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An Interview with Ron Paul's Brother: Spreading the Good News (But Not From the Pulpit)

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GRAND RAPIDS, MI - When the Grand Rapids Press called Rev. David Paul to ask if they could take a photo of the campaign sign in his yard for an article they were working on, he willingly agreed.

There were just two problems:

The sign - for Ron Paul - was not in the Lutheran minister's yard; and the man known to members of Trinity Lutheran Church as Pastor David is the older brother of the maverick Republican presidential candidate.

"I live half a mile down a dirt road," said Paul in a recent post-service interview. "And there's only two houses past me, so maybe three people will pass by the sign."

That's not to say that Paul isn't proud - or supportive - of his brother's political endeavors. From the earliest stages of his life, the pastor said, Ron "was unusual in that he was so honest and so upright." Once, after winning a state championship in track, the future congressman injured his knee and had to undergo surgery. Nevertheless, a major university "was willing to take a chance on him," said Rev. Paul, and offered him a prestigious scholarship. Yet with the injury, Paul "didn't think he could do it...so he wasn't going to take that scholarship.

"He would stand up for things like that, which was, I thought, pretty remarkable," said his brother.

That kind of apparent integrity found an unlikely home in politics, as Ron Paul became involved with Barry Goldwater's campaign for the presidency in 1964.

"I think it really began with Goldwater," said Rev. Paul. Like the senator from Arizona, Ron Paul would go on to adopt a libertarian philosophy - championing privacy, small government...and a clear separation between church and state.

Ron Paul was raised Lutheran, but after marrying had his children baptized in the Episcopal church. Today, however, he attends a Baptist church in his Texas district.

"I think he's probably more on the conservative side of the Southern Baptist church," said Rev. Paul. But, he added, "I think his feeling is that church ought to be church, politics ought to be politics."

That would almost certainly sit well with the now deceased Senator Goldwater, who once famously remarked, "I think every good Christian ought to kick Falwell right in the ass."

After an unsuccessful presidential bid as the Libertarian nominee in 1988, the Congressman ultimately rejoined the Republican Party, even though "it was well noted that the Republican Party campaigned against him for the nomination," according to his brother. Paul has faced similar opposition from the Republican establishment in his current bid for the presidency, most recently in the banning of pro-Ron Paul bloggers from RedState.com.

Perhaps RedState's editorial decision - as well as widespread traditional Republicans' discomfort with his candidacy - is due the Congressman's refusal to follow the playbook. His faith "affects his life but not what he does," said Rev. Paul. "I mean, he's guided by those religious principles but he's not going to parade them out there for political principles."

If Ron Paul is a politician who doesn't wear his faith on his sleeve, his brother David is a minister who doesn't wear his politics on his vestments - thus the absence of the yard sign.

"My whole life in the ministry," he said, "I've encouraged people to get involved in politics and to vote. And I've made great pleas to vote. But I've never mentioned a candidate." Pastor David added that some in his congregation seem more excited about the prospect of a Ron Paul presidency than he is.

That's not to say that Rev. Paul is unsupportive. He notes that the sign "has been up since they took my photo."

Ron Paul's brother was present at a few campaign events in the Detroit area during the 1988 campaign, but said "I was only involved in listening." He's largely followed a similar, hands-off approach in this campaign.

That kind of humility seems to be a common denominator of the Paul family. Of the five brothers, two are Lutheran ministers, one is an accountant, one is head of the mathematics department at Appalachian State University...and one, so it happened, is running for president.

Always gracious and never offensive, Rev. Paul nevertheless remarked upon the sharp contrasts between his brother's background and those of some of the other candidates.

"I don't think Romney grew up in a house with five boys in one bedroom." Commenting on a sense of establishment or entitlement among the candidates, Rev. Paul said of his brother, "He doesn't have any of that in his background."

He also "doesn't change his opinion," said the pastor. "No matter what comes up or what may even be helpful to him, he wouldn't do it without reason."

I asked Rev. Paul if his brother was stubborn.

"Oh, I think he's very set," he said. Growing up "we had disagreements. One of my brothers was in the seminary at Princeton, and that's a bit on the other side of Goldwater, you know," he laughed. "We had some good discussions on what part the church should play, on whether a pastor should march in a peace march, what the government should be doing, you know."

Rev. Paul smiled.

"We had some lively conversations," he said. "We weren't always in agreement with each other, but we were never taught that we had to believe one thing or do one thing."

Known for drawing a hard line based on a strict interpretation of the Constitution, fiscal responsibility and libertarian ideology, Ron Paul is considered somewhat of a maverick - once described by current opponent John McCain as "the most honest man in Congress."

But who are his allies? Who does he listen to?

"I don't know," said Rev. Paul. "He had a group that he met with in Congress, a group of the arch-conservative congressmen. I don't know who they were or whether they're still there, but I remember him talking about it."

Congressman Paul, "more of an economist than a politician," once vocally opposed granting a commemorative gold medallion to Rosa Parks on the grounds that the Constitution doesn't call for taxes to be spent in that manner, said Rev. Paul. "To do that with a civil rights leader - that's risky. But he likes economic theories," he said. "He believes that our economic problems began with getting rid of the gold standard and starting to print money."

Having struggled through what few economics courses I've actually taken, I not-so-subtly switched topics.

"So are you lobbying for a cabinet position?" I asked.

Rev. Paul flashed a quick smile, laughed and said, "It seems to me that everybody who becomes president of the United States - Jimmy Carter, Nixon, Clinton - they all had bad brothers that caused them a lot of trouble. The four of us are lobbying to see which one of us will take that position."

Sticking to the topic of causing trouble, Rev. Paul was quick to disperse any notion that his congressman brother's famous sound-bites - often borderline scathing - reflect any sort of personal vendetta...or anger issue.

"If someone were to ask me if I've ever seen the congressman lose his temper," he said, "I can't remember. He seems pretty even-keel to me."

Ron Paul's considerable popularity is, it seems, in large part due to his ability to hold his own against the elite of the political elite in the debates. Central to that success is the congressman's characteristic wit and, sometimes, exceedingly blunt retorts.

"Oh yeah - he's able to hold his own," said Rev. Paul. "He doesn't seem to have any fear, and he knows what he believes. That's the point."

Yet for all the bravado, the minister can't see his brother resorting to negative attack ads. "He's not going to take things that are personal to you and attack you with them," he said. "I couldn't even imagine him doing that."

Thus far in the campaign, Congressman Paul doesn't seem to need negative attack ads to generate publicity, at least.

"The Internet has changed Ron Paul," I said.

"They said, 'has Ron Paul found the Internet?'" said Rev. Paul. "And somebody said, 'No, the Internet has found Ron Paul.'" The representative from Texas currently boasts more online subscribers to his YouTube videos than any other presidential candidate. Truly, Ron Paul's eagerness to embrace technology is central to his campaign's strategy.

But the heavy reliance on YouTube and other online venues isn't the only unorthodox commandment of the Ron Paul campaign.

"They asked him why he has so much cash on hand," said Rev. Paul. "He says, 'I have a very small staff. I've got thousands of volunteers. And we fly coach. And we don't stay in four-star hotels.'

"If he was president," the candidate's brother said, "it wouldn't be long before the government would be smaller."

I asked him if Ron Paul is a compromiser.

"That's a good question," he said. "He realizes...the president doesn't have the power to change some of the things he would like to be changed."

Though never one to endorse a candidate from the pulpit, the Reverend David Paul is actively involved in following his brother's campaign. He watches all the debates, and tries to catch the interviews.

"Do you yell at the TV?" I asked him.

He nodded. "Oh, yeah..." he said.