Why should the pathetic ravings of a 79-year-old retired Congressman from the far political fringe help to determine the outcome of the upcoming race for the GOP Presidential nomination?
Because the recent outbursts of former-Representative Ron Paul (Libertarian-Mars) place his son, Senator Rand Paul, in an all-but-untenable position that could destroy his promising presidential campaign before it even gets started.
In the most recent example of Ron-ruining-Rand, the elderly eccentric responded to the Paris massacres by blaming the French, not the terrorists. “If Islamic extremism is on the rise,” he wrote, “the US and French governments are at least partly to blame.”
Among many problems with his underlying argument, Dr. Paul Sr. seems to have forgotten that the United States and France strongly disagreed on Middle East policy, with President Chirac and his countrymen refusing to cooperate with the Bush decision to invade Iraq and repeatedly criticizing the interventionist Americans. Since this posture hardly protected the French people from a long series of vicious jihadi attacks stretching back more than a decade, that would seem to undermine Ron Paul’s insipid conclusion that “only a policy of non-intervention can reduce the risk of another attack.” How has the French embrace of “non-intervention” reduced those risks for the anxious populace?
Meanwhile, Dr. Demento also slams the French because “they prefer to believe the fantasy that they attack us because they hate our freedoms, or that they cannot stand our free speech.” Is it a “fantasy” that the Paris terrorists chose to shoot cartoonists and writers– precisely those who practiced free speech– rather than striking at bureaucrats, diplomats, soldiers or others who implemented controversial anti-terror policies? Videotape from the scene of the Charlie Hedbo slaughter recorded the killers shouting, “The Prophet is Avenged!” and not “Down with French policy in Libya or Mali!” The three killers who butchered 16 victims gave explicit testimony in telephone interviews before they died about their loyalty to Al Qaeda and Islamic State, and their outrage at Mohammed cartoons. Was this part of their cunning scheme to mislead the public about the cause for which they actually killed and died?
And if they meant to protest government policy, especially after the recent French tilt toward support for radical Palestinian demands, then why did they select four utterly innocent victims at a kosher market whose only crime had been to show the audacity of purchasing dinner supplies for their Friday evening Sabbath meals?
Aside from the ludicrous, loopy illogic of Dr. Paul’s dementia, there’s also his sad disregard for the welfare of his own son. Senator Rand Paul has made a special point to reach out to the mainstream of the Republican Party and to affirm its peace-through-strength consensus. He repeatedly denies any isolationist bent and repudiates the idea that “only a policy of non-intervention can reduce the risk of another attack.” In fact, RandPaul has said he would pursue Islamic State with more force and more ferocity, not more restraint, than Barack Obama – a policy that dear-old-dad obviously holds in contempt.
So what is a budding presidential aspirant and junior Senator from Kentucky to do? Should he simply ignore the increasingly strident outbursts of his embarrassing papa? In the midst of a competitive campaign he will surely face uncomfortable questions about his father’s odd collection of opinions, including his fervent support for Vladimir Putin and the annexation of Crimea. He will confront a tough choice of engaging in a deeply humiliating inter-familial debate with a doddering old-fool who traffics in conspiracy theories of every sort, including neo-Confederate condemnations of Lincoln and attacks on FDR for engineering Pearl Harbor, or else he will – as he has so far – refuse to criticize the family patriarch out of respect and, presumably, affection.
But would such reticence play on a national stage when the items under dispute are questions of war and peace, life and death? Imagine a potential debate in which Senator Paul shares the stage with, say, Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Scott Walker and Chris Christie. And then imagine Britt Hume or some lesser moderator asking whether the Senator from Kentucky shares the strong-defense foreign policy perspective of “all these gentlemen up here” or else finds more in common with the world view of his famously flawed father. And think, finally, about the possibility that a debate interrogator cites some of Ron Paul’s more outrageous comments (like criticizing the killing of Osama bin Laden), and perhaps even reviews some of the unsavory associations of the ardently isolationist and poisonously anti-Israel “Ron Paul Institute for Peace.”
Such awkward moments aren’t remote possibilities; they are virtual certainties unless Rand Paul moves decisively to either stifle his father or, much better, to disassociate himself from the family elder’s most irresponsible views.
For his part, Ron Paul seems to cherish an odd sort of Oedipal script in which the old man, rather than allow himself to be displaced by the younger generation, insists on hurting his son’s prospects to the utmost of his ability to do so. Imagine if George H. W. Bush had spoken out during his son’s presidential campaign to offer his dramatically different perspectives on foreign policy, or if Bill Clinton decided to go rogue, slamming the Obama-Hillary record and suggesting a focus that would frankly offend the great majority of his fellow Democrats.
Aside from the points of disagreement on policy, such family conflicts offer irresistible psychodrama, and the Paul Sr.-vs.-Paul Jr. debate could prove especially painful and appalling. In a sense, the old man seems perversely determined to afflict his son with the family curse of crotchety irrelevancy: in three presidential campaigns with the expenditure of more than $60 million dollars, and as an active competitor in more than 70 different caucuses and primaries in his quests for the GOP nomination, Ron Paul never carried a single state. No, not one.
If young Rand hopes to overcome that curse he must first confront it, with both courage and candor. Or else he can continue to quietly endure the needless attacks of his outspoken and problematic pop and remain nothing more than a provocative side show in a presidential race he still seems determined to run.