Some pundits and Ron Paul’s dedicated supporters are wondering why Ron Paul is being ignored by media on both sides of the political divide. Jon Stewart claims that Paul is being treated like the 13th floor of a skyscraper. Charles Krauthammer has said it’s because he stands no chance of garnering the Republican nomination let alone winning the presidency.
He has a lot of supporters online, and according to pundits on the Left and Right they’re just as deluded. But for all their craziness, there is a sound reason for the “media blackout” on Ron Paul: He is a true isolationist while both the Democratic and Republican parties are staunch internationalists.
For those of us whose memories start well after World War 2, we haven’t seen true isolationism. For all intents and purposes isolationism died on December 8, 1941 when Montana congresswoman Jeanette Rankin cast the sole vote against Congress’s declaration of war against Japan. Yet for most of its history prior to that war America was primarily an isolationist power. Protected by two large oceans on either side, and the arrival of immigrants who were escaping wars in Europe, America had followed the advice given by President George Washington in his farewell address to avoid foreign entanglements. Throughout the 19th century American foreign policy was motivated by commerce. Commodore Perry opened up Japan in the 1850’s not to spread Democracy but to provide a refueling station for ships whaling in the area and trading with China. In this respect America’s foreign policy prior to World War 1 was most similar to China’s foreign policy today. China will sell anyone anything without exercising moral judgement. As America learned such actions do have consequences, such as when the scrap iron it sold to Japan came back in the bodies of its servicemen. Similarly China’s support of Pakistan has not stopped the Pakistanis from supporting terror groups operating from Pakistani territory into western China.
America’s isolationist instincts first faced change under the McKinley and later Roosevelt presidencies which moved to acquire colonies in Latin America and the Pacific. But even the Spanish-American war was more about commerce than it was about any type of trans-national belief in Democracy. It wasn’t until America was dragged into World War 1 under the Wilson administration that America’s isolationist history began to change. Wilson was an avowed internationalist who saw himself as uniquely suited for ending War on a continent that had never known peace. The League of Nations was supposed to be the first step on this path, but Wilson was unable to overcome the tide of isolationism that returned as American troops were quickly demobilized and returned home from Europe. The US Senate never ratified the treaty or joined the organization, a blow that Wilson never recovered from. It wasn’t until Franklin D. Roosevelt, another internationalist, who resurrected Wilson’s ideology through Lend-Lease and covert support of UK and France against Germany and Italy in Europe. But even then, resistance against involvement in Europe was strong throughout 1939, 1940 and 1941.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor mortally wounded the philosophy of isolationism in the United States. Although American internationalist policies such as America’s oil embargo on Japan had made the United States a target in the minds of the Japanese junta in power in Tokyo, the attack shocked Americans because it happened on American soil without apparent provocation. Suddenly the oceans separating the United States from Europe and Asia weren’t so large anymore, and isolationism lost its allure as people realized that what happened “over there” had consequences “over here.”
Since World War 2 all governments in power in Washington, whether Democratic or Republican, congresses or presidential administrations, and all their champions, think tank residents and pundits have been internationalists. Isolationism has not been taken seriously by anyone. Except Ron Paul and his supporters.
The problem with Ron Paul is not that the media isn’t giving him a fair shake: it’s that his beliefs are so paleolithic that the media can’t understand it. His entire vision of American engagement in the world makes Obama’s 2009 Apology tour look like American imperialism by contrast. He seems unaware that there are these things called “missiles” that you can put bombs on and launch from very far away. “Iran doesn’t have an air force,” he said during the Republican Debate in Iowa, ignoring that the reason it doesn’t are the sanctions we’ve put on them – sanctions which he opposes. Evidently Paul thinks the only way nukes get used is if you drop them from planes. He also avoided mention of Israel; Cain mentioned that Ahmadinejad promised to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, and candidate Herman Cain said “I take the man at his word.” He also doesn’t believe that Iran supports terrorism.
Paul’s vision of the world makes sense for 1911 – but not in 2011. While he does offer a true choice in a leader, it is one that not anchored in the present but in the distant past. As I have argued numerous times over the years, the default state of America is isolationism, and Ron Paul provides an important reminder of that state. But looking at the challenges America faces today and will face in the future, we cannot return to an era when steamers took 3 weeks to cross an ocean when planes can do so in 3 hours. Nor can we return to a time when news from the war in Europe took days to reach Americans at a time when one can learn what’s happening on the other side of the planet faster than what’s happening down the street.
As one commentator noted during the Republican debate in Iowa, Ron Paul forces America to have the debate between isolationism and internationalism. Unfortunately we cannot have that debate while the media is puzzled by Paul’s candidacy and therefore ignores it. Paul’s naivety towards international threats is balanced by the internationalist’s desire to have America involved in every conflict, regardless of its impact on American national security. While I may personally disagree with nearly all of Paul’s positions, I would like to see that debate held.
UPDATE: VA Right has an excellent review of Ron Paul’s performance in the Iowa debate, and an even better explanation about Paul and his libertarian beliefs. VA Right suggests Federal Reserve Chairman: ” I would love to see Ron Paul replace Ben Bernanke as Federal Reserve Chairman in the next Republican Administration. It would be the shortest appointment in history.”
Spyridon Mitsotakis at Big Peace compares Ron Paul to Henry Wallace, writing “The conspiracy-minded John Birch Society, long ago expelled from the conservative movement by Ronald Reagan and William F. Buckley, Jr., is abuzz over Congressman Ron Paul’s “Blame America First” performance at Thursday night’s Republican presidential debate.” I used the term paleo to describe Paul in the piece above intentionally. Buckley purged the Republican party of anti-Semites, racists and isolationists in the 1950’s, thereby paving the way for the party’s success in the 1980’s. Ron Paul’s popularity proves that he left the job unfinished.