Congressional Republicans used to enjoy the luxury of ignoring Ron Paul's cantankerous objections to the political premises they shared with their counterparts across the aisle. The question now is whether in the new Congress to be seated in January the longtime Texas representative will be allowed to chair the Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary Policy and Technology on the House Financial Services Committee.
Mr. Paul is the ranking minority member now, so the job would seem to be his after the GOP sweep in the midterm election, but the Republican leadership will decide whether to give the leading critic of the Federal Reserve Bank a prominent role in overseeing the Fed itself as well as the U.S. Mint and the U.S. relationship with the World Bank.
As little as they may relish the idea described above, kicking him to the curb could cause a huge problem with those new Republican representatives who identify themselves with the tea party movement.
Remember, it was Ron Paul supporters who kick-started the tea party into life on Dec. 16, 2007, when they dumped a $6 million "money bomb" into his presidential campaign on the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party.
Not that all or even most tea partiers are Paulians when the rubber meets the road. Abolishing the Patriot Act, which he advocates, probably wouldn't be at the top of the priority list for the 52 Republican members of Congress who say they'll join a Tea Party Caucus.
Nor would most of these people back an actual anti-interventionist foreign policy, or ending the drug war, or abolishing the Fed, as does Mr. Paul, who has warned against what he sees as a neocon infiltration into the movement.
In fact, loner that he is, the good doctor will distance himself from the House Tea Party Caucus even though he is a towering figure to many of its probable members. Responding to press queries, his chief of staff, Jeff Deist, said, "Congressman Paul decided not to join the Tea Party Caucus. He strongly believes that the tea party movement should remain a grassroots phenomenon, rather than being co-opted by Washington or any political party."
His son, Rand Paul, also a medical doctor, was elected to the U.S. Senate from Kentucky and is working to organize a Tea Party Caucus within the Senate. However much he might or might not agree with his father's more radical ideas remains to be seen, but the potential for some much-needed principled dissent from the justly maligned status quo in the upper chamber is tantalizing.
We should be particularly grateful to Ron Paul for his controversial performance in the GOP presidential debate in South Carolina in October 2007, the one where he stood before his fellow candidates and supposedly "blamed America" for the attacks of Sept. 11. Of course, he didn't actually "blame America," he merely pointed out that foreign policy has consequences, and that people get angry when their lands are occupied and they are bombed in their homes: "They attack us because we've been over there. We've been bombing Iraq for 10 years. … We've been in the Middle East. Right now, we're building an embassy in Iraq that's bigger than the Vatican. We're building 14 permanent bases. What would we say here if China was doing this in our country or in the Gulf of Mexico? We would be objecting."
Rudy Giuliani, who made his fortune exploiting the coincidence that he was New York City's mayor when the attacks took place, won the biggest applause of the night with this reaction: "That's really an extraordinary statement. That's really an extraordinary statement, as someone who lived through the attack of Sept.11, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq. I don't think I have ever heard that before and I have heard some pretty absurd explanations for Sept. 11. I would ask the congressman withdraw that comment and tell us that he didn't really mean that."
That didn't happen. Ron Paul chose to speak to the American people as though they were adults, thus violating the rules of Politics 101. "America's Mayor" went on to spend more than $20 million to win a single vote at the nominating convention.
Ron Paul never came close to getting the presidential nomination. He just went about his quirky business, talking to Americans as though they were capable of understanding his critique of foreign policy and the dangers of mounting public debt. Due to the Great Recession, a large number of them did understand and acted on the information.
It is he who sparked a new American Revolution and, after all these years, can no longer be easily ignored.
Ron Smith can be heard weekdays, 9 a.m. to noon, on 1090 WBAL-AM and WBAL.com. His column appears Fridays in The Baltimore Sun. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.