A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Wrong Paul

Fantasy, fallacy and factual fumbles from the Republican insurgent.


Summary

Ron Paul doesn’t have much of a chance of winning the Republican nomination, but he persists with his well-funded campaign and even talks of turning it into a permanent "Revolution" that will continue far beyond 2008.

We’ve given his statements little attention until now. But here we look at some of his more outlandish claims:

  • Paul claims that a secret conspiracy composed of the Security and Prosperity Partnership and a cabal of foreign companies is behind plans to build a NAFTA Superhighway as the first step toward creating a North American Union. But the NAFTA Superhighway that Paul describes is a myth, and the groups supposedly behind the plans are neither secret nor nefarious.
  • Paul says that the U.S. spends $1 trillion per year to maintain a foreign empire and suggests that we could save that amount by cutting foreign spending. Paul gets that figure by including a lot of domestic programs that he isn’t planning to cut, like the U.S. Border Patrol and interest payments on the debt.

Paul has run television ads touting an endorsement from Ronald Reagan, but he fails to mention that, in 1988, Paul wanted "to totally disassociate" himself from the Reagan administration.

Analysis

Ron Paul’s candidacy is something of an enigma. His impressive fundraising and his legions of dedicated volunteers suggest that he could be among the front-runners in contention for the Republican nomination. Yet his national poll numbers hover consistently just above the margin of error, and on Super Tuesday, he finished last in 17 of 21 contests, including California, where he lost to a candidate who had already withdrawn from the race. He admits he has little hope of winning the nomination.

"Ron Paul" is the most searched term on our site, and until recently, those searches revealed only that Paul had participated in a whole lot of Republican debates. We applied our efforts to candidates with odds of becoming the nominee.

Yet Paul says he will not drop out of the race, and indeed talks of a perpetual campaign. In a message to his followers Feb. 8, he said:

Paul: If I may quote Trotsky of all people, this Revolution is permanent. It will not end at the Republican convention. It will not end in November. It will not end until we have won the great battle on which we have embarked.

So, given the ardency of Paul’s supporters and the scores of e-mails requesting that we write about him, we decided to take a look at Paul’s claims. Here’s some of what we found.

Paging Fox Mulder

According to Paul, a secret organization run by unaccountable government figures is in league with foreign corporations who are all bent on usurping American sovereignty. That’s not from the script for a new X-Files movie. (Or not that we know of.) It’s the gist of Paul’s description of a supposed "NAFTA Superhighway." Paul describes it on his Web site as "a ten-lane colossus the width of several football fields, with freight and rail lines, fiber-optic cable lines, and oil and natural gas pipelines running alongside." And that’s not all. According to Paul, the ultimate plan is to form a North American Union with a single currency and unlimited travel within its borders, all headed up by "an unholy alliance of foreign consortiums and officials from several governments" that together form the shadowy "quasi-government organization called the ‘Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America,’ or SPP."

The problem with Paul’s claim is that there are no plans to build a NAFTA Superhighway. Or a North American Union, for that matter. And while the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America does exist, it’s just a boring bureaucracy.

Like many conspiracy theories, this one is a mixture of fact and fiction. improvements to existing roads, but is not lobbying for, or planning to build, any new thoroughfares. From the NASCO That scary-looking map, with lines that rumor suggested were drawn to scale, is the product of an actual group called North America’s SuperCorridor Organization (NASCO), which is a consortium of public and private entities. But contrary to conspiracy theorists, the map does not show a new highway. Those bright blue lines show only I-35 and I-29 – interstates that already exist. On its Web site, NASCO says it and some of the local governments along I-35 have been referring to that route as the "NAFTA Superhighway" for years. NASCO advocates Web site:

NASCO: "NAFTA Superhighway" – As of late, there has been much media attention given to the "new, proposed NAFTA Superhighway". NASCO and the cities, counties, states and provinces along our existing Interstate Highways 35/29/94 (the NASCO Corridor) have been referring to I-35 as the ‘NAFTA Superhighway’ for many years, as I-35 already carries a substantial amount of international trade with Mexico, the United States and Canada. There are no plans to build a new NAFTA Superhighway – it exists today as I-35.

In terms of new roads, there are, in fact, plans for a Trans-Texas Corridor, a road that would be (in spots) several football fields wide. And the road would be financed by a private company (which is partially Spanish-owned) that would then charge tolls to recoup its investment. But the TTC was approved by the Texas Legislature and the governor of Texas. It is a state initiative, but it is not part of a NAFTA Superhighway, nor is it the product of a shadowy federal conspiracy.

Indeed, Ian Grossman, a spokesman with the Federal Highway Administration told the Los Angeles Times, "There is no such superhighway like the one [Paul is] talking about. It doesn’t exist, in plans or anywhere else."
 
