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I have really lost a lot of respect for Representative Ron Paul after his shameful performance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno last weekend. Having heard him and all of his supporters trumpet how much of a "man of principle" he is, Paul showed no principle and no class as he hurled character-assassinating smears at fellow Republican candidates Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann. By suggesting that they must "hate Muslims" and "gays," Paul appealed to the lowest strategy used by liberals in trying to discredit their conservative opponents: ad hominem attacks.
Really, Mr. Paul?
Having built up an increasing amount of respect and admiration in more mainstream conservative circles for his dogged opposition to government waste, Paul blew much of it with that little performance. I don't know if that is what motivated Rich Lowry's stinging dismantling of Paul's candidacy or if it was the emerging concern that Paul might pull off an unlikely (and ultimately meaningless) victory in the upcoming Iowa caucuses, but whatever it was, Lowry let loose:
The fight over Ron Paul isn't a battle for the soul of the Republican Party so much as for its standards. Throughout his career, Paul hasn't been able to distinguish between fringy cranks and aboveboard purists. He has taken a principled anti-government position and associated it with loons and bigots. It may be the ultimate commentary on the weakness of this Republican field that it hasn't even been able to produce a respectable out-there libertarian.
Paul can be a winsome figure in his irritable, absent-minded-professor way. Invariably wearing a suit jacket that looks a size or two too big, he has stood out in the debates for his knowledge and for his entirely consistent worldview applied to any problem, politics be damned. He gives listeners reason to smile or nod a couple of times every debate, and reason to wonder if he has been reading too much Noam Chomsky.
He tends to bring any conversation back to the malignancy of U.S. foreign policy. In the final debate in Iowa, he rambled on about how worries about the Iranian nuclear program are "war propaganda," but if the Iranians get the bomb that they're not developing, that's entirely understandable, since we're "promoting their desire to have it." Jeane Kirkpatrick famously condemned the "Blame America First" Democrats; would that she had lived long enough to condemn the "Blame America First" libertarians.
In the debate, Paul went on to warn against a push "to declare war on 1.2 billion Muslims," as if a country that has resorted to force of arms to save Muslims from starvation (Somalia), from ethnic cleansing (Bosnia, Kosovo), and from brutal dictators (Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya) is bristling with an undifferentiated hostility toward all Muslims. This isn't an expression of an anti-interventionism so much as a smear. It goes beyond opposition to American foreign policy to a poisonous view of America itself.
Paul never knows when to stop. He lets his suspicion of centralized power slip into paranoia worthy of a second-rate Hollywood thriller about government malevolence. In January 2010, he declared: "There's been a coup, have you heard? It's the CIA coup. The CIA runs everything, they run the military." On his latest appearance on the radio show of the conspiracy-mongering host Alex Jones, he opined that the alleged Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador on U.S. soil was "another propaganda stunt." He exclaimed that the latest defense bill authorizing the indefinite detention of enemy combatants will "literally legalize martial law" (yes, "literally").
Paul's promiscuousness with his ideological bedfellows ? he hails members of the John Birch Society for their fine educations and respect for the Constitution ? accounts for the disgrace he brought on himself with his newsletters in the 1980s and 1990s. As journalist James Kirchick exposed, they were full of race-baiting and rancid Israel-bashing. Paul maintains he didn't know what was being written in the first person under his name. To this day, he says he doesn't know who wrote the copy. Has he asked? During some dozen Republican debates, not one journalist thought to query Paul about the newsletters that would be disqualifying for anyone else.
Ouch. And before anyone makes the accusation that Lowry is merely doing what Paul did to Santorum and Bachmann on Leno, there is a big difference. Lowry is citing actual Paul statements, excoriating his record and his words. That's far different than making sweeping generalizations about a person's spiritual problem with "hate" without citing a shred of evidence. Big difference.
Ron Paul provided a service to the Republican Party when it came to issues of the economy and government spending. He has been a fiscal hawk and a vocal proponent of liberty (though I always feel it incumbent to mention that his rabid libertarianism actually undermines what he claims to value most, as I've detailed before). But he is the definition of a fringe figure whose unprincipled tendencies - long his undoing - have become abundantly clear in recent days. And that will be fresh in the minds of Republican primary voters, whether he manages a coup in the Iowa caucuses or not.