On Wednesday, November 14, Ron Paul delivered his final speech at the podium of the United States House of Representatives. It was covered by C-SPAN live, and was later posted on C-SPAN’s site. It was soon posted on YouTube, and from there was posted on numerous sites.
Within hours, various media outlets began to comment on it, both from the Right and from the Left. From the ones that I saw, all of them were generally favorable. This was remarkable. In thinking about it over the weekend, I began to perceive just how remarkable it was.
I searched Google for “Ron Paul” and “farewell address.” I got almost 200,000 hits.
In the history of American politics, I can think of only four farewell addresses that ever got into the textbooks, and one of them was a fake. The most famous one was George Washington’s 1796 farewell address, and it was not an address. It was a newspaper article. The second came in 1961, which was Dwight Eisenhower’s famous military-industrial complex speech. The third one was Richard Nixon’s announcement after his defeat in 1962 when he ran for governor of California against Edmund G. “Pat” Brown. I’m not sure that it should be regarded an address; it was more of a press conference, but it counted as a farewell address . . . for six years. In it, he uttered the immortal words, “You won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore.” It was aimed at the media. Then, a dozen years later, he gave a real farewell address, the day before he resigned in disgrace from the presidency.
Ron Paul’s farewell address was the fifth. This is extraordinary. The media did not ridicule him as arrogant for having delivered such an address. On the whole, the media seemed interested in what he had to say. Yet his speech began with a statement of the fact, namely, that he had never had any measurable political influence in the House in his entire 22 years. He had never had one of his bills passed into law.
His farewell address was taken seriously as a statement of principles, precisely because he never had any direct political influence in passing legislation. He stood as a representative of a constitutional tradition that has had only two other representatives at the national level ever since the end of the Civil War: President Grover Cleveland and Congressman Howard Buffett, who served in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Virtually nobody remembers Buffett, although almost everybody in the financial world has heard of his son Warren.
Whatever the impact of Ron Paul’s farewell address, it is safe to say that no other congressman has ever delivered such an address at his retirement, at least not where the media took him seriously. It is unheard of that any Congressman would deliver such an address, and especially a Congressman who had no political power or the ability to spread election money around to his colleagues.
I regard this as a major historical indicator. I don’t know if it would be legitimate to call it a turning point. We don’t know at this time whether his career will be marked as an ideological turning point. What we do know is that he had a great deal of publicity, despite the fact that nobody believed that he would ever exercise direct political power. For a nationally known politician to build a career based on his never having attained political power, never wanting to attain political power, and never having anybody suggest that he was going to attain political power, is one of the great anomalies in the history of American politics. His career deserves a brief mention in the textbooks for the reasons I have just outlined. Who ever heard of a politician who received widespread publicity precisely because he never had any political power? This is a unique case.