Texas congressman brings presidential campaign to hometown
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WASHINGTON -- Today, "Dr. No" returns to Pittsburgh.Associated Press
Presidential candidate Ron Paul.
Click photo for larger image.
U.S. Rep. Ron Paul -- the fiercely libertarian Republican presidential candidate from Texas who grew up in Green Tree -- will be back in the region for a family reunion and a political rally at the Four Points by Sheraton Pittsburgh North hotel in Mars.
During more than three decades of on-again, off-again lawmaking in Washington, the obstetrician and gynecologist has earned his nickname, voting "no" on any tax increases, restrictions on gun ownership, Internet regulation, congressional pay raises, the USA Patriot Act, and -- most prominently -- the 2002 resolution that gave President Bush the power to invade Iraq.
"How would we react if they did it to us?" he asked during an interview on Capitol Hill this week. "I think a few Americans would be willing to shoot anybody who would try to impose that on us. That's what people don't understand."
That view also has put him at odds with the rest of his party's contenders for the White House, including Rudy Giuliani, who described Mr. Paul's criticisms of U.S. foreign policy as "absurd" during a GOP debate in South Carolina in May.
Mr. Paul trails far behind the frontrunners in national polls, but he is still attracting a sizeable number of supporters on both the left and the right. He has become a star in the online world of YouTube.com, Meetup.com and scores of political blogs.
With the help of the Internet, Mr. Paul's campaign raised $2.4 million between April and June, putting him ahead of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in cash on hand.
"He's the only person who's running who is talking about privacy and how much freedom we're willing to give up for security," said Brad Porter, 28, a creative writing and cognitive psychology student at Carnegie Mellon University.
Mr. Porter is also a co-author of thecrossedpond.com, a blog that features a page dedicated to Ron Paul. A recent post pictures "Obi" Ron wielding a Star Wars lightsaber.
"Every time we post a story on Ron Paul our hits just spike," said Mr. Porter, who is one of 188 "Ron Paul Patriots" in a Pittsburgh Meetup.com chapter.
Mr. Paul, 71, spent his early years on a small farm on Crestmont Drive in Green Tree. He was one of five boys, and his father, the son of a German immigrant, managed the family dairy business. Honus Wagner, who lived in Carnegie, was a customer.
"We did a lot of sports and worked hard and did church," Mr. Paul said, a soft Texas accent covering up any hint of his Western Pennsylvania roots.
He and his brothers all attended Dormont High School, and he then went on to Gettysburg College and Duke medical school. After a stint in the Air Force, Mr. Paul returned to Pittsburgh to complete a residency at Magee-Womens Hospital. He and his wife decided to settle in the southeastern Texan town of Lake Jackson, near the site of his military service.
For a period, Mr. Paul was the only obstetrician in Brazoria County, and he delivered as many as 50 babies a month.
Yet his hectic schedule didn't prevent him from pursuing an interest in economics. One of Mr. Paul's preferred forms of relaxation was reading texts from the free-market oriented Austrian school. His favorite was Friedrich Hayek's "The Road to Serfdom."
A turning point for Mr. Paul came in 1971, when President Richard Nixon, facing the economic pressures of the Vietnam War, moved away from the dollar's gold standard.
"This was a declaration of bankruptcy for our country," Mr. Paul said. "We would no longer fulfill our promise to honor our dollar."
His frustration led to a roller-coaster political career. In 1974, he lost his first race for Congress. He won a special election in 1976, but he lost the seat the same year. He won again in 1978, and he stepped down in 1984 to pursue an unsuccessful run for the Senate.
"I thought that if there was enough freedom to change the system, I should try it," he said.
Mr. Paul then returned to his medical career. But he again put his practice on hold to run for president in 1988 on the Libertarian ticket. He frequently quips that he finished third behind George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis, but Mr. Paul's candidacy did bring the congressman a small but loyal band of supporters who still follow him.
In 1996, Mr. Paul went back to Congress, hopeful that a new Republican majority would reign in big government. He was disappointed.
"It never slows up. The deficit goes up worse under Republicans. And they don't hesitate to pass entitlements. And then they run on a program of criticizing Clinton's foreign policy, and then we go and do the same thing, only worse," he said.
Mr. Paul supported the U.S. military action in Afghanistan, but he now says it has become a costly "nation building" exercise. He was one of six Republicans to vote against the Iraq war.
"This nation should not be a nation to invade other countries for the purpose of building an empire," said U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., who initially backed the war but now opposes it. He and Mr. Paul are both members of the Liberty Caucus, a small group of conservative lawmakers that meets weekly for lunch.
Mr. Jones hasn't offered an endorsement for any candidate, but if Mr. Paul is on the ballot in North Carolina, he can count on Mr. Jones' vote.
"The two most sacred documents in this country are the Bible and the Constitution," Mr. Jones said. "Ron Paul is a defender of both."
Indeed, Mr. Paul couches most of his arguments in constitutional terms. He recently re-introduced a bill that would empower the U.S. government to issue what the Constitution calls a "letter of Marque and Reprisal" against Osama bin Laden and hire mercenaries to hunt down the terrorist mastermind. Mr. Paul cites as an example Thomas Jefferson's undeclared war against the Barbary pirates of North Africa in the early 19th century.
He also says the vast expansion of federal government of the past century has gone beyond what the founding fathers envisioned.
"If you want the government to run Social Security, you should amend the Constitution," he said. "If you want the government to run education, you should amend the Constitution. Otherwise, there's no Constitution."
If Mr. Paul wins, he envisions a gradual pullback of those programs, although he would respect Congress' role in the system of checks and balances. A full withdrawal from Iraq and a drastic reduction in overseas entanglements would save about $500 billion per year, he argues, giving the government enough money to meet its current entitlement obligations, such as Medicare.
His domestic policies may appeal to many conservatives, but his approach to foreign policy is creating anger, especially in his own district.
"I'm only hearing complaints," said Yvonne Dewey, chairwoman of the Brazoria County Republican Party, whose son was delivered by Mr. Paul in 1975. "We've been supporters for a long time, but you can and you must fight a war against terrorism."
Chris Peden, a Republican who sits on the Friendswood City Council, announced yesterday that he would challenge Mr. Paul in the primary election next year. On his Web site, chrispeden.org, he says the incumbent isn't a true Republican.
Mr. Paul, however, is likely to stick to his ideological roots, on both the presidential and congressional campaign trails.
"My message is Republican and conservative and constitutional," he said.
First Published August 2, 2007 11:12 pm