I recently criticized presidential candidate Ron Paul for his squandering of an opportunity in the December 14 Fox News Iowa presidential debate for failing to make the (good) argument against war in Iran. I opined that this failure in that instance could well prove pivotal in the race, and pointed out that his position on Iran (and other wars) was being “used by pundits everywhere as the look-no-further reason to dismiss Paul’s campaign as hopeless.”
This is still true today, and I’ll show a collection of quotations below to prove it. But first, let’s address what’s really going on here.
Turning Strengths Into Strengths
What the Paul campaign has not learned how to do is to turn its strengths into strengths. (Yes, you read that correctly.) Presently, Paul seems to be challenging the very core of the American-global economy in his challenges of our incessant wars. (For those who haven’t figured it out, the primary reason America goes to war since 1861 or so is so that it can use its military might to open new markets, to protect existing markets, and to force other nations to trade with us–even to the economic disadvantage of those nations.) Paul’s challenge to this habit, therefore, strikes at the very heart of the most powerful political/economic establishment on the planet. This, I submit, is Paul’s greatest strength, yet he and his campaign seem content to let it be perceived as Paul’s greatest weakness.
Interestingly, a growing number of establishment representatives seem now to be freely admitting that Ron Paul has some “good” or even “great” ideas on the domestic economy. This is noteworthy because it was not the case in Paul’s 2008 presidential bid, where his criticisms of the Federal Reserve and other American economic corruptions was presented as “kooky”. Now, however, the establishment seems willing to admit otherwise–probably as a means of placating Paul supporters somewhat while still criticizing Paul on his anti-war stance. (Indeed, who wouldn’t like to have the support of Paul’s 20%-or-so support if Paul drops out?) This recent acknowledgment in itself is an interesting thing to analyze, for it suggests that the establishment believes it will be effective in defeating Paul on “foreign policy” alone–else, it would never admit Paul’s strengths on the domestic economy.
Running From the Fight
Nevertheless, the Paul campaign seems either unwilling or unable to stand and fight on the anti-war issue. Let’s take a quick look at what the critics are saying, and then we’ll look at the Paul campaign’s woefully-inadequate response.
Newt Gingrich. In a 27 December 2011 interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN’s “The Situation Room”, candidate Gingrich focuses most of his criticism of Paul on Paul’s “unrealistic” views on foreign policy–specifically including Iran, as well as what is commonly referred to as Paul’s “blow back” theory of the 9/11 attacks.
Eric Dondero, former Paul aide. In a CNN interview on or about 28 December 2011, Dondero claims that he resigned from a former Paul congressional campaign because he disagreed with Paul’s anti-Afghanistan War policy. That in itself is not nearly as interesting as the fact that CNN used it as an opportunity to discredit the Paul campaign for 7 minutes and 28 seconds.
Michael Savage, radio talkshow host. In the first 60 seconds of this clip from his 29 December 2011 broadcast, Savage calls Ron Paul a “Jew hater” and says, “The man is so wrong on so many different levels, it’s not even worth arguing with him.”
These are just a sampling of the deluge of recent similar comments and slights regarding Ron Paul. Indeed, I could go on and on showing clips and quotes from newspapers, radio hosts, TV pundits and candidates.
Get the Stick
When a person attacks you with a stick, the ideal fighting strategy (if you know how), is to take the stick away and treat the attacker to a debilitating helping of what he came to dish out. In these attacks against Ron Paul’s foreign policy, Paul certainly has the opportunity to turn the tables, and yet he either refuses or fails to seize the moment. As with Paul’s failure in the Fox News debate, his campaign continues to fail to seize the opportunity to reframe the current debate over Paul’s foreign policy.
Here’s a great example of this (in the video below). Paul campaign adviser Jack Hunter appeared on Fox News on 29 December 2011 to defend against Paul’s critics on foreign policy. Hunter takes nearly-comedic a sing-song tone (a la Jimmy Stewart) as he avoids giving exact answers to the questions posed. Like Paul himself, Hunter seems to take questions merely as a general cue to begin meandering about Paul’s policies. In other words, he fails to understand that the best way to fight against a stick-wielding attacker is to initiate a very targeted counter attack against the stick itself.
