Endangered Species

I didn’t watch the Republican candidate debate last night, and it wasn’t on my mind this morning until I ran into this headline on the McClatchy Newspaper Washington Bureau site …

Republican candidates vow to cut taxes, spending

… after which I was seized with a terror that I was stuck in some kind of time-loop anomaly and was reliving 1999. And also 1994, and 1980, and no doubt 1924. And some other years.

But no, I am still in the common time continuum. It’s the Republican Party that’s stuck in a time-loop anomaly.

Several rightie bloggers today are hooting that Ron Paul, darling of the antiwar libertarians, blew his candidacy by blaming the U.S. for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I haven’t found a transcript of the debate; if someone else runs across one, please post the link in the comments. However, I believe I got some clues about what Ron Paul said from Byron York’s account

For a man who had just grabbed the spotlight in a nationally televised presidential debate, Ron Paul seemed a little, well, defensive. A few minutes after the debate ended here at the University of South Carolina, Paul, a Republican congressman from Texas, ventured into the Spin Room to talk to reporters, only to find that they wanted to know whether he really blamed the United States for the September 11 terrorist attacks.

“Who did that?” Paul snapped. “Who blamed America?”

“Well, your critics felt that you did.”

“No, I blamed bad policy over 50 years that leads to anti-Americanism,” Paul said. “That’s little bit different from saying ‘blame America.’ Don’t put those words in my mouth.”

“But the policies were bad American policies?”

“We’ve had an interventionist foreign policy for 50 years that has come back to haunt us,” Paul continued. “So that’s not ‘Blame America’ — that’s demagoguing, distorting issues…That’s deceitful to say those kinds of things.”

Ah, I see. Ron Paul tripped over one of the biggest sacred cows in the GOP corral, which is that one must never, ever attempt to understand how terrorists think. It’s a bugaboo of the conservative brain that to admit the 9/11 terrorists have any reasons at all — including unjust and unfair reasons — for committing the 9/11 attacks, this amounts to “blaming America.” The rightie pure of heart must remain willfully ignorant of what motivates terrorists. Terrorists in Rightie World are allowed to have only the irrational, unconscious motivations of beasts — they hate us for our freedoms.

For example, people who understand these things say that Osama bin Laden’s original motivation for organizing al Qaeda was the deployment of U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War. Acknowledging this is not “blaming America.” We can argue, factually, that we deployed troops to Saudi Arabia with Saudi permission to free Kuwait from Iraqi control. And you can rightfully say that Osama bin Laden objected to infidel troops in the land of the Prophet because he is a religious whackjob. But as soon as anyone starts to talk about why Osama bin Laden organized al Qaeda, righties cover their ears and screech about “blaming America.”

John Nichols of The Nation provides us with a little more information on what Ron Paul actually said:

Asked about his opposition to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, Paul repeated his oft-expressed concern that instead of making the U.S. safer, U.S. interventions in the Middle East over the years have stirred up anti-American sentiment. As he did in the previous Republican debate, the Texan suggested that former President Ronald Reagan’s decisions to withdraw U.S. troops from the region in the 198Os were wiser than the moves by successive Republican and Democratic presidents to increase U.S. military involvement there.

Speaking of extremists who target the U.S, Paul said, “They attack us because we’ve been over there. We’ve been bombing Iraq for 10 years. We’ve been in the Middle East [for years]. I think (Ronald) Reagan was right. We don’t understand the irrationality of Middle Eastern politics. Right now, we’re building an embassy in Iraq that is bigger than the Vatican. We’re building 14 permanent bases. What would we say here if China was doing this in our country or in the Gulf of Mexico? We would be objecting.”

Paul argued that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda are “delighted that we’re over there” in Iraq, pointing out that, “They have already… killed 3,400 of our men and I don’t think it was necessary.”

Here’s why I’m glad I didn’t watch the debate:

Giuliani, going for an applause line with a conservative South Carolina audience that was not exactly sympathetic with his support for abortion rights and other socially liberal positions, leapt on Paul’s remarks. Interrupting the flow of the debate, Giuliani declared, “That’s really an extraordinary statement. That’s really an extraordinary statement, as someone who lived through the attack of Sept. 11, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq. I don’t think I have ever heard that before and I have heard some pretty absurd explanations for Sept. 11. I would ask the congressman withdraw that comment and tell us that he didn’t really mean that.”

I believe I would not have kept my supper down after that. As mayor of New York City, Giuliani often was an insufferable prick. But since 9/11 he has expanded insufferable prickitude to Godzilla proportions.

