In Fox News’ Wednesday night Republican presidential debate, candidate Ron Paul got into a notable spat with candidate Michele Bachmann over the issue of Iran’s ostensible race to achieve nuclear weaponry and to attack Israel and the United States with it. Paul, whom I do not trust because of his continued affiliation with a patently corrupt political party (both major parties are patently and incorrigibly corrupt), squandered an excellent opportunity to make some points that America desperately needs to hear, and launched instead into a barely-comprehensible rant that is now being used by pundits everywhere as the look-no-further reason to dismiss Paul’s campaign as hopeless.
Here is a YouTube video showing the exchange. As you watch, please ask yourself, “How could Ron Paul have answered more pointedly and powerfully?”
I will give Dr. Paul the benefit of the doubt and assume that he really wants to do well in this campaign. (If it is his plan to fail, distracting the energies of a few million avid supporters and keeping them from doing anything productive with a view toward national reform, then that’s another issue entirely, and is outside the scope of this article.) Assuming, therefore, that he wants to succeed, Paul simply needs to learn how to make an argument. What follows is a fairly brief analysis of what an assumedly sincere Paul should have said in his first rebuttal to Bachmann.
“We know without a shadow of a doubt Iran will take a nuclear weapon, they will use it to wipe our ally Israel off the face of the map. And they’ve stated that they will use it against the United States of America. Look no further than the Iranian constitution, which states unequivocally that their mission is to extend jihad across the world and eventually to set up for worldwide caliphate. We would be fools and knaves to ignore their purpose and their plan.”
The thrust of Bachmann’s argument is that an attack from a nuclear-armed Iran would be certain and, therefore, that Iran should not be trusted to have nuclear weapons. She also implies that the US should intervene. As support for her assertions and implications, she cites Iran’s constitution. A proper response to this argument, therefore, would be to:
- Contradict Bachmann’s assumption that an attack would be certain.
- Undermine her support for that argument.
- Contradict Bachmann’s implication that the US ought to intervene in Iran’s nuclear pursuits.
- Undermine her supports (stated or assumed) for that implication.
Sadly, however, Paul’s response did little to nothing toward these ends. Rather, he seems to have attempted to recap his entire doctrine on war in a couple of meandering paragraphs.
“Obviously, I would like to see a lot less nuclear weapons, I don’t want Iran to have a nuclear weapon. I would like to reduce them because there would be less chance of war. But to declare war on 1.2 billion Muslims and say all Muslims are the same, this is dangerous talk. Yeah, there are some radicals. But they don’t come here to kill us because we’re free and prosperous. Do they go to Switzerland and Sweden? I mean, that’s absurd.”
“If you think that is the reason, we have no chance of winning this. They come here and they explicitly explain it to us. The CIA has explained it to us. It said they come here and they want to do us harm because we are bombing them! What is the whole world about the drone being in Iran? And we’re begging and pleading and how are we going to start a war to get the drone back? Why were we flying a drone over Iran? Why do we have to bomb so many countries? Why are we — why do we have 900 bases in 130 countries and we’re totally bankrupt. How do you rebuild a military when we have no money? How are we going to take care of the people? I think this wild goal to have another war in the name of defense is the dangerous thing. The danger is really us overreacting. We need a strong national defense and we need to only go to war with a declaration of war and carelessly flouting it and starting these wars so often.”
Here’s what Paul should have said:
You assert that if Iran obtains nuclear arms, they will certainly use them. This is a fallacy that is easily demonstrated: There are about nine nations who possess nuclear weapons. Among them are Russia, China, and North Korea. U.S. Relations with all of these are strained at best, and belligerent at worst. Even so, the number of times that these nations have attacked us or our allies with nuclear weapons is exactly zero. All three of these nations have published bellicose rhetoric from time to time, just as does Iran, and yet none of them have launched nuclear attacks against us. Your grand assumption that if Iran can nuke us, they will nuke us is an obvious fallacy.
Further, your argument completely ignores the powerful deterrent of certain and annihilatory reprisal. While you pretend that with a single nuclear weapon, Iran could “wipe our ally Israel off the face of the map”, the fact of the matter is that a single detonation would only destroy a large metropolitan area. As tragic as that would be, the inevitable multi-nuke response would annihilate Iran, bring it and its current regime to a swift and irreversible end.
