transformational political figure.

“We live in the age of Ron Paul,” libertarian economist Lew Rockwell said.

“Ron Paul has established a beachhead for liberty,” South Carolina state Sen. Tom Davis said.

Click to enlarge photo

Mary White of Rathdrum, Idaho, shows her support for Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, at a rally at the University of South Florida Sun Dome on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012.

Paul used the Internet to run two low-cost presidential campaigns by using an interlocking collection of libertarian-minded websites, think tanks, blogs and social media. He created the “money bomb,” an Internet phenomenon that helped him raise millions of dollars in short periods of time through small contributions. Other Republicans tried to replicate the tactic with limited success.

His own party leaders, including fellow Texans Tom DeLay and Dick Armey, denied him a coveted committee chairmanship. He responded by taking his fight to college campuses and community events far from Washington. His career absentee rate was 12.5 percent — about five times the Capitol Hill average.

“As a legislator, he was not consequential,” Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak said. “I do believe he was principled and he was certainly consistent. But politics is not about batting 100 percent on your own scorecard. It’s about making a difference, about achieving policy changes, helping people. By that standard, he cast a very small shadow.”

His maverick ways occasionally had consequences. This year, for example, Republican leaders in Austin carved up Paul’s old congressional district into three pieces during the redistricting process, giving him the choice of running against two Republican incumbents or facing a majority of new voters in a district that was far more urban. As Paul recalls it, GOP legislators in Austin asked him how he would like his district to be changed in redistricting.

“So they did exactly the opposite,” he said.

That “terrible business,” as Paul calls redistricting, is part of the price Paul paid for his occasional apostasies — even though he cast about 90 percent of his votes with his party’s leadership. Despite the costs in lost committee chairmanships and legislative setbacks, Paul doesn’t apologize for shunning go-along, get-along politics.

“Tweaking a bill?” he asked rhetorically. “I never got much of a charge out of that, and that’s how Washington works.”

As he prepares to depart from Washington after three separate stints in Congress over the past 36 years, Paul is gloomy about the state of liberty in America.

“Leaving Washington, it’s in a lot worse shape than when I first came there,” he said, thinking back to his first special election victory in 1976. “Everything’s worse. Our liberties are less. We are in endless wars. The economy is in shambles. And the government is dysfunctional.”

Still, the Pennsylvania native sees hope for the nation in the tens of thousands of young people who have embraced his message of liberty and are slowly infiltrating the American political system.

“Outside of Washington, I am very optimistic,” he said.

After leaving office, Paul says he will divide his time between his home in Texas and his Campaign for Liberty, based in Alexandria, Va. He says he will continue “stirring up the grass roots” and will spend more time doing something he loves — “going to as many college campuses as possible.”

Conventional wisdom in Washington posits that the Texas congressman’s son, Rand, now a freshman senator from Kentucky, will assume his mantle as leader of the national libertarian movement.

“He’s doing a great job,” Ron Paul said of his 49-year-old son.

Ron Paul says he’s not ready to vanish from the political scene, and he’s definitely not ready to speculate about whether another Paul will seek the presidency.

His response: “Who knows?”

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  1. Enjoyed the article, but I'm pretty sure Paul has left no legacy worth speaking about. Except for oddball comments. As a matter of fact, he'll pretty much disappear and be forgotten.

    He did nothing for this country. All he did was complain; a muttering old man who tried to get some kind of protest movement going. And that was his schtick. To protest, but come up with no solution for anything at all. A poor excuse for a politician. It's probably a blessing he ends up on the political scrap heap.

    He'll be lucky to be listed as a minor footnote in American political history text books.

  2. A Senator way ahead of his time. Best wishes.

  3. Rep. Ron Paul showed us who he really is by not questioning the flawed official 911 commissions' report.

    Rep. Ron Paul was and still is a Rockefeller republican... voted with his party 90% of the time.

    Dr. Ron Paul deserves credit getting younger people exposed to and infected with our rigged 2 party political process... partaking in the process with issues that affect us all and to think outside of entrenched political boundaries.

  4. He made the effort when other windbags didn't. Including me!

  5. "Leaving Washington, it's in a lot worse shape than when I first came there," he said, thinking back to his first special election victory in 1976. "Everything's worse. Our liberties are less. We are in endless wars. The economy is in shambles. And the government is dysfunctional."

    Have to agree with him on this all the way. He will be missed.

    "He did nothing for this country."

    Colin -- I disagree. He did plenty, he just didn't put on much of a show for the herd. And a legislative career is not rightly measured by how many bills he introduced that made it into law. All legislators are there to represent his constituents' interests by voting and otherwise. In short, he did not join in what has made our current federal government toxic to America and liberty -- maintaining the status quo at the expense of the country's well-being. In that sense "dysfunctional" doesn't come close.

    "A Senator way ahead of his time."

    Roslenda -- he was in the House, not the Senate

    "...Mr. Speaker, my subject today is whether America is a police state. I'm sure the large majority of Americans would answer this in the negative. Most would associate military patrols, martial law and summary executions with a police state, something obviously not present in our everyday activities. However, those with knowledge of Ruby Ridge, Mount Carmel and other such incidents may have a different opinion." -- Rep. Ron Paul, from a June 27, 2002, speech on the floor of the House

  6. Ronn Paul did a disservice to his country when he abandoned his party and joined with the Republicans, despite the fact that the Republican party of 2012 hardly resembles what ot was twenty years ago. The two-party system has failed the United States and is manifesting excessive political polarization. Paul should have stayed with the Libertarian Party and fought for a system that casts a wider net of American political philosophy.