Matt Welch of Reason.com, says Ron Paul’s supporters feel shut out of political process


Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Hello, and welcome back to The Real News and our ongoing coverage of the Republican National Convention. Now we talk about Ron Paul, who’s been a Republican congressman from Texas for many, many years, still a member of the Republican Party, although he was not allowed to speak, even though he was a relatively successful candidate in the primaries, lost, but in some states got as much as eight or ten percent of the vote. And apparently he was even going to be limited in how much he’d be allowed on the floor of the convention. So he held a parallel convention. He called it not a counter-convention, but a celebration. But in fact it really was, called “Rally for the Republic.” Joining me from Minneapolis is Matt Welch, editor-in-chief of the well-known libertarian magazine Reason, author of the book McCain: The Myth of a Maverick. Welcome back, Matt.

MATT WELCH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, REASON MAGAZINE: Thanks for having me back.

JAY: Matt, I’m going to show you a few clips from Ron Paul’s speech at the Rally for the Republic which outline his views on foreign policy. Here they are:

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REP. RON PAUL (R-TX-14): We as a nation now accept the principle of preventive war—actually starting war. There is no moral justification from that, and there certainly is no constitutional justification to fight these many wars that we have been fighting without a declaration of war, because we have no foreign threats, we have no threat that somebody’s going to invade this country. We have a threat of terrorism, but that is a consequence of a seriously flawed foreign policy. It is positively amazing how the war drums can beat, and how the propaganda machine can work, and how this country can be built up to practically want to go to war against Iran. You know, Iran spends one percent as much money on their national defense as we spend. If you want to put it in perspective, they don’t even refine their own gasoline, and we’re supposed to be frightened and intimidated by them. We’ve got to get the truth out. And who are the great presidents? The great presidents are always said to be the ones who run a war. Why don’t we have the peace candidates be the great presidents?

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So, Matt, Ron Paul’s talking, essentially, in a word, the end of an empire. He thinks empire’s not good for America, to close foreign US bases, bring the troops home, have a more peaceful posture in the world. Talk to us a little bit about Ron Paul and foreign policy.

WELCH: Well, what’s interesting is that this idea of being anti-American-Empire is so marginalized, both within the Republican Party and, to some extent, within the Democratic Party as well. In the 1990s, that was a large chunk of the Republican Party. They were against nation-building of all forms. They were hostile to most of President Clinton’s attempts to use the military abroad and didn’t support him or actively tried to thwart him back then. But now the modern Republican Party, after eight years of governance, of holding the reins of this magnificent power, this has been drummed to the sidelines to the point that Ron Paul can’t even get in this building, pretty much. So we’re at a time when 60 percent or more of Americans are against the Iraq War and want us to come home now. Ron Paul was basically the only person saying that message in the primary campaigns of either party, with the possible exception of Dennis Kucinich, who never polled particularly well. So he was able to tap into that. That was his central message.

JAY: I was watching the Rally for the Republic, and there was one point where Ron Paul says—we just played the clip—why don’t we laud peace presidents, not war presidents? And then the whole arena starts shouting, “USA! USA!” I mean, I’ve never heard that, except for a football game or a fairly aggressive statement about, “Let’s go to war.” This was “USA! USA! Let’s have a peace president.” Now, this is not a left-wing, liberal rally; these are people that come out of—many of whom have voted Republican for many years or come out of the libertarian movement. Talk to us about who is this movement behind Ron Paul.

WELCH: Well, it’s disparate. They come from everywhere. He has a simple, three-pronged message: I don’t want to manage your money, I don’t want to manage your lives, I don’t want to manage the world, I don’t want to run the world, basically. That has great resonance to a lot of people in an era where the American federal government runs any number of things along those lines. And so he was able to attract people from all over the political spectrum. And not only that, but his whole campaign was incredibly decentralized. So he would bring on anybody. I mean, he famously, you know, accepted money from neo-Nazis, you know, a $500 donation here or there, and his attitude was like, “Hey, if an idiot wants to give me money, who am I to say anything about it?” So his rallies have often been, you know, places where you will see groups that are considered pretty fringey in American politics. The John Birch Society maybe on one hand, certainly a lot of people who are interested in the 9/11 truth movement, and these kind of things, they all cling to him, and I think he gets unfairly dismissed as a freak show as a result. But, in fact, I think people are just really attracted to the kind of liberating message of, “Hey, maybe a government should just focus on its core competencies. And maybe we have a runaway foreign policy that’s perpetuating its own sense of empire.”