No nation so wants to do ill to another that it will risk its own survival toward that end. A nuclear Iran will be no exception. And if you still think that bad boys with nukes need to be attacked and their nukes destroyed or confiscated, I would note that you don’t seem to be advocating that we attack Russia, China, and North Korea for this purpose.
Like it or not, it is within the rights of nations to arm themselves as they see fit. If this is good for America, decency forces us to admit that it is good for the rest of the world, too. We dare not be hypocrites in the name of our own freedoms. It would seem, however, that millions of Americans have been duped into being adamantly pro war—not because it makes political or moral sense, but because it earns billions and billions of dollars for several mega industries in the US.
You, however, Representative Bachmann, along with most (if not all) of these other candidates, either fail to understand these facts, or you are supporters of those who profit from our incessant wars. In either case, it is quite troubling and it shows that you are not well qualified to be President.
Ron Paul made a tactical mistake. He responded more as if Bachmann had “hit a nerve” than as if he were objectively analyzing her assertions and positing better ones instead. He had a stellar opportunity to reframe the entire argument (which was being made by more candidates than just Bachmann), but he failed to seize the moment. Instead, he took a whining tone and failed completely to give anyone who is not already a supporter a reason to understand and to adopt his way of thinking.
There are plenty of other examples of this in Paul’s rhetoric, spanning over several years. Assuming that Paul is indeed sincere in his campaigns, it would seem that he is losing simply for his inability to make a strong and decisive argument in a short time. While his books are convincing, there is little hope of having a majority of voters read them. On the contrary, he has only seconds to win the nation’s respect. And at this, he habitually fails.
It is likely too late for Dr. Paul to win the 2012 election, but what he needs is some training in rhetoric and logical argumentation. Paul has been campaigning for President off and on since 1988. In all that time, he has amassed support that now amounts to somewhere under 20% of the population. (This varies depending on the poll in question.) To his credit, this support has been won in spite of his poor debating and interviewing skills. A significant (and speedy) improvement here could be just what he needs to succeed.
If Dr. Paul is to have any hope in 2012, he’ll either have to get his supporters to campaign for him, making the argument aptly to their friends, neighbors, and coworkers, or he’ll have to take a crash course to learn how to do it himself. It is doubtful that his supporters will do much better than he is doing, however, for this is the very nature of the leader/follower model. Indeed, I have discussed and debated with a generous number of Paul supporters over the years and find that very few seem to be keen at making the arguments they so adamantly support.
It is one thing to believe a sound proposition; it is quite another to be able to articulate it effectively. Sadly, few in the Ron Paul camp seem to be busy trying to “sharpen the saw”. Rather, like Paul himself, they seem to be ineffectively repeating the mantra over and over, and then to be offended/irritated/disappointed when others don’t “get it”.
The emotional response is to be expected, but it’s far from rolling up one’s sleeves with renewed determination to find a way that works. Paul’s movement simply needs some help in this way. Kudos to Paul on his improved campaign management structure and his number of supporters, but these things are of little value where the message is not crystal clear and where it both confuses the remaining masses and gives his opponents so much material with which to influence others against him.
With the mainstream media working so hard to marginalize Paul’s campaign, clarifying and strengthening its message is far from being just another good idea; it is a must. It is hard to imagine this process beginning and succeeding unless it begins first with Dr. Paul.
I recognized this problem a few years ago and personally presented Dr. Paul with a brief that addressed several ideas, including a section called “Make the Argument”. Dr. Paul never responded, however, leaving me to assume that he simply doesn’t think it’s all that important. I suppose that he makes the mistake of overestimating his previous success at winning others over. In my summation, Paul wins over those who are already willing to “get it”—who are already doubting the establishment and who are already looking for another solution to what ails us. Having won the admiration of this minority, Paul mistakenly assumes that that is needed now is simply “more of the same”. He does not realize that he has already fairly exhausted the number of those in the society who are more naturally open-minded as to politics.
What Dr. Paul must do now, if he is to succeed, is to reformat his argument so as to go after those who are not yet willing to “get it”, but who have enough decency to correct their own misguided paradigms when they are soundly proven wrong. This means that he’s going to have to tackle people’s specific misguided beliefs, one by one—just as I did in my suggested response to Bachmann above.
It is not enough to believe the right thing; one must also learn how to help others to understand it and to believe it, too.