Opinion: We live in the age of Ron Paul

Last year in this column I wrote: “If you have not been paying attention, it is time to look around and realize that we are living in the political age of Rep. Ron Paul.”

The first section of the Wikipedia page entry for the Tea Party Movement even quotes a sentence from that column, where I argued the Tea Party dynamic that won the House majority for the GOP in 2010 “grew largely out of the ashes of (Paul’s) 2008 presidential campaign” by emphasizing “limited government and a return to constitutional principles.”

Now, the 76-year-old Texan is retiring at the end of this Congress after 12 terms in the House of Representatives.

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During his latest run for the Republican presidential nomination, Paul tangled with Mitt Romney, particularly over civil liberties.

But unlike other candidates, he did not attack Romney harshly.

Paul and Romney remain friendly but Paul was never on the short list – or any other list – of people who were considered as Romney’s running mate.

Just last month, well after Romney had wrapped up enough delegates to win the Republican race, Paul continued to try to get enough unpledged GOP delegates to commit to vote for him so he could get his own name placed in nomination.

The idea was to give him a moment of national recognition at the Tampa convention and assure him one final platform before a national audience.

But the effort failed.

Now he will leave the national political scene quietly, although he probably had a hand in getting a coveted convention speech slot for his son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky).

Sen. Paul may give his dad a final shout out from the podium .

Ron Paul deserves more.

In presidential debates, and until his last days in Congress, Paul has continued to stir revolution in the Republican Party by fighting the GOP establishment.

During the debates, Paul got Republican audiences to applaud his calls for legalization of drugs, ending criminalization of prostitution and getting American troops out of endless wars around the globe.

His daring positions won raves from young people, a legion of online fans and contributors while reviving the libertarian wing of the GOP and forcing open the doors of the party to Tea Party energy.

Despite those accomplishments, the Republican establishment continues to treat Paul like a crazy uncle. 

But Paul is a persistent politician.

Before the House adjourned for the August recess, Paul won a vote to have an audit of the Federal Reserve.

There has never been an audit of the Fed, and it is not likely to happen now because the bill is going nowhere in the Senate.

Still, that was a revolutionary act against Wall Street, the nation’s banking establishment and the Washington politicians they bankroll.

Every House Republican, except for one, voted for the bill. Eighty-nine Democrats broke with their party’s leadership and voted for it.

Paul has long argued that the Federal Reserve’s role in monetary policy is at the heart of the nation’s economic problems.

He made this a central part of his presidential campaign in 2008, and in 2012. He even authored a book called “End the Fed” in 2009.   

The global financial scandal surrounding the manipulation of the LIBOR interest rates is causing some economic observers to take a second look at Paul’s critique of the Fed’s policies.

As a member of the House Financial Services Committee, Paul’s cross-examinations of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke have become very popular on YouTube, with some earning hundreds of thousands of views.

Paul got to question Bernanke one last time at a committee hearing last month and brought a rare passion to discussions of monetary policy.

“It’s the destruction of the currency that destroys the middle class,” he said. “There’s a principle of free market thinking that says (by) destroying the value of the currency through inflation, you transfer the wealth from the middle class and it gravitates to the very wealthy. If you like big government, (you) love the Fed. 

Just as he took on the powers at the Federal Reserve, Paul has taken on the powerful and the rich who support unquestioned spending on the military budget.

Cutting the Pentagon’s budget was once dismissed as a lunacy by the political establishment, and especially Republicans. But it has become an increasingly popular position in Congress during Paul’s tenure.

A July survey from the Center for Public Integrity revealed that 80 percent of voters in congressional districts represented by Democrats favor lowering defense spending.

And in a tribute to the power of Ron Paul, 74 percent of voters in districts with Republican representatives now also say they want to lower the defense budget.

Paul’s colleagues in the House are reflecting this new attitude about defense spending. In a surprise move, the GOP-controlled House passed a defense appropriations bill in July that contained an amendment to reduce the military budget by $1.1 billion.

The amendment passed by a substantial majority, 247-167. Eighty-nine Republicans joined 158 Democrats voting in favor of it.  

One of the amendment’s authors, Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), even credits Paul with helping to shift the debate so that the amendment could be passed.

As he leaves the political scene, there is no doubt that cranky Ron Paul has made his mark on American politics.

We will be living in the age of Ron Paul for many years to come. 

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.