JAY: That’s what I want to pick up on, because he said something in a speech which I hadn’t heard before. He may have said it before. But I thought it was quite dramatic. In talking about end of the empire, he said those people who have dreams of empire—and he specifically focused on Georgia and McCain, though to some extent to also the rhetoric from the Democrats—but that if you want to take on Russia over Georgia or you want to take on new adventures in this vision of empire, you’re going to need more troops. And he said very specifically, we—meaning his movement—need to say no, we’re not going to be the universal soldier. We’re going to play a clip right here just what he did say:

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R. PAUL: You know, one story, one thing that we have found about the incident in Georgia, even if we wanted to or had needed to, we didn’t have the troops to do anything about it. We have weakened our national defense. You know what that means: those who want to pursue the empire will reinstitute the draft. We should not ever have a draft.

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So in this clip we heard Paul say that to use civil disobedience, to fight within every legal means against a draft. But he even left open, I think, room for non-legal means, not just civil disobedience but even the possibility of something that goes past civil disobedience, and if you fill in the blank, which he didn’t, it almost sounds like some kind of armed resistance against the draft. But they used the word “revolution” many, many times during this rally. But what does this mean? And what do you think is the reality of it?

WELCH: Well, I think that he is sounding an alarm for something that is not necessarily likely to happen. John McCain is actually pretty explicitly anti-draft for a variety of reasons. But both he and Obama want to increase the military pretty significantly, and spend a lot more money on the military, and put us at a more sort of permanent war footing. So what Paul was doing at a crowd of his absolute sympathizers, this was the sort of ultimate moment of his campaign: he was giving them some red meat and encouraging them to, “Hey, look, if it really gets bad, if it goes to the next step, you know, let’s start talking about things that you heard a lot in America in the 1990s in terms of militia movements and in terms of people who were or are going to resist the government’s attempts to tell people what to do.” I don’t think America could sustain a draft, though both candidates are really interested in national service and want to drastically expand that idea, which could be a sort of soft draft. So it’s a shot across the bow with a crowd that is feeling very disappointed and shut out of the political process.

JAY: But if McCain really wants to take on Iran, take on Georgia, and some other places, it can’t all be with the current size of the armed forces and just with air power. I mean, I don’t know if a draft is completely off the table, but—.

WELCH: Well, he thinks that we should spend at a minimum four percent of GDP on the armed forces. He thinks that we need 150,000 new troops and that we need a new OSS, the World-War-II-era spy agency that ended up creating the CIA among other things. This is just sort of a minimum of what he contemplates. So it would require a whole hell of a lot more money, which we at the moment don’t have much of. But certainly he would make that a priority in this administration. So we’re just going to be spending much more money on defense, which we already spend 50 percent of the world’s money on.

JAY: I hope we get to talk about Ron Paul, and we’ll keep an eye on the Ron Paul movement in the coming months. Thank you very much for joining us, Matt.

WELCH: Thank you.

JAY: And thank you for joining us with this series of interviews with Matt Welch. And, again, you can find Matt’s writing at reason.com. And as far as our reason goes, our reason is to do uncompromising journalism funded by you. So over my shoulder here you’ll see the word “donate.” If you’d like to see more of this kind of programming, please click. Thanks again.

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Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


Matt Welch

Matt Welch is editor in chief of Reason magazine. Welch's work has appeared in The Washington Post, Columbia Journalism Review, Los Angeles Daily News, Orange County Register, LA Weekly, ESPN.com, Salon.com, Wired, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Daily Star of Beirut, and dozens of other publications.