John Stossel is co-anchor of ABC News’ “20/20” and the author of “Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity: Get Out the Shovel - Why Everything You Know is Wrong.”
Over the past few months, I’ve received hundreds of e-mails from people asking me to interview Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, so I did.
It’s refreshing to interview a politician who doesn’t mince words. It’s even more refreshing to interview one who understands the benefits of limited government. Here, then, is my talk with Ron Paul. Some of Paul’s answers are shortened.
Q: What should government do?
A: Protect our freedoms. Have a strong national defense. Look at and take care of our borders. Have a sound currency. That was the responsibility of the federal government, not to run our lives and run everything in the economy and extend the interstate commerce clause and the general welfare clause to do anything they want to do.
Q: So defense, the military, police forces,
enforce contracts, and that’s about it?
A: That’s it. We would have a court system to enforce contracts, and when people do harm to others, when they take property or injure property, or pollute a neighbor’s air, I think there’s a role for government to protect our environment through private-property rights.
Q: The Department of Education. You’d get
rid of it?
A: Yes. We don’t need it.
Q: How will people get educated?
A: We might get better education. The evidence shows, since the 1950s, since the federal government’s gotten involved, the quality of education has gone down, and the cost has gone up.
Q: The federal government should have no role?
A: There’s no authority for it, and … they’ve proved themselves inefficient. The one city they’re totally in charge of is Washington, D.C. Thirteen thousand dollars a year per student. They have more guns, more drugs, more violence. So there’s no evidence that the government can do a very good job.
Q: The Department of Energy.
A: We don’t need a Department of Energy. It serves the interests of big business.
Q: Other Cabinet departments?Department of Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development. You’d get rid of all of them?
A: Yeah. Of course, that’s not on the immediate agenda, but they’re unnecessary, and we should think about what kind of a country we would have without these departments, and I think we would have a better country, and all those problems that they’re supposed to solve, I think, would be lessened.
Q: Homeland Security. Isn’t that a role for the federal government?
A: Not really, not the way that’s designed. That’s the biggest bureaucracy of them all. There are some parts that are OK. You know, they put the Coast Guard in there, and they put FEMA in there, and everybody’s bunched together. And I think it was failure of government on 9/11, not the fact that we didn’t have the Department of Homeland Security and … a national ID card, and this constant surveillance and loss of our privacy.
Q: Failure of government how?
A: We spent $40 billion on intelligence gathering, and it didn’t prevent (the 9/11 attacks) from happening. But the government was in charge of the airlines. FAA, they were supposed to inspect the people as they went on, and you weren’t supposed to resist any takeovers, and (passengers and pilots) weren’t allowed to have a gun. Maybe if you and I had the airlines, we might have said, “Hey, you know, we want to protect our passengers. Maybe we should have a stronger door on there, maybe we ought to give our pilots a gun.” So 9/11 wouldn’t have happened.
Q: So government creates too many rules, and the wrong ones?
A: That’s basically it. Most of the time well-intentioned — but good intentions will not solve our problems.
THE WAR IN IRAQ
Q: Some people say that if we don’tattack the enemy there, they’ll attack us
A: I think the opposite is true. The radicals were able to use our bases in Saudi Arabia and the bombing of Iraq (from 1991 to 2001) as a reason to come over here. If China were to do the same thing to us, and they had troops in our land, we would resent it. We’d probably do some shooting.
Q: Is this case not different? Religious fanatics hate us and want to kill us because of our culture.
A: I don’t think that’s true. It is not Muslim fanaticism that is the culprit. The litmus test is whether we are actually occupying a territory. In the case of Saudi Arabia, that was holy land.
Q: Many say the surge in Iraq is succeeding, that we’re at a turning point now, and we are creating a model of democracy in a part of the world that hasn’t seen that.
A: That’s the propaganda. I don’t happen to believe that.
Q: And if in most of Iraq, some religious fanatic comes to power and has money to buy nuclear weapons, we should just leave him alone?
A: The Soviets had the technology. They were 90 miles off our shore, and they had nuclear weapons there. But we were able to talk to them. We took our missiles out of Turkey. They took the missiles out of Cuba. We should be talking to people like this. It’s the lack of diplomacy that is the greatest threat, not the weapons themselves.
