By Dana Milbank
WASHINGTON – Ron Paul ran for president three times, served nearly a quarter-century in Congress, spawned a national movement and saw his son elected to the Senate.
But in his singular objective – to “End the Fed,” as the title of his book put it – the libertarian obstetrician from Texas failed. He didn’t even make a dent in it. In a valedictory Wednesday before Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and his colleagues on the House Financial Services Committee, Paul raised the white flag.
“Policies never change. … No matter what the crisis is, we still do more of the same,” he lamented in what probably was his last public appearance with Bernanke before retiring from Congress at the end of the year. “I hoped in the past to try to contribute to the discussion on monetary policy, the business cycle and why it benefits the rich over the poor. And so far, my views have not prevailed, but I’ve appreciated the opportunity.”
For the fiery Paul, it was a subdued surrender. His colleagues – Democrats and Republicans alike – used this final hearing to honor Paul for his passionate service, treating him with the cautious affection one might use to address a crazy uncle.
“This may be his last committee meeting with the chairman of the Federal Reserve,” Chairman Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., began. “And his leadership on the committee, especially during these hearings when we’ve had the Federal Reserve chairman appear before us, have certainly made the hearings more interesting and provided several memorable YouTube moments.”
Many on the dais laughed, and even Bernanke smiled at the memory.
Then there was the hearing last July, when Paul hectored the Fed chairman for claiming that gold wasn’t a form of money.
The one substantial challenge to Bernanke – Paul’s “audit the Fed” bill, which the House is expected to approve next week before it dies in the Senate – was easily dispatched by the Fed chairman, who warned against injecting congressional politics into the staid field of monetary policy. Even Bachus distanced himself from the Paul bill, pointedly noting that it “did not come before the Financial Services Committee, which surprised me.”
Paul didn’t really argue with Bernanke; he used his time to deliver mini-lectures. In his first five-minute question period, he outspoke Bernanke eight words to one.
Bernanke, arms folded in front of him, declined to be provoked. “There’s no constitutional reason why Congress couldn’t just take over monetary policy,” he said. “But I’m advising you that it wouldn’t be very good from an economic policy point of view.”
Other than making this inarguable assertion – why would it be a good idea to give Congress another duty that it can mishandle? – the Fed chairman listened patiently to Paul, who took off his reading glasses, waved an arm in the air and recited from his greatest hits: Crisis! Printing money! Flawed system! Big government!
But ultimately, the congressman accepted that he would leave town with the Fed still alive and well. “We never change policy. We never challenge anything. We just keep doing the same thing,” he lamented. “Congress keeps spending the money. Welfare expands exponentially. Wars never end.”
At this point, the committee chairman cut him off. Paul’s time had expired.
Dana Milbank’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.