Late Night: Ron Paul talks to Jon Stewart about media, markets
Full-time comedian and part-time serious journalist Jon Stewart switched into Walter Cronkite mode Monday night for a lengthy talk with Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul.
The first part of the interview was largely devoted to a discussion of the news media, which so far has not taken Paul's candidacy very seriously. The congressman suggested the lack of interest in his campaign had to do with fear. "Some people don't want to hear the message because it's a threat," he said. "Some people don't understand what freedom is all about."
In the second segment (posted below), Stewart pivoted from media analysis to a wonkier discussion of Paul's libertarian ideology. Specifically, he asked Paul why government regulation of business is such a terrible thing. "Wouldn't you rather have people regulating that are accountable to voters rather than corporations who are only accountable to shareholders?" he wondered.
Paul cited the example of the real estate crash as example of government regulation gone bad. "The regulators got bailed out, the middle class lose their jobs and their houses. All this desire to trust in the government to make sure that big corporations won't hurt them actually is a backfire on them," he said.
Paul then took his argument one giant step further, claiming that "the regulations are much tougher in a free market because you cannot commit fraud, you cannot steal, you cannot hurt people" and "in a true libertarian society you have to be responsible."
Stewart politely expressed skepticism about the idea that unbridled, unregulated capitalism might be more humane than a regulated market. "It's hard for people to know the history of the Industrial Revolution to feel like that is anyway not a pipe dream," he said.
"It's been tried, it's never been perfect," Paul replied, but mostly dodged the question. "But has socialism and authoritarianism ever been perfect? It's horrible. You lose all your freedom that way."
Stewart pushed him on the point. "Is that our choice? Is our choice authoritarianism and tyranny and sort of a free market that we must trust?"
Invoking a number of metaphors, Paul essentially argued that, no, there isn't a choice: Regulation inevitably leads to oppression. "I think if you plant a seed it tends to grow. I used to never be able to get away with telling one of my patients, a woman that comes in and she's pregnant, 'Don't worry about it, it's a touch of pregnancy.' It doesn't work that way. If you get government involved there tends to be growth. A little bit of income tax, 1%, before you have a monster out there."
Paul fans--and detractors--can watch the unedited interview here.
Photo: Jon Stewart, left, and Ron Paul. Credit: Peter Kramer / Associated Press and Joe Burbank /Orlando Sentinel /MCT.