The other parts of the conspiracy are much the same. The SPP – that "quasi-government organization" – is really an actual government organization, organized through the White House. According to David Bohigian, an assistant secretary of commerce, the SPP is a bureaucratic dialog staffed by mid-level officials from the U.S., Canada and Mexico who work to synchronize customs, security and regulations. "Simple stuff," Bohigian told The Nation last August, "like, for instance, in the U.S. we sell baby food in several different sizes; in Canada, it’s just two different sizes." Not exactly cloak-and-dagger stuff.

The SPP has a factsheet on its Web site that attempts to put to rest all the tall tales surrounding it. And if that isn’t enough, the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, Newsweek and the urban legend site Snopes.com all have previously debunked this particular bit of conspiracy-theorizing.

Of course, maybe they’re all in on it, too.

About That Trillion Dollar Empire
 

In debates, Paul has claimed the U.S. spends a trillion dollars on a "foreign operation" each year to maintain an "empire":

Paul (Jan. 30): So, yes, this money should be spent back here at home. We have a $1 trillion foreign operation to operate our empire. That’s where the money is. You can’t keep borrowing from China. You can’t keep printing the money.

One should be suspicious of this number right away. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects total spending for the current fiscal year to be about $2.9 trillion. President Bush’s proposed fiscal 2009 budget would top $3 trillion for the first time. In fiscal 2008, a total of almost $1.8 trillion goes to mandatory spending on programs like Medicare and Social Security and to interest on the debt. That leaves just under $1.1 trillion in total discretionary spending, of which $572 billion goes to defense spending. Even if we called the entire defense budget an overseas cost of maintaining an empire – and then kicked in the entire $50.6 billion budget for the State Department and international programs – Paul is still $378 billion short.

When we asked the Paul campaign for some documentation for the $1 trillion claim, it directed us to an opinion piece by a fellow at the libertarian-leaning Independent Institute. The article argues that in 2006, the U.S. actually spent just under $1 trillion on defense. To arrive at that figure, the study included a number of items that one might generally not think of as defense spending, including the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, one-third of the funding for the FBI and half of NASA’s funding. The numbers also include medical and retirement pay for veterans and a large portion of interest on the debt.

So it turns out that what Paul says is a trillion dollars for a "foreign operation" includes a lot of things that seem pretty domestic to us. For example:

  • The entire U.S. Border Patrol
  • Every military base in the United States and all the 1.4 million full-time military personnel (not just those serving overseas)
  • Background checks for new immigrants
  • Inspections of incoming cargo
  • All airport security programs
  • The issuing of U.S. passports
  • The FBI’s counter-terrorism unit
  • 92 percent of the interest payments on the national debt

Obviously Paul isn’t advocating defaulting on U.S. Savings Bonds or doing away with border security, or even closing all U.S. embassies overseas. But that makes it all the more misleading for him to suggest that cutting out this "foreign operation" could save $1 trillion per year.

A Flipper on the Gipper
 

[TET ]

Ron Paul Ad: "The Only One"

Narrator: Who among these men has never supported a tax increase? Never supported an unbalanced budget? Never supported wasteful government spending?

Narrator: Congressman Ron Paul: The taxpayer’s best friend.

Narrator: We need to keep him fighting for our country.

Ron Paul: I’m Ron Paul and I approve this message.[/TET]

In a recent television ad titled "The Only One," Paul claims to be the only candidate never to vote for a tax increase, pass an unbalanced budget or support wasteful government spending. The ad closes with the narrator saying, "We need to keep him fighting for our country." The words are attributed to Ronald Reagan. Paul uses a longer version of the quotation on his Web page:

From Ron Paul Web site: “Ron Paul is one of the outstanding leaders fighting for a stronger national defense. As a former Air Force officer, he knows well the needs of our armed forces, and he always puts them first.” – Ronald Reagan

Paul’s embrace of Reagan’s legacy represents a significant change of heart. Actually, it’s the second time that Paul has changed his mind about Reagan. After endorsing Reagan for president in 1976 and again in 1980, Paul became disenchanted, leaving the Republican party in 1987. The following year, he told the Los Angeles Times

Paul (May 10, 1988): The American people have never reached this point of disgust with politicians before. I want to totally disassociate myself from the Reagan Administration.

Paul’s disaffection started early in Reagan’s presidency. "Ronald Reagan has given us a deficit 10 times greater than what we had with the Democrats," Paul told the Christian Science Monitor in 1987. "It didn’t take more than a month after 1981, to realize there would be no changes."

Sometime between 1988 (during Paul’s run for the presidency on the Libertarian Party ticket) and 1996 (when Paul, running as a Republican once more, successfully ousted an incumbent House member in a GOP primary), Paul once again embraced Reagan’s legacy. The New York Times reported then that Paul had used the longer version of the Reagan quote in a videotape sent to 30,000 households. According to the Times, Reagan’s former attorney general, Edwin Meese III, flew to Texas "to insist that Mr. Reagan had offered no recent endorsements."

