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IPFS News Link • Politics: Republican Campaigns

For Paul Family, Libertarian Ethos Began at Home

By MARK LEIBOVICH Published: June 5, 2010
WASHINGTON — In keeping with their position as the First Family of Libertarianism, the Pauls of Lake Jackson, Tex., did not have many rules around their home.

“Behave yourself and be polite” is how Representative Ron Paul describes his regulatory philosophy about rearing five children. Mr. Paul, a Republican, and his wife of 53 years, Carol, never believed in assigned chores or mandates.

They did not give out allowances, which they viewed as a parental version of a government handout. They did not believe in strict curfews; Mr. Paul says that unintended consequences — like speeding home to beat the clock — can result from excessive meddling from a central authority.

While Mr. Paul’s laissez-faire views produced a family of likeminded thinkers — “We’re all on board,” says the oldest son, Ronnie Paul — they inspired the middle child, Rand, to follow his father’s career path, first into medicine and now politics. If he prevails in November after winning the Republican nomination for a Senate seat in Kentucky last month, he and his father would form a two-man libertarian dynasty.

Father and son are described as each other’s political sounding boards, confidants and support systems. “Dad and Rand spent hours having great philosophical discussions about issues,” said Joy Paul Leblanc, the youngest sibling.

“Everyone always said, ‘If anyone runs for anything, it will be Rand,’ ” the congressman said.

The two Pauls have similar economic ideologies, overlapping organizations and Internet-based fund-raising apparatuses. The elder Mr. Paul, 74, dispensed behind-the-scenes advice during his son’s bid for the Senate seat, in which he upset the favorite, Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson.

In a recent interview with The New York Times, Mr. Paul, the two-time libertarian presidential candidate, referred to his son’s campaign as “our race.” When his son faced criticism recently over comments that some interpreted as skeptical of federal civil rights laws, the congressman was shaken.

Rand Paul, 47, who declined to be interviewed for this article, has described his father as his political hero. But he is quick to emphasize that he has never been dependent on him. “I think my dad has helped me tremendously,” he said in a joint interview with his father for a Kentucky television station this year. “But the only way I win is on my own two feet.”

He decided to go into politics despite his lineage as much as because of it, family members said. “Ron believes that you are not supposed to initiate force on anyone else,” Mrs. Paul said. Her husband promoted self-reliance in his children, and their choices and views flowed from that, she said.

Friends of the family describe a traditional household with early American décor and the frequent aroma of Mrs. Paul’s chocolate chip cookies, if not fish sticks. They have lived since July 4, 1968, in the same middle-class enclave of Lake Jackson, where the streets are named for trees, flowers and fauna (the Pauls live on Blossom). They owned a series of collies (Julie, Kippy and Cricket) and a Maltese (Liberty), and the kids were expected, though not required, to feed the pooches, make their own beds, clear their own dishes from the table and not talk back to their elders.

As a member of Congress, Mr. Paul spent most of his time in Washington and, upon returning to Texas, often crisscrossed his sprawling district to attend political events. At home, his children recall, he prized the solitude of his lawnmower. Mrs. Paul was a stay-at-home mom, longtime Girl Scout troop leader and self-described “busybody” who prided herself on knowing exactly what everyone was doing. If one of the children misbehaved, her husband did not spank or yell. Instead, he sometimes gave them written assignments, Mrs. Paul said, explaining, “He believed in exercising the brain.”

Ron Paul said he was not philosophically opposed to centralized authority, as long as it existed close to home, or within it. “We didn’t say the kids could do anything they wanted,” he said.

“They were a very Brady Bunch-type American family,” said Eric Dondero, a longtime former aide to Ron Paul. “As different as their politics are, their personal life was very normal.”

A strong libertarian bent ran through the Paul brood, and there are no apparent outliers. “Once you learn about the broken monetary policy, there is no other way,” said Ronnie Paul, a retired engineer at Dow Chemical in nearby Freeport. “We believe that stealing from people is not good, whether you’re the government or whether you have a mask on your face.”