Q: You say we shouldn’t be the world’s policemen. Isn’t it our responsibility to help others?
A: It’s OK for us to personally help other people. But to go around the world and spread democracy — goodness, no — too many unintended consequences. It usually requires force. I think we should only do those things under the prescribed conditions of the Constitution.
Q: Is war ever justifiable?
A: Sure. If you’re attacked, you have a right and an obligation to defend (your) country. I do not believe there is ever a moral justification to start the war.
Q: What if there’s genocide and terrible suffering in a country?
A: It’s a tragedy, and we can have a moral statement, but you can’t use force of arms to invade other countries to make them better people. Our job is to make us a better people.
Q: You’d pull American troops out of Korea, Germany, the Middle East, everywhere?
A: I would. Under the Constitution, we don’t have the authority to just put troops in foreign countries willy nilly when we’re not at war.
Q: Your district is subject to floods, but you vote against FEMA. Why?
A: Because I think FEMA helps create the flood problems. (Without subsidies), if it’s risky on the Gulf Coast to build there, the insurance prices will go up. If (they’re) too high, nobody will build there, or they’ll build there with full risk. Flood comes, wind blows your house away, you don’t get reimbursed. So there might be (only) modest building in those areas. But if the government subsidizes the insurance, saying, “If you build there, don’t sweat it, we’re going to bail you out,” more people move into the flood-prone areas. Then who are the people that have to bail you out? Somebody that lives out in the desert. It’s unfair, it’s not good economics. You create more problems, more houses get flooded, and it becomes a general problem rather than an individual problem. We have undermined the principle of measuring risk. Then people do things that they wouldn’t have otherwise done.
Q: You also say, “No farm subsidies.”
A: No, I can’t quite find (the farm subsidy program) in the Constitution.
Q: Don’t we need farm subsidies to make sure we have food?
A: It is totally unnecessary. I think (subsidies) push the prices of food up, and maybe (that) makes it more difficult for poor people to buy food. If there’s a subsidy, it means the taxpayer was taxed to pay a huge corporate farmer. So it hasn’t helped the people.
Q: You talk about freedom and tyranny. I seldom hear politicians use those words.
A: Those are our only two choices. We’ve had a grand experiment in this country, where we emphasize freedom. The Constitution was designed to protect individual liberty, to restrain the government. But we have forgotten that. Now we have an interpretation that means that we spy on the American people, encroach on their privacy, take care of them, run the “nanny state” — and then we have secrecy in government. So we have it reversed. People say, “Ron, you want to go back to the dark ages of this strict interpretation of the Constitution.” Well, I want to go back to the Constitution, but I don’t consider it the dark ages. I think the dark ages were the days when all you had was tyranny. Freedom is new. Tyranny is old.
Q: The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are enough? We don’t need 55,000 pages of tax code?
A: Isn’t that fantastic? Truth is simple. The more complex (government) is, the more leery we ought to be of what they’re doing. When they say we have to solve the problems of 9/11 (by passing) the Patriot Act, that’s complex. Four hundred pages, and they dump it on us an hour before we vote. You can read the Constitution and understand it, but you cannot read and understand hardly any of the legislation being passed.
Q: You want a 700-mile fence between our border and Mexico?
A: Not really. There was an immigration bill that had a fence (requirement) in it, but it was to attack amnesty. I don’t like amnesty. So I voted for that bill, but I didn’t like the fence. I don’t think the fence can solve a problem. I find it rather offensive.
Q: What should we do?
A: Get rid of the subsidies. (If) you subsidize illegal immigration, you get more of it.
Q: Get rid of welfare?
A: All the welfare benefits.
Q: Including government-paid health care?
Q: So what should a hospital do if an illegal immigrant shows up for treatment?
A: Be charitable, but have no mandates by the federal government. Catholics want to help a lot of these people. I’m not for (punishing anyone who wants to help voluntarily). But we wouldn’t have so many (illegals) if they didn’t know they were going to get amnesty. If you promise them amnesty — medical care, free education, automatic citizenship, food stamps, and Social Security — you’re going to get more (illegal immigration). I think we could be much more generous with our immigration. (But) we don’t need to reward people who get in front of the line.
