American politics in the 21st century is about soundbytes, image, and spin. That’s the only way for candidates to try to reach 300 million people in the time that they will likely be in front of them on any given day. For some candidates, the soundbyte is the length and breadth of their views on the issue. For others, that is not necessarily true. In any case, the issues that they speak to are issues of substance and there is no way to form an opinion about them unless you think them through. That might seem like stating the obvious, but here’s the rub: almost no one is thinking about issues that could profoundly affect all of us for the rest of our lives.
What most Americans are doing is repeating the soundbytes and buzz words that they hear from talking heads as if they were indisputable fact. Maybe some of them are. Maybe some are not. What is crucial is that every individual think about them critically. That means challenging the veracity of those statements and determining for yourself if they stand up to the most vigorous intellectual attack that you can mount against them.
Ron Paul’s opponents use soundbytes to discredit him and Ron Paul does likewise. He has accused Newt Gingrich of “serial hypocrisy” and accused all of his opponents collectively of being “shitzus” on cutting spending. No one should accept those allegations as true without looking into the evidence for and against them and determining for himself whether or not they are true. Part of that process must be the intellectual exercise of taking the position that they are not true and saying to Ron Paul, “Prove it. Newt Gingrich is not a hypocrite just because you said he was in a 30-second TV ad. Where is your proof? I’ll consider it and get back to you.”
I recently had a conversation with an acquaintance of mine as we prepared for a class that we take together. He asked me who I was supporting for the Republican nomination and I said that I was supporting Ron Paul. He immediately smiled and said that Ron Paul was too “crazy” for him. Not one to go on the attack just because someone disagrees with me, I calmly replied, “I hear that a lot. Which of his policies do you think are too crazy?”
I was not surprised by the blank stare that I received in response. That was followed by some stammering and searching for an answer. He finally said that it was Ron Paul’s stance on regulations. I asked, “Which regulatory issues do you disagree with him on?” More of the same stammering and searching and finally the answer was “Well, I haven’t caught up on the issues this time around yet, but I remember hearing him talk about a regulation a while back. I can’t remember which one.”
Out of the tens of thousands of pages of federal regulation, he had heard Ron Paul’s views on one of them and had concluded that he was crazy. Not misinformed. Not wrong. Not even very, very wrong. Crazy. Does that sound like a reasonable conclusion to you?
Let’s be honest. This gentleman just made up the whole “stance on regulations” answer to cover for the fact that he had no answer. He had no idea why he thought Ron Paul was crazy. He had heard it on television in a five second soundbyte, had accepted it as true without even four seconds of critical thought, and was now repeating it to other people who for the most part will do likewise.
However, the “Ron Paul is crazy” narrative is losing its effectiveness. It is getting harder and harder for his opponents to make that charge stick. After predicting the stock market crash of 1987 four years in advance and predicting the housing market collapse five years in advance, Ron Paul has emerged as the only candidate who is not crazy by Albert Einstein’s definition (doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result).
So Paul’s opponents need a new buzz word. I’m sure you’ve heard it. Ron Paul is now “dangerous.” Not wrong. Not very, very wrong. Not even “crazy” anymore. Now he’s dangerous. That’s an extraordinary claim. I can’t say that I remember it ever being used against another politician. I don’t remember any politician being called “dangerous” during the Cold War, when the Russians had 40,000 nuclear weapons pointed at every major American city. But that is the word that Paul’s opponents use to describe him now. One should immediately wonder why.
Of course you have heard this word repeated by every journalist and talking head as if it were true just because some enterprising young campaign staffer put it out as a talking point. That is fine. That is how the game is played. What is important is that you don’t immediately believe it just because you heard it on television, even if you heard it from a lot of people. Maybe it’s true. Maybe it’s not. You have to at least challenge the claim before you decide.
The new “dangerous” tag is based upon the argument that Ron Paul will not preemptively bomb or invade Iran to try to stop them from developing a nuclear weapon. His political opponents (including the other Republicans and Barack Obama) uniformly state that “We cannot allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.” The establishment candidates also assert that Iran will have a nuclear weapon as early as a year from now. That means that whatever the U.S. government is going to do about it must happen now.
Q. What exactly is the danger of electing this man? A. He will “allow” Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.
Q. What can the United States do to stop another nation from developing a nuclear weapon? A. Bomb or invade them immediately and destroy their capacity to build it.
Q. What if Ron Paul was president and Iran did develop a nuclear weapon? What would happen next?
Here is where most people completely shut down and stop thinking. The standard answer is that Iran will “wipe Israel off the map” or, even more irrationally, that they will “take out an American city.” Now, I know why Ron Paul’s political opponents say those things and we’ll get to that in a minute. What I’m concerned with is this: How could any rational, average American believe them?
Let’s say that Iran does indeed develop a nuclear weapon by January 2013. They would still be decades away from an intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach the United States. However, they may be able to use it against Israel. What happens next?
Nuclear weapons are a terrible thing. I think that most people wish that they didn’t exist. I know I do. But let’s acknowledge reality. Iran could not “wipe Israel off the map” (something Ahmadinejad NEVER EVEN SAID, by the way) with one nuclear weapon. They could kill a lot of people. On the other hand, Israel has 200-300 nuclear weapons. They could wipe Iran off the map and would do so the minute that Iran launched their missile. Every square inch of Iran would be incinerated before Iran’s nuclear missile ever reached Israel, if it got there at all. That is a fact that no reasonable person could dispute. That’s without even broaching the subject of what would happen to Iran if they showed any sign of aggression toward the United States. Think about it. To say that Iran is a danger to Israel or the United States is crazy.
That raises another question. If it indeed is crazy that Iran could ever threaten either the United States or Israel, why would so many politicians and talking heads be saying it? Could it possibly be that these politicians have something to gain if the United States goes to war with Iran?
Is it possible that politicians, supported by military contractors and financial institutions that together make trillions of dollars on these wars at your expense are saying this because they want to keep making more money? Or is it more likely that even though these people will “just happen” to profit immensely from a war with Iran, that they are both sincere and correct that Iran with one nuclear bomb is a threat to Israel and the United States, that between them have tens of thousands?
Ron Paul has argued that the war rhetoric today about Iran is identical to the war rhetoric about Iraq in 2002-2003. Is he right? Aren’t the same people who told us that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction” telling us the same thing now about Iran? Aren’t all of the same elements of the argument about Iraq present in the arguments for war with Iran? They are evil. They want to destroy Israel. They are developing weapons of mass destruction. There is even the same time limit. “They may have one as early as a year from now.” That’s just what they told us about Saddam Hussein. There is no time to think it over. Within a year there will be a mushroom cloud over Tel Aviv, possibly New York City. Haven’t we heard all of this before? Isn’t it insane to accept the same claims from the same people without question?
Conversely, isn’t Ron Paul telling us the same thing that he told us about Iraq? Exactly why should we believe the people that lied to us or at least were dead wrong about Iraq and dismiss the one man that told us the truth and was dead right about Iraq? How long will we go on doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result? Isn’t that crazy?
Dangerous. That’s what you are going to keep hearing about Ron Paul. There is no reasonable argument to be made that Ron Paul’s foreign policy is dangerous. This is an act of desperation by people that are deathly afraid that Ron Paul is going to put them out of business (not just the war-making business, but a trillion dollars of other government waste that he’ll end in his first year as well).
They aren’t appealing to your reason. They are appealing to your emotions. They are trying to strike an irrational fear in you that will cause you to reject Ron Paul, support one of their candidates, and support another unnecessary war that they will profit from at your expense. Again. Just like Iraq. However, there is one thing that you can do to avoid being fooled again.
Think about it.
Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.