Rand particularly absorbed the family ethic of exerting his free will. Though never rebellious, he sometimes bristled at being given too many directions. As a junior in high school, his mother recalled, he got a paper back from a geometry teacher that, while largely correct, was filled with what he considered to be unnecessary red marks. He walked into the principal’s office and asked to be moved into another class. “He and that teacher were not on the same wavelength,” said Mrs. Paul, who added that she and her husband supported Rand’s actions. “Rand was someone who took care of his own problems.”

As a teenager, he studied the Austrian economists that his father revered, as well as the iconic free-market novelist and philosopher, Ayn Rand (she was not the inspiration for Rand’s name, which is short for Randall; he was called Randy growing up).

Rand walked door to door in support of his father’s first Congressional race, in 1974, and while a student at Baylor University, he helped in his father’s unsuccessful Senate race against Phil Gramm in 1984. (When Ron Paul had to be in Washington for a Congressional vote, Rand stepped in for him in a debate against Mr. Gramm — it was his first public speaking appearance). Rand would take it upon himself to organize the other family members on neighborhood walking tours, canvasses and appearances.

“We would all be home for a big Christmas dinner,” his father said. “And Rand would be talking politics. He educated himself on politics in ways that I’ve never even cared about.”

More recently, Rand traveled to several states in 2008 on behalf of his father’s insurgent campaign for the Republican nomination — an enterprise that gained surprising traction at the grass roots and brought in over $35 million in campaign donations.

Mr. Paul was loath to guide his five children in any vocational direction, although three of them followed him into careers in medicine. (Rand is an ophthalmologist, who like his father attended Duke University Medical School and is often referred to as Dr. Paul by his staff and supporters; Joy is an obstetrician-gynecologist, and Robert is a family doctor.)

The father was insistent about allowing his children as much autonomy as possible and he believed, for instance, that economic subsidies (like allowances) could foster dependence. He discouraged Rand or any of his siblings from accepting financial aid to attend college, nor would he accept Medicare or Medicare payments from patients, calling it “stolen money” in a 1996 interview with The Austin American-Statesman. (Rand Paul, however, was criticized recently for opposing cuts to Medicare physician payments.)

While Ron Paul supports his son’s Senate campaign, his participation has been noticeably arms-length, owing to a concern that his views might be too outside the mainstream for a general electorate, particularly on foreign policy. He has suggested, for example, that the United States needs to explore Al Qaeda’s motives. “Nobody wants to talk about the motive,” he said last January. “But it’s out there, it’s laid on a platter. Bin Laden writes of it.”

When asked whether anyone told him to keep his distance from Kentucky, the elder Mr. Paul said: “I’ve got a life to lead. I have a job. And when I’m off, I want to be in Texas.”

He added that there are perils for political heirs relying too heavily on their patrons. “It can be very dangerous when somebody thinks they inherit these things,” he said.

Family members say the congressman has been shaken by the recent storm his son has faced over remarks in which he seemed to take issue, on libertarian grounds, with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

At the outset of an interview on Capitol Hill, Mr. Paul placed the controversy — “the agitation,” he called it — off limits. But then he immediately referred to a recent column supportive of his son in the Congressional newspaper, The Hill, and volunteered that he had just telephoned the column’s author, Lanny Davis, a Clinton White House aide, to thank him.

Mr. Davis said, “I heard a father’s concern more than I did any political concern,” and described the conversation as emotional.

Mr. Paul conceded that it is easier to be the candidate under attack than to be a family member of one. “No matter how well you arm yourself, no matter how well you know the system,” he said in the interview, “it really hurts when it’s your son.”

A version of this article appeared in print on June 6, 2010, on page A1 of the New York edition. 

1 Comments in Response to

Comment by Die Daily
Entered on:

Wow. The only thing even radically more spooky than a mainstream endorsement of Ron Paul is the recent "dissent" (lol) of Sen. David Reckafeller in which he was actually quoted as saying he's against internet censorship. Remind you of when the bankers all came out "strongly against" the 1913 Federal Reserve Act? Kinda reminds me of that.