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POLITICS 88 : Hopeless Presidential Race : Libertarian Plods On --Alone and Unheard

May 10, 1988|J. MICHAEL KENNEDY | Times Staff Writer

WALLA WALLA, Wash. — Ron Paul is running for the presidency. Not many people know that. Not many people care.

He almost always travels alone when he campaigns. His message is rarely heard outside the confines of a college campus or radio talk show. His largest audience to date was 1,000 students at a prep school assembly. His platform embraces elements of the far left and the far right. He thinks, for instance, that heroin should be legalized; but he favors selling off all federal lands.

Audience of 50

That is the kind of message that Paul, the Libertarian Party candidate, was imparting to the 50 or so students who stopped by to listen to him at Whitman College here in Walla Walla one evening recently.

"I'm running because I believe the American people should have a true alternative," he told the students and a few townspeople who trickled in. "The Republicans and Democrats have botched it up so bad there isn't much lower they can go."

Then he began outlining his plans, which include a return to the gold standard, the abolition of the Internal Revenue Service and the elimination of all zoning laws, to name a few.

So it goes in the life of Ron Paul, 52-year old obstetrician, former four-term congressman and minor party candidate.

Keeps Doggedly On

In his more candid moments, Paul admits that he cannot win. But still he plods doggedly on.

"The problem we have is not having the opportunity to get the message out," Paul said in a bit of understatement.

That kind of frustration was not always synonymous with the Libertarians, who at one point in the 17-year history of their party believed that they were about to become a major factor in American politics.

Their strongest showing--and cause for hope--was in 1980, when Los Angeles antitrust lawyer Ed Clark drew almost 1 million votes and was on the ballots of all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

However, the party fell into internal squabbling and fund-raising difficulties, and it began to contract rather than expand. In 1984, its presidential candidate, David Bergland, received only 228,000 votes and was on the ballots of only 38 states and the District of Columbia.

On Ballot in 26 Areas

Paul says he believes the party can collect enough signatures to be on every ballot this year. But, with the summer deadlines approaching, he is now on only 26. Clark, the 1980 candidate, thinks the timing is right for a good Libertarian showing against Republican George Bush and Democrat Michael S. Dukakis. And he said Paul should attract more attention when the focus is taken off the primary season.

The Libertarian Party is based largely on the principle of property-owner rights, personal freedom and opposition to government involvement in daily lives.

Many Libertarians got their first taste of the philosophy from reading the works of Ayn Rand, who wrote "The Fountainhead." But Rand herself once called the party "a random collection of emotional hippies of the right who seek to play politics without philosophy."

The Libertarian philosophy leads to some rather eclectic stances. Party members would, for instance, ban a military draft and do away with the welfare and public school systems. One plank of the platform supports looking for an AIDS cure but opposes any mandatory government testing for the disease. And virtually every federal agency, from the Food and Drug Administration to the Central Intelligence Agency, would be abolished.

Wrote for Birch Society

Paul is a newcomer to the party he is representing for the presidency, having joined it a little more than a year ago, a scant seven months before he was nominated at the Seattle convention over Indian activist Russell Means. Some Libertarians feared that Paul's writing for the John Birch Society would taint his image, and others said his anti-abortion beliefs were not in line with the party's laissez-faire attitudes.

"But I have always been a Libertarian," he said, and his voting record in Congress lends some credence to that claim.

After being elected to Congress from the coastal district of Lake Jackson, Tex., in 1976, Paul developed a reputation as a maverick conservative Republican whose philosophy would sometimes dictate that he vote with ultraliberal Democrats.

He was the only Republican to vote against the 1981 defense budget because he believed too much was being spent on the military. And Paul was the only member of Congress to vote against a 1981 resolution calling for the settlement of a crisis in Lebanon. His reason: the need for less meddling in other nations' affairs. Paul would also pull all American troops home, resign from NATO and make Japan protect itself.

In addition, he set himself apart by attacking congressional perks. Once he introduced legislation that would decrease the pay of members of Congress if the cost of living went up. That did little to endear him to his colleagues.

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