Ron Paul violated one of the most consistently observed rules of American political life in the GOP debate in South Carolina the other night: government officials are never, ever to level with the American population. The people are to be endlessly flattered, spoken to in bumper-sticker slogans, and in general treated like seven-year-olds.
Congressman Paul crossed another, more specific forbidden line when he contradicted one of the major working assumptions of nearly all mainstream American pundits: foreigners never, ever get angry at the U.S. government’s foreign policy, and would never for any reason want to avenge themselves against it. You can go out of your way to prevent water treatment facilities from being repaired, you can starve and bomb without compunction, and you can bring about half a million deaths, and the people will quietly take it. In fact, they probably spend their time reproaching themselves for having so displeased the U.S. government.
A man of principle and in possession of an IQ above 80, Paul naturally refused to play along. He explained that foreign policy has consequences, and that political and military interference around the world has a tendency to stir up whole peoples against us. If we ignore this simple and obvious fact, we do so at our peril. His implicit conclusion was that the shenanigans of our government have made our people more hated and more vulnerable than ever. In sum, if you want to play empire, you cannot pretend that doing so will be costless.
To the propagandized automatons of 2007 America, this is called "blaming America" for 9/11. I guess detectives should bear that in mind the next time they seek the motive behind a murder. "You’re looking for motive? Are you saying the dead man had it coming?" (Will moral relativism never cease?)
Reports from all over the intelligence community have repeatedly confirmed Paul’s point, as if we needed express confirmation of what in normal times would be a matter of simple common sense. The CIA’s Michael Scheuer, who is by no means antiwar, told CNN: “We’re being attacked for what we do in the Islamic world, not for who we are or what we believe in or how we live. And there’s a huge burden of guilt to be laid at Mr. Bush, Mr. Clinton, both parties for simply lying to the American people.”
Now I can already hear the other objection: Islamic history and theology provide ample pretext for jihad violence for anyone who wants to find it. Supposing the truth of that claim for the sake of argument, what exactly is it that makes them seem to want to find it? Are we to ignore the countless reports showing how the dumb belligerence of the current administration has increased the ranks of the radicals? And why does Osama bin Laden bother producing recruitment tapes detailing atrocities against Muslims if all he really has to do is point to the Koran and send the suicide bombers on their way to America?
The rest of the world, hearing Paul’s remarks, will doubtless be relieved to know that there are still at least a few Americans in public life who are able to process information at higher than a sixth-grade level, and whose understanding of international affairs isn’t cartoonish and delusional. But being a conservative today, of course, means that on principle you don’t care what the rest of the world thinks — what are you, some kind of commie? God bless America!
It’s a good thing for him that Russell Kirk didn’t have to live to see the deranged caricature of itself that American conservatism has now become. Kirk, one of the key architects of that movement, spent the last years of his life opposing every military adventure of the U.S. government. The average conservative today, on the other hand, who knows only what the government and its neocon shills tell him, would be at an utter loss to account for that.
(On the domestic front, one brief observation: only Ron Paul spoke forthrightly of scaling back the scope of the federal government. Poor Tommy Thompson couldn’t think of a single thing he’d want to cut — oh, except paragraph 17b, line 32, from some health program whose purpose would take fifteen minutes to describe. He wasn’t alone: the rest of the candidates droned on about cutting waste and abuse — code for business as usual. As Lew Rockwell put it, "The others couldn’t name one federal typewriter they would sell off." No wonder they hate having Ron Paul there.)
There are still some Americans who don’t enjoy being propagandized, talked down to, or treated like imbeciles, and it is they in particular who appreciate Ron Paul. Long after the self-promoting phonies on that stage are gone and forgotten, Paul will still be admired. I know I can’t wait to read the biography of his political life.
Dan McAdams, who works in Ron Paul’s office, posted these remarks immediately following the debate:
I have worked for and with Dr. Paul more closely than perhaps anyone in this country (along with my colleagues) for the past six years and the fact of the matter is, as Lew can attest, that Dr. Paul is the most even-tempered, best-humored, easy-going, and intellectually engaging individual anyone would ever want to know. I still look at the little notes he sends me — even from years ago — and laugh my head off.
No one would saddle themselves with the kind of inhuman schedule that he does unless he genuinely enjoyed and felt passion for what he was doing. The joy is there every time I see him each week. And I have never met anyone who is so intellectually nimble and interested in new ideas.
Ron Paul has put himself up for personal ridicule at the hands of his inferiors just to show all of us that there is an alternative to the direction we are headed. Which of us would have the courage to do the same? He won? Irrelevant. His every word to the national audience is worth a million blows of the hammer on the stone of authoritarianism. God bless him. I have never felt more proud of him than tonight, enduring the slings and arrows of fascists like Giuliani.
No further comment is necessary.
Thomas E. Woods, Jr. [view his website; send him mail] is senior fellow in American history at the Ludwig von Mises Institute. His books include How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization (get a free chapter here), The Church and the Market: A Catholic Defense of the Free Economy (first-place winner in the 2006 Templeton Enterprise Awards), and the New York Times bestseller The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History.