Ron Paul led the annual Fourth of July parade through Friendswood, Texas, from the back of a gleaming pickup truck that inched along behind a replica of the Liberty Bell and just ahead of Lady Liberty herself, who was sitting in a Corvette and seemed to have wilted under the oppressive noonday sun. Or perhaps the oppressive policies of Barack Obama—it was hard to tell which. Along the parade route, the Stars and Stripes vied for prominence with STOP OBAMA signs.
Friendswood lies just south of Houston, in a district that voted 2-to-1 for John McCain, and for George W. Bush before him. But the distinctive flavor of the local conservatism is most vividly conveyed by Paul, the 75-year-old arch-libertarian congressman and sometime presidential candidate whose disdain for federal power is so severe that he once voted to deny Mother Teresa the Congressional Gold Medal because the Constitution does not expressly authorize such an expenditure. Paul thinks the government ought to be doing a whole lot less, and his constituents seem to agree. They’ve been returning him to Congress since the 1970s by growing margins.
Lately a lot of people, not just in Texas, are coming around to this view. “I’m so confident in my philosophy that I think I could run a pretty good race in San Francisco,” he told me in his Washington office recently. “What I’d talk about there wouldn’t be so much about deficit spending as about personal liberties, military engagement overseas, and the financial crisis. That used to help more in conservative districts. But everybody’s worried about it now.”