When CNN's John King asked this year's batch of Republican presidential candidates to describe themselves in one word during a February debate in Arizona, Ron Paul didn't hesitate. "Consistent," he declared, as a proud half-smile crept across his face.
Indeed, while the congressman from Texas has changed his views on certain issues over time -- Paul, for example, has become increasingly skeptical of climate change and increasingly tough on immigration, and now touts his ties with Ronald Reagan even though he denounced the Gipper's policies in 1987 -- he is, in many ways, a rare breed in politics these days: a sturdy sandal in a sea of flimsy flip-floppers.
Long before he was calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and arguing for friendship rather than war with Iran, Paul was the only member of the House of Representatives to vote against a 1981 resolution on U.S. efforts to resolve a conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization in Lebanon. "We need less meddling in the internal affairs of other nations, not more," he explained.
In fact, while Paul is now running as a Republican candidate (just how long the ideological strain he represents will remain in the party is unclear), he sounds remarkably similar to how he did in 1988, when he won less than half a million votes as the Libertarian Party's presidential candidate after temporarily leaving the GOP.
Take technology, for instance. In 1987, he told Texas Monthly that "we're going to start testing our TV in smaller states, on off-channels, and on cable television. People who are looking for ideas tend to be watching independent stations and cable." By the 2008 election, when cable television had long since gone mainstream, Paul was channeling his message through the next edgy, disruptive innovation: the web.
Or take this interview in 1988 with a 53-year-old Paul. Sure, he's younger. But if you close your eyes and ignore the references to communism, you might just lose yourself in time. There's the same ardent, amused, and slightly squeaky talk of honoring the Constitution, taking a wrecking ball to federal institutions (especially his arch nemesis, the Federal Reserve), reining in out-of-control government spending, restoring a bright future for the country's debt-saddled youth, doing away with foreign aid, and turning America's gaze back toward its own shores and national defense.
Admittedly, the 76-year-old Paul has lost a step or two. He no longer gesticulates wildly when discussing drug legalization (5:00), the Vietnam War (15:00), and getting "high on the ideas of freedom" (16:50), as he did in this surreal 1988 appearance on the Morton Downey Jr. Show, an ear-splitting Jerry Springer forerunner.
But theatrics aside, it's the same Ron Paul. Still don't believe us? We challenge you to a game. Who said it: today's Ron Paul or 1980s Ron Paul?
1. "This country has been the wealthiest country ever. We've been the freest country. And we've been very, very prosperous. We had the strongest currency. We had the most gold. And what is happening today?... The deficits are out of control, we have borrowed to the hilt ... and we're facing serious problems.... It's an end of an era."