Well, I tuned into last night’s Republican nomination debate. If there were any doubt before that the media think it’s their responsibility to pick winners and losers for the American people, this spectacle should have put such doubts to rest. So far as the moderators were concerned, last night very much was Rick Perry’s Big Debut: Going Toe to Toe with Mitt. Every candidate other than Rick Perry and Mitt Romney – the two frontrunners who Conventional Wisdom says will have to fight it out in a steel cage death match for the nomination – got amazingly short shrift.
Moreover, even when one of the other, lesser candidates did get a question it seemed to me that two times out of three it was a question about Rick Perry. At one point pretty much all the candidates got involved in a 5 minute discussion regarding Perry’s decision to have little girls inoculated against the Human Papillomavirus, which causes cervical cancer. This was an issue, apparently, because many true blue Conservatives feel that only the threat of cervical cancer prevents their little girls from one day having Teh Sex -- and as all true blue Conservatives will tell you, women having Teh Sex is worse than women getting The Cancer.
But as crazy as that sideshow was, inch-for-inch and pound-for-pound the greatest entertainment bang for your buck last night was to be found in the demented little Keebler Elf that is Ron Paul.
You’ve probably already seen The Daily Show segment from a few weeks ago in which Jon Stewart takes the political media to task for ignoring Ron Paul’s candidacy. Despite the fact Paul finished a close second to Michele Bachman in the Ames Straw Poll, the media immediately declared Bachmann and Romney the frontrunners – subject to Rick Perry getting into the race. In fact, one news clip that Stewart played showed an anchor telling a reporter at the Iowa State Fair that if he ended up speaking to Sarah Palin – who isn’t even a candidate – to send in that footage and “just forget about the Ron Paul stuff.” Then they both laughed, apparently at the mere idea of Ron Paul’s candidacy.
As Stewart pointed out, this conscious decision by the media to ignore and diminish Paul runs directly counter to what the media constantly tells us is their job: to objectively report the story. If the media were objectively reporting the unfolding campaign story, then they would have reported Paul’s strong showing in the Ames Straw Poll and the enthusiastic people who support him. Instead, they basically decided to ignore Ron Paul.
Which is an indictment of our political press, sure, but after last night’s debate I can’t help but think that maybe the political press has a point -- because Ron Paul is crazier‘n a bag of snakes.
* * *
As he made clear last night, when it comes to government involvement in the nation’s day-to-day affairs Ron Paul believes very passionately in two things: there is no valid reason to have government agencies regulating anything, and there is never any justification for government “mandates” – which, for Paul, is a word so broad that it includes any instance in which the government might require anyone to do anything at any time. Ron Paul’s adherence to these two pillars of Libertarianism is passionate and absolute, and frequently hilarious.
Government Involvement - Agencies
Paul is of the decided opinion that government agencies are entirely unnecessary; the magic of “the free market” is all that is needed to provide safe and effective products and services. So . . . food inspectors? Don’t need ‘em, presumably because nobody wants to sell tainted food (except, y’know, for all the times when they have and we’ve had to order massive food recalls). Drug regulations? Don’t need ‘em, presumably because pharmaceutical companies would never try to sell us ineffective or dangerous drugs (except, y’know, for Fen-Phen or Vioxx or Thalidomide, or all the other dangerous drugs that have been recalled over the years). The TSA? Naw, airlines can take care of passenger safety themselves (except, y’know, for 9/11). And on, and on, and on.
But my favorite Ron Paul riff on the pernicious effect government agencies have on free market decisions was when he fielded a question about his desire to scrap FEMA, and Paul claimed that FEMA’s existence since 1979 has “caused people to build in areas where they shouldn’t.”
