Mona Charen Slimes Ron Paul

Saturday, November 17th, 2007

My colleague Dave Wiegel calls it “Ron Paul Derangement Syndrome,” and there certainly seems to be something to it. Here you have a Republican running for president who’s actually serious about downsizing the federal government, who gives a damn about individual rights, and who understands that big government overseas breeds big government at home, and reaction from the Beltway right is to dismiss the guy with eye rolls, patronizing lectures about “seriousness,” and lame ad hominem attacks.

The latest comes from syndicated columnist Mona Charen who has written what’s now her second column dung-flinging column directed at Ron Paul. I don’t really agree with Charen on much, but I have found her to be a decent writer over the years. Her column on Paul is just plain lazy.

Her critique of Paul begins like this:

Ron Paul is inconsistent. Though he calls himself a man of principle and is apparently admired as such by his ardent fans, his principles seem somewhat elastic. He rails against the Bush administration for its supposed assault on civil liberties, yet when he was asked at one of the debates whether Scooter Libby deserved a pardon, he said no. “He doesn’t deserve one because he was instrumental in leading the Congress and the people to support a war that we didn’t need to be in.” Notice that he didn’t say it was because Libby was guilty of committing a crime. No, because Libby argued for a policy with which Paul disagreed, he deserved to serve time in prison. Ron Paul, the libertarian, who presumably values liberty above all, is willing to deprive someone else of his because of a policy disagreement?

Of course, Paul doesn’t say Libby was innocent of the crime for which he was accused, either. In fact, the clemency Bush granted Libby itself acknowledges his guilt. The pardon was overtly political in nature. Paul thinks Libby was given clemency not because he was innocent, but because the charges against him were related to how the administration advanced the cause of the war with Iraq. Paul believes Bush pardoned Libby because Libby’s transgressions were in the course of advancing Bush’s war. Paul disagrees with that war. Therefore, he disagrees with the reasons advanced by the right for giving Libby a pardon.

That’s not even remotely the same thing as saying that even though Libby is innocent of the charges levied against him, he should be convicted anyway, of anything really, simply because helped push the war. Put another way, Paul isn’t saying Libby should be convicted of something for which he’s innocent simply because he’s pro-war, Paul is saying Libby shouldn’t get away with a crime for which he’s guilty because he’s pro-war.

I’m anti-war. I think both Bush and Cheney should be impeached. That said, I also think the charges against Libby were crap. He was essentially convicted of having a bad memory. But he was convicted. And given Bush’s paltry use of his pardon and clemency power in just about every other context, the clemency Bush gave Libby reeks of political patronage. There are a couple thousand people more deserving. So Paul’s position isn’t remotely contradictory with his defense of individual liberty. Paul’s position is that Libby oughtn’t be granted special favors because of he privileged and pro-war. The people in power should be subject to the same laws, leniency, and mercy as everyone else.

Charen continues:

Ron Paul is historically challenged. He argues that by embracing isolationism, he fits within a Republican tradition stretching back to Eisenhower “who stopped the Korean War” and including Nixon “who stopped the war in Vietnam.” Let’s recap. Eisenhower threatened to use nuclear weapons against China. It was the Eisenhower administration that had a hand in toppling Iran’s Mohammad Mossedegh (an intervention that Paul has elsewhere cited as causing the U.S. grief 25 years later when the Islamists took power). Eisenhower also intervened in Guatemala, Cuba (planning for the Bay of Pigs began during his tenure) and Lebanon.

Nixon, an isolationist? Most observers, whatever they may make of detente with the USSR and the opening to China, agree that Nixon was an emphatic internationalist. For the record, he intervened in many countries including Chili, Peru and Cambodia. And he saved Israel by resupplying her during the Yom Kippur war. Neither his successes nor failures grew out of a Paulesque policy of “minding our own business.”

I don’t know where Charen got those quotes. I’d like to see the specific speech where Paul credits either Nixon or Eisenhower for their isolationism. I spoke with his campaign today (Charen, incidentally, did not contact the campaign before writing her column. She might have checked with Paul’s staff before attributing positions to him instead of relying on quotes that lack context. )

Paul has said has said no such thing about the actual foreign policies of the Eisenhower and Nixon administrations.