Q: We should be more generous in our legal immigration policy?
A: (Without the welfare state) it would be a non-issue. Today it’s a big issue because people are hurting; they can’t keep up with paying their bills. They see (illegals) using food stamps, in the emergency rooms, demanding bilingual education in the schools. The costs are going up.
Q: You oppose “birthright citizenship,” which says that the child of an illegal immigrant who gives birth in America is a U.S. citizen. But that right to citizenship is in the Constitution, isn’t it?
A: There’s confusion on interpreting the 14th Amendment. It says that if you’re under the jurisdiction of the United States, you have a right to citizenship if you’re born here. But it’s a little bit confusing. If you step over the border and you’re illegal, are you really under the jurisdiction? There’s a question on that, and I want to clarify it. I don’t like to reward people who sneak in for that purpose and get on the welfare rolls.
Q: What about the millions who are here illegally already? Should we deport them?
A: I don’t think anybody could find them. Nobody even knows how many there are. But if they come for welfare benefits and you know they’re illegal, (you should) deny them the benefits. If they commit a crime, send them home. Today in many cities, you’re not even allowed to ask them their immigrant status. Policemen tell me they can’t ask that question to find out if they’re illegal. It’s politically incorrect to ask a person his immigrant status because that would (be like saying), “If you’ve broken the law, maybe you ought to go home.”
Q: Would you legalize marijuana, cocaine and heroin?
A: I would get the government out of regulating all those substances and would allow the states to deal with the problems, such as whether children can buy cigarettes and alcohol or hard drugs or marijuana. Different states would probably do different things. The first federal law against marijuana was in 1938 — the government (controlled marijuana) through high taxation because it knew it didn’t have authority to say that you’re not allowed to smoke marijuana. Today it’s gone berserk. The federal government overrules a state (California) that has legalized marijuana for very sick people with AIDS and cancer. That’s how absurd the war on drugs has become.
Q: Could a state legalize heroin?
A: Under our federal system of government, that would be the case. If you ask the people who are against (legalization of heroin) if they would use it, they say, “Oh, no, I wouldn’t use it! It’s always those other people that might use it, so I have to take care of them and prevent them from doing harm to themselves.”
Q: Is that a proper role for government?
A: No, I don’t believe so. The government should not be involved in personal habits. I have no problem with state laws that protect children from the use of these drugs. But under the Constitution, the president and the federal government wouldn’t have a say in it.
Q: Should gays be allowed to marry?
A: Sure. They can do whatever they want, and they can call it whatever they want, just so they don’t expect to impose their relationship on somebody else. They can’t make me, personally, accept what they do, but gay couples can do what they want. I’d like to see all governments out of the marriage question. I don’t think it’s a state function; it’s a religious function. There was a time when only churches dealt with marriage. But a hundred years or so ago, for health reasons, the state claimed that to protect us, you had to get a license to get married. I don’t agree with that.
A: I think when you defend freedom, you defend freedom of choice. You can’t be picking and choosing how people use those freedoms. I don’t believe government can legislate virtue. I can reject (vice) personally and preach against it, whether it’s drugs or prostitution, but my solution comes from my personal behavior and how I raise my children. Whether it’s personal behavior or economic behavior, I want people to have freedom of choice.
Q: You seem to be saying that adults own their own bodies. If a woman wants to rent hers out or someone wants to smoke crack, that’s their business.
A: Yeah. People make bad choices in religion and philosophy, but we don’t regulate their thinking or their religious beliefs if they’re not harming other people. That’s why I defend this position that government can’t protect individuals from themselves. It’s just impossible. (And when it tries) it becomes a tyrannical state.
Q: Which brings us to abortion. What do you think of Roe vs. Wade?
A: It was a federal encroachment over state laws, so I wouldn’t have that.
Q: So some states might outlaw abortion, and other states would allow it. That’d be OK with you?
A: That is right. Under our system, unless you change the Constitution, that’s the way it should be taken care of.
Q: You consider it murder, but it should be allowed if a state so chooses?
A: I don’t use that term. I (say it is) a tragic set of circumstances, and life should be protected.