Al: Paul, I really appreciate being able to sit down
and talk. I have followed your long and storied career. I look forward to this
Al: Ann and I live in Indiana. I am an adjunct professor at DeVry and St. Francis. Ann and I met three years ago and were married in 2000. Ann has two grown children and I have three.
Paul: So, you are newlyweds?
Al: Yes, we are. We got married in Bloomington, Indiana at the Tibetan Cultural Center. The Center is run by the brother of the Dali Lama. In fact, we went to Tibet, Nepal, and India to do some research for my writing about the Tibetan people, culture, religion, and troubles that the Tibetan people have with the Chinese occupation of their country.
Paul: Tibet is an illustration of where, it seems to me, they ought to be able to express their religious and political views.
Al: I was listening to NPR coming here today, and
they were talking about the latest commotion in China regarding Taiwan. It
struck me how ironic it is that the Chinese have absolutely no business in
Tibet, but they are there. On the other hand, Taiwan should be a part of China,
but they aren't. Washington supports the latter and doesn't the former. It is
interesting how the US gets into these strange anachronisms.
Paul: First of all, there are many inconsistencies with the Axis of Evil: North Korea, Iran, and Iraq. North Korea was starting to negotiate with us under Clinton, and then George W. closed the door. Iran is clearly moving in the right direction. They have elected a moderate as president and are moving in our direction. There are other inconsistencies. Two of those three countries any American can legally visit-Korea and Iran. Now, Iraq you have to go through Jordan or someplace else to do it. Technically, you may be prosecuted for doing it. However, an American can't legally go to Cuba ninety-miles away. Who has a better human rights record, China or Cuba? Clearly, Cuba's record isn't good, but it's better than China's. What Washington is doing is pandering to domestic politics in the shaping of foreign policy, and that's just not a wise thing to do.
Al: What would you be saying in the Senate if you
were still there?
Al: It's going to be hard to get the Kurds to do it again having lost a lot the last time. Bush 1 promised them support and then reneged.
Paul: I voted against Desert Storm. I thought we should apply economic sanctions at that point as a means of changing the government. I just think we have been very amateurish in the conduct of foreign policy. My instinct, and I have not talked to Colin Powell since he's been Secretary of State, but my instinct is that he understands what needs to be done, but he has problems with the Defense Department and the White House staff. I also understand that Dick Cheney is kind of back and forth between being in Rumsfeld's corner and then Powell's.
Al: I would like to broaden the question: I would
like to have your thoughts on the war in Afghanistan and the war on terrorism,
censorship, and all the detainees.
Paul: You just can't detain people indefinitely. Then Alan Dershowitz, who is ordinarily sensitive on civil liberties, said right after 9/11, that we are going to have to abandon our policies of not torturing people. I don't want to see our American government tolerating torture. We imitate that which we are opposed. We are killing I don't know how many civilians in Afghanistan. I contacted the Congressional Research Service and asked them, "Does anybody have any kind of a count of how many innocent civilians have been killed in Afghanistan?" I think we have to be sensitive to that kind of thing.
Al: I have read an article that you wrote about the scarcity of water worldwide. It is amazing how much of a problem water is becoming.
Paul: I went over to Jordan and Syria at the request of the State Department to meet with their leaders. We are trying to get them to work with the Israelis and the Palestinians on water. There has to be a regional approach, but the emotional barriers are so high right now, that it is very difficult. Everyone acknowledges the facts: they eventually are going to have to work together, but getting it done is another thing.
Al: Do you see any resolution to the regional
Paul: We saw all the problems with Enron. Enron was seventy-sixth among the corporations in their contributions to members of the House and Senate. John Ashcroft got over $60,000 in two campaigns from Enron. I don't think John or the others are going to favor Enron now simply because of all the publicity, but what about the seventy-five corporations that don't get the publicity who are asking for a tax break here or a little something there? There is an obligation not to do just what is popular, but to do what's right. The pandering to big contributors is bad, but pandering to public opinion is bad too.
Al: You ran for the Democratic nomination for president in '88. What if you had won and then went on to become president? Do you ever wonder what your presidency would have been like?
Paul: One of the things I resolved in my own mind was if I ever got there, I would be like Harry Truman. He just did what he thought was right. If you just serve one term, make it a good term. If you step on powerful toes, you step on powerful toes. I think that is what leadership really is about.