Interestingly, Hunter even makes an absurd attempt at a parry when he challenges the interviewer on having asked her question incorrectly, “The question we’re asking—you’re not framing the question correctly—are our interests at risk?” This pitiful rhetoric is the equivalent of saying to a stick-wielding attacker, “You’re not hitting me with the right stick.” Clever and philosophic as that retort might seem to some, it does absolutely nothing to deal with the repeated blows about the head and shoulders. “Please don’t ask me that question; please ask me one I’d prefer to answer instead.”
First watch the interview, and then we’ll discuss what should have been said.
Taking a Beating without Defense
Why does the Paul campaign insist on taking such beatings without ever mounting an effective defense and counter attack? And who in the campaign is thinking it’s a good idea to put such ineffective spokespersons in the spotlight? It causes me to wonder whether the campaign actually believes that if they simply “let their little light shine” on issues like the economy, that the whole nation will warm up in its glow and somehow forget their deeply-rooted concerns (however misguided they may be) about foreign policy and war.
The fact of the matter is that the nation is obtusely pro-war and is too ignorant to change its position without a major campaign to convince them otherwise. Meanwhile, however, the Paul campaign seems content to remain the whining loser in this regard. Along with this, they seem to miss the opportunity here: The establishment seems to have admitted finally that Paul is right on the economy. Their only remaining objection is regarding Paul’s foreign policy. That means that if he could actually win the foreign policy debate, he could win the election. Yet they seem intent on trying to win in spite of the very thing that all his opponents are shooting at. What a needless tactic when all that is necessary is some forceful and sound refutations of the current mantra!
Some Common Sense
Call me crazy, but I believe the naysayers can be silenced with the right argument. I already listed some ideas in my previous article, and I thought I’d list another possibility here.
Paul has some very powerful historical allies in his anti-war position. I wonder why his campaign doesn’t employ some simple arguments like these:
“You know, I’m not alone in my stance against getting involved in needless wars–or even in being suspicious of war in general. Do you like Thomas Jefferson? Well, here’s what he said:
The spirit of this country is totally adverse to a large military force.
~Thomas Jefferson [i]
Conquest is not in our principles. It is inconsistent with our government.
~Thomas Jefferson [ii]
If there is one principle more deeply rooted in the mind of every American, it is that we should have nothing to do with conquest.
~Thomas Jefferson [iv]
“But maybe you don’t like Thomas Jefferson. How about James Madison?
No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.
~James Madison [v]
Of all the enemies of public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded.
~James Madison [vi]
If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.
~James Madison [viii]
Perhaps it is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to provisions against danger, real or pretended, from abroad.
~James Madison [ix]
“And if you don’t like Jefferson’s or Madison’s views on war, perhaps you will like James Monroe or John Quincy Adams:
In the wars of the European powers in matters relating to themselves we have never taken any part, nor does it comport with our policy so to do.
~James Monroe [x]
America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy…. Her glory is not dominion, but liberty. Her march is the march of the mind.
~John Quincy Adams [iii]
“Or perhaps Benjamin Franklin is more your style:
All Wars are Follies, very expensive, and very mischievous ones. When will Mankind be convinced of this, and agree to settle their Differences by Arbitration? Were they to do it, even by the Cast of a Dye, it would be better than by Fighting and destroying each other.
~Benjamin Franklin [xi]
There never was a good war or a bad peace.
~Benjamin Franklin [xii]
“And if you won’t listen to any of these early Americans about the just causes for questioning and avoiding war, perhaps you’ll listen to George Washington:
My first wish is, to see this plague of mankind [war] banished from the earth, and the sons and daughters of this world employed in more pleasing and innocent amusements, than in preparing implements, and exercising them, for the destruction of mankind.
~George Washington [xiii]
The friends of humanity will deprecate War, wheresoever it may appear; and we have experience enough of its evils, in this country, to know, that it should not be wantonly or unnecessarily entered upon. I trust, that the good citizens of the United States will show to the world, that they have as much wisdom in preserving peace at this critical juncture, as they have hitherto displayed valor in defending their just rights.
~George Washington [xiv]
For the sake of humanity, it is devoutly to be wished that the manly employment of agriculture, and the humanizing benefit of commerce, would supersede the waste of war and the rage of conquest; that the swords might be turned into ploughshares, the spears into pruning-hooks, and, as the Scriptures express it, “the nations learn war no more.”
~George Washington [xv]
…avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments, which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to Republican Liberty.
~George Washington [xvi]
Observe good faith and justice towards all Nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all.