Yeah, that sounds about right. Prior to 1979 nobody would have thought of living on the coasts, which are subject to Hurricanes. Or in California, which sits on a massive fault line. Or in Texas, which right now has wildfires covering an area the size of Connecticut. Or close to rivers, which are subject to flooding. Or in the midwest, which is known for its tornados. Or in the mountains, which are subject to blizzards, landslides and avalanches. Prior to 1979 we all lived . . . well, I’m not sure where Ron Paul thinks we lived, but apparently after that dastardly FEMA was created we all moved away from there and we never should have done that. Ron Paul just wants to call us home.
Government Involvement - Mandates
Ron Paul’s opposition to the government ever telling anyone what to do, at any time, under any circumstances, leads to some pretty interesting results which – in Paul’s slithery mind – just provide further proof that he is right about such things.
For example, Paul would scrap the minimum wage because “it is a mandate, and we are against mandates.” Immediately after Paul made this pronouncement you could almost see the gleam enter his eye as he suddenly thought of a way to connect his ideological position to a hard, economic promise: “You wanna get rid of unemployment? Here’s how we do it, we get rid of the minimum wage. I guarantee you that’ll create jobs.”
And who can argue with that logic? When employers can offer people jobs that pay 25 cents an hour, when the Not-Completely-Destitute-Yet-Class is legally able to hire the rest of us to be their servants for a dollar a week, I’m sure there’ll be plenty of jobs offered. None of which will afford anyone the ability to buy food, or to make their mortgage payments, or to save for retirement, but so far as Ron Paul is concerned all of those considerations are mere side issues to be worked out by the Magic Market; what is important is that jobs will have been created, and thus his work will have been done.
Oh, and speaking of those moments when Ron Paul suddenly seemed to surprise himself with what he was actually saying, my other favorite moment in his “no government mandates” free-form styling was when he was asked whether the government should continue to help provide school food to poor children. Paul hemmed and hawed a little, but finally acknowledged that this too constitutes a dreaded “mandate” and therefore is not properly the concern of the federal government – although, he temporized, if any particular state felt that it was obligated to help feed poor children, Paul supposed that would be okay.
And then he suddenly seemed to hear the words he had just spoken, as if they were coming back to him from a faraway place, and he added angrily: “But I don’t want to hear about how we’re not compassionate!”
Why, no, Congressman Paul. You just want to take food away from poor children. Who could ever mistake that for a lack of compassion?
* * *
But Paul wasn’t content to simply entertain the crowd with his well-worn comic riffs on government agencies and mandates. He also introduced some new material, including a surreal understanding of monetary policy and an apocalyptic vision of an American future in which the rich are forced to flee the country as refugee hobos. It was new, but as far as I was concerned it was some of his best stuff.
Ten Cent a Gallon Gas
Michele Bachmann has been getting grief for promising that if she were elected president she would single-handedly bring the price of gas down to $2 a gallon. During last night’s debate she was given the opportunity to defend this claim, which she did in kind of a weak way, and then some of the other candidates were asked whether this patently silly statement was at all realistic. Romney basically punted, saying in effect that he would not presume to guess what the price of gas would be in the future; Huntsman, to his credit, stated unequivocally that $2 a gallon gas was not going to happen.
And then Ron Paul chimed in, and claimed that he could get the price of a gallon of gas down to “a dime.” Oh boy, I thought, this is gonna be good.
“A silver dime,” Paul explained triumphantly, wowing – or stunning – the entire airplane hangar into silence, “which is worth about $3.60. That would get the cost of gas back down to only one thin dime per gallon.” For Ron Paul, the ability to purchase a gallon of gas with $3.60 worth of silver that has been recast into “a dime” clearly demonstrates the inherent superiority of returning to a time when our country’s money supply was based on its inventory of precious metals.
I have to admit . . . Ron Paul blew my mind.
I literally have no idea how he thinks this is supposed to work. If we’re trading a gallon of gas for $3.60 worth of silver, then the price of a gallon of gas is still $3.60. And if we’re going to use $3.60 worth of silver to produce a coin that we are going to declare is only worth ten cents, then I suppose in a way you could claim that you’ve reduced the price of gas to a single dime but – of course – every dime that gets minted is going to cost the country $3.50. This seems . . . an odd way of putting our financial house back in order.