We were unable to document Reagan’s endorsement of Paul. When we asked the Paul campaign for documentation, a spokesperson told us that the campaign was "a little more focused on positive things." The Paul campaign did not provide the Times with a date for the quotation in 1996, either.

Introduction to Logic
 
 We close with a final point, though this one is directed at Ron Paul supporters. Recently, we’ve received a barrage of e-mail containing variations on this theme: "Am I to assume that by making no mention of Rep. Ron Paul in your synopses of GOP candidates, you found his statements meritorious?" The similarities between the messages led to a bit of searching, and we found what we suspect is the cause: A post at DailyPaul.com alleges that because the author found no instances where we called out Paul for misstatements, "FactCheck.org shows that Ron Paul is truthful."

We realize that DailyPaul.com is not officially affiliated with Paul’s campaign. But the error is egregious enough that it merits discussion. Here’s the basic argument from DailyPaul:

  1. If FactCheck.org writes about a candidate, then that candidate makes some inaccurate claims.
  2. FactCheck.org has not written about Ron Paul.
  3. Therefore Ron Paul does not make inaccurate claims.

That argument might sound appealing, but, in fact, it is a logical fallacy (philosophers call this one "denying the antecedent"). Consider a different argument that has exactly the same logical structure:

  1. If it is Thursday, then I have to go to work.
  2. It is not Thursday.
  3. Therefore I do not have to go to work.

We wouldn’t recommend trying that argument out on your boss – unless, of course, you have a job that requires you to work only on Thursdays. And that’s the problem with the DailyPaul.com argument. It works only to the extent that you assume that we write about every single inaccurate claim uttered by every single political candidate. We don’t. We just hadn’t gotten around to mentioning many Ron Paul flubs.

We’ve corrected that oversight now.

-by Joe Miller

Sources

Braun, Stephen. "Paul Believes in Threat of North American Superhighway." Los Angeles Times, 30 Nov. 2007.

Clymer, Adam. "The Race for Congress: Texas’ 14th District; Under Fire, a G.O.P. Convert Wins Party’s Fierce Loyalty." New York Times, 8 April 1996.

CNN. "Election Center 2008: Primaries and Caucuses, Florida Results." CNN Politics. 30 Jan. 2008. 4 Feb. 2008.

Congressional Budget Office. "The Budget and Economic Outlook: Fiscal Years 2008 – 2012." January 2008. Congressional Budget Office. 31 Jan. 2008.

Dobbs, Michael. "A ‘Superhighway’ to Nowhere." 3 Dec. 2007. Washington Post: The Fact Checker. 30 Jan. 2008.

"FactCheck.org Shows Ron Paul is Truthful." 27 Jan. 2008. DailyPaul.com. 4 Feb. 2008.

Hayes, Christopher. "The NAFTA Superhighway." 9 Aug. 2007. The Nation. 11 Feb. 2008.

Higgs, Robert. "The Trillion-Dollar Defense Budget Is Already Here." 15 March 2007. The Independent Institute. 31 Jan. 2008.

"H.B. 3588." 2 June 2003. Texas Legislature Online. 11 Feb. 2008.

Kennedy, J. Michael. "Politics 88; Hopeless Presidential Race; Libertarian Plods on — Alone and Unheard." Los Angeles Times, 10 May 1988.

Kovach, Gretel C. "Highway to Hell?" 10 Dec. 2007. Newsweek. 30 Jan. 2008.

LaFranchi, Howard. "Ron Paul; In Former Congressman, Libertarians Think Party Has Best Candidate Ever." The Christian Science Monitor 29 Sept. 1987.

North America SuperCorridor Coalition Inc. "NASCO Speaks Out." NASCOcorridor.com. 11 Feb. 2008.

"North American Union." 8 Jan. 2008. Snopes.com. 30 Jan. 2008.

Office of Management and Budget. "Department of State and Other International Programs." Jan. 2007. Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2008. 4 Feb. 2008.

Office of Management and Budget. "Table 27–1. Budget Authority and Outlays by Function, Category, and Program." 4 Feb. 2008. Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2009. 5 Feb. 2008.

Office of Management and Budget. "Table S–1. Budget Totals." 5 Feb. 2008. Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2009. 11 Feb. 2008.

Paul, Ron. "The NAFTA Superhighway." 31 Oct. 2006. Ron Paul 2008. 30 Jan. 2008.

"Republican Presidential Nomination." 3 Feb. 2008. Real Clear Politics. 5 Feb.y 2008.

"SPP Myths vs Facts." January 2008. Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America. 30 Jan. 2008.