~George Washington [xvii]
Nothing is more essential, than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular Nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The Nation, which indulges towards another an habitual hatred, or an habitual fondness, is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests.
~George Washington [xix]
The fact of the matter is that there is ample reason from both history, common sense, and direct observation of the current war-related corruptions in play, to question going to war. And if nothing else, a clear-minded view of these reasons ought to be enough to bring this entire debate to a screeching halt while the reality of the present situation is investigated and analyzed. It simply is not hard to make the case against war.
Dr. Paul and his campaign, however, appear to believe that the nation will somehow get this message without being directly told and corrected. The arguments of the early Americans above are but one possible means of approaching this task, and yet they are a great option, for who wants to be seen as being at odds with these American icons? And how many Americans truly respect some of these early statesmen? Many indeed, even amongst the “hawks”.
Further, the fact that so many disparate characters in our earlier history seem to have agreed in these concerns about war is itself quite a noteworthy fact. In case the reader is unaware, these various gentlemen had some very contentious disagreements between them, and yet they all voiced such cogent suspicions of war in general. Thus could Paul bring the nation together under a more sensible war doctrine if he would realize the opportunity for such—and that, in the midst of a race that gratuitously seeks to divide. In other words, he could be an actual leader in an office that is normally held by divisive puppets of the establishment. Leadership, however, requires influencing people to follow along and knowing when and how to put liars, idiots, and scoundrels in their place.
It would seem, however, that as sound are as so many of Dr. Paul’s policies, he simply fails to realize the opportunity he has to change the course of the nation. He seems to be willing to change it by means of hope, but not by means of sound persuasion. He is perhaps now as close as any non-establishment candidate has ever come—or could ever come, and yet he seems to lack the facility to go all the way.
I visited the west coast once and stood within inches of the great Pacific Ocean. After a brief visit, I went casually on my way, believing that I’d have time for such things later. My time there came to an end much quicker than expected, however, and for years now, I have often regretted that I did not go one foot further to place a toe or a finger in that ocean. So when someone asks me now, “Have you ever been to the Pacific Ocean”, I have to tell them, “Well, sort of.”
I doubt that Dr. Paul believes he will ever have another opportunity to campaign for the Presidency, so I’m continually puzzled that he has come this far but fails to take his argument all the way. Does he foresee a better time than now to make the argument?
Unless he takes the American public firmly by the lapels and talks some sense into it on these issues of foreign policy, his campaign will die right here, inches from greatness. And if this is simply “not his style”, then he, sadly, is not the right man for the job.
[i] The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia: A Comprehensive Collection of the Views of Thomas Jefferson. By Thomas Jefferson, John P. Foley. Published by Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1900, p. 554
[ii] The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia: A Comprehensive Collection of the Views of Thomas Jefferson. By Thomas Jefferson, John P. Foley. Published by Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1900, p.185
[iii] Independence Day address (1821)
[iv] The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia: A Comprehensive Collection of the Views of Thomas Jefferson. By Thomas Jefferson, John P. Foley. Published by Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1900, p.185
[v] “Political Observations” (1795-04-20); also in Letters and Other Writings of James Madison (1865), Vol. IV, p. 491
[vi] “Political Observations” (1795-04-20); also in Letters and Other Writings of James Madison (1865), Vol. IV, p. 491
[viii] Speech to Constitutional Convention, 29 June 1781, from Max Farrand’s Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, vol. I  (1911), p. 465
[ix] Letter to Thomas Jefferson, 13 May 1798; published in Letters and Other Writings of James Madison (1865), Vol. II, p. 141
[x] The Monroe Doctrine, 2 December 1823
[xi] Letter to Mary Hewson, 27 January 1783
[xii] Letter to Josiah Quincy,11 September 1783
[xiii] On war, in a statement of 1785, as quoted in Maxims of Washington : Political, Social, Moral and Religious (1854) John Frederick Schroeder, p. 142
[xiv] Address to the merchants of Philadelphia, 16 May 1793, as published in The Writings Of George Washington (1835) by Jared Sparks, p. 202
[xv] As quoted in Maxims of Washington : Political, Social, Moral and Religious (1854) John Frederick Schroeder, p. 131
[xvi] Farewell Address, 17 September 1796
[xvii] Farewell Address, 17 September 1796
[xix] Farewell Address, 17 September 1796