But again, to admit to past foreign policy mistakes — Reagan’s sending Marines into Lebanon with no clear idea of what was going on there and what the Marines were supposed to do about it is a good example — is not to say that the United States “invited” the terrorist attacks, and it certainly doesn’t mean that the attacks were somehow justified.

What this shows us is why righties cannot learn from mistakes. And it shows us the mindset of people who, after more than four years of blundering, refuse even to reconsider the Iraq War.

Last year I wrote,

Righties are so terrified of the ghost of Neville Chamberlain they seem to think that even trying to understand what the enemy wants amounts to “appeasement.” Thus the vacuous nonsense about “they hate us for our freedoms.” But understanding what the enemy wants isn’t just about negotiation or appeasement, but understanding who the enemy is. This is vital when the enemy is a stateless faction, because what they want is what defines them. It’s what sets them apart from other people who might live in same region and share the same ethnic and religious heritage, but who are not necessarily our enemies. If we don’t understand clearly who, precisely, we are fighting, how can we develop effective tactics and strategies? How can we efficiently direct our resources to strike the people we most need to strike?

And the answer is, of course, that we can’t. We fight terrorism in a fog of ignorance, and blindly squander resources and lives. Under George W. Bush’s “leadership” al Qaeda has gone from being a relatively small, albeit well-funded, pack of fringe radical misfits to being the heroes of the Muslim world. Heck of a job, folks.

For another view of the debate, here’s Andrew Sullivan:

The Republicans, we learned, have absolutely no idea what to do about Iraq. The only two people with coherent positions were McCain and Paul. McCain supports a war without end, a permanent occupation of Iraq, regardless of whether a national government there can exist in the foreseeable future. He’s for empire, as are Cheney and Bush. I can see no reason for him to withdraw any troops in the next five years. The notion that a national Iraqi government, composed of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, will be able to defend itself and take the side of the West in the war in Jihadist terror is simply ludicrous in the imaginable future. That much we surely know by now. So empire is the new Republican consensus: an empire built entirely for security reasons, and an empire which somehow manages to make us less secure. Paul, in contrast, had the balls to state the classic Republican position, and to defend it in the wake of 9/11. Man, that guy has some brass cojones. He even invoked Ronald Reagan in urging withdrawal from the irrationality of Arab politics. Other than McCain and Paul, the others were risible in their soundbites and faux toughness.

Logan Murphy writes at Crooks and Liars that Fox News is attacking Ron Paul. Expect the Republican powers that be to mercilessly deride Rep. Paul as a flake and possibly even a liberal. But Paul may represent the only viable possible future for the Republican Party. Last night’s event may have been less of a debate than it was a mass stampede over a cliff.

See also: Taylor Marsh.

Update: See also Digby.

19 thoughts on “Endangered Species

  1. Just based on what you relate to us about the GOP debate, it sounds like Paul has done something that is couragous, decent, and tactically shrewd. The only way he can win the nomination or make a serious dent in the primaries and therebye affect the national debate(which may of course be his actual goal) is by tacking away from his nutball brethren, and getting dems and independent voters to decide they’ll vote in the republican primariy for once, at least in states where switching your registration isn’t too difficult.

    When McCain did the same thing in 2000 many of us were foolish enough to believe it ws really who he was. In Ron Paul’s case, he really did vote against the patriot act(both times), against the 2002 war resolution, and against the 2006 military commissions act, so there’s more reason to believe he’s for real.

    Sadly, I think if he emerges as a serious (sort-of) left flank nuisance to the 1st-tier candidates, the only enduring consequence will be the GOP will do their damnedest to make it harder for non rank-and-file conservos to vote in GOP primaries in the future.(of course, I could see the dems behaving the same if Gravel or Dukakis prove to be similarly “bothersome.”)

  2. Ron Paul is a mixed bag in many ways. He’s anti-choice and opposed to funding of stem cell research, and on several issues (such as environmental policy) his voting record is inconsistent but leans conservative. He wants to abolish Medicare altogether. He gets A ratings from the NRA. In other words, he’s still way far to the Right in spite of his stand on the Patriot Act and the war.

    However, I do think Paul represents what a viable future Republican Party might look like, whereas the chest-thumping promises to expand Guantanamo and fight on forever in Iraq amount to the bleating of dinosaurs as they sink into the tar pits.

  3. Paul WOULD resonate among a significant subset of rank-and-file republican voters if he could survive the emerging well-financed campaign to destroy him. But the more likely scenario is that the money and astroturf and fox news and limbaugh brigades will win and he’ll lose. If he’s smart, he’ll try to find a powerful rethug media insider as a patron, to run interference for him. But who? Rush-Hannity-Savage-Scarborough? No way. O’Reilly neither, not because of a lack of possible sympathy, but because Bill knows who pays his salary. Dobbs? Not good enough anyway. This is the rethug version of the problem with the media chosing winners before a single person casts a vote. On our side the problem is, of course, the HRC-Penn-Carville axis of weasel.