What Paul has said is that Eisenhower and Nixon campaigned on ending the wars in Korea and Vietnam, respectively. And both were elected by comfortable margins. Paul’s point is that the Republican Party has a tradition of peace and nonintervention. That is, Republican voters. That is, candidates espousing a peace policy on the campaign trail have not alienated their base support with those positions, and in fact have gone on to win election by wide margins. The context for Paul’s remarks on Nixon and Eisenhower make this clear. He usually invokes the two when someone asks how an anti-war candidate could possibly expect to win the nomination in a pro-war party. Paul responds that Republicans have won in the past with anti-war platforms.

That Nixon and Eisenhower disappointed once in office is beside the point. Paul wasn’t citing them as examples of presidents who carried out an isolationist foreign policy. He was citing them as presidential candidates who won with promises to end intractable wars.

This isn’t really even a subtle point. Why was it lost on an otherwise smart writer like Charen? RPDS, I guess.

More from Charen:

Ron Paul is unserious. Suggesting that you will eliminate the IRS, the CIA, the FBI and other government agencies within weeks of taking office is ridiculous. These are bumper stickers, not serious reform proposals.

I can find no interview or speech where Paul has said he would eliminate these or any other federal agency “within weeks of taking office.” If he has said it, it was in jest. What he has said is that, philosophically, he supports a dramatic reduction in the size and scope of the federal government, including eliminating the agencies listed above, and many others. I’ve heard him explicitly say that such dramatic changes wouldn’t be prudent.

Again, I spoke with Paul’s campaign this morning to verify. A Paul administration would move to gradually scale down the federal government, and would ease the transition by phasing in reforms over many years. He has no plans to gut the country’s national intelligence, IRS, or other major federal agencies overnight. A simple phone call to Paul’s office from Charen would have made this clear.

More Charen:

Ron Paul is too cozy with kooks and conspiracy theorists. As syndicated radio host Michael Medved has pointed out, Ron Paul’s newspaper column was carried by the American Free Press (a parent publication of the Hitler-praising Barnes Review). Paul may not have been aware of this. But though invited by Medved to disavow any connection, Paul has so far failed to respond.

Stuff I’ve written has appeared on kooky websites, too. And frankly, I’d feel no obligation to respond if Michael Medved called me and demanded I answer to his “are you a kook” test. Because to be perfectly frank, Michael Medved’s pretty damned kooky himself.

When you syndicate a column, you have little control over where it ends up. As Charen concedes, I doubt Paul knew the crazies picked up his column. Perhaps now that he knows, he ought to ask them not to run it anymore. But Charen’s beef here seems to be that Paul hasn’t responded quickly enough to Michael Medved. But maybe Paul simply believes Michael Medved isn’t worth responding to.

Also, you know it’s funny, I don’t remember Charen raising much of a fuss when former RNC Chairman and current Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour spoke at the racist, anti-Semitic, pro-Confederacy Council of Conservative Citizens’ annual shindig several years ago. And if you’ll remember, when Barbour ran for governor the first time around back in 2003, the CCC put a picture of Barbour on their website, implying that he’s a supporter. This was well after the CCC had made national news for their affiliation with various southern GOpers. After the photo was brought to his attention, Barbour declined to ask the CCC to take it down. Where were Medved and Charen then? A poked around on Google. Didn’t see any condemnations directed at Barbour from either of them. Same for when then-Senator John Ashcroft sat down for an inerview with the pro-Confederate rag, the Southern Partisan. And which is worse, having a racist newspaper run your syndicated column without your knowledge, or voluntarily speaking to an organization that has already been exposed in the media as anti-black, anti-Jew, and that makes noises about white supremacy and bringing back the Confederacy?

Charen goes on:

Paul has appeared on the Alex Jones radio program not once, not twice, but three times. Jones is the sort who believes that black helicopters are coming to impose a police state on America. He is quite concerned about the Bohemian Grove, the Bilderbergers, the federal election system (it’s rigged, of course) and so on. Naturally, he believes that 9/11 was an inside job. Ron Paul has even appeared in a Jones film, “Endgame,” the point of which is apparently that the Bilderbergers are plotting to control the world. They’ve already got Europe (through the European Union) and now are on the verge of securing America by means of a North American union that would unite Mexico, the United States and Canada.

Paul’s campaign confirms that he has appeared on Jones’ program, well more than three times. He doesn’t agree with Jones on much, but he appears on the show because he likes Jones personally, and because it’s a chance to talk about his ideas. Again, I’ve appeared on countless radio shows whose hosts I don’t agree with. I don’t know anything about Jones, and judging from Charen’s description of him, he sounds like a nut. So is Glenn Beck. And Michael Savage. And countless other right-wing talk show hosts. Do we infer that everyone who has appeared on those shows adopts the views of the hosts?