But what do I know? Ron Paul is true believer, and my faith is not strong.
The Coming Apocalypse
Except for Ron Paul, all the candidates agreed that the American government’s first priority in getting illegal immigration under control was the creation of a 2,600 mile fence between the United States and Mexico. But Paul surprised everyone by suggesting that this might be a bad idea and I sat back in my seat, suddenly deflated; up until then Paul had given a virtuoso performance, but now it looked like he was going to undermine everything he had accomplished by returning to sanity at the end of his gig.
But oh no. Paul had simply saved the best crazy for last.
“What we have to remember,” he said, “is that this fence everyone is so keen on building can be used not only to keep people out, but to keep us in. To keep Americans and their capital in, when maybe they want to leave.” It was fucking brilliant. Only a true artiste like Paul could use such a small number of words to conjure such entertainment in the minds of his audience.
Wait a minute, I found myself thinking, Ron Paul is arguing that the fence shouldn’t be built because one day rich Americans might want to flee the country carrying all of their “capital” with them. What on earth does Paul envision happening that would cause such a thing? And what would the conversation be like when the rich decide to flee?
“Martha, this is it. The country is going to hell and we’ve got to get out of here. Safety regulations and a mandate preventing us from letting poor sick children starve in the streets are seriously harshing my rugged individualism.”
“But George, what can we do? Everything we own is here.”
“We’re going to liquidate it all, Martha. Sell everything and turn it into diamonds; then we’ll sew the diamonds into our clothes and carry them out us.”
“Where will we go?”
“Well, we can go anywhere, but first we have to get to Mexico.”
“Because that’s where everybody goes when they’re fleeing an oppressive legal regime Martha. Jesus! Haven’t you ever seen a Western? Or Thelma and Louise?”
“I suppose you’re right George. I’ll start making airline reservations. Do you want to fly into Cancun or Cabo?”
“We’re not flying anywhere, Martha. That’s not the rugged way.”
“So we’re going to drive all the way to Mexico?”
“Of course not. I told you, we’re liquidating everything and turning it all into diamonds. Valuable, easily portable diamonds. That includes the cars too.”
“But, but . . . but then how are we supposed to get into Mexico, George?”
“Simple. We’ll walk across. We’ll slip in under cover of darkness. No one will even know we’re gone. It’s foolproof.”
“But George . . . what about the fence?”
“The fence, George, the fence. You remember, that 2,600 mile fence that we built to keep all the brown people out. What about that?”
“. . . . . . . . . ”
“Dammit. I forgot about the fence. Hhhmmmm . . . . Well, I guess we’re stuck then. Never mind, Martha, looks like we’ve got no choice but to stay here.”
Man! I wanna read Ron Paul's screenplay. You just know he's got one.
* * *
Y’know what? I’ve changed my mind. I suggested earlier that perhaps the media were justified in not paying any attention to Ron Paul because he is, well, insane. But that isn’t right. That isn’t my country. I believe in an America where anybody who wants to can stand up and spout gibberish and if he does so in the subway the rest of us can move slowly away from him, and if he does so in a presidential debate we can vote for him – or not.
Sure, Ron Paul is crazier‘n a bag of snakes, but it’s not for the media to decide who the American people should or should not get to vote for – that’s our call. At the end of the day, I’ve got to believe that there isn’t a chance in hell someone as unhinged as Ron Paul could persuade a majority of Americans to put him in the Oval Office. Hell, I’ve got to believe that there isn’t a chance that even the crazy Republican Party would nominate him for the position. But our political press shouldn’t make that decision for us ahead of time and then simply ignore the man.
Because the Fall TeeVee season hasn’t started yet, and Ron Paul is quality entertainment.