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Ron Paul: Turn on, Tune in, Drop out

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
I first met Ron Paul in 1988 at the Beverly Hills home of Dr. Timothy Leary, the one-time "turn on, tune in, drop out" LSD guru. Leary talked to me about how he was going to have his head frozen cryogenically when he died -- it happened eight years later -- and why he was hosting a fundraiser for Paul. The event showed that there is such a thing as being so far to the right, or left, that you bond with the fringe left or fringe right.

Paul and Leary found common cause in their opposition to the war on drugs. I like. But as I reported in the Los Angeles Daily News at the time, Paul's platform also called for abolishing the income tax, dismantling the Internal Revenue Service and demolishing the post office.

In his third bid for the presidency -- his second run in the GOP primaries -- Paul's platform is pretty much the same. His website promises that Paul "will be proud to be the one who finally turns off the lights at the IRS for good." (I italicize this as his campaign's frequent use of "The One" has a faint messianic odor.)

And: "Capital gains taxes, which punish you for success (and interfere with your efforts to hedge against inflation by purchasing gold and silver coins), should also be immediately repealed."

Those views seemed extreme in 1988. They seem extreme now -- and are almost certain to make Paul unelectable in November. This is why I have not considered Paul to be a serious candidate.

Paul looks strong now. He has put together an impressive organization of enthusiastic supporters -- Paulistas -- who could hand him victory in the Jan. 3 caucus in Iowa, where the RealClearPolitics poll average puts Paul in the lead.

A former Air Force flight surgeon and practicing physician, Paul often talks like an outsider. He is and he isn't. First elected to the House in a 1976 special election, Paul lost his Texas seat in the general election. Then he beat the incumbent two years later. He left Congress in 1984 when he ran for Senate and lost. In 1996, he ran for a House seat again and won.

I think part of Paul's popularity stems from his willingness to take unpopular stands to stay true to his bedrock beliefs. Even when you disagree with him, you have to admire his willingness to say things in GOP debates that your average Republican does not want to hear. At a November debate, for example, Paul charged that the Obama administration "assassinated" American-born al-Qaida operative Anwar al Awlaki in Yemen. It was another one of Paul's strange bedfellow marriages, this time with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Over time, those positions wander into crazy-talk land and wear thin. Recently, Paul told an Iowa audience, "Just think of what happened after 9/11. Immediately before there was any assessment there was glee in the (Bush) administration because now we can invade Iraq."

That kind of talk made Paul many Democrats' pet Republican in 2008. He has picked up support on niche issues -- on the far right, his pledge to shutter the Transportation Security Administration; on the left, his supportive rhetoric on accused Wiki-leaker Bradley Manning. Paul has won support ranging from Timothy Leary's backyard in 1988 to traditional-values Iowans in 2011. He has core values. Alas, he has no middle.

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