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Their views on government’s role in society may be polar opposites, but libertarian elder statesman Ron Paul and progressive populist Bernie Sanders agree on one thing — the U.S. needs to wash its hands of Yemen’s bloody civil war.
Sanders, the Vermont senator and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, called on Congress this week to override President Donald Trump’s veto of a resolution to end American logistical support for Saudi Arabia in the Yemen conflict.
Paul preached the same message the prior week in a Duke University lecture hall.
“Congress woke up a little bit and said ‘Hey, we don’t need to be in this war, this senseless killing of people,’” Paul said. “They never did a thing to us. And women and children and poor people are dying because of what we do.”
The United Nations calls the Yemen war the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. While no American boots are on the ground, your tax dollars and mine are helping the repressive Saudi monarchy contribute to the carnage. Congress has never authorized U.S. involvement.
Paul lamented the “expansion of the imperial presidency” and congressional dereliction of duty on war powers during an April 18 speech organized by Young Americans for Liberty and Duke’s Center for Political Leadership, Innovation and Service.
The dovish doctor who earned his medical degree from Duke in 1961 has always been out of step with his party on foreign policy. During his 2008 and 2012 presidential bids as a Republican primary candidate, his clarion call for peace proved controversial.
“I had the audacity to suggest one time to a Christian audience in South Carolina, ‘Why don’t we have a foreign policy based on the fact that what we don’t want people to do to us, we shouldn’t do to them — a Golden Rule-type thing?’” Paul recounted. “I got booed for that.”
No jeers rose from Duke’s Amadieh Family Auditorium. Just laughter and applause.
Since retiring from the U.S. House in 2013, Paul has faded from front-page prominence as a congressional contrarian, but he remains a central figure in the liberty movement, an umbrella term for the Libertarian Party, socially tolerant small-government Republicans and a wide range of independents.
His Foundation for Rational Economics and Education and Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity continue to inspire Americans who eschew the excesses of far-right and far-left politics.
Here are a few chestnuts from Paul’s expansive, hour-long talk on the cause of human liberty.
• On freedom and responsibility: “The purpose of government in a free society is to protect your freedom. A lot of people get turned off with this because ‘Who’s going to take care of me?’ They don’t understand that the freer the society, the larger the middle class. The assumption of responsibility is something that a lot of people cannot accept.”
• On social welfare: “The debt is totally out of control and everything’s supposed to be free — free medical care, free education, the whole works, free housing. And of course, nothing is for free. There is always a payment. The question is: Who are the victims? Who’s going to pay for this? And I’m looking at a lot of victims right here.”
• On legislating morality: “A libertarian has to be pretty tolerant of other people. I mean, they can do anything they want as long as they don’t hurt anybody. ‘Oh, I don’t know. That doesn’t sound good. They might drink too much beer.’”
• On education: “We haven’t had federal government control of public education until recent years. We can do a lot locally. There’s nothing in the Constitution that says that each city and township can’t devise some system.”
• On property rights: “If you’re a landowner, do you think you really own that? You can’t do hardly anything without paying rent — and the rent keeps going up.”
• On government: “I think we have way too much government. I think we should have constitutional government that is designed to protect liberty and defend our country if we’re attacked...Get rid of at least 80% of the federal government and we all would be better off.”
At 83, Paul is no longer mounting presidential campaigns or jousting on Capitol Hill over his bid to audit and end the Federal Reserve. He’s hopeful that future generations of freedom-loving peaceniks can carry the torch of liberty forward.
“I don’t want to think that you can’t change things,” he told audience members at Duke. “I think you can. I think ideas have consequences. I think ideas come not from large groups of people or from the collective. They come from individuals like you who decide ‘This is good. I’m going to participate in this.’”
Corey Friedman is editor of The Wilson Times. Reach him at 252-265-7813 and firstname.lastname@example.org.