Mona Charen once appeared on nutjob Alan Keyes’ short-lived TV show. Does Charen, like Keyes, believe that Barack Obama is a racist, who stands for “a culture evil enough to destroy the very soul and heart of my country.”? Does she believe that gay adoption will lead to incest? Does she need to explicitly renounce everything Keyes has ever said because she let him interview her? By her own standards, she apparently does.

Even if Paul says nothing insane in this film, his appearance alone calls his judgment into question. I have not seen “Endgame,” but I have heard a tape of Paul on the Jones program just after the 2006 election. Jones asked the congressman whether the victory for the Democrats wasn’t a “rejection of neo-fascist imperialism.” Paul replied, “Yeah . . . This was a healthy election as far as I’m concerned.”

Sounds to me like the host asked Paul an overly hyperbolized quesiton, and Paul politely responded, agreeing with the general premise that the Republicans deserved a spanking, but declined to buy into the hyperbole.

Ron Paul is the favorite candidate of a number of racist, neo-Nazi and conspiracist websites. While Paul cannot be held accountable for the views of cranks and kooks, he can disavow their support and return their checks. He received $500 from Don Black, the proprietor of Stormfront.org and former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. He has not yet returned it.

This is the most common criticism of Paul floating around the web right now. I wonder, does anyone really think $500 will make Paul adopt Stormfront-approved public policy? The Paul campaign’s position is, if people like Black are stupid enough to give him their money, the campaign is more than happy to take it.

Would I give the check back? Probably. But Paul’s campaign convincingly explains that once you start screening donations for ideology, you risk giving the implication that you then do agree or endorse the positions of those people who send the checks you don’t return. Paul’s a huge underdog. I don’t see anything offensive about his campaign’s position: We’ll take money from anyone. Again, it’s not as if there’s any reason to think that the guy is going to be influenced by campaign contributions from shady sources. He has spent his entire political career taking unpopular positions that would’ve sunk most candidates for federal office. Appeasing campaign donors–or anyone or anything other than his own conscience–isn’t a high priority for him.

Moreover, Paul seems to be playing a sly game with his conspiracy-minded fans. He does not explicitly endorse the crazier theories out there…

Sorta’ like the ol’ “Southern Strategy,” in which Charen’s beloved Republicans used code words to win support from southern racists throughout the 1980s, no?

…but he hints at dark forces in the U.S. government threatening our liberties…

Um, what country has Charen been living in the last 20 years? I don’t know what “dark” means, but there are forces out there threatening our civil liberties. See the way the drug war has eviscerated the Bill of Rights. See White House claims that it can search the records of American citizens without a warrant or judicial review, arrest them, deny them access to a lawyer, detain them indefinitely without trial, torture them, and the threaten to arrest and charge with treason any journalist who dares to write about it. One needn’t be a Truther, a Birchite, or a Stormfronter to be disturbed by all of this. There are plenty of honest conservatives bothered by it, too.

…he inveighs against the “neo-cons” (shorthand for Jews in some circles) …

Can we retire this cheap smear? Question for Charen: Do you believe Ron Paul hates Jews? If so, say so. Stop with the insulting insinuation.

“Neocon” is the name for a particular brand of big government, aggressive-foreign-policy conservatism that morphed from New Deal liberalism. Equating it with the word with “Jew” is a cheap, slimy ploy by some neocons to insulate themselves from criticism. It’s akin to likening any criticism with Israel with anti-Semitism. There are Jewish neocons. There are many more extremely influential neocons who aren’t Jewish. There are Jews who loathe neocons. Criticizing neo-con policy is not criticizing Jews. It is amusing, though, to watch the right play the group victim card.

No, Ron Paul is not my candidate. Not for president. He might make a dandy new leader for the Branch Davidians.

Ah, an inspired rhetorical flourish to end the column. In a single sentence, Charen manages to both equate Ron Paul with a pederastic cult leader and belittle the senseless slaughter of 79 people, including 21 children.

I happen to think Ron Paul is the best candidate running. But I’ll be the first concede that there are legitimate issues on which to criticize him. But that would require actually addressing his policy positions and his rationale for taking them. It’s quite a bit easier to cough up 650 words of ad hominem attack and call it a column.

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