I have a confession to make: I haven’t always been a Libertarian. While I had always considered myself a “small-l” libertarian, the truth is there was one requirement to join the Libertarian Party that, for years, I just couldn’t quite fully embrace; the Non-Aggression Principle.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have never been the type to start a fight, or to take things that didn’t belong to me. However, like many Americans who came of age around the time of the first Gulf War, I believed there were times where our country had to take a stand against the forces of evil. I also believed that, sometimes, that would require us to “throw the first punch” against countries who never directly attacked us.

It was that strong belief that allowed me to operate within the GOP, even though I was strongly opposed the drug war, had actively campaigned against constitutional amendments defining marriage, and generally stood against the whole host of other things at odds with individual liberty that Republicans were actively a part of. In fact, whenever their version of big-government statism would rear its ugly head, I’d tell myself, “yeah, they suck, but at least they are right on National Security.”

It was with this in mind that, despite watching him acquiesce to big-government liberals in the Democratic Party time and time again, I was happy to throw my support behind John McCain in the GOP Presidential Primaries of 2008. I knew, if nothing else, this was a man who would never be intimidated by those opposing our righteous military actions in the Middle East. After all, he was a Navy Pilot and a POW; if anyone understood the horrors of war, it was him. The fact that he endured all he did and was still committed to “boots on the ground” wherever freedom was threatened just proved to me how righteous our cause was.

But a funny thing happened on the way to his eventual nomination later that year; I was introduced through the GOP Primary debates to a “small-l” Republican Representative from Texas named Ron Paul.

Sure, I had heard of Dr. Paul before. Like a good little “Young Republican”, I had read all the National Review and Fox News articles bashing the 1988 Libertarian Party Presidential Candidate as an America-hating apologist for terrorists. While I never actually listened to him myself, I had certainly already formed an opinion of my own that his opinion didn’t matter. Watching the debates, however, left me with little option but to listen to him. As I listened, I found it was incredibly hard to argue with what he was saying. In fact, in all my years involved in and/or following politics, I had never heard someone who made so much sense in my life.

So I started listening to him on subjects beyond the war in the Middle East, as well. Indeed, it was Ron Paul who first led me to Austrian Economic Theory and the works of economists like Friedrich Hayek, Murray Rothbard, and Ludwig von Mises. Watching the way he had been scorned by the GOP (even having been guilty of it myself in the past), I knew I could no longer be a part of the Republican Party. Fully understanding the reasoning behind the Non-Aggression Principle for the first time in my life, I quickly found my new political home in the Libertarian Party (of which Dr. Paul is still a Lifetime Member) and have never looked back.

This experience is hardly just my own, as I’ve come to know many Libertarians over my 10 years in the party who have walked the same path. While many Libertarians (particularly those brought into the movement by the likes of Gary Johnson and Bill Weld) have expressed exasperation at the loyalty Ron Paul still commands by much of the “rank and file” of the party, it is important for all of us to recognize and remember the work that, even as a Republican, he has done to grow the Liberty Movement.

Likewise, Ron Paul has done more to grow the Libertarian Party over the last 10 years than any other member of the Party. For that, those of us currently “fighting the good fight” under the LP banner will always owe him a debt of gratitude. He should always “matter” here.