Al: You have always been considered one of the most
effective of all legislators in the Senate. How do you account for that success
of leadership and getting things done?
Al: If you had the ear of George Bush today, what
would you be whispering in his ear?
The second thing I told the President was to listen to people who really have some background on foreign policy and don't let the domestic agenda dictate how we handle foreign policy.
Al: Do you think he listened?
Paul: Well, I think he listened that day, but he has so many people telling him things. I know his parents reasonably well, but I have only met him on a few occasions, and then we had that one meeting.
Al: Another issue on which you have done a great deal
of work is on the death penalty. I would like you to speak to my readers about
I ask people, "Do you feel safer in Texas, which has executed about a quarter of the people executed in our country, than you do in Iowa? Or, do you feel safer in South Dakota, which has the death penalty than you do in North Dakota, which doesn't have it?
It's kind of ridiculous. I asked a class, how many of you here favor the death penalty? Just about, everyone raised his or her hand. Then I asked how many of them think it is a deterrent to murder? Not a person raised a hand. If it is not a deterrent, then the answer is that we do it for revenge. Government shouldn't be in the business of revenge.
Among other things, it is very costly. It costs much more to execute someone than to keep them in prison for the rest of their lives. The government spent $13.8 for Timothy McVeigh's defense. When you add the prosecution costs and all the time that the FBI and others had devoted to this, when they could have been out working on drug problems or other real problems. It is just an irrational way to do things-especially, when you consider the fact that sometimes innocent people are killed. I had a debate with Justice Scalia at the University of Chicago on the death penalty. He started off by saying this is just my personal opinion, and it doesn't mean this is how I would vote on the Supreme Court, but of course we know it is exactly how he voted on the Supreme Court. I mentioned that innocent people are killed. He said that innocent people are incarcerated also. Therefore, should we do away with our prisons? Well, there is a slight difference between taking someone's life and putting them in prison where they still have a chance to prove their innocence.
Al: I teach a philosophy class, and it amazes
me how militant my students are on the death issue and some of those other volatile
Al: You have had a long and distinguished career in
public service ..What is the meaning of public service or life as you see it?
There is a girl, Melannie Velez is her name. Her family contacted me. She has cystic fibrosis, her parents brought her to the US from Chile. They didn't know what was wrong with her, but she was very sick. She's eleven-years old, a bright little girl who wants to become a librarian, but she needs a lung transplant, which costs $450,000. I won't go into all the details, but we finally have her on the list now. Because she is not an American citizen, Medicaid or anything like that would not cover it. When you see this little girl, you know that somehow you have to help her.
Al: It's interesting. That is the British attitude about health. I went to school for a year at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. I was intrigued by their national health system. If you get to their shores, medical treatment is given to you without charge-expect for a very small co-pay.
Paul: They did a poll in Canada about three years ago that asked whether they were satisfied with the their health system. Fifty-six percent said yes, not a good figure, but when asked if they preferred the US system, only three percent wanted that. Almost once a week, somebody is contacting me on some kind of a health related problem where they don't have insurance and in this wealthy country.
Al: This is a politically explosive question, but I
would also like your thoughts on the "under God" issue in the Pledge of
Allegiance. The separation of church and state is a difficult issue for my
students to work through.
Al: Here is another one of those hot button
items-school prayer. What are your thoughts on this issue?
Al: Before I let you get back to your other duties, please, give me the history of you and the bowtie. Incidentally, this is the very first time that I have ever seen you without one. You aren't even wearing a tie.
Paul: I was running for the state legislature and happened to wear one for about three days. One of the newspapers identified me as "the candidate with the bowtie." I thought, what the heck! Before I retired from the Senate, I was rushing to get to the floor of the Senate. I got on the subway that goes between my office and the Capitol. There's Jesse Helms wearing a bowtie, and I said, "Jesse, you look unusually good today." He said, "This is first time in my life I have ever worn one." I should have known there was something going on! When I got to the floor, nearly all my colleagues were wearing bowties-even Barbara Boxer was wearing one.
Al: I want to thank you for your time and willingness
to do this interview. It has been my pleasure. Perhaps next time, you will be
wearing your trademark bowtie.
A personal observation:
During the hour interview, Paul received several calls from all over the nation to get his advice or his endorsement on various national policy issues. Many people wanted to know what Simon says and thinks on a whole range of issues. To read more about the interview, click on this link: Simon Says...