WASHINGTON >> As virtually all of Washington was declaring WikiLeaks’ disclosures of secret diplomatic cables an act of treason, Rep. Ron Paul was applauding the organization for exposing the United States’ “delusional foreign policy.”
For this, the conservative blog RedState dubbed him “al-Qaida’s favorite member of Congress.”
It was hardly the first time that Paul had marched to his own beat. During his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, he was best remembered for declaring in a debate that the 9/11 attacks were the Muslim world’s response to U.S. military intervention around the globe. A fellow candidate, former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York, interrupted and demanded that he take back the words — a request that Paul refused.
During his 20 years in Congress, Paul has staked out the lonely end of 434-1 votes against legislation that he considers unconstitutional, even on issues as ceremonial as granting Mother Teresa a Congressional Gold Medal. His colleagues have dubbed him “Dr. No,” but his wife will insist that they have the spelling wrong: He is really Dr. Know.
Now it appears others are beginning to credit him with some wisdom — or at least to acknowledge his passionate following.
After years of blocking him from a leadership position, Paul’s fellow Republicans have named him chairman of the House subcommittee on domestic monetary policy, which oversees the Federal Reserve as well as the currency and the valuation of the dollar.
Paul has strong views on those issues. He has written a book called “End the Fed;” he embraces Austrian economic thought, which holds that the government has no role in regulating the economy; and he advocates a return to the gold standard.
Many of the new Republicans in the next Congress campaigned on precisely the issues that Paul has been talking about for 40 years: forbidding Congress from any action not explicitly authorized in the Constitution, eliminating entire federal departments as unconstitutional and checking the power of the Fed.
He has been called the “intellectual godfather of the Tea Party,” but he also is the real father of the Tea Party movement’s most high-profile winner, Sen.-elect Rand Paul of Kentucky. (The two will be roommates in Ron Paul’s Virginia condominium. “I told him as long as he didn’t expect me to cook,” the elder Paul said. “I’m not going to take care of him the way his mother did.”)
Republicans had blocked Paul from leading the monetary policy panel once before, and banking executives had reportedly urged them to do so again. But Republicans on Capitol Hill increasingly recognize that Paul has a following — among his supporters from 2008 and within the Tea Party, which helped the Republicans recapture the House majority by picking up Paul’s longstanding and highly vocal opposition to the federal debt.
Aides, supporters and television interviewers now use words like “vindicated” to describe him — a term that Paul, a 75-year-old obstetrician with the manner of a country doctor, brushes off.
“I don’t think it’s very personal,” he said in an interview in his office on the Hill, where he has represented the 14th District of Texas on and off since 1976. “People are really worried about what’s happening, so they’re searching, and I think they see that we’ve been offering answers.”
If there is vindication here, Paul says, it is for Austrian economic theory — an anti-Keynesian model that many mainstream economists consider radical and dismiss as magical thinking.
The theory argues that markets operate properly only when they are unfettered by government regulation and intervention. It holds that the government should not have a central bank or dictate economic or monetary policy. Once the government begins any economic planning, such thinking goes, it ends up making all the economic decisions for its citizens, essentially enslaving them.
On websites for Ron Paul fans, there are urgent pleas for a father-son (or son-father) “Paul/Paul 2012” ticket. But in an interview, the senior Paul seemed taken by surprise by the suggestion of teaming up. While he is bursting-proud of his son, he is not necessarily ready to yield the spotlight: He is pondering another presidential run on his own.
“I’d say it’s at least 50-50 that I’ll run again,” he said, adding that he would look at where the economy is. (Aides add that it would depend a lot on what his wife, Carol, says.)
But for all the ways the Tea Party echoes Paul on fiscal issues, it is not clear such support would carry over into a presidential campaign. The last time he ran, he won less than 2 percent of the vote, though that was before the Tea Party became a force in politics.
Even many Tea Party conservatives are not on board with Paul’s beliefs about scaling back the U.S. military worldwide. And Paul supporters look on the Tea Party with some disdain.
Paul acknowledged the sometimes competing interests among Tea Party supporters and his fans.
“What brings them together is this acceptance that there’s something really wrong, that we’ve spent too much money and government’s too big,” he said.
That, he added, was why he had to work at keeping up his influence, particularly in spreading the word about the cost of foreign interventions.
Still, he noted: “We’re further along than I would have expected in getting our message out in front. I thought I’d be long gone from Congress before anybody would pay much attention.”