Watching the Republican Presidential Debate on CNN was exasperating. I thought it was bad enough when, during the previous debate, the Fox News moderators cut the Paul-Giuliani Exchange short to ask John McCain about the extremely pressing issue of…the Confederate flag flying over the statehouse. It turns out, however, that Wolf Blitzer and Co. are far more concerned with flippant issues than the neocons at Fox News. They made certain to pester the candidates about whether they believed in evolution or not and what the policy should be towards gays in the military, while not even touching on constitutional interpretation, the disgraceful state of the nation's government schools, the $9 trillion public debt, or the government's absurd and disastrous attempt to impose a democratic, drug-free, Taliban-free, Tajik-and-Uzbek-dominated Afghanistan on the nation's impoverished, strict Muslim and largely Pashtun populace.
Nonetheless nine of the candidates still managed to construct an anti-liberty, anti-capitalist message, despite their contentions otherwise. Romney, for example, remains convinced that his compulsory health insurance program for Massachusetts is a free market solution that promotes personal responsibility. He was not all that clear on how the government deciding what's best for people and then forcing them to do it makes people responsible, though. Giuliani still thinks he's a free market candidate even though he explicitly endorsed government-run nation building. But McCain, you see, is opposed to overspending. He'd get rid of all those pork-barrel projects that cost taxpayers $29 billion in 2006…out of a budget of over $2 trillion. Maybe he can also enlist the help of fellow candidate Tommy Thompson in reforming that stockpiling program at the Dept. of Health and Human Services that has some inefficiencies. But seriously, to the extent that any of these candidates support the market, they do so to make the state more efficient. As Lew points out, neither the mainstream left nor right believes in true liberty.
Thankfully, Dr. Paul reminded me why I am paying such close attention to this race by using his time on the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" question to argue eloquently for individualism. Homosexuality is not really the issue, Paul replied, because "We don't get our rights because we're gays or women or minorities. We get our rights from our creator as individuals. So every individual should be treated the same way." He continued, "If there is homosexual behavior in the military that is disruptive, it should be dealt with. But if there's heterosexual sexual behavior that is disruptive, it should be dealt with." Paul's response left the next candidate, Mike Huckabee, stuttering in agreement. Instead of offering vague "pro-life, pro-values" rhetoric, Paul offered a thoughtful philosophical response and a practical application thereof.
Likewise, Paul exposed the absurdity of many of the candidates' support for "pro-life, whole-life" policies by decrying their calls for preemptive — and possibly nuclear — military action against Iran. "We have in the past," he contended,
Always declared war in the defense of our liberties or go to aid of somebody. But now we have accepted the principle of preemptive war — we have rejected the Just War theory of Christianity. We have to come to our senses about this issue of war and preemption and go back to traditions and our constitution and defend our liberties and defend our rights.
Indeed, deep respect for and love of life does not go well with support for preemptive war, acceptance of "collateral damage," and openness to the idea of deploying tactical nuclear weapons.
Unfortunately, there were no outbursts this time that will help garner more mainstream media attention for the campaign. Il Duce did demand to know how anyone expected to fight the war on terrorism without invading Iraq (maybe by dealing with the people who actually attacked us? Just a thought), but was very reserved in dealing with Paul — perhaps intentionally. When Blitzer asked for Giuliani's response to Paul's interpretation of the United States' current wars, he declined to call the Doctor's assertions absurd or to demand a retraction. He simply declared that he was going to offer a different view. Indeed, the entire debate seems to have been formatted to allow Rudy McRomney a virtual monologue at the expense of the lesser-known candidates. I think I'm going to have to modify Gandhi's famous quote that I referenced in my previous article. First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then they realize that ignoring you worked best so they go back to that.
Eric Phillips [send him mail] is a disaffected inhabitant of Washington, DC who studies history and economics at George Washington University.