  4. If, as apparently the righties do, one believes that the enemy is subhuman, or motivated strictly by an animal instinct to kill, then the only solution that makes any sense is a campaign of extermination. This is, to put it mildly, a bit overwrought, and as wrongheaded as could possibly be, and does, as Mr. Paul suggests, increase the danger to ourselves. The mainstream right, is, in short, wrong. Doesn’t Limbaugh always go on about how the democrats have been taken over by the extreme left wing? You know why? Because that’s what has happened to the Republicans: They are held hostage by the most extreme fringe of right wing political thought. This could actually benefit the country in the long term – if it means the final and complete debunking or proof of the failure of conservative ideology.

  5. Isn’t this the inevitable outcome of the sort of blind partisanship and polarization that has afflicted politics in this country at least since the rise of right wing squawk radio, Falwell’s oxymoronic “Moral Majority”, and the neutering of the mainstream media? No matter how sound the idea or what is right for the country, if the other side has embraced it, it is anathema. I daresay that if the leading Democratic contenders came out in favor of a massive tax cut, that the right would characterize it as “irresponsible”. I do not think this is soley a problem with the right–I think the left is guilty of it as well. Not only does the country lose, but the voters are left with a distrust of politicians which sours the whole process. I am intrigued about the prospects for a third party candidate to get the Republicans and Democrats back on course, but historically all the third party candidates have done is tilt elections to one side or the other.

  6. RE: Fox News is attacking Ron Paul. Somebody, please tell me. Does Rupert Murdoch have money in the Iraq game? How about his children?

  7. Plenty of wingnuts have those “I love my country but I fear my government” bumper stickers. They’re capable of grasping the distinction. But they can’t resist that rush they get when the neurons light up in that kil-thuh-trater configuration.

  8. Ron Paul had better be careful or he’ll be sent to Mitt’s expanded Gitmo, while Rudy’s interrogators do ‘whatever is necessary’.

    I can only hope that a large portion of the electorate will recoil in horror from the bloodthirsty, brutal authoritarianism on display in that debate. God save us when a nutter like Ron Paul is the voice of reason.

    I can only hope that, as we have more of these debates, the true horror of the Republican candidates can be made completely clear. This was a good start toward that end.

    Maha is right in highlighting that discussing terrorist motivations is verboten. The only time it’s acceptable to ‘understand the motivations’ of terrorists is when attacking Democrats for doing something that will “embolden” them, or when explaining why we can’t bring troops home, in which case it is somehow possible to predict with uncanny accuracy exactly how Osama et al. will respond.

  9. Righties’ unwillingness to even understand their enemies (or even their neighbors at home) stems from their fundamental lack of empathy toward others.

    This was brought home to me by an extreme right wing coworker some years ago, who announced to me, his great conclusion that the terrorists are in it for the money. This was a guy who was himself obsessed about money, and so it was an obvious case of projection, and a stunning example of right wing cluelessness about how other people think. This guy honestly believed his brilliant deduction/projection about the terrorists.

    Thank God for Ron Paul’s statement last night. I’m certain some of the Democratic candidates at least think the same way in their hidden moments, but lack the guts to say so. This discussion is long overdue, and I hope Paul survives the attempt to stifle him.

  10. Paul and McCain were also the only ones who agreed that we (the good ol’ USA) should not be torturing prisoners. Off the cliff they go. All we need is another rigged security breech to take the rest of us with them, kicking and screaming.

  11. Maha said about Giuliani: “But since 9/11 he has expanded insufferable prickitude to Godzilla proportions…”

    In a blog distinguished by brilliant phrase-making, this takes the blue ribbon. The perfect summary of the despicable Mr. Giuliani.

  12. Ditto to what MikeShatzkin said in #12. That is the very Maha phrase that delighted me, too.

  13. The way Guiliani was applauded when he challenged Ron Paul’s take on 9/11 frightened the hell out of me.

  14. Whatever it takes?…I guess that would mean abandoning all morality if it became an obstacle, much the same as Guiliani abandoned the marriage covenant when fidelity and commitment become an obstacle.Macho puke is all Guiliani is offering..and America would do well to steer clear of that philandering jerk.

    So much for the..” till death due us part” line in the vow..With Guiliani it’s..” till my sexual impulses do us part”.

    Guiliani is a base creature..see him for what he is.

  15. An “insufferable prick” is what righties want. They want an American Mussolini.
    Break out the brown shirt’s folks, it’s ugly time in America…

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