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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

A genuine conservative may split GOP ranks

Justyn DillinghamEditor-in-Chief
Justyn Dillingham
Editor-in-Chief

It was, in some ways, the most telling political moment of the year.

During the second televised debate among the Republican presidential candidates on May 16, a moderator asked anti-war candidate Ron Paul why he was running on the Republican ticket. When Paul responded by saying that he felt that opposition to unnecessary conflict was a conservative position, he set himself up for a public flogging by Rudy Giuliani.

It had been an ugly night. When a possible terrorist scenario was raised that sounded like a steal from “”24,”” I braced myself for the inevitable Jack Bauer reference, and I didn’t have to wait long. John McCain’s admirable plea for the importance of decency to your enemies didn’t make much of a dent; the others took it as an opportunity to crow about presidential responsibility.

Then Paul made his stand for “”the advice of the Founders and following the Constitution,”” sounding like he’d stepped right out of a time machine.

Asked if Sept. 11 hadn’t made the United States’ non-intervention policies irrelevant, Paul answered: “”Have you ever read about the reasons they attacked us? They attack us because we’ve been over there. We’ve been bombing Iraq for ten years. We’ve been in the Middle East. … We’re building 14 permanent bases (in Iraq). What would we say if China was doing this in our country or in the Gulf of Mexico? We would be objecting.””

Giuliani then broke in and denounced Paul’s supposed implication that “”we invited the attack,”” drawing no less than 15 seconds of applause from the audience. Then he ordered Paul to retract the statement.

It was a moment of stunning arrogance. It drove home an uncomfortable point, one that surely was not lost on many viewers: Giuliani has based his entire campaign on the fact that he was mayor of New York during Sept. 11.

Every moral lapse is forgivable. Every moment at which he breaks with party orthodoxy is ignorable. Any other Republican candidate who announced his ambivalence toward abortion would be crucified, but Giuliani skips right across the controversy like a skipping stone across a river. He stands as firmly on the rock of his one great moment as a long-forgotten singer-songwriter might stand on his sole No. 1 hit.

After decades of worshipping Winston Churchill, right-wingers at last have a figure who

When (Ron) Paul raises the name of the party’s greatest hero, Ronald Reagan, and recalls his warning against meddling in ‘the irrationality of Middle Eastern politics,’ he exposes his peers’ ignorance of the world they self-righteously seek to mold in their own image.

halfway resembles him: Quirky, autocratic, and inextricably associated with a moment of terrible crisis. Flawed, yet not without a certain greatness. During the debate, the moderators kept calling him “”Mayor Giuliani,”” even though he hasn’t been a mayor in years.

Of course, Giuliani’s “”greatness”” is a wispy and ephemeral thing. It fades away at the first touch of harsh, exposing light. And that is what the confrontation with Ron Paul did, even though it was hailed by the entire media as yet another proof of the great man’s greatness.

After all, he was guilty of, at the very least, rhetorical dishonesty. Giuliani, blogger Andrew Sullivan declared, “”openly lied”” about Paul’s statement. Even if some degree of confusion might be forgiven in the heat of debate, Giuliani was obviously prepared to pounce on an ambivalent statement and turn it into a prime example of sedition.

His mildly liberal social policies weren’t going over well with the debate’s conservative South Carolina audience, so he jumped on Paul’s words like a cat going after a dangling piece of string.

What sets Paul apart from the rest of the flock is that he really is a conservative. That simple fact, and the sudden universal exposure given it by that face-off with Giuliani, has given his campaign a remarkable boost.

And why should it not?

When Paul raises the name of the party’s greatest hero, Ronald Reagan, and recalls his warning against meddling in “”the irrationality of Middle Eastern politics,”” he exposes his peers’ ignorance of the world they self-righteously seek to mold in their own image.

When he recalls the revered Founders’ warning that an immodest foreign policy would lead to the destruction of democracy at home, he exposes his fellow Republicans as bullying autocrats.

And when he points out what is wrong with a party that praises the virtues of “”small government”” while turning the federal government into the engine of a neoconservative project to transform the world, he gets the attention of every old-time Republican who rightly believes that the party has been drifting farther and farther from its stated principles.

Paul could very well turn out to be this year’s Eugene McCarthy, whose 1968 campaign against the Vietnam War played a major role in forcing Lyndon Johnson to give up the nomination.

Were Paul’s eccentric campaign to split the Republican Party and cost them the election, it would be both heartening and ironic. Heartening because it would mean that a plucky outsider’s message can resonate with an embittered and cynical electorate, and ironic because the Republicans would have been impaled on their own cherished doctrines.

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